Although there is no universal consensus regarding what is moral and what is not, one that is valid for all cultures at all times, there seems to be a common interpretation of what it is to act morally. This reflection on what this act is was motivated by a brief conversation at halftime of a class, and began to take shape after seeing film producer Ron Howard post a photo stating that although it is no longer mandatory, he would continue to wear masks in public places, for the good of others.
First, every human action has some kind of motive, from the most basic ones; if I’m feeling thirsty, my actions are first stop what I’m doing, go to the where water is available, serve it and drink. This motivation is internal, but the reasons to act may otherwise be external: for example, if I see a child in a park in risk of getting hurt, I stop what I’m doing and try to avoid her getting hurt. That is, the actions are intentional in the sense that they reflect a change in the state of the person caused by this reason, whether internal or external.
The action usually unfolds in various activities or tasks that, properly ordered, allow to satisfy the original motive. In other words, actions have intentions that seek to fulfill and, for this, are divided into small activities that, interconnected, reach them. For example, to fulfill the intention to end my thirst, at least I need to locate water (which may be in a river or inside a bottle in the refrigerator of my house), go to where the water is, get something that can contain it (a glass, for example), put the water in the glass and drink it.
The action involves a deliberation, an act of reason that makes me seek the best way to achieve my intention. The reasons come into this game, because I am informed that there is a desired state different from the current one, which can often be achieved in different ways (for example, if I am in my house and feel sure, when I open the refrigerator I can find water, juice, soda, tea, various types of drinks). What will be the best way to achieve this reason, to fulfill that intention? Previous experiences, accumulated knowledge, advice from other people, all this can lead me to decide what would be the best way. It should be seen that the action, when the subject of a deliberation, requires the decision of what to do. In the case of the child, how to prevent the child from getting hurt? Yelling at her, getting her parents’ attention, running up to her and picking her up to keep her from doing what would hurt her? The options need to be deliberated so that one can choose the best among them, which will allow me to fulfill my intention and meet my motive. Every action has consequences. If, instead of drinking water, I take a glass of sweet soda, I will probably feel thirsty again in no time; If I grab the child who could get hurt, her parents might misinterpret my intentions, thinking I had different motives. It is impossible to predict all the consequences of actions, but one must at least be aware of the greatest number of them, because this will help me in my rational deliberation.
So, in short, we have the motive, the act itself and its consequences. But I would like to draw attention to a word that emerged in the previous paragraph, which is consciousness. I need to know what I’m doing to really act freely and rationally, and freedom and rationality are essential to action. At this point, the moral act can be defined. It must have a motivation, and that motivation is the good. Doing good is the only plausible reason for moral action; the good can be conceptualized, can be defined, and should be treated as an absolute. The activities will depend on the action itself, which makes it impossible to discuss them here. Moral deliberation involves values, which are distinct in time, in space, and according to cultures. Values fulfill the important function of informing us what is the desirable good, and can be
recognized – but never defined perfectly, which prevents its universalization. And consciousness is essential; if I do something for my good, or for other people’s good, I need to be aware that my actions are focused on that goal, I need to have a definition of good acceptable to me and to other people. The lack of awareness of good and action itself are not bad things in itself, because a small child acts without having it, for example; what is needed in this case is to develop the child’s consciousness. But consciousness is something individual. There is no recognizable “collective consciousness”. Values are shared with others, actions can be chosen after a deliberation in terms of what other people would do, but awareness of individual action belongs only to the individual. For this reason, it is an essential criterion for the definition of a moral action: if I know what good is, and I deliberately and consciously choose to act against it, there is no way to justify the action as moral. It is not by the applause of others that you must act morally, but to your conscience. If Ron Howard really wanted to act for the good of others, he deserves my applause; but if he just wanted likes on social media, he just deserves my