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On the Range or Scope of [Moral] Action


St Thomas Aquinas (ST IaIIæ.1.3 & ad 3) distinguishes deliberate from non-deliberate actions. Non-deliberate – to take his examples – are such automatic or semi-automatic gestures as the stroking of the beard or involuntary movements of hands or feet. We can add the involuntary and non-conscious dilation of one’s pupils in response to increased interest, the spontaneous effort to regain one’s balance or one’s instantaneous response to another’s stumble. Suchlike actions as do not “proceed from reasonable deliberation which is properly the principle of human action” he calls “acts of a man” because they occur in humans but are not chosen (note that it is possible by training to override some spontaneous responses as, for instance, trainee circus clowns train themselves to override their spontaneous effort to regain their balance.) The acts that proceed from reasonable deliberation and decision he calls “human acts.” We deliberate and decide in order to attain an end or goal. There are practical questions as to how an envisaged end is to be achieved but whether or not to choose the means, that is, the set actions judged likely to achieve the envisaged end, is not itself a practical question. Theft or embezzlement are well known means of attaining the envisaged end of gaining money; whether or not to employ them is a moral not a practical question. Whether or not, given the available technical and physical resources, one can build a bridge across a gorge is a practical question; if one cannot build the bridge the question as to whether or not to build one does not arise; if one can build the bridge that question may arise and is within the moral realm..

What I suggest here is that only and all human acts so defined constitute the moral realm. Correspondingly, the range or scope of [moral] action is the range or scope of deliberate action. A deliberate action is chosen. Some choices are, for various reasons, considerably more important than others – most will agree that the decision whether or not to get married is more important than whether or not or where to go on holiday – but no choice is outside the moral realm, and no choice, as Aristotle already made clear, is made in the abstract. All actual choices are made in the prevailing circumstances as they are understood by the person choosing. There are no abstract and no non-moral choices.


We are born unable to speak; we are potential but not yet actual speakers. We are infants – etymologically non-speakers. To become actual speakers we need to learn from those who can already speak. We learn our language from others – and notice that in learning our mother-tongue, we learn not only that particular language but also language; language exists only as particular languages just as birds exist only as particular species of bird. Puffins and geese are birds; but no bird is not a type or species of bird.

The twentieth century French linguist, Jean Gagnepain, in a lecture that I heard in Rennes thirty-six years ago, remarked that we learn our morals as we learn our language. As we learn our language from others, so we learn from others the moral views, the ethical code, prevailing in our community. And as we learn the prevailing code we also learn to become actually moral beings. We learn not only a particular code (a particular language) but also morality (language). We learn our morals while we learn our language and like the way we learn our language.

As we learn to speak we learn that speech can be correct or incorrect and we are coercively persuaded to speak correctly, and dissuaded from speaking incorrectly. “Correct” and “incorrect” are defined by what our teachers think. The child, however, does not know that. The child simply accepts what is taught. Think of these verbs in modern English: to sing, to bring, to fling. In the first person singular in the present tense, they are similar: I sing, I bring, I fling. In the simple or uncomposed past they not: I sang, I brought, I flung. Why those differences have emerged is a question within historical linguistics and young speakers incline to impose on their language a non-existent regularity and often say, for example, I bring, I brang, I have brung. They are taught that those regularities are mistakes but not why they are, and the young speakers are required to adopt the prevailing usage in their community. The present task is not to discuss the many and enjoyable vagaries of the very many ‘standard’ and ‘non-standard’ forms and changes in modern English, but to illustrate that in learning language, the infant learns what is correct and what is incorrect, what is acceptable and what is unacceptable, what is good and what is bad. What is good is what he ought to say and do; what is bad is what ought not say or do. (Notice that to speak is to do something.) He is taught that he ought to do what he is told to do, and to refrain from doing what he is told not to do; he is told that what is to be said is “cow” and “bovine”, “pig” and “porcine”, “bird” and “avian”, “horse” and “equine” but “elephant” and “elephantine”…and the answer to the question as to why that is so is commonly simply “that is what is said” as the rules of etiquette, what Hobbes called small morals, state “what is done”. The child is an hierarchical animal and, as other hierarchical animals, accepts the authority of those who impose it upon him. (In adulthood we remain to a greater or lesser extent hierarchical animals.)

Underlying the command to do or not do, is the assumption that the child is able to do or not do what he is told. It is useless to tell someone that he ought to do or not do something that quite literally he cannot do or avoid doing. It is useless to tell someone who has been pushed out a window not to fall, or who cannot read to tell what it says is in the paper. We do not deliberate, as Aristotle already noticed, about what we think cannot be otherwise.

As the child learns to speak he also learns, through word and gesture, a large set of actions that, like speech, are distinguished into correct and incorrect; he learns the moral code of his community. He learns through persuasion and coercion so that it is easy, perhaps even inevitable, for him to learn to think of the code both as what is to be obeyed and as what defines morality. As the child grows he learns not only the code itself but also how the code is thought of. For many centuries in European culture important rules of the prevailing code were given in the Ten Commandments which, in turn, were thought of as given to Moses by God who was accepted as authorized to impose them. In the early Hebrew tradition the Law was given by God but freely and explicitly accepted by the people: “So Moses came, summoned the elders of the people, and set before them all these words that the Lord had commanded him. The people all answered as one: ‘everything that the Lord has spoken we will do.’ Moses reported the words of the people to the Lord.” (The Second Book of Moses or Exodus 19:7-8) As Christianity developed in Europe from its Hebrew roots the image of Law as covenant faded and the rhetoric of command, already prominent in the Torah, perhaps particularly in the Third Book of Mosts or Leviticus, became more prominent, and the idea of morality as obedience became widespread.

The Decalogue is in two parts; the first part sets out the rules governing how the people should be with their God; the second part sets out how they should deal with one another. Reflection on the second part reveals the rules to be very ordinary rules upon the reasonably common observance of which the enduring peace of the everyday life of a community depends. Considered in that way, they are functional. But, because they were thought to be imposed by God, the rhetoric of command tended to predominate and the rules began to be thought of by some – William of Occam being the prime and influential example – to be good because commanded. So, in the Occamian tradition, the rule that one should not bear false witness against one’s neighbour is thought to be good because God had so commanded, whereas for St Thomas’ , as later for Thomas Hobbes, not to bear false witness was intrinsically good, that is, intrinsic to the character or nature of the activity, and could be discovered to be good. It was, St Thomas thought, commanded by God in the Decalogue to teach us that it was good lest we corruptly overlook or repudiate it. (The question as to whether an action was good because commanded or commanded because good was not new but, as was well known, had been raised in Plato’s Eutyphro; it is Occam’s answer and its influence that is important as it is one of the roots of modern positivism where the ruler, “that great Leviathan, that Mortall God” takes the place of the immortal God.)


The child who learns the moral code of his community learns that what is commanded is good but why it is thought good is not often concentrated upon and two associated ideas begin to dominate. The first is the idea of moral action as obedience to authority. The second is the idea that the the range or scope of moral action is defined by what is commanded.

As we develop into adulthood we learn more or less clearly three unsettling truths. The first is that we cannot in the end always be compelled to obey; we cannot, for example, be compelled to believe what we hold to be false, although we may be more or less successfully coerced into pretending to believe. Coercive power is great but limited. The second truth is that we begin, or may begin, to question the goodness of at least some features of the prevailing ethical code. The third and incomparably the most important is that we discover that, in the detailed circumstances of our lives, we must ask– that is, we cannot but ask– what we ought to do, and decide whether or not to do what we think we ought to do, and that while we may choose in the light of the prevailing rules but even if they have contributed greatly to our personal moral context or background they do not determine our answer, for the good is always concrete and particular; it is what is to be done now in these circumstances. We ask what we ought to do and we decide, or fail to decide, to do it. We do not choose to be, we already are, moral beings.

One who reflects on those unsettling truths may, again more or less clearly, begin to grasp, in practice more than in theory, that the range or scope of [moral] action is not defined by a code, however good, but by the question: what in the present circumstances ought I now to do? That shift in attitude is a shift to an autonomous morality that does not necessarily, indeed does not usually, and perhaps cannot utterly, repudiate the prevailing code in all respects; it is a personal and responsible attitude to it. Morality is no longer obedience to another.

Whenever I do something, I bring into the world a situation that would not otherwise have existed. The question as to what I ought to do now may, therefore, be recast: what situation ought to be brought about in the present circumstances and what contribution ought I make to bringing it about? The situation that I judge that I ought to contribute to bringing about is what St Thomas, in the question referred to, calls “the [envisaged] end”. I act in order to bring about a situation which is the “end” of my decision. Whenever I judge that I ought to bring about a situation, I give myself a moral rule; whenever I decide and act in accord with my judgment, I obey the rule that I have given myself.

The situation that I conclude ought to be brought about is what I have judged to be good. But my judgment as to what is good is not merely fallible, as are all human judgements; it may well be corrupt. Moral judgment is neither more nor less certain than factual judgment but corruption is more likely as I may allow my own perceived benefit trump others’ entitlements. Nor does my moral judgement that I to do X determine that I shall choose to do X.


I end with two illustrations. The first is imaginary: I find myself in a situation in which there exists both the relevance and possibility of bearing false witness against my neighbour. I may be tempted to do so because it seems to me to be to my immediate benefit. I know that if I am successful I shall bring about a situation in which those concerned will believe the world to be other than it is. That is precisely what I intend; it is my envisaged end. Because to bear false witness is disapproved of, I can hardly avoid wondering if that is a situation that I ought to bring about but when it becomes habitual for me to lie whenever it is in my interest to do so that question fades. There is no axiom that I cannot repudiate even if sometimes, by avoiding squarely to face the question, I repudiate it only in corrupted practice. How I answer that question in the immediate and concrete circumstances, and how I habitually answer it, contributes to my developing construction of myself. How I habitually answer the question shows the kind of person that I have made myself. It becomes as it were the fragile existential moral context and axiom which is myself within which and from which I move. There exists a rule that, as St Paul wrote in Romans (13:8-10) sums up the entire Law: love your neighbour as yourself: Kærleikurinn gjörir ekki náunganum mein. Þess vegna er kærleikurinn fylling lögmálsins. (? ????? ?? ??????? ????? ??? ?????????. ??????? ??? ????? ? ?????. Love does no harm to another, therefore love is the fulfilment of the law.) But why one judges and decides to treat one’s neighbour as oneself derives not from some unavoidable axiom but from an attitude, a feeling, a way of being with others. Morality is not like a geometry where from an initial set of axioms one tries to discover the nature of an implied imagined world. A person’s fragile moral axiom is how he or she has chosen and chooses to be. Love may well do no harm to another and so fulfill the law – in Roman law (Institutes I.1.3 from Ulpian recalling Cicero) the second of the three traditional principles of justice is alterum non lædere (do not harm another). But why choose it as one’s originating moral attitude, as one’s way of being with others? The basic moral principle is not a rule however good; it is the human person him or herself who cannot avoid moral questions. The basic principle is oneself and we are present to ourselves as beings who must choose. To recall Pascal of whom Giorgio Baruchello writes in his paper at this seminar: what Pascal called the heart, the person as he or she now concretely is, is the source of choice.

The second illustration is existential; it is the situation in which we all now find ourselves. I presume that we have come here to honour and to thank Mikael as I now have the opportunity to do for over twenty years of generous friendship. there may well be other reasons that I do not know. What I do know is that each of us has some reason or reasons for being here rather than elsewhere; I do know – on the presumption that no-one has been physically coerced – that each of us has, for whatever reason, chosen to be here. The judgment that each of us individually made that it was good for him or her to come rather than to stay away is a moral judgment. The decision to act on that judgment is a [moral] choice.

The scope or range of [moral] action is, then, the scope or range of the moral questions: what ought I to do now? what kind of person ought I to be? What kind of person do I choose to be? What will I do now? My specific choices are limited to what is now possible for me; those human acts for which I can now be responsible. The range of morality is the range of responsibility.

A note on the forthcoming volume “Romanian – Moroccan Forms of Manifestation in the European Space”




Both Romanian and Moroccan spaces resonate in an un-syncopated way, after more than half a century’s worth of diplomatic relations; as for the political, touristic and economic (inter)related connections, these are considered, without reservation, excellent (both by bilateral factors and at the level of international organisms – a reality confirmed by their Excellencies Ambassador Simona Corlan Ioan and Ambassador Faouz El Achchabi, and expressed as such in their Conference locutions).


Stimulating a re-appraisal of tradition and intensifying the political dialogue, with the explicit intention of amplifying economic-cultural ratios (with superior valences conferred by the position both states are assuming inside their respective regions: Romania, as member of the European Union, and the Kingdom of Morocco, as an EU privileged partner) is underlined by the exemplary status of architectural formulas describing an interchanging place/circulatory space (culturally-economic or politically-diplomatic).


All these aspects are offering a propensity for axial coordinates of European-ism and European(ity), while at the same time proposing solutions, openings and innovative strategies.


In this spiral one cannot ignore the even episodic-concerted action of (re)affirming multiculturalism and multilingualism, still maintained as an ego-political reality. Symbolic elements are reloaded and re-integrated by the “Maalouf Commission” amongst whose artisans one can recognize, as an inspiring/counseling factor of European strategy, both the political man, and the writer/artist/ cultural man as such.

Hence the non-incidental option, which banks upon political and cultural-artistic templates of manifestation inside European space, as a complementary mod(ality) of translating of/by texts/studies/interventions/ presentations (or virtual ones) which use both English language as a synchronizing formula for/in the idiomatic mode of global(izing) research, and French language, as a chance for harmonizing intercultural horizons/spaces.


Re-anchored inside European space, the conference’s main objective was to establish the tension impact of space upon place, received and interpreted as a complex and complete occurrence, propagated from/within (remnant) inherited connections, easy to understand through an acceptance of modernity’s crisis symptoms, manifested both inside the hard bench-marks of space and/in geography’s relativistic capacity to offering re-vitalize/recompose itself.


The interventions proposed an elucidation of the term space, perceived as an abstract entity (acknowledging variables in distance, direction, size, form, volume) detached from any material form/formula or cultural interpretation; and of the concept of place, seen as a space vector for unique assemblies of things, meanings, values, practices, people, objects and representations.


Connected to these constantly confirmed and affirmed ideas, the conference both illustrated and offered arguments for the same problems which diplomacy reiterates as an essential(izing) score recaptured in/through political stability- favorable climate- belonging to the Francophone space – by re-evaluating through actualization and/or data adjustment historically-verified elements/effects; a clarifying space/place relationship accenting political forms of manifestation within European space and cultural-artistic experiences/experiments.


The tri-phased arguments supporting the theme/texture of certain panels take into account the fact that Romanian – Moroccan relations can (also) offer a circuit/alternative for solving implicit spikes/pulses of the European crisis.


Interventions by Professors and Researchers – Ian Browne, François Bréda, Ana Maria Negoita, Abdelmjid Kettioui implicitly clarify the terminology of tradition as mode of constructing identities, where the locale is accepted/perceived as both an accompanying state and a possibility of transcending space, as a synapse through which Eliza Raduca comments upon the resonating mode status of place in/at Francophone space.


The analysis is completed by studies which narrow the modes of construction for place/space, accenting significances expressed by explanatory/clarifying terms of societas/ communitas architecture with reflections in concepts such as faith, myth, time, identity, urbanization or international community.


With the absolutely necessary mention that the multi-focal method was applied/approved in its entirety during the present endeavor – either by the approach, trans-focalization or even the apparent detachment needed for a (re)placing of the proposed themes within context – through a mechanism of relating.


Romania and Morocco maintain a common place of contacts and periodical-institutional meetings, specific for political-diplomatic relationships situated within traditional lines and continuously confirming their given title of best connections.


The specific subject was presented using both geo-political and geo-poetical instruments, by Researchers such as Željko Mirkov, Lucian Jora, Adina Burchiu, Cristina Arvatu Vohn, Henrieta Serban, Abdelaziz El Amrani, Marouane Zakhir, Layachi El Habbouch or Monaim El Azzouzi, who suggest new harmonizing perspectives while noting that such an approach repositions both Romania and Morocco within a place resonating with European space, with its stages and layers accepting of inventories/ shelved materials which can be used as reference points/strategies and intersecting modes, and also as political and cultural-diplomatic instances.


A space of experiments and Romanian – Moroccan cultural-artistic experiences resonates with a certain periodicity and accepts traditions which, reclaiming their perennial values from the directions traced by the Governmental Agreement for Cultural Collaboration (1969) is stimulated by new opinions, perspectives and approaches.


This sequencing only confirms that the angle of investigation/research is imposed by dynamic space bolsters, and impossible to separate from post-modern globalizing tendencies as translated in a new reading of Mohammed Al-Sadoun’s The Freedom Monument; unable not to maintain the relationship between images (Valentin Trifesco) – narrative/diarium/journey (Carmen Burcea) – or a symbology of the veil (Claudia Moscovici).


Such a dynamic ”trajectory” certifies all Michel Deguy-ian (Franta / România [France/ Romania], in Secolul 21, no. 1-6, 2009, pp. 316-318) assertions in the sense of a mediating association between two terms equally involved in a perspective-changing relationship (either volitional or involuntary, by referencing a changing World/Europe) and re-computing the horizon (with all its hesitatingly-skeptical or apocalyptic- favorable premonitions): the Romania-Morocco relationship positional handles any particularizing immediacy of an universally-mediated Europe.


On the basis of these opinions one can signal the tri-phase force effect already announced, with concluding notes in re-assessing a report which does not reclaim hierarchies and does not articulate the statute of any device.


Considering than any account implies a multiplication of dimensions accepting both essentialization and selection depending on certain intensified-effect building materials, any places of rest found when traveling through space determine their own transformation, by ensuring co-participation and offering a chance for an inventory of opportunities while at the same time indicating an act of establishment concerning their own selves (far from the traps of quantification or any pretensions of exhausting the theme).


Certainly, the Romanian – Moroccan project will be also materialized and finalized by the publication of a collective volume, thanks to the constantly-revived contact with a significantly-interesting part of the Moroccan scientific community (a relationship proved also by the presence of Moroccan community representatives in Romania during the Conference) with whom we have harmonically agreed upon inexhaustible thematic convergence nodes/places and kaleidoscopic formulas of attracting/bringing together subjects deploying from this common option.


Florian Vetsch (Tanger Trance, Bern, Sulgen, Zürich, 2010) geo-temporally comments upon the consequences of a tristesse européenne (in its nostalgia-filled, recovering mode) by appealing to a differentiated mode of partitioning time – the two-hour time-lag between Morocco and Europe. One can also consider a qsim – intensified relationship, in the sense in which any Moroccans doing business with Europe have to wake up very early in the summer, and presentified by the fact that, only in Tangier, ntina signifies an undifferentiated identity, in the sense of that societas/communitas; a cultural node, unraveled by the great story-teller Jilala- Mohammed Mrabet, whose identity was doubted by Tahar Ben Jelloun who considered him to be just a Bowles-ian fiction. Inside amplified/accompanying space considered to be the opening place of the book Sacred Night by Tahar Ben Jelloun (Noaptea sacra [The Sacred Night], Art Publishing House, Bucharest, 2008), the state of the place chapter traces, inside the commenced and abandoned story, a sliding state for a storyteller devoid of memory (but not of imagination) as a builder of central point’s aiming towards complete possession of the market, in the sense in which no one was allowed to leave Bushaib´s circle. The annotated place in the perspective of an apparently closed circle suffers from the immobile equivalents of a space where nothing changes, and everything stays (remains) as it was first created, being subjected only to outside assault, as a competitive chance of both meeting and conflict. “I had reached Marrakesh the previous night, determined to meet the storyteller who had been bankrupted by telling my story”.


Both the conference and the on-publishing volume aim to be an (inter)relational approach-investigation of the idea that place and space adjusting re-compute time, with harmonizing identities impossible to separate from the narrative formulations which exist and relate themselves to each other.


Transposed in the spirit of the common Romanian – Moroccan archi-text, within the score of multiculturalism and multilingualism (an objective achieved also through the implication of the Center for Philological and Intercultural Research of the Letters and Arts Faculty, “Lucian Blaga” University- Sibiu, through its director, Gheorghe Manolache) one can agree upon our collective involvement in launching a common idiom which propagates the idea that everyone has the possibility of acceding to the three dimensions of communication, through language: autochthonous (maternal), allogenous (paternal) and the third, as complementary as an European-izing intersection.


In the act of initiation, Christopher Columbus was showing his Master the Sea, which included the Earth from a Pole to another, the boundless space, the one which once was the Garden of the Hesperides. A possible compass would indicate the extreme Western of the Mediterranean Sea, in the nearby paternity of Atlas Mountains, maybe in Tangier, to the edge of the Ocean: it is a tempting invitation (operated both by the conference and volume) to sail into a space where apples of immortality are still growing!




* The present material is organized as an introduction to the forthcoming volume including the interventions presented at the International Conference “Romanian – Moroccan Forms of Manifestation in the European Space, organized by the Institute of Political Sciences and International Relations, Romanian Academy, Bucharest, 9-10 April 2014.


**As a director of the project and coordinator of the volume, I would like to address with deference, my gratitude for all the support to Professor and Researcher, Director of the Institute of Political Sciences and International Relations, Dan Dungaciu and to Historian and Researcher, Stelian Neagoe. Also my truly thanks for their effort, work and constant collaboration to Researcher Ana Maria Negoita and to Researcher and Translator Ian Browne. I would like also to mention the effective help and effort of Daniela Paul and Emilian Popa.