Judge Robert H. Bork's decision to continue his struggle for confirmation to the Supreme Court is consistent with his life's credo to "wreak yourself upon the world," an approach, he said in an interview last summer, that pushes him to be a force in public debate and never to cower before public disapproval.

Bork's action yesterday may have shocked official Washington, including the White House, but it was in keeping with the philosophy that led Bork from his early days as an academic to challenge widely held principles of law and to become one of the most controversial figures in his field.

"He did the right thing for Robert Bork," said Washington attorney A. Raymond Randolph, a close friend and adviser who was with Bork as he grappled with his options this week. His wife, Mary Ellen, was a consistent advocate for staying the course, sources said.

"There was a consensus among everyone that it was a personal decision for him to make," Randolph said. "He listened to arguments on both sides. The way he has acted throughout this is the way one would have expected a judge to act. He listened and considered and came to his decision."

During a week of meetings and telephone conversations with friends and advisers, Bork was told "enough was enough," that if he did not withdraw from the nomination, he would be delaying the next nominee for the Supreme Court vacancy, and there was no reason to continue what was widely seen as a futile battle. He also was told that the sympathy many senators felt for him would evaporate if he plunged the Senate into a bitter confirmation debate.

But Bork, visibly upset by the campaign waged against him, did not want to give up. "I think he is doing this because he knows that if he withdrew now the distorted process against him will have been successful," one adviser said. "He may not know what is coming but he knows he's doing the right thing and important thing."

Sources close to Bork said he wants his nomination to be debated on the Senate floor, which he hopes will clarify a record he believes was wildly distorted by his opponents.

Several sources said Bork has nothing to lose by continuing the battle. If he had withdrawn now, they said, he would have abandoned any chance to vindicate himself and restore a reputation badly damaged by the hearings and the campaign against him.

"Whatever humiliation there has been," said a longtime friend, "there has been. There is not going to be any more . . . . I don't think he loses anything from" staying the course.

If Bork had withdrawn, several sources said, he would have been walking away from his only chance, however slim, to fulfill his long quest to be an associate justice on the Supreme Court, to join his friends Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justice Antonin Scalia and to end a dozen years of coming close to the prize only to be passed over for the nomination.

"Win or lose," said one source involved in the decision-making, "something is going to happen {a debate on his record on the Senate floor} that would not have happened had he withdrawn today."

Some advisers warned Bork that his record may not be helped by going to the floor because it appeared more senators would speak against him than for him. "There could be 40 speeches clarifying the record," one source said, "but another 60 speaking against you."

University of Chicago law professor Gerhard Casper, who spoke with Bork after his announcement yesterday, said he did not "have the impression Judge Bork was looking forward to this second phase. But, on the other hand, he feels very strongly about the principle. He's obviously determined about having this set of issues aired even at the price of subjecting himself to further attacks," Casper said.

"He is absolutely not trying to hold people's feet to the fire" by forcing a vote, Randolph said. "I don't think winning . . . played" a major role in his decision, Randolph said. "He's not doing this for the purpose of being confirmed."

"I think he is doing this," another adviser said, "because he knows that if he withdrew now, the process against him will have been successful and the political campaign will have become the modus operandi for Supreme Court confirmations."

Bork's philosophy of fighting to the end for his beliefs -- a credo passed on to him by a longtime friend and colleague at Yale Law School -- coincided yesterday with his decision to take the route most advantageous for him personally.