You Are What You Do

You Are What You Do
In Search of the Good, chapter 2
Quick Review
• Aristotle’s teleological view: the
role of desire for the good
• Kant’s deontological view: role of
duty & obligation
• Levinas’ relational theory of
ethics (the face of another): calls
forth in us the Good
Richard M. Gula
To speak of the human person as a
SUBJECT is to say that the person is in
charge of his or her own life. That is, the
person is a moral agent with a certain
degree of AUTONOMY and self-direction
empowered to act according to his or her
OWN CONSCIENCE, in freedom, and with
Humans: animals but different
• We are rational, i.e., we think
• Our response is not automatic /
▫ We can be spontaneous or
predictable (not instincts alone)
▫ We have a freedom to choose
The Heart of Ethics: Human Agency
Agent, a person who:
•acts freely and knowingly,
•chooses to do or not to do
•is accountable for his or her
actions or omissions.
Action Theory
• From Analytic Philosophy, from the
Logical Positivists (e.g., Ludwig
• gives insight into our human capacity to
do something:
▫ examines the language we use to
communicate our action
▫ helps us to understand what constitutes
a meaningful action.
Human Actions
• the fibre of what makes us what we
• give us our identity
• building blocks of who we are & who
we become
• are not events standing apart on their
▫ they are not “out there”
•Power to act
•The realization of that power
To use your freedom
•To change the
course of events
•To change the world
Focus of Action Theory
•Not first on WHAT is
•But, on WHO it is done
•An action requires an
Ethics examines
•One’s capacity to
make things happen
in the world
The Conceptual Framework of Action
• Paul Ricoeur
• We cannot directly observe or directly
describe our capacity to make things
• We have a sense of “I can do this…”
• We deduce the ability from what
others do.
Key Questions from the Framework
• Who?
• What?
• Why?
• How?
• With whom or against whom?
• Under what circumstances?
• With what outcome?
• the answers: to understand action
The meaning of an action
•Changes according to the
answers to the questions
•An action is good only if
certain conditions are fulfilled
•An action is not just good in
The Morality of Human Acts
•Depends on:
•The object chosen (what)
•The end view or intention
•The circumstances of the
The Agent: Who?
• One who makes things happen
• An intending self
• One with free choice
Free choice:
• Exercise
• Measure of freedom
We are responsible
• For:
▫ What we do
▫ What we intend to do
• We are shaped by:
▫ Our actions
▫ Our intentions
▫ Our promises and commitments
Ethics looks at:
• Commitments
• Beliefs
• Capacities
• Image of the world
• Faith
• Hopes
• Goals
• Who you are
What? The Action
What the agent does
Ethics reflects on intentional actions
reflexes, involuntary responses
Ethical value comes from actions with
The Motive: Why?
Our reasons for doing something:
• always appear as a good (to us at least)
• say why the action is worth doing
• justify our actions, i.e., appeal to a value to make
it right
• are not always expressed
• may not be the result of a conscious value
▫ awareness only comes after the action
Ethics is what we do:
•when we reflect on values
embedded in our decisions
and intentions
•when we examine the values
that make life human.
With What Means? How?
• Our means affects
▫ Our goodness as agent
▫ The goodness of our actions
• “One may not do evil so that good
may result from it.” CCC #1761
With or Against Whom?
• To “Justify” behaviour
▫ Looking for approval
▫ Avoiding disapproval
• We learn to evaluate actions by evaluating
those of others
▫ Assigning blame
▫ Or praise
• Actions are interactions: they affect
ourselves and others
With What Outcome?
•The results of our
actions, INTENDED
OR NOT, affects the
self for good or for bad