A Review of Moral Imagination

Moral Imagination

National Association of Christian Ministers Leadership Series

By Michael Mooney, Exec. Elder

Imagination is a foundational aspect of the human experience, which presents itself though a variety of thinking processes.  The tendency is to hold some form of assumption about the way in which the World operates.  This then becomes the standard for the flow of mental images regarding the possibilities and limitations of reality.  One category that seems central to life and human relations is the concept of morality.  People are in most cases born into cultural backgrounds rich in religion, ethnicity, and traditions.  These elements serve as anchors for the development of moral imagery, concepts of God, and decisions about what is right and wrong.

Moral imagination can be conceptualized as operating within at least three categories:

1)     Exploring;

2)     Correcting; and

3)     Committing.

Exploring is a mode where traditions, art forms, culture, history, religious experiences, etc., serve as perspectives for viewing future possibilities for moral advancement.  Yet with this understanding, there are limitations of being too impractical.  The result is to compromise total creativity by instead adapting smaller steps outside historical norms –such as the movement to end slavery.  After all, it seems more sensible to approach “a better way”, than to create a new one.   This is where much possibility exists to share with people the way of the Gospel.  They can be directed to look backward and take the path that has been laid.

Nevertheless, with the development of moral values, the corrective perspective considers past outcomes as a means by which to set limits for future possibilities of a better World.  It is here that another value is established, that is character.  Lastly, the dynamic of commitment takes place as a moral compass that guides people through life.  This becomes the standard by which they select some causes to support, and others to reject.  It becomes the foundation of their values.

From these processes, images of “the good life” are formed.  Some of these pictures will reflect “ideals” and others reality, but there often are gaps between the two.  Herein, lays the doorway to self-deception.  When circumstances arise that cause the ideas of good living to stand in opposition of moral imaginations, compromises are formed to relieve the logical inconsistencies.  Further birthing of narrow-mindedness and fantasies arise to maintain compromised values.  This is most true when such values were established on facts and truth, but are now weakened by new motives.  Seeking to see others in the mental images with which they view themselves is a major step toward mutual understanding.  Even more, seeking to see the moral images by which others have justified their mistakes is a tremendous step toward self-awareness, and cultural understanding, and a well-rounded World view (Moral Imagination, 2001).



Moral Imagination. (2001). In Encyclopedia of Ethics.