Deliberation and Morality

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In ordinary speech the word deliberation means any weighing or examining of reasons for or against a given choice. In moral philosophy and theology it defines more narrowly the scope of human reasoning required by the matter in question and by the facts of a situation (circumstances) to arrive at a judgment or conclusion that is final and decisive concerning the choice of particular means to some end already intended.

The task of deliberation is compounded of several factors and is related to certain antecedent and subsequent steps in the process of choosing and acting as well as to certain important concepts of morality. Therefore it will be helpful to discuss deliberation first in itself, then in relation to other steps in the process of arriving at human action, and finally in relation to other important moral concepts.

The free or human act of man proceeds from deliberate will, i.e., from the will determined to this act through previous deliberation (Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae 1a2ae, 1.1). Over such an act man exercises dominion; it is his own, because by deliberation he makes it such. Therefore, it is imputable to him. He is its free cause through deliberation and his will-act determined by the judgment flowing from deliberation. Deliberation is moral, because it and the concluding dictate of reason include a consideration of good and evil as objects of choice conforming or not to man's nature and end. Such conformity exists if the choice is in accordance with law, including that which is intrinsic because derived from man's own nature and that which is extrinsic because derived from the positive will of legitimate authority.

In the analytical process of the human act, deliberation is simply "taking counsel" with oneself or "the enquiry of reason preceding the judgment of choice" (ST 1a2ae, 14.1). This part of the total process is necessary because once one has set himself a goal to be achieved, one still must find a suitable way to realize it. Sometimes the way to a goal is predetermined by circumstances. More often there are several different choices. To act effectively one must settle upon a single way to realize his purpose. Hence, he will deliberate; he will consider or weigh the various possibilities open to him to achieve his purpose. If he is decisive, he will come to a definite conclusion as to how he should act, or perhaps whether he should act at all, given the facts and morality of the possibilities. This deliberative process can only concern means, i.e., those things that are ordered to an end (ea quae sunt ad finem ) according to St. Thomas (ST 1a2ae, 14.2), although one must recognize that all inferior or subordinate ends or goals require deliberation, since in respect to higher goals they are themselves means. Deliberation is not required for the goal that is absolutely final by innate and necessary tendency of human nature (happiness in general), nor is further deliberation required for means that are obviously seen as conforming and indispensable to the final goal.

In the analytical process of the free act, deliberation is closely related to the judgment of choice. This judgment refers to the precise means that one takes to realize the goal he has in mind. Together with the will-act of choice that makes such judgment decisive and controlling, it constitutes the interior free act, which, when carried out by the powers and organs necessary realizes in a human way the goal first intended.

The deliberative process is clearly rational. It is also discursive. Though it should be strictly logical and orderly, the very contingency of its objects renders it less than certain in the speculative sense. It can result only in the practical certainty that contingent reality allows, a degree of probability proportionate for the concrete situation. Further, the appetitive powers, both sensible and volitional, have a part to play. If rightly developed and exercised, they do not hinder, but rather promote, deliberation and right judgment. If they are disordered and incline to goods not in keeping with man's nature, dignity, and supernatural destiny, emotions will tend to distort or sidetrack the logical process of practical reason and lead to judgments of choice that are morally wrong or evil.

Deliberation as described here fits into the pattern of prudential reasoning. Since deliberation is a function of intellect, it is subject to an evolution toward the perfection of the habit of prudence or toward the distortions of imprudence. In the context of prudence, deliberation is closely related to those integral parts of prudence that prepare for the prudential judgment: memory, understanding, docility, sagacity, and rational thought (ST 2a2ae, 49). There is similarly a relation to the habit of eubulia.

A more significant relation exists between deliberation and conscience. This latter is the personal and subjective judgment of morality that terminates moral reasoning. Since ends and means concern the good, they have a moral value that the mind should not fail to consider. Deliberation therefore deals with means as conducive to ends, and precisely as moral. Morality, a quality of goodness or evil, characterizes every free act.

Finally, a word should be said about the supernatural. Man shares the triune life of God on earth by grace and by the infused virtues of faith, hope, and charity. These virtues illuminate man's mind and inspire his will to realize his supernatural destiny by all those means that God places at man's disposal. Obviously the deliberation of the child of God and member of Christ will be affected accordingly. The Christian will guide his reasoning by the truths revealed by God and enjoy the gifts of the holy spirit, one of which is counsel.

Bibliography: v. j. bourke, Ethics (New York 1953). m. cronin, The Science of Ethics, 2 v. (Dublin 1939) v. 1. o. lottin, Morale fondamentale (Tournai 1954). a. g. sertillanges, La Philosophie morale de saint Thomas d'Aquin (rev. ed. Paris 1946). h. renard, "The Functions of Intellect and Will in the Act of Free Choice," The Modern Schoolman 24 (Jan. 1947) 8592. j. pieper, Prudence, tr. R. and c. winston (New York 1959). h. d. noble, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., (Paris 190350) 13.1:102376. thomas aquinas, La Prudence (Summa theologiae 2a2ae, 4756), tr. and ed. t. h. deman (2d ed. Paris 1949).

[f. j. hunnefeld]