III. Right and Wrong.


In all these cases where reflection is absent, and also in the case of inadequate reflection, it may be said that blame does not belong properly to the act, but rather to the character revealed by the act, or, if to some acts, then to those previous deliberate acts by which the character has been produced which has resulted in the present act. The cases of self-deception would then be dismissed on the ground that the self-deceiver never really believes what he wishes to believe. We could then retain our original definition, that a moral act is one which the agent judges to be right, while an immoral one is one which he judges to be wrong. But I do not think this would accord with what most people really mean. I rather think that a moral act should be defined as one which the agent would have judged to be right if he had considered the question candidly and with due care; if, that is to say, he had examined the data before him with a view to discovering what was right, and not with a view to proving such and such a course to be right. If an act is unimportant, and at the same time not obviously less right than some obvious alternative, we shall consider it neither moral nor immoral; for in such a case the act does not deserve careful consideration. The amount of care which a decision deserves depends upon its importance and difficulty; in the case of a statesman advocating a new policy, for example, years of deliberation may sometimes be necessary to excuse him from the charge of levity. But with less important acts, it is usually right to decide even when further reflection might show the present decision to be erroneous. Thus there is a certain amount of reflection appropriate to various acts, while some right acts are best when they spring from impulse (though these are such as reflection would approve). We may therefore say that an act is moral when it is one which the agent would judge to be right after an appropriate amount of candid thought, or, in the case of acts which are best when they are unreflecting, after the amount and kind of thought requisite to form a first opinion. An act is immoral when the agent would judge it to be wrong after an appropriate amount of reflection. It is neither moral nor immoral when it is unimportant and a small amount of reflection would not suffice to show whether it was right or wrong. (§ 22 ¶ 1)