This post is an account, from the perspective of divine command morality, of how human choices have moral worth by creating morally correct actions.
However, I still write of the divine commander as only a moral authority. I think the post is more effective by inviting the reader occasionally to think of the moral authority as God. Also I do not want to write as a moral theologian. I have not come to the notion of a moral authority as God from some religious system. I started in moral theory by expanding the notion of the harm in violation of a moral law. This expansion of a notion of moral thought led to the notion of a god-like moral authority.
What makes an action morally correct?
I do not claim any originality for any ideas expressed in my philosophically untechnical essay. Any ideas of value have most likely already been better expressed by Aquinas, Kant and J.H. Newman.
Differences between moral laws and physical laws help distinguish a physical action from a moral action.
Regard a situation to which a physical law applies a cause. Regard the action that the law says follows the situation an effect. In the physical order the effect occurs invariably. The physical law of nature has power within the situation to which it applies to bring about the effect. A physical cause bringing about its effect is a physical action.
For the moral order, talk of cause and effect requires qualification.
For the moral order, think of a situation to which a moral law applies as a partial moral cause. For instance, an opportunity to steal under the law “Do not steal” is a partial moral cause. Regard what the moral law demands for a situation a possible moral effect. Not stealing in the example is a possible moral effect of the law.
The will of the moral authority is that the partial moral cause actually be followed by what is called the possible moral effect. However, the moral authority does not make its will totally effective because for the good of the agent in the situation, the moral authority wills that the agent add his or her willing to the authority’s willing to actualize the possible moral effect. If the moral authority fully willed the event, it would invariably occur and we would have only a physical action.
The combining of the agent’s willing with the moral authority’s willing converts the partial moral cause into a full moral cause which then actualizes the possible moral effect. The agent completes the will of the moral authority by willing what the authority wills for the situation.
A full moral cause followed by the actualization of the possible moral effect is a morally correct action.
An instance of a morally correct action is an instance of moral causation
Our capability to bring about a morally correct action by willing as the moral authority wills is free will. The moral authority grants us this capability because its is good for us to will as it wills for it always wills what is good. Our free choice has moral worth when it complements the will of the morally authority, or God, to produce a morally correct action.
I close by sketching some terminology. The terms need elaboration in subsequent posts. A morally incorrect action occurs when an agent chooses not to complement the will of the moral authority. An action in accord with morality is an action which is what the authority wills for the situation but the agent did not think of what the authority would will. An action not in accord with morality is an action which is not what the authority wills for the situation but again the agent did not think of morality. Actions which are merely in accord with morality or not in accord are really only physical actions.
A person of good moral character is a person who strives to, and is usually successful, in fulfilling the will of the moral authority. A person of virtue habitually chooses to fulfill the will of the moral authority (God). A person of virtue is morally better than a person with good moral character.
The following reflections on moral choice reveal an assumption that although every physical action has a cause those physical actions which are also morally correct actions do not have a physical cause of their being morally correct actions. This assumption also requires examination in subsequent posts.