Dec 1, 2009

Philosophical Phun - Moral Deliberation :o)

'Which action, of those available to me, would be best?' -- or, in other words, what ought I to do? -- may be considered the basic question of practical moral deliberation. There are of course other questions we may ask -- e.g. 'what sequence of actions, across my remaining lifetime, would be best?' -- but it's important to note that these are different questions.

To begin, note that the standard question 'What ought I to do?' is a question about an individual act. For example, "Should I accept the divine deal or not?" is an important moral question that someone might deliberate over. If they reason correctly, they will reach the conclusion "no, reject it". Morality is action-guiding, and this is the guidance it offers in this case.

Practical reasoning concludes in action (or, to put it more neutrally, let's say implementation) . We can reason about how to act, and then do so. But while we can think about what the best sequence of acts would be, we can't implement this as the conclusion of our reasoning -- at most, we can implement but a part of it. The reasoning instead concludes in mere belief, and so is really theoretical reasoning, albeit about a topic of moral interest.

Morality is supposed to be action-guiding, not action-sequence-guiding. There's a reason for this: we can only implement actions, not whole sequences thereof. 

An individual action is a true, but trivial answer. The fact that it's true explains why 'what should I do?' is the basic question of practical moral deliberation, and why the best-sequence question isn't really 'practical' at all. On the other hand, the fact that it's trivial suggests that, philosophically, we would do better to refocus on the question, 'what can I do?'

For the source of this entry, go to Philosophy, et cetera.

What we commonly do is make moral judgments about individual acts, in the context of a sequence, or against the background of having performed other acts (and omissions).  I think that this is where much of our society breaks down today, there are many that compartmentalize their morality from their actions, not recognizing that their morality should be guiding their actions. 


  1. I've often thought that people go awry in many ways because they don't stop to think what they're doing. It takes just a moment to ask yourself, "Should I do this? What will happen if I do[n't]?"
    Then make your decision and move forward. More often than not, I believe people would choose to do the right thing.

  2. I for myself believe that what feels right is the way to go rather than what feels good. I must confess though that following the what feels good path have landed me in more serious problems than on the what feels right, decisions. Yet I have also encounter that even when I have follow the what feels right objective, we live in such a corrupt society that, out of fear and distrust people have come after me for what I believe it is right.

  3. I once took a course in college called "Thinking and decion making" which boiled down all decions in life to a mathematical equation. But in the end you had to "assign values" to different behaviors, so I guess there is no escaping the fact that you have to make subjective judgments.

  4. I agree with you when you say that society compartmentalizes morality, only choosing when it tends to favor them or their desires, to be moral.

    This is a nice segue from the 'consequentialism' entry, which I have been reading over and over. In my mind, this is what is seperate from many people's moral judgement. They don't consider the effect of their decision, and fall back on the 'moral will' saying that favor should be shown them. It is like living with blinders on, that things should be so 'because', with no real established reason for things being the way that they are.

    I for one, wonder how the brain operates when it has to deal with conflicts of morality with the consequence of their actions. Christians who bomb clinics, or politicians who wage war when they themselves would not go to fight one.


Tell Me What You Think, Don't Make me go Rogue on you :o)