Finding Direction: The Model of Moral Growth and Moral Decay 2.0.3
The issue of what is better or worse includes several parts. First, what are the facts and terms of this conflict between moral Growth and moral Decay – if there is such a thing? Then, how should we interpret the meanings of these facts and terms in concrete, specific situations? Finally, what do these facts and interpretations mean to us? If we apply them in our lives, what will our choices be? What is a better or worse choice? What will the consequences of those choices be – for us, for our families, for our communities, states, and nations, and for the natural world? Once we have become aware of our choices and their consequences, we might take hold of our freedom to act on this awareness and to make a choice for the better.
Surely it is easier to think in theoretical terms. We could pretend that if we had a choice, we would do X. But, of course, avoiding reality and staying safely inside theory means we don’t have to make a choice or use our freedom to act. This protects us from concrete realities. Our ethics are locked inside our heads and hearts. In this pretend world, we can keep our theories safe from the competition, conflicts, and consequences of the specific world all around us. In Areopagitica (1644) John Milton doubts the value of a “fugitive and cloistered virtue,” one that has been hidden away from testing and protected from making choices. He argues that we must encounter the real choices of life, think for ourselves, and act.
Without Words We Cannot Think
“I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue, unexercised and unbreathed, that never sallies out and sees her adversary, but slinks out of the race where that immortal garland is to be run for, not without dust and heat. . . . That which purifies us is trial, and trial is by what is contrary. That virtue therefore which is but a youngling in the contemplation of evil, and knows not the utmost that vice promises to her followers, and rejects it, is but a blank virtue, not a pure; her whiteness is but an excremental [external] whiteness . . . .” John Milton (1608-1674), Areopagitica (1644)