Morality as “Experience of the Self-in -act” as Good or Bad
(From Wojtyla’s “The Problem of the Theory of Morality” in Person and Community pp. 158-159)
10. Implications of the theory of Morality for Axiology
“The theory of morality is the description and interpretation of the experience [my emphasis] of morality within the limits defined by the answer to the question: what is morality? In formulating this answer, we attempt to exploit experience, seeking an expression that allows us to objectify the content of this experience in the most suitable way possible. Although we do not proceed from a ready-made system in the framework of which this objectification has already been accomplished over the course of the history of human thought, yet at every step we cannot help but encounter elements of previously constructed objectifications of the experience of morality, objectifications both in the theory of morality and in ethics. I believe that no theory of morality or ethics has ever been developed in separation from the experience of morality, although this process has perhaps not been sufficiently recognized and made explicit. Fort this reason, too, however, even the very naming of the different elements of the experience of morality follows along the lines of previously constructed objectifications. This applies especially to the interpretation of morality as a particular axiological reality, a particular sphere of the good or value.
“Here it is important to bear in mind that (…)
(159): “My interpretation does not extend to the realm of epistemological assumptions. I am focusing on morality as a reality given in experience – and attempting to understand and interpret it in the deepest possible way. I maintain that morality as a value has objective meaning in and through the human being and that there is no way to apprehend this meaning apart from the categories of being and becoming: esse and fieri. In other words, moral good is that through which the human being as a human being becomes and is good, and moral evil that through which the human being as a human being becomes and is evil. This becoming (fieri) resides in the dynamism of human action (actus humanus); it cannot be properly objectified on the basis of consciousness alone, but only on the basis of the human being as a conscious being. It follows, too, that good or evil as a property of a conscious being is itself also a being and not just a content of consciousness. This does not, however, obscure the fact that it – good or evil – is, at the same time, a content of consciousness that it is given in lived experience as a specific value, namely, moral value. Proceeding from the two different orientations in philosophy, it seems that we can arrive in the theory of morality at a complementary view of this same reality. Moral value points directly to that through which the human being as a human being is good or evil (I have already discussed the terminological difficulties connected with this opposition). The fact, in turn, that the human being experiences this good or evil, that the human being experiences himself or herself as the author of moral value and as its dynamic subject, is simply the experiential and conscious confirmation of this reality, which we can objectify in a completely adequate way only in the categories of being and becoming: esse and fieri.
“I believe, then, that my analysis and interpretation of the experience of morality, when viewed in relation to these two great and divergent – and in some sense even mutually contradictory – orientations in philosophy, and thus also in axiology, can itself avoid contradiction. I am thinking here mainly of the charge of a certain contradiction, or at least a lack of philosophical convergence, with regard to such basic terms as good and value. I believe, moreover, that my analysis and interpretation can lead – as I have already attempted to show – to the discovery of a basic convergence between these orientations. The convergence occurs in the human being, in whom we cannot totally separate being from consciousness. This is especially evident in the sphere of morality. Here moral value is an essential expression of the good that determines the human being as a human being, the human being as a person. Consequently, in speaking of moral value, we always ultimately point to this reality of the good – and also of evil, since moral value appears to us in both of these mutually opposing axiological forms.
“The theory of morality lies at the root of ethics. It is, as we have seen, a theory of human beings as persons who are good or bad beings, each within his or her own personal essence. At the same time, it is a theory of human beings as persons who experience their own moral value, who experience that they themselves become and are – as person – good or evil. These are the two aspects of the theory of morality, and they seem to be inseparable…
“The theory of morality, and then ethics, proceeds from a thoroughly original experience. This experience contains a thoroughly original relation of human beings as subjects and authors to values, especially to moral values. The direct application of the general concepts and judgments proper to axiology – according to either of the contemporary orientations – cannot explain much here. Instead, we must seek our own methods of interpretation in this area, ones suitable to it.”
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My comment: Wojtyla departs from Scheler in that S. does not understand and interpret experience in the deepest possible way. His point: When you experience moral value, you must not be a positivist and reduce it to sensation, i.e. as psychologism. You must be pre-scientific as pre-positivist. Moral value is always a given as lived. It is not to be discovered. It is not “positivist” experience because it has the character of end (becoming who I should be) and absolute (duty).
Therefore moral value demands a deeper analysis of its experience – i.e. it is an experience not of sense experience, nor of consciousness, or even the emotivism that accompanies it as intentional. Rather, W. holds that it is the experience e of the conscious being as agent of its own act. The acting person experiences self as self-determining being passing from what I am (potency) to who I should be (act) by being conscious of self and experiencing the value of good from the experience of being in act.
The key: The notion of experience has been hijacked by Enlightenment rationalism as a content of consciousness. W. was intensely interested in Scheler for his recourse to the experience of values as a venue to a realistic morality as in Christian perfectionism. He looked for the “lived experience of value” as the key to an authentic philosophical interpretation of Evangelical perfectionism that is the realism of “Be Perfect!”
And he found it. He omits the “mutually exclusive epistemological assumptions” of the philosophy of being and the philosophy of consciousness and insists: “I am focusing on morality as a reality given in experience and attempting to understand and interpret ti in the deepest possible way.” He then sets down his insight as thesis: “I maintain that morality as value has objective [real ontological] meaning in and through the human being and becoming: esse and fieri.” This becoming (fieri) resides in the dynamism of human action (actus humanus); it cannot be properly objectified on the basis of consciousness alone, but only on the basis of the human being as a conscious being. It also follows that good or evil as a property of a conscious being is itself also a being and opt just a content of consciousness…