Shaping the Moral Life: An Approach to Moral Theology

By Klaus Demmer; James E. Keenan et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER EIGHT
THE JOURNEY OF MORAL DECISION

Freedom to Self-Determination

Norms must be transposed into action. The way this process takes place is worthy of deep reflection. Certainly, the model of a smooth and unproblematic extension of the norm into the materiality of space and time cannot account for the complex reality of moral action. Where do we start from, then? What appears feasible is to begin with a reflection on our understanding of freedom; we all are accustomed to the idea of freedom—much as, independent of what we mean by the word, we desire it.

In ordinary language we encounter the word freedom in the sense of libertas arbitrii—that is, freedom of choice; this term denotes the capacity to choose among different objects. Adhering to this meaning of freedom inevitably implies conceiving a moral norm in terms of external constriction, as a gravamen liberiatis. Yet this definition may not truly convey the essence of morality. We may be able to come closer to the reality of things by changing our perspective and looking at freedom in a more profound way—namely, in terms of [essential freedom] (Wesensfreiheit). The latter concept is meant as a capacity to translate into action the good previously known; it denotes the power of self-determination, the daring projection of ideals, and, ultimately, the envisioning of a life goal that is generally successful and meaningful.

Obviously this notion of freedom sheds a particular light on our understanding of moral decision in terms of fulfillment of the norm. From this perspective, norms do not constrain freedom any more but liberate freedom to its full potential; they are not burden but gift.

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