There remains morality between instinct and reason


Atheist. Morale I.
Atheist. Morality II
Existential phil.
Proof of God
Belief in God
Motives for action
The Holy
Cultural relativism
Love II
Love ethics
Method question
Moral illusion
Natural law
Sacrifice idea
Animal welfare
Reason phil.

The human act

By P. Engelbert Recktenwald

St. Thomas Aquinas teaches that man is master of his actions by virtue of his will. “To be master” means: The person decides which actions to carry out. He is responsible for his actions, and therefore man is a moral being.

It differs from the animal in its ability to act. The animal is not in control of its behavior. It is driven by instinct. When the cat is hungry and sees a mouse, instinct causes a chain reaction within it. She behaves as instinct makes her behave. She has no choice.

It is not so with humans. Something intervenes between perception and action, namely the free decision. If he is hungry and sees something tasty, a chain reaction does not automatically occur, at the end of which there is an instinctual action, but the decision whether or not to give in to the instinct comes in between. For example, he can say to himself: How I would like to eat this, but it doesn't belong to me.

Man is responsible for his actions because they are preceded by a free will. Responsibility presupposes freedom.

This free decision is of course motivated in turn. He has his reasons. Man can choose to let himself go and give in to the urge. For example, he says to himself: These cherries do not belong to me, but I don't care now, I will eat them anyway. In this case the drive is the reason for his action. But it is only because man has allowed it. It is the person who allows the instinct to be the motive for his action. It is not the instinct of its own accord, but due to a conscious decision made by the person. If, on the other hand, a person says: I have a great desire for these cherries, but I control myself and don't eat them because I don't want to commit theft, then they are acting out of reason. He gives his moral insight priority over instinctual satisfaction. He acts morally.

In this respect, one can basically distinguish between two types of people: those who act morally and those who give in to their instincts. One is instinctual people, the other moral people. For some, what counts is what is subjectively satisfactory for them. For others, the decisive factor is whether what they are doing is morally good or at least legal. Some follow their instincts, others their conscience; some act instinctively, others conscientiously; some act out of reason, others out of lust and passion.

The two types are seldom found in their pure form. One can generally say: the moral maturity of a person is measured according to the measure of the rule of reason over his instinctual nature. This dominion does not consist in exterminating passions, but in order and making them subservient to doing good according to reason. That morality consists in the rationality of human behavior is a conviction that Christian theology shares with the great philosophers from Aristotle to Kant.

It is now easy to see how quickly the concept of conscience can be misused if one invokes one's conscience in an instinctual act. The doctrine of the natural regulation of conception, for example, requires a married couple to abstain from time to time, i.e. to make an effort to control their sexual instincts, to renounce instinctual satisfaction for reasons of conscience. The pill allows an uninhibited gratification of instincts, i.e. the opposite of what is expected of a moral person. To turn this uninhibited gratification of instincts into a decision of conscience means appropriating the concept of conscience for a decision to dethrone conscience in favor of instinctual rule.

As important as the distinction between instinctual behavior and moral behavior is, the boundary line between moral and immoral actions has not yet been adequately clarified. The matter is a little more complicated.

Let us assume that the person from our opening example would say to himself: I do not eat these cherries, which I so much fancy, because I could get caught doing it. In this case, he resists the urge, and yet his behavior is not moral. He only resists it because he foresees possible harm to himself. He does not act out of conscientiousness, but out of selfish wisdom. He does not control himself because he is concerned with the moral good, but because he recognizes with his reason that his actions could harm him.

To say that he acts out of reason would be a legitimate way of speaking, but we immediately see that we now have to distinguish between two different concepts of reason: one that includes the moral and one that excludes it. Various names have been found for the latter; Today, for example, one speaks of technological or instrumental reason (Horkheimer): This is about action insofar as it is suitable to achieve certain goals, but not about judging these goals from a moral point of view. When Kant and scholasticism speak of practical reason, what is meant is moral reason, because for them human action is always subject to the claim of the moral.

The appeal to conscience is only legitimate if it does not mean the breaking off of a reasonable justification of one's own action, but on the contrary is able to show action as reasonable. But this is only possible if conscience is recognized as a part of the faculty of reason, namely as that part that has to do with morally good and bad. Reason is man's capacity for knowledge. The conscience is that part of reason that gives us knowledge about the moral worth or worthlessness of actions. So it is not blind, but an organ of knowledge that brings us into contact with a reality, with the reality of values.

Understanding this is important today because naturalists like Dawkins deny conscience any epistemological character and regard it as a blind drive such as the sex drive. Accordingly, good and bad are not part of the reality with which we come into contact through conscience, but rather evolutionary fictions of our genes. Conscience does not open our eyes to the reality of values, but rather sit behind us in order, like every other instinct, to drive us blindly to what our genes believe is morally good. Using these fictions, we are evolutionarily trained to behave that serves the survival advantage of genes rather than that of the individual. Altruistic behavior of the individual is therefore only disguised egoism of the genes.

With this in mind, we can understand why Benedict XVI. One of the greatest concerns was to expand the concept of reason again to include practical reason. Even Kant still knew that practical reason is one and the same, not only for all people of all times and cultures, but even for all possible rational beings in general. The rehabilitation of this concept of reason is the prerequisite for resisting the dictatorship of relativism.

Neurobiologism, which declares the will to be a product of brain processes, goes one step further than ethical naturalism. Wolf Singer, for example, by his own admission, does not find free will anywhere in the brains, Wolfgang Prinz considers action decisions to be the result of subpersonal processes that are only subsequently interpreted in a personalist manner, and the behavioral physiologist Gerhard Roth gets to the point by explaining briefly and succinctly: I am "not the master of the house." With this we have reached the exact opposite position to Thomas Aquinas. The person who is in control of his actions becomes a machine whose behavior is controlled by blind natural processes. Here we see how the understanding of human action becomes the turning point for the image of man in general. First of all, the morality of human action is denied, then responsibility and freedom, the denial of free will results in the denial of the will itself, and in the last step the self and the reason of man fall with the will. Human action becomes a blind natural process, and reason is abolished in the name of reason. Naturalism thus proves to be self-contradictory, similar to the Kantian system: without reason one cannot get into it, with reason one cannot remain in it.

You can also hear this post.

Good reputation and good works. On the question of the motives for action.

Conscience: vision or illusion?

A podcast of mine about Kant's idea of ​​autonomy between atheist and Christian ethics


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Maritain J.
Müller Max
Nail thomas
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Spaemann II
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Wust Peter