Object Puzzle Pieces

May 28, 2007 § 31 Comments

‘Object’ means ‘chosen behavior.’ And when a chosen behavior is evil, no intentions or circumstances can make it good. Don’t even start with why you are choosing to do it. It doesn’t matter why, when the chosen behavior is evil.

Judgments about morality cannot be made without taking into consideration whether or not the deliberate choice of a specific kind of behaviour is in conformity with the dignity and integral vocation of the human person.

Hence human activity cannot be judged as morally good merely because it is a means for attaining one or another of its goals, or simply because the subject’s intention is good.

But on what does the moral assessment of man’s free acts depend? What is it that ensures this ordering of human acts to God? Is it the intention of the acting subject, the circumstances — and in particular the consequences — of his action, or the object itself of his act? … But as part of the effort to work out such a rational morality (for this reason it is sometimes called an “autonomous morality” ) there exist false solutions, linked in particular to an inadequate understanding of the object of moral action.

Some authors do not take into sufficient consideration the fact that the will is involved in the concrete choices which it makes: these choices are a condition of its moral goodness and its being ordered to the ultimate end of the person. Others are inspired by a notion of freedom which prescinds from the actual conditions of its exercise, from its objective reference to the truth about the good, and from its determination through choices of concrete kinds of behaviour.

In this [false] view, deliberate consent to certain kinds of behaviour declared illicit by traditional moral theology would not imply an objective moral evil.

Such theories however are not faithful to the Church’s teaching, when they believe they can justify, as morally good, deliberate choices of kinds of behaviour contrary to the commandments of the divine and natural law. These theories cannot claim to be grounded in the Catholic moral tradition.

But the consideration of these consequences, and also of intentions, is not sufficient for judging the moral quality of a concrete choice. The weighing of the goods and evils foreseeable as the consequence of an action is not an adequate method for determining whether the choice of that concrete kind of behaviour is “according to its species”, or “in itself”, morally good or bad, licit or illicit. The foreseeable consequences are part of those circumstances of the act, which, while capable of lessening the gravity of an evil act, nonetheless cannot alter its moral species.

The morality of the human act depends primarily and fundamentally on the “object” rationally chosen by the deliberate will, […] The object of the act of willing is in fact a freely chosen kind of behaviour.

“there are certain specific kinds of behaviour that are always wrong to choose, because choosing them involves a disorder of the will, that is, a moral evil”.

And Saint Thomas observes that “it often happens that man acts with a good intention, but without spiritual gain, because he lacks a good will. […]”

The reason why a good intention is not itself sufficient, but a correct choice of actions is also needed, is that the human act depends on its object,…

One must therefore reject the thesis, characteristic of teleological and proportionalist theories, which holds that it is impossible to qualify as morally evil according to its species — its “object” — the deliberate choice of certain kinds of behaviour or specific acts, apart from a consideration of the intention for which the choice is made or the totality of the foreseeable consequences of that act for all persons concerned.

Reason attests that there are objects of the human act which are by their nature “incapable of being ordered” to God, because they radically contradict the good of the person made in his image. These are the acts which, in the Church’s moral tradition, have been termed “intrinsically evil” (intrinsece malum): they are such always and per se, in other words, on account of their very object, and quite apart from the ulterior intentions of the one acting and the circumstances.

Consequently, without in the least denying the influence on morality exercised by circumstances and especially by intentions, the Church teaches that “there exist acts which per se and in themselves, independently of circumstances, are always seriously wrong by reason of their object“.

If acts are intrinsically evil, a good intention or particular circumstances can diminish their evil, but they cannot remove it. They remain “irremediably” evil acts; per se and in themselves they are not capable of being ordered to God and to the good of the person.

Consequently, circumstances or intentions can never transform an act intrinsically evil by virtue of its object into an act “subjectively” good or defensible as a choice.

For this reason — we repeat — the opinion must be rejected as erroneous which maintains that it is impossible to qualify as morally evil according to its species the deliberate choice of certain kinds of behaviour or specific acts, without taking into account the intention for which the choice was made or the totality of the foreseeable consequences of that act for all persons concerned.

When we engage in an evil chosen behavior – an intrinsically evil act – it doesn’t matter why we choose to do it. It only matters that we choose to do it. When we choose to do it, we are doing evil. There is no “why” which can justify it.

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§ 31 Responses to Object Puzzle Pieces

  • Is the “intention” spoken of here the proximate intention or the remote intention ?It seems to me that the specification of the moral object has to include the proximate intent.Otherwise, we would have to consider that the same physical act would imply the same moral object.But that isn’t the case.The same physical act of hitting a baseball thru a window may apply in two quite different moral objects:1: The baseball hit with the proximate intent of smashing the window. The remote intent may be revenge.2: The baseball hit with the proximate intent of aiming for a window-free area of the backyard. The remote intent may be to improve batting accuracy.God Bless

  • zippy says:

    <>The same physical act of hitting a baseball thru a window may apply in two quite different moral objects<>I think what is confusing you may be the process of abstracting away into categories from the object of the act. The object of an act is the actual chosen behavior. But in any case it is pretty clear that you are resisting what JPII is telling you over and over again – that the moral object of the act and the primary determinant of its morality in the case of intrinsically evil acts is the object or chosen behavior, and that no intentions (he doesn’t say “no remote intention” — he repeatedly says “intention” without qualifier) can make it a good act.“Hitting a baseball into a window” doesn’t describe a category of intrinsically evil acts, so it is irrelevant to this discussion.

  • Actually I do agree with JP2 about some moral objects being intrinsically evil and not justified by any remote intent whatsoever. I think you know this Zippy because we’ve discussed these issue over some years now.My difficulty is in understanding exactly what the moral object is and how to determine it in concrete cases. I don’t seem to be the only one with this difficulty !I find the language extremely confusing.Saying that the object of the act is the key point doesn’t help much if we can’t clearly identify what the moral object actually is.In the case of the AIDS/condom case, what is the “behaviour deliberately chosen” (to quote from of VS) ?Is it the contraceptive effect ? In which case, yes, it would be an evil act. Intrinsically evil, I think not because no Pope has defined contraception as intrinsically evil.Or is the chosen behaviour the HIV transmission reducing effect ?Which effect of the condom is the actor actually choosing ?Isn’t it the effect that the actor chooses that defines the moral object ?Isn’t this a case of double effect where the condom use has two effects, one good and one evil ? One intended and one not. And if the use of a condom in intercourse is not intrincally evil (as no Pope has ever defined it to be intrinsically evil) and there are proportionate reasons, then the use would be licit ?God Bless

  • <>It seems to me that the specification of the moral object has to include the proximate intent.Otherwise, we would have to consider that the same physical act would imply the same moral object.<>In some cases, that is true. In other cases, it is not. You can’t generalize. Prevention of seminal fluid from being deposited in the vagina, no matter what particular means are chosen, is an intriniscally evil act <>by its physical nature<>. It is an odd case in which the proximate intent is entirely irrelevant to the specification of the moral object; even the <>proximate<> intent is an irrelevant intention. Most moral acts include the proximate object as part of the specification of moral act (as the example with the baseball), but that can’t be generalized, because it isn’t always true.

  • Crimson,So what exactly is the moral object here ?Is it : “Prevention of seminal fluid from being deposited in the vagina” ?If that is the moral object then yes I agree it’s evil.Or is it : “Prevention of HIV transmission” ?Or is it simplly “Intercourse using a condom” (a description of the physical act)? Which is a morally neutral moral object so we would then move to examine intent and circumstance.I would really like to nail down the moral object, exactly what it is and how to identify it.God Bless

  • zippy says:

    <>Actually I do agree with JP2 about some moral objects being intrinsically evil and not justified by any remote intent whatsoever.<>Well, no, you don’t agree with him, because he doesn’t say “remote”.

  • Zippy,Well I do agree with JP2 on intent. But I believe he means “remote intent”. But I could well have misunderstood him.Precisely what is the moral object when a couple uses a condom to limit HIV transfer ?God Bless

  • zippy says:

    <>Well I do agree with JP2 on intent. But I believe he means “remote intent”.<>So you disagree with his decision to leave “intent” unqualified. You agree that if he had said something else other than what he actually said, that you would agree with that other, different thing.I don’t think “agree” means what you think it means.

  • Zippy,No, I agree with JP2 because I trust him. I have faith in him.I agree with whatever he meant by “moral object” and “intent”.I’m struggling to understand exactly what he meant.Help me out here.God Bless

  • <>Is it : “Prevention of seminal fluid from being deposited in the vagina” ?If that is the moral object then yes I agree it’s evil.Or is it : “Prevention of HIV transmission” ?Or is it simplly “Intercourse using a condom” (a description of the physical act)? Which is a morally neutral moral object so we would then move to examine intent and circumstance.<>It can’t be “prevention of HIV transmission,” because preventing HIV transmission doesn’t specify any human behavior. It has to be what is done in order to prevent HIV transmission. One of the acts that can be done to prevent HIV transmission is to prevent seminal fluid from being deposited in the vagina. That falls within a morally impermissible (and intrinsically evil) genus of behavior under which there are several species of wrong behavior, one of which is intercourse using a condom that is impermeable to seminal fluid. If you choose a species of behavior within that genus, then what you have done is evil.Basically, the answer is that substantive moral theology determines the objective taxonomy of moral acts, and the object is determined based on what kind of act (as classified by the moral taxonomy) is being undertaken. The first question one asks with object is “what kind of act is this within the moral taxonomy?” That determines what sorts of questions you need to answer to identify the object.

  • Crimson,Thanks for that which is very helpful, especially the bit about morally impermissible genus of behavior under which there are several species of wrong behavior, one of which is intercourse using a condom that is impermeable to seminal fluid.Several questions :1. Where is it taught that this intrinsically evil ? I agree it’s taught as evil but what I’m missing is that its taught as intrinsically evil ?2. In Humanae Vitae it is taught :-<>Similarly excluded is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is <>specifically intended<> to prevent procreation—whether as an end or as a means.<>So it appears to me that the papal teaching is that there has to be <>specific intent<> to contracept.God Bless

  • <>Basically, the answer is that substantive moral theology determines the objective taxonomy of moral acts, and the object is determined based on what kind of act (as classified by the moral taxonomy) is being undertaken. The first question one asks with object is “what kind of act is this within the moral taxonomy?” That determines what sorts of questions you need to answer to identify the object.<>So the rules by which one determines what the moral object is change depending on how the act is classified in the moral taxonomy ? Kaczor I think says much the same.God Bless

  • Chris:You’ve understood my point. With respect to HV, the specific point is a bit obscured, but what you cited is not the exclusive definition of the moral teaching. The following is:<>The Church, nevertheless, in urging men to the observance of the precepts of the natural law, which it interprets by its constant doctrine, teaches that <>each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life<>.<>Moral theology says that some acts are “inapt for procreation” or “inapt for generation” either <>per se<> or <>per accidens<>. In such physical acts, there is no intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life, as required by HV. Given the teaching of the canon law regarding the consummation of marriage, which also refers to acts apt for generation, it appears that this means deposition of semen.http://www.faith.org.uk/Publications/Magazines/Mar06/Mar06MarriageAndTheProphylacticUseOfCondoms.htmlMichael Liccione argues that Gormally’s conclusion in the article linked above does not sufficiently and unambiguously demonstrate the conclusion (because, e.g., condoms can break or otherwise allow semen to slip by). But he agrees that there is sufficient evidence that the nature of the act, even if <>per accidens<> inapt for procreation, breaks the link such that the willful use of barrier methods is contrary to the intrinsic relationship required between marital acts and procreation. In virtually every practical case, it will be impossible to employ condoms so that they do not intentionally thwart procreation, because no one uses condoms really uses condoms wishing them to break, for example:http://mliccione.blogspot.com/2006/05/catholic-condom-debate-iii.htmlAfter following that debate, I was pretty much sold that there is no real way that the use of condoms can fall outside of being out of intrinsic relationship to procreation, and therefore, intriniscally evil as all such acts are.

  • <>The Church, nevertheless, in urging men to the observance of the precepts of the natural law, which it interprets by its constant doctrine, teaches that each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life.<>From what I can tell, this isn’t the bit usually quoted as the actual teaching part in HV. For example, what the Catechism or VS quote. It seems to be supporting argumentation rather than the actual intended teaching.God Bless

  • zippy says:

    <>It seems to be supporting argumentation rather than the actual intended teaching.<>So “actual intended teaching” in an encyclical is whatever supports the conclusion we want, and “supporting argumentation” – which we can safely ignore – is whatever undermines the conclusion we want.Is this what you mean by “agreeing”, Chris?

  • Zippy,Not at all.It’s well established that not every argument in an encyclical is binding teaching (in particular supporting argumentation is not binding).How does one determine what is the actual teaching and what is supporting argumentation ?By looking at what the Church quotes and presents herself as the key teaching.God Bless

  • Crimson,Gormally raises an interesting point :-<>Now the unity of Christ and the Church is created by the self-giving love of Christ, centrally through his passion, death, and resurrection and through our participation in his victory over sin and death principally by our partaking of the risenbody of Christ in the Eucharist. Marriage distinctively shares in the unity of the body of Christ as husband and wife enact in their lives both the self-giving of Christ and the receptivity of the Church. And the action which both signifies and realizes this unity is marital intercourse. But in order for it to do so, there clearly must be both a giving by the husband of his substance to his wife and a receiving of it by the wife.<>However, it does seem that his point is a theological opinion and not something actually taught authoritatively taught by the magisterium.God Bless

  • c matt says:

    Do I understand you correctly, that you interpret the quoted language “The Church, nevertheless, … , <>teaches that<>” is not teaching, but supporting argumentation?

  • <>It’s well established that not every argument in an encyclical is binding teaching (in particular <>supporting argumentation is not binding<>).<>The bolded part is a common misunderstanding, but it is a misunderstanding nonetheless. If the supporting argumentation includes the definitive proposal of a belief taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium (which typically include the language “constant teaching,” “constant tradition,” etc.), then those statements of belief definitively proposed (formally attested), even without the formation of a dogmatic definition, is also infallible.Some nice summaries:http://www.ewtn.com/library/Theology/SUMMARY.HTMhttp://mliccione.blogspot.com/2005/08/infallibility-of-ordinary-magisterium.htmlI have no doubt that the statement definitively proposes a proposition of faith and morals as being taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium, so it is infallible even without a formal act of dogmatic definition.

  • Crimson,I take your point about the infallibility of the OUM, but I note that it only seems to be established by a statement of the SCDF, which although authoritative, is not in itself a statement of the OUM (ie could be wrong).God Bless

  • Chris:The statement I quoted above was from Humanae Vitae 11, not the CDF.http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/paul_vi/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-vi_enc_25071968_humanae-vitae_en.htmlDo you agree that this sort of statement in a papal encyclical enjoys the infallibility of the OUM?

  • Crimson,I don’t know.The SCDF appears to claim that possibly it might be, but their statement claiming that is not an act of the OUM so its unclear if what they say is actually correct.Nothing in HV claims infallibility for any part of it’s teaching.God Bless

  • <>Nothing in HV claims infallibility for any part of it’s teaching.<>As far as I can tell, that is merely a sufficient reason for considering a dogma infallible, not a necessary one. The Pope <>qua<> Pope definitively proposed a statement to the faithful (“To … the Clergy and Faithful of the Whole Catholic World, and to All Men of Good Will”) as the constant teaching of the Church. I can’t see where that fails to meet any requirement of objectively infallible teaching in terms of the prescribed requirements of assent of faith. It might not be a solemn <>ex cathedra<> definition, but infallibility is not limited to solemn <>ex cathedra<> definitions.

  • Anonymous says:

    Assent precedes infallibility. Otherwise you can get out of believing anything simply by saying, “Ah, but the statement that is infallible isn’t infallible.” or “Ah, but the definition of infallibility isn’t infallible unless it is infallible.” or “Ah, but statements <>interpreting<> the infallible declaration aren’t infallible.”

  • Anonymous says:

    So Zippy,Apply this “method” to “living as brother and sister” to people who have abandoned their valid, sacramental marriages.I say it does not wash. What say ye and why? Please be clear and precise? Thanks.Karl

  • zippy says:

    <>Apply this “method” to “living as brother and sister” to people who have abandoned their valid, sacramental marriages.I say it does not wash. What say ye and why? Please be clear and precise? Thanks.<>I’m not clear on the specific behaviors in question. “Living as brother and sister” is really a stipulation of a non-behavior where the behavior in question would be evil, so LABAS can’t be wrong in itself. Certainly there is evil in abandoning a sacramental spouse; there is also evil in failing to carry out natural obligations to children, whether those children are the result of a sacramental marriage or otherwise. We could talk about what is good and evil here at the level of intentions, but until a specific behavior is specified it is difficult to say which ones might be intrinsically evil.

  • Anonymous says:

    Dear Zippy,The behavior is “living as brother and sister”, as is blessed by both JPII and then Cardinal Ratzinger in a Vatican 1994 letter.They said this was fine for the good of the children of the adultery.I say BS.I want to know under what circumstances a disciplined analysis of this arrangment would allow such balderdash.If someone has a living spouse of a valid, sacramental marriage how is living with another person not wrong? Just because one lives as “brother and sister” does not violate the fact that a promise of the “personalist elements” that are ALWAYS cited in annulment decisions is being denied to a valid, sacramental spouse.Such a “construct” reduces a marriage fundamentally to a mere sex act – intercourse, stripped of anything else, period.“Living as brother and sister” merely precludes the sex act – only. The other elements of a marital relationship other than sex are given to the “brother” or the “sister” and are positively denied to the valid, sacramental spouse. This is objectively and gravely sinful and wrong.I have never, ever heard this situation discussed in writing in any form that explains clearly all the circumstances.I hope that is clear. There is so much more to say about this but I am trying to keep to the point.Karl

  • Anonymous says:

    Dear Zippy,This is what I asked of Phil Blosser because of his background in philosophy. I also would guess that he knows some faithful Moral Theologians, who are the folks I would imagine are disciplined enough in thought to totally do an analysis of all the related issues this subject brings in.These circumstances are widely encouraged in the Catholic Church and are used as an excuse to justify divorces and fake annulments and the living arrangements of unrepentant adulterers who are not called to repentance but are rather excused “for the good of the children of adultery”. The entire industry built around this “construct” denies justice to abandoned spouses and their children and makes the Catholic Church an accomplice in the destruction of families and it is undeniable to the honest person with any intellectual honesty.It is central to why I defected from the Catholic Church in a formal canonical act.

  • zippy says:

    I wouldn’t say that it is “fine”. There are obligations to both the children and the sacramental spouse; it isn’t a matter of either or, so it becomes a question of precedence of obligations. (FWIW I do tend to take a cynical view of most such arrangements as a practical matter: but here we are discussing fundamental principle. And I do think the situation with annulments is clearly broken in at least < HREF="https://zippycatholic.wordpress.com/2005/12/null-annulment.html" REL="nofollow">one of two possible ways<>. Whether a particular case actually meets the criteria is a different matter, but I am assuming a focus on criteria for the present).I am assuming for the sake of argument that the legitimate marriage was broken by a civil divorce without children, and the “new” false, adulterous faux-marriage did result in children. In that cirumstance there are obligations involved which may to some extent be literally mutually exclusive (though again, in practice this is probably less the case than many assume it to be: the adulterous spouse continues to have obligations to <>both<> his children <>and<> his sacramental spouse). This situation is hardly “fine”: it is always on the precipice of damnation, as far as I can tell, since every single moment – never in a “once and for all” act – the person is under obligations which at times may be mutually exclusive.But I think – based purely on moral intuition – that when <>objectively<> there is such a conflict, our positive obligations to a spouse come second to our positive obligations to our children. (Our negative obligations – e.g. to not commit an adulterous sex act as just an example of an obvious one – do not ever admit of exceptions or prioritization).I’m not a moral theologian though, nor particularly learned; but thats about where I am at the moment. Hopefully it is obvious that things change by a lot as the particulars change by even a little in these kinds of questions; and that “fine” or some cognate is the last term I would use to describe the moral catch-22’s into which people get themselves through the < HREF="https://zippycatholic.wordpress.com/2005/12/morally-divorce-is-heinous-evil-wicked.html" REL="nofollow">heinous crime<> of divorce.

  • Anonymous says:

    Dear Zippy,Like yours my background is as a scientist. I was trained to be as precise as possible.I have aggravated over this for years finally leaving the Catholic Church over it, when I reached the conclusion that it is morally indefensible and the Catholic Church refused to attempt to heal our valid, Scarament and would not use excommunication to bring it about.I believe it is an intrinsically evil act to live with another person who is not your spouse, while your valid spouse is living.It violates the fundamental meaning of marriage and renders the vows meaningless if there is ANY justification for it. By the very nature of the separation from your spouse you are denying them what is theirs, intrinsically, in the mutually given promises.An intrinsically evil act cannot be justified by any external condition. The innocent children need to be cared for but their existance does not justify abandoning a vow. There are many single parents; plus, their is nothing evil, intrinsically, about the innocent spouse living with and raising the children of the other spouse’s adultery. It seems to me this situation rewards infidelity, raising charity over justice, which I was taught, by necessity is intrinsically evil and renders said charity to be false charity.I am always willing to listen but I know how smooth many talkers are and I am not likely to be swayed from my conclusion easily, not when my salvation, by the nature of my act to leave the Catholic Church, depends upon it.I believe under the circumstances I was and remain obliged to be separated from the Catholic Church until the Catholic Church changes, fundamentally, how it deals with marriages.This, I think, is my Thomas More decision.

  • zippy says:

    <>I believe it is an intrinsically evil act to live with another person who is not your spouse, while your valid spouse is living.<>As sympathetic as I am to the general thrust of your argument – and I am very, very sympathetic to it – I cannot make sense of this specific claim. One could live in the same household with one’s actual sister, for example. One could live in a household with a woman to whom one is unrelated by blood but with whom one has never had any illicit romantic or sexual relationship.It does seem true that living with a former adulterous partner inherently assaults the dignity of the sacramental spouse in a way that these others don’t. But there is a corresponding injury to the dignity of children who are entitled to a household led by both of their natural parents. And again, just as raw intuition this seems to take priority, in my mind, over virtually any positive obligation that adults might have to each other.I am not however aware of any definitive doctrinal statement on the matter by the Church ranking these two distinct kinds of obligations. (Praxis is another matter from doctrine, of course: I am as convinced as anyone that there is something badly broken in current practice).

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