Thoughts and Actions in Human Morality

In Thomistic moral philosophy, an intention isn’t a mental construction or any other sort of mental entity. Our biological stuff, which provides the substance underlying our moral natures, grows and develops in a way not inherently different from the growth of a tree or a deer. As physical creatures, we grow towards a moral state. This moral state may change often over our live-spans but it usually moves in a general direction over long periods of our lives even if it’s not focused to a point. If this isn’t happening in the life of a particular human being, there is a serious problem. To drift in moral growth is to fail to become much of anything.

In our daily moral lives, the best description I can propose for now is: put one foot in front of the other, heading in a generally desirable direction. Don’t look at distant goals. Don’t worry about your motives, conscious or unconscious. In fact, don’t worry about consciousness at all — it has little to do with active moral decisions though it can be useful in reviewing your moral state and adjusting your intentional state.

No, but we have to get over this idea that life can be planned in a conscious way. This much we can plan and work towards:

The development of true moral character.

This still doesn’t provide much in the way of a recipe. And so I’ll give a general description of some of the moral movement in my life, though I didn’t see it in those terms over most of the years of interest.

About 20 years ago, my frustrations with corporate life built-up over 13 years, on top of my frustrations with American education built-up over 12 years, led me to finally self-destruct in my career. Actually, I’d been labeled a severe case of under-achievement by a boss early in my career. That fellow was a very competent actuary and manager who later served as the CEO of two different major insurance companies as of 1988 or so. I’d fallen into some sort of a stupor around the age of 14 and didn’t start awakening until my return to active Christian worship in my late 20s.

My religious conversion ran in parallel with an effort to restore the health of my mind so that I could read serious books, historical and philosophical and fictional. I found it easy to return to reading serious narrative histories and straightforward novels. Serious philosophical works and free-form novels such as Don Quixote and Moby Dick were impenetrable. I also had trouble with War and Peace because of the large cast of characters. It would take a few years and multiple false starts before I took each of these novels up and found myself enjoying the experience of reading them and trying to figure out what the author was up to.

While I was learning to read again, for I’d been a pretty good reader as a young boy, I purchased five or six modern novels and read all but one of them, thoroughly disenchanted before I was through. (By the grace of God, the only one of those books I didn’t read was V.S. Naipaul’s Enigma of Arrival. I took on that soul-searing novel when I was ready to join Naipaul in his efforts to understand the rootless individual in the modern world.) Quite naive, to the point of idiocy, I convinced myself that good writers were lacking. Surely editors and publishers and agents were anxious to find some who could produce novels which would reward attentive and intelligent readers with profound intellectual and moral experiences.

Right. I want to make a point about moral intentions and will skip over the tale of my disillusionment in this entry — I’ll post an entry on that tale in the near future.

When I set out on my path to certain fame and modest fortune, I had two conscious intentions:

  • I wanted to write good books that could enrich the minds and souls of my readers rather than exploiting them with cheap thrills that can badly damage our human natures.
  • To follow through on the above intention, I had to move according to a truer intention, truer by the standards of Thomistic moral philosophy — I had to grow into the sort of human being who could write such books.

I didn’t realize that I had committed myself to a greater sort of growth and development and thought I was merely setting out to develop specific skills of studying and writing. I might almost say, “You duped me, Lord, You duped me.” I’ve been tricked into entering the trenches of a general war of sorts, a war to re-establish respect for the human mind and moral nature. I fight without pay or benefits — though hope remains for some modest income, but it doesn’t matter. If you set out to serve God, even if you find you’ve started to serve God by accident, you do your duty and accept any worldly rewards or learn to live with the lack of worldly rewards. There’s certainly no evidence from history that the God of Jesus Christ is a reliable paymaster in this mortal world. You do as He is saying, or as you think He’s saying, and consider yourself to be still an unworthy servant.

In my heart of hearts — my spirit, I’m unconvinced of the truth of my own teachings in this matter, but my mind is convinced and my body moves forward by habits formed in deliberate disregard of the immediate consequences. My softer parts, overly self-conscious and overly aware of my self, are being dragged along.

To be wise is to know that we have a duty and a need to develop our moral characters even when life seems safe and secure and comfortable. That’s the ‘big-picture’ language. The mundane reality is that we need to always be exercising our moral characters, growing towards a true love of God.

Explore posts in the same categories: Christian spirituality, Christianity, Moral Formation, Moral issues, Religion, Rules of Life, Spiritual formation, Spiritual warfare

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