Moral integration is the virtue of doing good. This requires determining what the right thing to do is, and then doing exactly that.
Moral integration unites the various virtues and motivates your good actions. The virtues are mere abstractions until they are applied and acted upon, and moral integration prepares us for that action.
Although they have been treated separately so far, the virtues are interdependent. For example if your grandmother says to you, “I fear I am getting old, how do I look?” you might answer from the virtue of gentleness, “You seem as young as I can ever remember” or you could answer from the virtue of good faith, “Yes, I noticed immediately that you look much older than when I last saw you”, or perhaps you can answer from love, “You always look great to me and I am so glad to see you.”
In another example, you, along with many others, receive an enthusiastic email from a friend linking to hateful and misleading propaganda vilifying your preferred political candidate. The virtues of politeness and perhaps tolerance tell you to ignore it. The virtues of good faith and perhaps justice, and courage tell you to vigorously refute and denounce every falsehood and misleading statement. The virtue of wisdom, along with a bit of courage, and love, tell you to reply all with your carefully written statement that glaring errors and malicious prejudices in the original message are obvious, advising readers to check facts themselves before forwarding rumors and propaganda, and reminding the sender of the importance of informed citizens and responsible dialogue to a strong democracy.
Deciding to use capital punishment provides a more significant and more difficult example to analyze. While justice probably argues for its use, gentleness, and certainly mercy argue against it. Compassion has to be considered from several points of view, including the accused, the victims’ families, and perhaps others. Wisdom might ask what option reduces the overall amount of suffering, in both the short and long term.
Moral integration requires constant vigilance. Barry McGuire lamented, “You can hate your neighbor but don’t forget to say grace.” Being a saint some of the time does not make up for being a bastard at other times. Doing good requires not doing bad.
The Virtue of Moral Integration
Moral integration is a virtue because neglecting to do good is not.
Everyday Moral Integration
Practice the virtue of Moral Integration every day in these ways:
- Notice the opportunities to do good that arise routinely throughout your various activities.
- Seize those opportunities to do good that are most important and that you are ready and able to act upon.
- Notice those opportunities you are foregoing. Why are you neglecting these? Is it because you don’t know what the right thing to do is, or is it because you don’t have the time, energy, resources, or resolve to do the right thing?
- How can you improve and do more good?
- Notice the various actions you take that are not for the good.
- Go ahead and give yourself a pass for the many ordinary and morally neutral tasks you perform such as washing dishes, mowing the lawn, and washing the car.
- Notice in particular actions you take that were decidedly not for the good.
- Why did you decide to act other than for the good? Is it because you don’t know what the right thing to do is, or is it because you don’t have the time, energy, resources, or resolve to do the right thing? Is it because you were overcome by some destructive emotion such as anger, hatred, vengeance, or envy? Is it because you lacked self-control?
- Can increased attention to the virtue of fidelity help you become good more consistently?
- Can applying the method of reflective equilibrium help you become good more consistently?
- How can you improve and lapse less often?
- If this awareness of how you spend your time has you wondering what matters most, consider completing the Wikiversity course on what matters.
- Recall a time when you were conflicted and could not decide what the right thing to do was. Describe the dilemma you were facing.
- Consider each relevant virtue one at a time and how it applies to this dilemma. What solution or course of action would that virtue alone suggest?
- Now consider the issue from the standpoints of wisdom, courage, and love. Do these virtues suggest some solution, perhaps synthesized from the earlier options, that seems right? Describe this solution. Is it the right thing to do?
- Choose a significant long-debated public policy dilemma, such as the use of capital punishment, voluntary euthanasia, Same-sex marriage, legalizing marijuana use, or some other issue to analyze for this assignment.
- Consider how each of the relevant virtues applies to the issue. The virtues analysis form may help you organize your thinking on this.
- Based on the analysis in step 2, how would you decide the issue for the good? Describe how you arrived at your decision.
- Study the moral virtue of the late Senator Ted Kennedy as his career evolved. Note that early in his career he was responsible for the death of Mary Jo Kopechne. However, later on he became a distinguished senator.
- Alternatively you may wish to study Thomas Jefferson, the celebrated patriot, president, slave owner, and adulterer.
- Do you believe that: 1) the moral excellence he showed more than overcomes his moral lapses, or 2) his moral lapses cause irreparable damage and reveal character flaws that are never compensated for by his moral excellence?
- Assuming you live a morally ordinary life without egregious moral lapses or heroic moral excellence, do you rate yourself morally superior to Senator Ted Kennedy, morally inferior to him, or about the same?
- Read and study the Wikipedia article on Lawrence Kohlberg's stages of moral development.
- For the answers you gave in parts 2 and 3 above, decide what stage of moral development each of your answers represents.
- Complete the Wikiversity course on Doing Good.
- Do good.
Students interested in learning more about the virtues of moral integration may be interested in the following materials:
- Adams, Robert Merrihew (2009). A Theory of Virtue: Excellence in Being for the Good. USA: Oxford University Press. pp. 264. ISBN 978-0199552252.
- Greene, Joshua (December 30, 2014). Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them. Penguin Books. pp. 432. ISBN 978-0143126058.