Almost every problem can be solved in more ways than one. A simple example, that of going to work, for instance, illustrates this, and also the fact that we choose a solution to achieve a valued purpose. Thus, there may be several ways to travel from home to work: by bus, bike, car or by walking perhaps, and there may be a choice of several routes. The decision made is a successful one if we arrive at work, on time, and have also met any other valued purposes (such as obtaining some exercise, or buying a newspaper on the way).
Or, consider our previous dressing-for-work example. Our work environment may dictate that we dress somewhat formally, but we may be able to do so in a number of ways. Consequently, we might decide based upon what was worn yesterday, or we may let our feelings decide, simply satisfying our mood of the moment. We discussed these kinds of choices earlier, and we noted that the criteria we use to make our decision is found in an environment that is external to the mind itself.
However, situations are never as simple as those portrayed in the examples mentioned. Probing more deeply will show that every decision we make is affected by attempts to meet one or more psychological needs that exist entirely within the mind. For example, what we finally choose to wear may have been decided in an attempt to impress the boss, or to win our friends’ admiration, or to heighten our self-concept. These goals or purposes are seldom known to others, and may be only partly known to ourselves.
We may think that some decisions can only be made objectively, and that private, subjective, or personal goals may play no part in them, but this is incorrect. As an example, imagine that we have to choose a bolt to anchor a structure we are building. We decide what size to use based upon what we know about the structure’s mass and orientation, the strength of materials, type of foundation and so on. We are using our knowledge of the external physical environment, of course. But we also make this choice based on our personal desire for the structure to endure. Quite a different choice could be made if our private purpose was to sabotage the result. Whether or not our private purposes override the public purposes depends upon our psychological state of mind.
Thus, every time we make practical decisions we consult two environments. One is external to our mind and public; it contains all the facts and criteria required to select solutions that will satisfy its needs, and any suitably knowledgeable person could make an identical decision. The other environment is internal to the mind and private; it contains all the personal goals, self-chosen purposes, and maybe several (probably unrecognized) psychological needs that also influence each final decision.
However, only one environment is involved when making moral decisions—our own internal mental mind-set. It has to provide the environment, the criteria to be met, and the goals to value and seek. Thus, there may be no constraints upon what people may decide is moral or what are moral actions. Of course, religions provide environments and guidelines (i.e., criteria), but those without a religion, or who reject their society’s norms, have nothing other than their own personal mental constructs to consult when deciding how to act. Having only one’s own mental environment to guide one’s actions can have significant and terrible consequences (as the activities of numerous psychopaths throughout history have demonstrated).
- See Revelations And Conversions for an elaboration of this term.