There are four aspects of moral agency that could be the source of endless thought, continual increase of understanding and ongoing perfection of usage. I refer to Mind, Emotion, Will and Conscience. When considering moral agency, it is important to have a basic grasp of a concept referred to as Diverse Unity. Simply stated, for our present purposes, diverse unity indicates that though each aspect of moral agency is a distinct function with a specific role (diverse), they continually overlap and interact in a variety of unique ways to produce a final outcome (unity). With varied and complex “components,” a person functions as a single “unit.”
In a somewhat artificial manner, I find it convenient to designate the essential (diverse) function of a component of moral agency with a capital letter (Mind) while representing the peripheral function (unity) with a small letter (mind). I find that, along with simply misrepresenting ideas, it is easy to oversimplify ideas about the function of moral agency by failing to emphasize that, for example, as the Mind performs its essential function, the emotions play a peripheral role in the process. We want to attempt to avoid replacing one imbalance for another imbalance. In other words, we might attempt to use our Minds in such an isolated fashion that we think we must eliminate all traces of emotion associated with the mental process, producing an outcome that is yet imbalanced and unhealthy. I am suggesting that proper moral agency is not isolation and exclusion of various functions in order to properly use one of the other functions but rather involves a proper balance and blend of moral functions. Consequently, when properly and effectively using the Mind, the emotions, will and conscience are actively contributing. So, for those familiar with the concept that the Emotions are designed to function as a “caboose,” following the activity of one’s Mind and Will, I would say it is important to realize that during the proper function of the Mind, emotion plays a peripheral role but must be governed to maintain a peripheral role; it is not simply an isolated “caboose” or “trailer.”
So it is with each contributing component of moral agency. When making a definite choice of Will, the mind, emotions and conscience are active. The challenge is to respond to and govern their activity so that their contribution to one’s Willful decision is healthy. The same can be said about the essential activity of each moral capacity in relation to the peripheral function of the others. “Healthy” is determined by the relationship of one’s behavior (and motive) to God’s revealed design for the area of life in question. If one allows or encourages anyone of our moral components to violate their rightful use in relation to each other and to God’s revealed design, we will wander (or launch) into dangerous territory.
A Concluding Observation
Our contemporary culture (possibly true historically) encourages and allows an Emotional supremacy that is continually producing destructive results. This is not a declaration that emotions, themselves, are bad. They have their rightful role in healthy moral agency. However, basing one’s character and behavior on Emotional activity and response in a way that violates the other components, produces erratic, unstable outcome. Sadly, it is common that much of our contemporary preaching targets Emotional response without the necessary foundation provided by solid teaching that equips the Mind to play a stabilizing role in the production of good character, choices and behavior.
In upcoming posts, we will consider the essential role of each moral capacity.