Moral attitudes

Moral attitudes

Moral attitudes are grounded in moral beliefs of “Right” and “wrong” action. Moral attitudes are stronger than moral principles. Following are the fundamental moral attitudes :


Moral values are the highest among all natural values. Goodness, purity, truthfulness, humility of man rank higher than genius, brilliancy, exuberant vitality, than the beauty of nature or of art, than the stability and power of a state. What is realized and what shines forth in an act of real forgiveness, in a noble and generous renunciation; in a burning and selfless love, is more significant and more noble, more important and more eternal than all cultural values. Positive moral values are the focus of the world, negative moral values, the greatest evil, worse than suffering, sickness, death, or the disintegration of a flourishing culture.  This fact was recognized by the great minds, such as Socrates, or Plato, who continually repeated that it is better to suffer injustice than to commit it. This pre-eminence of the moral sphere is, above all, a basic proposition of the Christian ethos.

Moral values are always personal values. They can only inhere in man, and be realized by man. A material thing, like a stone or a house, cannot be morally good or bad, just as moral goodness is not possible to a tree or a dog. Similarly, works of the human mind (discoveries, scientific books, works of art), cannot properly be said to be the bearers of moral values; they cannot be faithful, humble and loving. They can, at the most, indirectly reflect these values, as bearing the imprint of the human mind. Man alone, as a free being, responsible for his actions and his attitudes, for his will and striving, his love and his hatred, his joy and his sorrow, and his super-actual basic attitudes, can be morally good or bad. For, far above his cultural accomplishments, rises the importance of the man’s own being: a personality radiating moral values, a man who is humble, pure, truthful, honest and loving.

But, how can man participate in these moral values? Are they given to him by nature like the beauty of his face, his intelligence, or a lively temperament? No, they can only grow out of conscious, free attitudes; man himself must essentially cooperate for their realization. They can only develop through his conscious, free abandonment of himself to genuine values. In proportion to man’s capacity to grasp values, in so far as he sees the fullness of the world of values with a clear and fresh vision, in so far as his abandonment to this world is pure and unconditional, will he be rich in moral values.  As long as a man blindly disregards the moral values of other persons, as long as he does not distinguish the positive value which inheres in truth, and the negative value which is proper to error, as long as he does not understand the value which inheres in the life of man, and the negative value attached to an injustice, will he be incapable of moral goodness. As long as he is only interested in the question of whether something is subjectively satisfying or not, whether it is agreeable to him or not, instead of asking whether it is something important, whether in itself it is beautiful, good, whether it should be for its own sake, in a word, whether it is something having a value he cannot be morally good.


Among the attitudes of man which are basic for his whole moral life, faithfulness is ranked next to reverence. One can speak of faithfulness in a narrow sense and in a large one. We have the narrow sense in mind when we speak of fidelity toward men, such as fidelity to a friend, marital fidelity, fidelity to one’s country or to oneself.  This type of fidelity throws into relief the other type. I refer here to the continuity which first gives to a man’s life its inner consistency, its inner unity. The building up of one’s personality is only possible if one holds firmly to those truths and values which one has already discovered.  The course of a man’s life contains a continual rhythmical replacement of one impression, one act, one decision by another and different impression, act or decision. We are unable to ponder over one thought for a long time and to keep our attention on one point for very long. Just as in the biological realm, hunger and satiety, fatigue and renewed strength succeed one another, so a certain rhythmical change is proper to the course of our spiritual life. Just as the various impressions which affect us give place to one another, and the stream of events offers to our mind a great variety of objects, so our attention cannot long remain focused on any one object with the same intensity. A movement from one subject to another is therefore proper to our thought, as well as to our feeling and will. Even in the case of a very blissful experience, such as the long-desired meeting with a beloved person, we are unable to dwell permanently in this joyous experience. The rhythm of our inner life forces us to leave the full presence of a great joy and to turn our attention in another direction and to register different experiences.

But—and this must be stressed—the same man has different levels of depth. The psychical life of man is not restricted to the level on which this continual change unfolds itself; it is not restricted to the level of our express attention, of our present consciousness. While we proceed to another impression and give our attention to another mental object, the preceding impression or object does not vanish, but will, according to its significance, be retained in a deeper level, and will continue to live at that level. Memory is an expression of this capacity of the soul for super-actual life, and this continuity is seen in our capacity to remember, to connect past and present.

Above all we see this continuity in the super-actual survival of our attitudes toward the world, toward fundamental truths and values, which remain unchanged even though our present attention is turned in a completely different direction. Thus, for example, joy caused by some happy event continues to “live” in the depth of our souls and colors everything which we do, colors all our tasks of the moment, and colors our approach to all those things with which we are expressly concerned. So also our love for a beloved person remains living in the depth of our souls, even though we are occupied by work, and it constitutes a sort of background before which different events run their course. Without this capacity for continuity, man would have no inner unity; he would be but a bundle of interwoven impressions and experiences. If one impression merely took the place of the preceding one, if the past should indiscriminately vanish, the inner life of man would be senseless and shallow; any building up, any development would be impossible. Above all there would be no personality.

Awareness Of Responsibility

When we call someone a “morally conscious” man, and another man a “morally unconscious” one, we have in mind a difference which is decisive from the ethical point of view. The unconscious man drifts through life; of course, he grasps certain values, and responds to them, but this process goes on in a manner that is deprived of an ultimate awakedness and of an explicit character. His grasp of values remains more or less accidental. Above all, his life, on the whole, is not consciously and expressly lived under the awful sword of good and evil. Even when, at a given moment, he rejects something bad and affirms something good, at heart this attitude is rather an affirmation of his own temperament than a really enlightened cooperation with the implacable demands of values, and conformity to those demands.

The unconscious man behaves according to the impulses of his nature; he has not yet discovered within himself the capacity to direct himself freely toward the objective demands of the world of values independently of what is or is not congenial to his nature. He is unaware of this capacity freely to approve or disavow impulses arising from his own nature, according to whether they are or are not in conformity with the world of values. Unconscious men are not awakened to the specifically moral prerogative of the spiritual person either to freely approve or to disavow; they make no use of it. Consequently, they ignore the necessity for conscious effort to develop and improve their moral stature. In their lives we find no moral self-education. This moral sluggishness is an obstacle to the formation of a moral personality. Moral consciousness and moral awakedness are indispensable presuppositions for a real grasp of values, for true responses to values and consequently for the possession of moral values. The morally unconscious man can be good, faithful, just, and a friend of truth, but only in the sense that he is a pale reflection of these virtues. His goodness, fidelity, justice and truthfulness lack the specific beauty of moral excellence, a full and free turning to values, a submission to their sovereign majesty, and real subordination to their eternal laws. The accidental character of such a man’s virtues and the incomplete character of his responses deprives them of their true moral core. They are moral virtues whose soul is deprived of its ultimate, free, meaningful life.

Reverence and that true fidelity, which we have called constancy, are closely related to this moral awakedness. Moreover, they can only fully unfold themselves in a morally conscious man. This moral awakedness is also the soul of the fundamental moral attitude which we have called “awareness of responsibility.” Only the man with this consciousness of responsibility can justly appreciate the impact of the demands of the world of values. He grasps not only the splendor, the inner beauty and majesty of the world of values, but also the sovereignty over us which is objectively due to this world. He understands the implacable earnestness of their demands, he experiences their personal call on us. He perceives the commands and the prohibitions which issue from values. He possesses that awakedness toward the world of values which places his life under its sword of justice, which makes him at every moment aware of his own position and duties in the cosmos, and makes him realize clearly that he is not his own master. He knows that he cannot act freely according to his arbitrary pleasure, that he is not his own judge, but that he must render an account to Someone Who is higher than he is.


Truthfulness is another of the basic presuppositions for a person’s moral life. An untruthful or mendacious person not only embodies a great moral disvalue, as does the avaricious or intemperate man, but he is crippled in his whole personality; the whole of his moral life; everything in him which is morally positive is threatened by his untruthfulness, and even becomes doubtful. His position toward the world of values as a whole, is affected at its very core.  The untruthful man lacks reverence toward values. He assumes a lordly position over being, he deals with it as he pleases, and treats it as if it were a mere chimera, a plaything of his arbitrary pleasure. He denies recognition and response to the value which inheres in being as such, to the dignity which being possesses by its opposition to nothingness. The untruthful person does not fulfill the fundamental obligation to recognize everything that exists in its reality, not to interpret black as white, and not to deny a fact. He behaves toward being as if it did not exist. Obviously, this attitude implies an element of arrogance, of irreverence and impertinence. To treat another person “as if he were air,” to act as if this man did not exist, is perhaps the greatest evidence of disrespect and contempt. The untruthful person takes this attitude toward the world of being. A madman disregards being as being because he does not grasp it. The untruthful man grasps it as such, but refuses the response which is due to the dignity and value of being simply because it is inconvenient or disagreeable for him to do so. His disregard of being is a conscious, guilty one.

A liar considers the whole world, to a certain extent, as but an instrument for his own ends; everything which exists is but an instrument for him; when he cannot use it, then he will deal with it as non-existent and place it in this category.  One must distinguish three different kinds of untruthfulness. First of all, in the artful liar who sees nothing wrong in affirming the contrary of what is true when it is expedient for his aims. Here we are dealing with a man who clearly and consciously cheats and betrays other men in order to reach his aims, like Iago in Shakespeare’s “Othello,” or Franz Moor in Schiller’s “Robbers”—though we also find in these two men a specific viciousness of intention which is not necessarily found in every liar. There also exist liars whose aims are less vicious.

The second type is that of the man who lies to himself and consequently to others. He is the man who simply erases from his mind everything in his life which is difficult or disagreeable, and who not only hides his head like an ostrich, but who persuades himself that he is going to do something, when he knows full well that he cannot do it. This is the man who does not want to recognize his own faults; he is the man who immediately twists the meaning of every situation which is humiliating or disagreeable for him so that it loses its sting. The difference which is to be found between an untruthful person of this type and the hypocrite or the artful liar is evident. His deception is above all practiced upon himself, and only indirectly upon others. He first deceives himself, and then cheats other men, half in good faith. He does not possess that consciousness of aim, that clarity which is proper to the liar, and in general, he lacks the wickedness and cunning meanness of the liar. In most cases he arouses our compassion. Yet, he is not without guilt, for he refuses the response due to values and to the dignity of being, and arrogates to himself a sovereignty over being which does not belong to him. Of course, he does not have the specific impertinence toward truth of the first type of liar; some remaining respect for truth prevents him from conscious and open neglect and distortion of truth. He fears to take this responsibility; he has not the courage of the hypocrite. By self-deceit he eludes the conflict between his inclinations and respect for truth. There is something specifically cowardly and feeble in his nature. In him the cunning and conscious artfulness of the liar is replaced by a more instinctive slyness.


Goodness is the very heart of the whole reign of moral values. It is by no accident that the term “good” means moral value as such, and also the specific moral quality of goodness. Among the different moral values there is none which embodies more completely the entire reign of moral values, than goodness; in it we find the purest and most typical expression of the general character of moral goodness as such. It is the center of all morality, and at the same time, its most sublime fruit. Its central importance in the moral sphere is, therefore, of a completely different type from that of the fundamental attitudes previously mentioned: reverence, fidelity, awareness of responsibility and veracity. For, apart from their own high moral value, these virtues are accepted as a presupposition for the moral life. Goodness, on the contrary, is not a pre supposition, but the fruit of moral life. But not a fruit among others, such as meekness, patience, generosity, but the fruit of fruits, i.e. that in which culminates all morality in a specific way; it is the queen of all virtues.  What is goodness? What do we mean when we say that a man irradiates goodness? We say this of a man when he is disposed to help, when he is kindly, just, when he is ready to make sacrifices for others, when he pardons wrongs done him, when he is generous, when he is full of compassion. All these qualities are specific forms and manifestations of love. This indicates the close connection which exists between love and goodness. Love is, as it were, flowing goodness, and goodness is the breath of love.

We have seen at the beginning that the whole moral life consists in meaningful responses to values which have been grasped, such responses as enthusiasm, admiration, joy, obedience, love. But love is, among all these responses to values, the most complete and the deepest. First of all, one must realize that love is always a most outspoken response to value. When we love somebody, whether it be a friend, a parent, a child, whether it be conjugal love or neighborly love, the beloved person always stands before us as something precious and noble in himself. As long as someone is merely agreeable to us or only useful for our purposes, we could not love him. This does not mean that we become blind to the faults of the beloved person. But the person as a whole must stand before us as endowed with a sublime value and filled with intrinsic preciousness; yes, that specific individuality which every man represents as a unique thought of God must reveal itself before our eyes in all its charm and beauty, if we are to love him.

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