Friday, August 29, 2014

All morality is individual

Moral autonomy is having the freedom, and possessing the courage and the will, to make moral decisions on one's own, individually.  It's standing on one's own two feet; and sometimes that requires sacrifice.

Moral autonomy is at the root of what is termed "character."  Character is always individual.  You don't display character by joining a group.  Moral autonomy is the ability to choose the right course of action, by oneself, without any outside pressure or influence.
Look at the lives and example of the men who signed the US Declaration of Independence in 1776.   These were men who were making a moral choice; not because they believed it would profit themselves personally; indeed, the likelihood was that it would cost them everything; two of the signers had British forces camped right next to their estates.  Those two men knew that they stood to lose those estates as soon as they signed the Declaration.  They signed anyway.

All those who signed the Declaration of Independence knew that they were committing an act of high treason; punishable by death. They weren't doing what they knew to be legal; what they were told was their patriotic duty; which was to remain steadfastly loyal to God and to King.  They knew that if they did not win their war of rebellion – and the likelihood of their winning that war was considered remote – they would all be hung as traitors.  They committed their act of treason knowing that to survive they would have to defeat the most powerful army in the world (they did not even yet have an army of their own!), and for years they would stand alone because no other government in the world gave them a chance of succeeding. They signed their Declaration anyway. They endured five years of almost constant defeats, each year looking more hopeless than the last. They fought on anyway.

Character is not based on what is legal, what is condoned by the state, by the law, by the church, or by the society at large.  It is always individual.  It is never coerced. Character cannot develop in an environment in which ethical decisions are forced upon the individual. Character is a product of judgment, discretion, and choice – born from a person's free agency. A decision that is coerced cannot be a moral decision, and thus cannot be a decision of character. Compliance with the law does not, in itself, constitute character.

Character has been defined as the ability to make ethical decisions always on behalf of the common good combined with the discipline and the strength to carry through with those decisions.   Character is the application of moral principles, ethics, in the way we live and act.  Character doesn't change with popular opinion, the political climate, or with a tide of nationalism or emotion. Character is consistent.

Character is having the courage to accept moral responsibility and accountability for one's own actions. 



The core of all character lies in individuality. Character is a moral fact: and, until life is individual, it is not moral. And by individual we mean something single, separate, and alone, that cannot be accounted for from outside, cannot be grouped under any general laws, cannot be extracted out of outside conditions. Its actions must spring from out of itself.  It is this seal of individuality which it sets on everything that comes out from it, which makes it a character. Sometimes it stamps it weakly, and then we say a person has little or no character; or sometimes it stamps it forcibly, and then we say, "That is a man of character."

– Henry Scott Holland, Creed and Character, 1887


Never base a moral choice on its popularity. Always do what you know is right; even if that decision draws hostility from others.   Even if you see no possibility of personal profit from it.  Even if you are forced to stand alone against everyone else you know; do it anyway.

Especially if you must stand alone; that is exactly when you must.  It takes no courage to join a lynch mob.