The moral life is the human experience of goodness, beauty and truth. We desire and seek what we believe to be good, beautiful and true because possessing these goods lead to happiness.
Moral Obligation Human beings want to and have to possess goodness and beauty and truth. This feeling of should or ought in life is the experience of moral obligation. Moral obligation is our human propensity to be attracted to the good, the true and the beautiful.
How do you feel when you miss the mark or choose poorly in life? In other words, what feelings do you have when you make a mistake?
When we ignore the should or ought in life, we experience feelings of evasion or regret. When we fail to seek or possess goodness, truth and beauty we fail in our moral obligation and feel that something is missing. We are unhappy.
The moral life is predicated upon human freedom and human choice. As human beings we are free to choose which goods to pursue, which beauties to embrace and which truths to believe. As finite creatures in time and space we must choose from an array of goods. We cannot pursue every good, or experience every beauty, or know every truth.
We can be mistaken in our moral choices: something we thought was good ends up harming us (and others); something we saw as beautiful ends up being an illusion; something we believed to be true is really a lie. As a result, we feel betrayed, unfulfilled, disillusioned and unhappy.
Genuine good, inspiring beauty and authentic truth must be rightly ordered. Right order means choosing the right goods in the right way, at the right time, for the right purpose, in right relationship with all the goods of life.
The moral life depends on rightly ordering goods according to ones situation in life (opportunities and responsibilities) and ones relationships with others. Leading a balanced life is not the same as leading a moral life; a moral life is a rightly ordered life.
The key to the moral life is freedom. To be truly free to live a righteous life we must cultivate our moral character so that we are disposed by habit to choose rightly in any given situation. We must be free from disordered affections which cloud our perception of goodness, beauty and truth.
We must have moral character, which means we must become persons of virtue, people who have developed excellent human qualities and good habits of action and reflection which lead to happiness.
Catholic Christianity In the Catholic Christian tradition the study of ethics is called moral theology. Catholic moral theologians, Catholic scholars who study and teach ethics, teach how Christians and all men and women ought to live in response to Gods creative and saving love for us as revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Truth, Goodness, and Beauty Peter Kreeft, Phd., a philosophy professor at Boston College, says that God is infinite truth, infinite goodness, and infinite beauty. And God created man in his image (Genesis 1:27). That is why man naturally seeks truth, goodness, and beauty.
The source of Jesuit education is Ignatian spirituality as exemplified in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola. The First Principle and Foundation of Ignatius Spiritual Exercises is the belief that human beings are made to praise, reverence and serve God.
St. Ignatius Loyolas Spiritual Exercises guides persons in the practice of spiritual discernment. The goal of Ignatian spiritual discernment is freedom to choose to live and act in loving service of others for the common good of all and the greater glory of God.
Ignatian spirituality and Jesuit education are rooted in the belief that the morally good life is a life of love and service of God and others in the manner of Jesus Christ.
In other words, when we seek happiness and use our freedom to appropriately choose the goods of truth, goodness and beauty, we are leading a virtuous life, a Christian life of love and service to God and others.
Primary sources consulted: Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics. Translated and edited by Roger Crisp. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 2000. St. Augustine. Confessions. Translated with an introduction by R.S. Pine-Coffin. New York, NY: Penguin Books, 1961. Catechism of the Catholic Church. 2d ed. Washington, D.C.: United States Catholic Conference, 1997. Gula, Richard M. Reason Informed by Faith: Foundations of Catholic Morality. New York, NY: Paulist Press, 1989. Gustafson, James M. Christ and the Moral Life. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1968. Hamel, Ronald P. and Kenneth R. Himes, eds. Introduction to Christian Ethics: A Reader. New York, NY: Paulist Press, 1989. MacIntyre, Alasdair. A Short History of Ethics. New York, NY: Collier Books, 1966. Mahoney, John. The Making of Moral Theology: A Study of the Roman Catholic Tradition. New York, NY: Clarendon Press, 1987. National Directory for Catechesis. Washington, D.C.: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2005. Pope John Paul II. The Splendor of Truth / Veritatis Splendor . Washington, D.C.: United States Catholic Conference, Office for Publishing and Promotion Services, Publication No. 679-4, n.d. The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius. Translated with commentary by George E. Ganss. St. Louis, MO: Institute of Jesuit Resources, 1992. Spohn, William C. Go and Do Likewise: Jesus and Ethics. New York, NY: Continuum, 1999. page 162 Kreeft, Peter Catholic Ignatius Press Christianity: A Complete Catechism of Catholic Church Beliefs Based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church 2001