Contra Accusations of Physicalism

February 4, 2008 § 64 Comments

Believing that we must as a moral matter live with the choices we have made is not physicalist. Mindless physical objects don’t make choices, and mindless physical laws cannot tell the difference between things we’ve brought about on purpose and things that have happened on accident or against our will.

I’m just sayin’.

It is really a very odd accusation, the more I think about it. Those who think that sex after an intentional contraceptive vasectomy is definitely morally licit because it is physically identical to an act by a man who was sterilized against his will seem to be making exactly the kind of error I am told that I am making: that is, reducing the deontology of the act to nothing but third-party observable physical facts. It isn’t strictly physicalist, because my interlocutors believe that the morality of the act depends on interior intentions. Rather it is a kind of dualism, reducing the act to its strictly physical dimension on the one hand and strictly interior dispositions on the other.

But as JPII says in Veritatis Splendour, “In order to be able to grasp the object of an act which specifies that act morally, it is therefore necessary to place oneself in the perspective of the acting person”, and “[a] doctrine which dissociates the moral act from the bodily dimensions of its exercise is contrary to the teaching of Scripture and Tradition”. Dualism won’t work here: correct moral theology will encompass both of these truths, neither giving a pass to wicked behavior based on interior dispositions nor reducing the act to a set of facts about atoms and physical forces.

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§ 64 Responses to Contra Accusations of Physicalism

  • Unfortunately, that isn’t the argument being offered. The argument being offered is that in cases where the physical circumstances of the act do not determine the morality of the act itself (for example, intentionally ejaculating somewhere outside the vagina), there must be some element of choice apart from the bare decision to do the act that determines its morality. The fact that the action in question, if wrong, is intrinsically evil is thoroughly irrelevant to that moral distinction. It isn’t being used to argue that the same type of physical act is ALWAYS morally licit. Rather, it is being used to argue that there is an additional element of choice over and above simply choosing the physical act in those physical circumstances that is morally relevant. Theft is intrinsically evil, but there must be the element of choice to deprive the owner of his property in order for there to be theft. Torture is intrinsically evil, but there must be the element of choosing to deprive the subject of his free will, as opposed to positively forming the will in cases where the person in question has shown some disposition to benefit from it (e.g., the licit torture of heretics licensed by the Church). In all of these cases, there is an element of choice in one’s action in addition choosing the physical act being performed in light of the physical circumstances surrounding the act that determines whether it is moral or immoral.In cases like the ejaculation of non-seminal fluid, even if one knows to a moral certainty that one’s ejaculate contains no semen (included explicitly to forestall the argument that it would take a microscope or extraordinary means to know it), the physical act does not necessarily embody an illicit element of choice. Consequently, it is morally relevant to know what element of choice is embodied in that physical action. To say otherwise is (I suspect) to substitute physical circumstances for a legitimate element of moral choice, which is physicalist.

  • zippy says:

    <>In all of these cases, there is an element of choice in one’s action in addition choosing the physical act being performed in light of the physical circumstances surrounding the act that determines whether it is moral or immoral.<>That, though, appears to be an argument against something I haven’t ever claimed. I might nevertheless quibble with the wording of the argument itself, because I’m not sure the words “physical act” mean anything coherent at all: if it is a <>purely<> physical event not chosen by a willful agent, it isn’t an act. If it is an act, it isn’t <>purely<> physical. In any event I am unlikely to engage in an argument with respect to “physical acts” because the term itself is, at the very least, problemmatic. If you rephrased your argument in different terms I might be able to make sense of it at least, even if I don’t agree that it properly engages my own.<>…there must be some element of choice apart from the bare decision to do the act that determines its morality.<>IOW, one of the positions contra is that contracepted sex acts are not intrinsically immoral. I’ve allowed for this possibility any number of times in the discussion, most recently < HREF="https://zippycatholic.wordpress.com/2007/12/confession-and-fundamental-option.html#c3263334044739600729" REL="nofollow">here<>. I’ve said that the position that “contraception” as an act can be made utterly distinct from the sexual act which instantiatesd it isn’t crazy. Some of my interlocutors go farther, claiming that that position is presumptively correct and that the <>burden of proof<> lies with the proposition that contracepted sexual acts are intrinsically immoral. I think <>that<> <>is<> crazy.

  • <> In any event I am unlikely to engage in an argument with respect to “physical acts” because the term itself is, at the very least, problemmatic. If you rephrased your argument in different terms I might be able to make sense of it at least, even if I don’t agree that it properly engages my own.<>“Physical movement,” then. Whatever term you wish to assign to the bodily motion (in the Aristotelian sense) of the actor is fine with me.<>IOW, one of the positions contra is that contracepted sex acts are not intrinsically immoral.…I’ve said that the position that “contraception” as an act can be made utterly distinct from the sexual act which instantiatesd it isn’t crazy.<>It isn’t obvious to me that the two premises have anything to do with each other. The point isn’t that they are utterly distinct from one another, but that the sole factor that distinguishes the choice of behavior is an interior disposition, i.e., contraceptive intent. In other words, two people choosing the exact same physical movement with different dispositions can be in completely distinct moral situations. They are engaging in two entirely different sexual acts, even though they are physically indiscernible, and one is intrinsically immoral while the other isn’t.If anything, my position appears to be more concerned with the particular act, because what is relevant is solely one’s intent for the particular act at present and not what one intended in the past or what one might intend in the future.

  • zippy says:

    <>…”Physical movement,” then.<>In that case it is, as I suspected, an irrelevant introduction to the discussion. Again, physical motion absent an acting agent is not something I’ve made any moral claims about.<>The point isn’t that they are utterly distinct from one another, but that the sole factor that distinguishes the choice of behavior is an interior disposition…<>I don’t think the word “behavior” means what you think it means. If behaviors are different even when you choose to do exactly the same thing, then “behavior” is not distinct from — well, whatever it is that you want it to mean.

  • <>In that case it is, as I suspected, an irrelevant introduction to the discussion. Again, physical motion absent an acting agent is not something I’ve made any moral claims about.<>But you’ve excluded interior disposition from the determination of what “behavior” is. How is that not the same thing as reducing morality to the physical motion itself, at least in the respect that interior disposition is excluded?<>If behaviors are different even when you choose to do exactly the same thing, then “behavior” is not distinct from — well, whatever it is that you want it to mean.<>But if your internal disposition is different, then you quite plainly <>aren’t<> choosing the same thing! Your chosen behavior is not the same in the two cases. I can’t think of a MORE physicalist position than to say that chosen behaviors cannot be distinguished by interior disposition.This is what I suspected you to be arguing, i.e., that different interior dispositions cannot create different behaviors, and that strikes me as so incredible that I wonder what could have even persuaded you to believe it. I can’t imagine a more counter-intuitive position, and ISTM that the vasectomy question is far less about the particular case than this general principle that I can see no reason to believe.

  • zippy says:

    <>But you’ve excluded interior disposition from the determination of what “behavior” is.<>No I haven’t. I’ve explicitly rejected the kind of dualism that that kind of claim rests on.If an act is intrinsically immoral, then the indentical behavior accompanied by a change of interior disposition <>alone<> cannot make it into a good act. As JPII says, <>“[a] doctrine which dissociates the moral act from the bodily dimensions of its exercise is contrary to the teaching of Scripture and Tradition.”<>It might help if you addressed things I’ve actually said, rather than trying to paraphrase them. The paraphrasing isn’t working in this discussion.

  • <>If an act is intrinsically immoral, then the indentical behavior accompanied by a change of interior disposition alone cannot make it into a good act.<>How can an “act” be intrinsically immoral if interior disposition is part of the specification of the chosen act? That’s what doesn’t make any sense to me. A change in interior disposition is capable in most cases of changing what the act is. A changed disposition cannot make an intrinsically evil act into a good act, but it can be the difference between an intrinsically evil act and a good act.I’d disagree with the statement I just quoted as much as anything else. Again, it seems obviously false that interior disposition cannot determine whether an act is of an intrinsically evil kind or a good kind.

  • zippy says:

    Maybe part of the problem is that you keep ignoring the word “alone”.

  • zippy says:

    JPII again: <>“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, whether that object is capable or not of being ordered to God, to the One who “alone is good”, and thus brings about the perfection of the person.”<>

  • <>Maybe part of the problem is that you keep ignoring the word “alone”.<>But I am not speaking of a change in internal disposition in absence of some act. I am speaking of a change in internal disposition in the performance of the act. That difference alone suffices to make a real change in behavior. On the other hand, if one merely intended to do good at some point, but then in the performance of the act retained the old internal disposition, that would not be a real change in behavior. The change in disposition alone, unaccompanied by some correct action, is ineffective.In this case, one really did engage in a marital act with the right disposition. That is not a mere change in one’s intention, but an act consistent with that change.

  • zippy says:

    <>But I am not speaking of a change in internal disposition in absence of some act. I am speaking of a change in internal disposition in the performance of the act. That difference alone suffices to make a real change in behavior.<>I think you are fast becoming guilty of assault and battery perpetrated against the English language. A “change in behavior” which involves merely an interior change in interior attitude alone while choosing the exact same behavior is not even intelligible.

  • <>A “change in behavior” which involves merely an interior change in interior attitude alone while choosing the exact same behavior is not even intelligible.<>But I’m not suggesting a <>merely<> interior change. I’m suggesting the interior change <>along with<> an exterior movement. The chosen behavior is the totality of exterior action and the internal disposition morally relevant to that action. If one has an interior change accompanied by an exterior movement consistent with the interior change, even if the external movement is the same, then the behavior ordinarily changes. What is meant by a “merely interior” change is a change in disposition with no related act at all. It certainly doesn’t mean that the same act cannot be moral or immoral depending on interior disposition. Indeed, ISTM that most moral actions are of this kind, good or immoral based on some interior disposition that specifies the sort of act.

  • William Luse says:

    <>If an act is intrinsically immoral, then the indentical behavior accompanied by a change of interior disposition <>alone<> cannot make it into a good act.<>Zippy, I had thought that intrinsically evil acts were always forbidden, that <>nothing<> can make them into good acts. That is, that the prohibition is bedrock, and admits of no exception. So what, added on to a rectified interior disposition, could achieve that result?And because I had thought that, this paragraph from Crimson makes no sense to me: <>How can an “act” be intrinsically immoral if interior disposition is part of the specification of the chosen act? That’s what doesn’t make any sense to me. A change in interior disposition is capable in most cases of changing what the act is. A changed disposition cannot make an intrinsically evil act into a good act, but it can be the difference between an intrinsically evil act and a good act.<>It sounds like he’s saying that interior disposition cannot make an evil act good, except that sometimes it can. I suspect he’s including that disposition as a part of what VS refers to as “one’s chosen behavior,” the moral object of the act, and he thinks that you are leaving it out of the equation, preventing it from transforming what would ordinarily be a bad thing into a good one. I’m just not sure that such a transformation is possible.

  • zippy says:

    <>But I’m not suggesting a merely interior change. I’m suggesting the interior change along with an exterior movement.<>You are being silly. Doing nothing at all would be subtracting away the behavior in act X, as opposed to engaging in identical behavior with a merely interior change of disposition.

  • zippy says:

    <>I suspect he’s including that disposition as a part of what VS refers to as “one’s chosen behavior,”…<>It seems to me that he is trying to say that an interior change in disposition alone with no change of behavior sometimes constitutes a change of behavior. I don’t think it is even coherent.

  • William:<> I had thought that intrinsically evil acts were always forbidden, that nothing can make them into good acts.<>Of course they are. But what makes an act intrinsically evil or not includes the relevant interior disposition. Intrinsically evil acts are <>acts<> in their totality, not generally acts whose physical component excludes a correct interior disposition.<>It sounds like he’s saying that interior disposition cannot make an evil act good, except that sometimes it can.<>But there has to be an act first before you talk about the act being changed from evil to good. In many cases, without an interior disposition, the act cannot be specified as good or evil. What I am saying is that in cases in which interior disposition is essential for the specification of the act, then one has to resolve that before there is even an act to be changed. You’re trying to say that there is such a thing as a moral act minus an essential component and then speaking of this thing-that-isn’t-an-act as if it were an act that could be changed.<>I suspect he’s including that disposition as a part of what VS refers to as “one’s chosen behavior,” the moral object of the act, and he thinks that you are leaving it out of the equation, preventing it from transforming what would ordinarily be a bad thing into a good one.<>You have everything right until the conclusion. Absolutely, the internal disposition is part of “one’s chosen behavior,” the moral object of the act. No question. And if you don’t specify a moral object, then it isn’t correct to say that it would “ordinarily be a bad thing.” You haven’t specified the object in sufficient detail to evaluate it, because interior disposition is necessary to specify some types of acts.Zippy:<>You are being silly. Doing nothing at all would be subtracting away the behavior in act X, as opposed to engaging in identical behavior with a merely interior change of disposition.<>Absolutely not, and the argument you’re making now is what makes me think that your position is simply confused. You’re saying that “behavior” means “everything but internal disposition,” which is exactly wrong. Indeed, substracting out the internal disposition makes the physical movement in question not a behavior at all. That’s Skinner’s definition of “behavior,” not Wojtyla’s. “Behavior” means exactly the same thing that “act” does: a moral action in all its physical and interior dimensions. It simply has the connotation of a pattern of such acts rather than an isolated act, but that definition is immaterial for the point you are advocating.<>It seems to me that he is trying to say that an interior change in disposition alone with no change of behavior sometimes constitutes a change of behavior. I don’t think it is even coherent.<>You honestly seem to think that a change in behavior means that there needs to be an exterior change, and for the life of me, I can’t understand why you would think that the term “behavior” means “exterior change.” That is such an odd position that I can’t even fathom why you adopt it.

  • zippy says:

    <>…substracting out the internal disposition makes the physical movement in question not a behavior at all.<>For the last time, I’m not “subtracting out the internal disposition”. Your whole line of argumentation implicitly posits a dualism – a separability of internal disposition and concrete embodied act – which I (and JPII) reject. That is the whole point of the post, which I am beginning to think you haven’t read.

  • It just occurred to me that you both might be equating “intention” with “interior disposition.” Is that what you mean? If so, then I think that is entirely incorrect, and the purpose of defining intrinsic evil in VS is certainly not intending to say that intrinsically evil acts can be defined without reference to interior disposition. What it says is that one an act is defined with all <>relevant<> internal disposition (which is necessary for there to even be an act), THEN intentions become irrelevant.

  • <>For the last time, I’m not “subtracting out the internal disposition”.<>You are subtracting out internal disposition from the determination of whether an act is intrinsically evil, yes? In other words, while there must be an internal disposition for there to be an act, it doesn’t matter what that internal disposition is for the act to be evil so long as it includes an intention to do the act. That is all I meant in context. Am I correctly describing your position?

  • zippy says:

    <>You are subtracting out internal disposition from the determination of whether an act is intrinsically evil, yes?<>NO!

  • Then why on earth can’t two acts with different internal dispositions be different behaviors, one intrinsically evil and one good?

  • zippy says:

    Because I haven’t assumed the dualism you have assumed (the assumption of which supervenes over the ‘teleological’ or ‘fundamental option’ moral theories condemned by VS). As JPII warns, <>Faced with this theory, one has to consider carefully the correct relationship existing between freedom and human nature, and in particular the place of the human body in questions of natural law. […] Consequently, human nature and the body appear as presuppositions or preambles, materially necessary for freedom to make its choice, yet extrinsic to the person, the subject and the human act. Their functions would not be able to constitute reference points for moral decisions, because the finalities of these inclinations would be merely “physical” goods, called by some “pre-moral”. To refer to them, in order to find in them rational indications with regard to the order of morality, <>would be to expose oneself to the accusation of physicalism or biologism<>. In this way of thinking, the tension between freedom and a nature conceived of in a reductive way is resolved by a division within man himself. [NOTE: this is the false dualism between interior disposition and embodied act to which I am referring – Z] […] <>This moral theory does not correspond to the truth about man and his freedom. It contradicts the Church’s teachings on the unity of the human person, whose rational soul is per se et essentialiter the form of his body<><>(Emphasis mine).

  • That’s no answer, because the question doesn’t posit dualism, only distinction. For a helpful analogy, one might meditate on the distinction between Christ’s natures that does not separate them and divide the essential unity between them.I agree that the moral act is an inseparable unity of mental and physical. Neither the mental divorced from the physical nor the physical divorced from the mental can determine the morality of an act. But that is hardly to say that there is a unique identity between every mental and physical aspect, such that every mental change must correspond one-to-one with a physical change in order for there to be unity between the two. One could change the mental aspect and thereby change the quality of the unity. That is a real change in one’s choice. One chooses the same physical expression but not the same mental disposition, and that suffices to change the unity. On the contrary, you seem to be saying that for there to be a real change in the unity, there must be a real change in both aspects. Again, if we meditate on the Christological case, it seems that this must necessarily be false. Christ clearly did change in His humanity without changing in His divinity, and this was clearly a real change in His person (a unity analogous to the physical/mental unity of the moral act), even though a change according to only one nature (analogous to a change in only one aspect of the unity of the moral act). The question comes whether there can be an essential unity between the mental and physical aspects of the act. Ordinarily, the same physical act might be united with a number of different mental states and <>vice versa<>. The notion that there is a unique one-to-one correspondence between mental and physical aspects of the moral act is the moral equivalent of Monophysitism; it posits a sort of unity based on confusion of distinct aspects of the choice.What you seem to be saying is that any mental change is inseparable from a change in the physical expression of that mental change; otherwise, one is dualist. That strikes me as the same kind of accusation as the charge of Nestorianism made by Monophysites against the Chalcedonian party for distinguishing the natures. It is fallacious for the same reason. There is a real distinction between the mental and physical aspects of the unity of the moral act, meaning that there is no determinate one-to-one correspondence between the two, and this distinction in no way implies separation between the two.Perhaps it would be better to say that your version of the unity of the moral act confuses the aspects rather than equating the one with the other, as in physicalism. I agree that you don’t equate the two, but your understanding of the unity between the two seems to confuse them, as if every mental change must be manifested by a corresponding physical change or <>vice versa<>.

  • zippy says:

    <>That’s no answer, because the question [that is, the assertion that a strictly interior change of disposition alone represents a change of behavior] doesn’t posit dualism, …<>Of course it does.<>…only distinction.<>Whatever. I think you are destroying the meaning of these terms as effectively (or not) as you’ve destroyed the meaning of the word “behavior”. I doubt that further discussion on my part is going to convince you if JPII’s own words don’t convince you.

  • zippy says:

    And by the way, just to make the point explicit, the moral quality of our acts under the natural law is not an unfathomable mystery of Divine Revelation in the same sense in which the natures of Christ are an unfathomable mystery of Divine Revelation.But like I said, if JPII won’t convince I doubt I can convince.

  • <>Of course it does.<>How? Where is the premise used?<>Whatever. I think you are destroying the meaning of these terms as effectively (or not) as you’ve destroyed the meaning of the word “behavior”.<>You appear to be appealing to some subjective gut feeling you have about what “behavior” means to you without articulating it. It’s informative, I guess, to know what your emotional reaction is, but the fact that natural law is natural does not imply that intuitions substitute for reasons.<>I doubt that further discussion on my part is going to convince you if JPII’s own words don’t convince you.<>I am thoroughly convinced by JPII’s words, which is why I have concerns about his words being dragooned into the service of a proposition he never intended, i.e., that moral acts cannot be distingushed in kind solely by a difference in interior disposition.<>And by the way, just to make the point explicit, the moral quality of our acts under the natural law is not an unfathomable mystery of Divine Revelation in the same sense in which the natures of Christ are an unfathomable mystery of Divine Revelation.<>All the more reason that the notion of “object” as the unity of mental and physical aspects of a human action ought not be that hard for you to comprehend. I really don’t understand the difficulty in perceiving that identical physical expressions of different interior dispositions can be different moral objects, period.<>But like I said, if JPII won’t convince I doubt I can convince.<>It’s not about convincing me. Sheer opinion shouldn’t reasonably be considered persuasive to anyone. What I would like to see is something other than sheer opinion for the proposition that acting with a different internal disposition but the same physical expression is not a different behavior. The essential unity has changed, so it’s a different behavior. That strikes me as a thoroughly unremarkable proposition, and I can’t even understand how you would think that VS would have been written to deny it.I am really baffled on this. After more than a little time of attempting to follow your reasoning, I just have no idea where you got the idea that VS in its definition of “object” and “intrinsically evil” sets out to do what you think it does. As you said, these are basic matters of natural law that do not need definitions or clarifications in order to be apparent. Were it not for obstinate abuse of the terms to include even intentions extraneous to the nature of the moral act, there would have been no need for the encyclical. You don’t seem to be willing to think through your intuitions critically, and I’m not sure why, since you seem quite willing to criticize other people’s conclusions.

  • Anonymous says:

    <>Your whole line of argumentation implicitly posits a dualism – a separability of internal disposition and concrete embodied act – <>which I (and JPII) reject<>.<>Zippy,With due respect, perhaps what JPII meant in VS and your interpretation of what he meant are not wholly equivalent.Would you be willing to entertain the slight possibility that perhaps your interpretation of VS might be just that — an interpretation; an interpretation that perhaps might be flawed in some respects?It’s just that you continue to insist on the argument:“But like I said, if JPII won’t convince I doubt I can convince.”However, this only holds if what you are saying and what JP II actually said bears a 1:1 relationship.e.

  • zippy says:

    CC:<>You appear to be appealing to some subjective gut feeling you have about what “behavior” means to you without articulating it.<>I suppose one might make the same claim about every use of every word by every person. I think the term “behavior” used to refer to some disembodied internal reorientation completely independent of what one chooses to do is nonsense, and I think my understanding is rooted in the Tradition and Magisterium in addition to right reason; but of course my thoughts on the matter are, as on virtually every even slightly interesting matter, fallible.<>Torture is intrinsically evil, but there must be the element of choosing to deprive the subject of his free will, …<>I think that is wrong, actually — sadistic torture is ambivalent on the subject’s free will, for example. But I see little point in getting into the specifics of various examples of species of acts.e:<>Would you be willing to entertain the slight possibility that perhaps your interpretation of VS might be just that — an interpretation; an interpretation that perhaps might be flawed in some respects?<>Of course that is always possible. (I don’t think it is <>true<>, mind you, but the veracity of anything I think necessarily rests on whatever limitations apply to my thought).(FWIW I also think my view is consistent with the non-magisterial <>The Acting Person<>.)As always, my opinions and understandings are my opinions and understandings. For some reason people often want to see regular disclaimers of my humanity and fallibility. I assure one and all that I am both.But if I don’t think I have this wrong — and I don’t — then I’m not going to pretend that I think I do have it wrong in order to satisfy the bizarre impulse for endless repeated disclaimers.

  • Anonymous says:

    Zippy,<>But if I don’t think I have this wrong — and I don’t — then I’m not going to pretend that I think I do have it wrong in order to satisfy the bizarre impulse for endless repeated disclaimers.<>I’m not actually saying that you are, in fact, wrong.It’s just that I would expect an adept such as yourself to rest his arguments on something little more than basically, “Well, JP II agrees with me — I win”.The aforementioned is simply unbecoming — especially a person of your caliber.You are both gentlemen of substance here.e.

  • zippy says:

    e:<>It’s just that I would expect an adept such as yourself to rest his arguments on something little more than basically, “Well, JP II agrees with me — I win”.<>I appreciate what you are saying, but I’m not sure that is a completely fair assessment. I’ve quoted JPII frequently along the way, on points both specific and general. The number of times others have quoted JPII to counterpoint me in the numerous threads on this and related subjects is really extraordinarily small in comparison, particularly considering that VS is literally the only Magisterial statement ever to address the subject matter in detail. I have the distinct and uncomfortably unavoidable impression that many people interpret VS in the light of conclusions they have already drawn ahead of time, and for which they are merely looking for confirmation. (This was not my experience. It is no exagerration to say that this one document, though certainly in a context, unmade and remade my understanding of morality).As for your observation of the caliber of the gentlemen who have disagreed with me, including Jonathan, well, I couldn’t agree more.

  • <>As for your observation of the caliber of the gentlemen who have disagreed with me, including Jonathan, well, I couldn’t agree more.<>Likewise. If I didn’t respect you, I would give up, but because I genuinely am concerned about your disagreement with me, I pursue the analysis to the bitter end!

  • Anonymous says:

    <>…because I genuinely am concerned about your disagreement with me, I pursue the analysis to the bitter end!<>All things considered, I don’t see how one can actually ‘win’ over the other insofar as both your interpretations on the matter of VS may be equally valid; that is, the best that any of you can hope for in this case is a ‘draw’.e.

  • <>All things considered, I don’t see how one can actually ‘win’ over the other insofar as both your interpretations on the matter of VS may be equally valid; that is, the best that any of you can hope for in this case is a ‘draw’.<>As long as I understand the terms of the armistice, I would be fine with that outcome. But what troubles me now is that I can’t even grasp how the conclusion emerges from the words of VS in the first place. It’s not a disagreement of interpretation so much as a question of what the interpretation is. I still can’t see how this idea that “intrinsically evil” means “an act that cannot be made good solely by a change in one’s intention” came out of VS.

  • Anonymous says:

    Zippy,In light of CC’s most recent statement:<>…It’s not a disagreement of interpretation so much as a question of what the interpretation is.<>I recommend the following from an old friend:“If you would argue with me, define your terms.” –Socrates e.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    I don’t know if this suggestion is helpful or likely to set you guys by the ears still more, but…What is Jonathan’s (Crimson’s) take on Zippy’s “permanent condom” example?If I understand Zippy correctly, _his_ position is that it would be wrong ever to have intercourse again in that situation _unless_ the situation had come about forcibly and against the man’s will in the first place. Then it would not be wrong. (Zippy can correct this if it’s wrong.)Jonathan can say either a) that it would always be wrong _even if_ the man had been unwilling in the first place, or b) that it would be wrong to have intercourse if the man had been thus “sterilized” willingly so long as he was desiring to use it as a form of contraception, but not wrong once he had repented.If Jonathan would take position a, then he would deny Zippy’s analogy, and they could discuss that analogy. If he would take position b, then the exercise probably won’t help them make any progress, because their positions would be parallel on the two test cases.

  • zippy says:

    <>If I didn’t respect you, I would give up, but because I genuinely am concerned about your disagreement with me, I pursue the analysis to the bitter end!<>Is this where we go into “Monty Python” mode? “He’s a fine chap for a man who’s as smart as a bag of hammers!” 🙂

  • William Luse says:

    <>I appreciate what you are saying, but I’m not sure that is a completely fair assessment.<>Actually, it was manifestly unfair. Zippy has made his arguments in painstaking detail across a number of threads. And when he says that <>The number of times others have quoted JPII to counterpoint me in the numerous threads on this and related subjects is really extraordinarily small in comparison<>, he speaks the truth.

  • <>If I understand Zippy correctly, _his_ position is that it would be wrong ever to have intercourse again in that situation _unless_ the situation had come about forcibly and against the man’s will in the first place.<>That actually just introduces the issue of whether condoms are impediments to the marital act <>per accidens<> or <>per se<>. If the latter, then it doesn’t matter whether it was forcible or not; the person simply isn’t physically capable of a marital act (corresponding to option a). If the former, then I’d probably be inclined to take Zippy’s position, since the act isn’t intentionally contracepted (option b). But I quite honestly don’t know whether condoms affect the marital act <>per se<> or only <>per accidens<>, so I can’t say either way. The same analysis would apply to a permanent IUD, I suspect. With a conventional IUD, the removal is so relatively trivial that I suspect that the omission to remove it would be incompatible with the intent not to contracept. There would be a conflict between the concrete behavior and the alleged intention against contraception.

  • <>Zippy has made his arguments in painstaking detail across a number of threads. And when he says that The number of times others have quoted JPII to counterpoint me in the numerous threads on this and related subjects is really extraordinarily small in comparison, he speaks the truth.<>True. But he hasn’t elaborated in this particular detail that I am questioning, which is why post-vasectomy marital acts are immoral. And I’ve quoted what I believe to be the relevant part of VS that makes the sin intentional contraception.

  • zippy says:

    <>But he hasn’t elaborated in this particular detail that I am questioning, which is why post-vasectomy marital acts are immoral.<>Baloney. I’ve argued the point extensively and in detail and in many places. That you reject my arguments isn’t the same thing as me not having argued. Sure, it would make things more convenient for you if you could say that I was just gratuitously asserting without argument. The problem with that though is that it is total BS.

  • zippy says:

    Jonathan: maybe you can come up with a <>different<> example of an intrinsically immoral act where absolutely nothing whatsoever in the moral status of any of the deontological objects changes, the chosen behavior remains identical, and nothing but interior disposition changes; and yet the new act with the new disposition is morally licit. You are the guy who believes in such a thing; perhaps you can produce one that we will all agree <>is<> one.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    Actually, what I listed as option b is not Zippy’s position but rather a parallel to Crimson’s position re. vasectomies. Neither a nor b corresponds to Zippy’s position on vasectomies. Option a says “never, no matter how it came about,” and option b says “not until you repent; then, okay.” Zippy says, “Never if it came about willingly in the first place. Okay if it came about unwillingly in the first place.”

  • culbreath says:

    <>It is no exagerration to say that this one document (VS), though certainly in a context, unmade and remade my understanding of morality<>That’s quite an admission, Zippy. And I think goes straight to the heart of the resistance you are facing. You are asking orthodox Catholics to “unmake” their understanding of morality. A Church that requires periodic revolutions in morality isn’t what most of us signed up for.

  • zippy says:

    Jeff: you’ve misunderstood, because I didn’t give the full background.I am a thoroughgoing modern person, technologically trained and oriented, rooted in post-enlightenment positivist modernity; and despite being a cradle Catholic there were — issues — with my formation. The big controversy at my Confirmation Mass was that the song we (the teenage catechists) wanted to sing – “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin – was considered a “drug song”; so “Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Simon and Garfunkle was substituted.To say that my understanding of moral theology was shallow and pagan would be an understatement.Then at some point I bought this little green book by Pope John Paul II, which over time taught me what the Church teaches about the foundations of moral theology. Indeed it is the only Magisterial statement ever that covers the subject in detail. It unmade and remade my understanding of morality, and indeed made it make sense in the light of reason. This understanding is perfectly consistent (as far as I can tell) with what the Church has always taught, and clarifies some areas of controversy which have up to this time been unsettled. (Indeed the document expressly says that this is its purpose).And as Pope Pius XII said in <>Humani Generis<>, “<>…if the Supreme Pontiffs in their official documents purposely pass judgement on a matter up to that time under dispute, it is obvious that the matter, according to the mind and will of the same Pontiffs, cannot be any longer considered a question open to discussion among theologians<>“When the Church teaches the truth about the foundations of morality to people who are pagan/modernist in their moral understanding, that <>should<> be revolutionary. And it was. For those (unlike myself) steeped in the Thomist tradition it may be uncomfortable if not exactly revolutionary to see certain doors of interpretation close. It seems to me that the possibility should be considered that it may be a combination of these things which explains the resistance.

  • <>You are the guy who believes in such a thing; perhaps you can produce one that we will all agree is one.<>How about virtually any double effect case? Take salpingectomy. It is either intrinsically evil or not solely dependent on whether the doctor in question intends to kill an embryo with his action or not. If he intends to kill the embryo, then it is intrinsically evil, and the fact that he wants to cure tissue is entirely irrelevant to the morality of the action. If it wills to cure tissue without willing to kill the embryo, then the act is not intrinsically evil. Internal disposition is the sole determining factor.

  • zippy says:

    <>How about virtually any double effect case?<>Double effect only applies when the act itself is not intrinsically evil, so that won’t do.

  • <>That you reject my arguments isn’t the same thing as me not having argued.<>Perhaps I missed it, but I thought that you had deliberately not taken a position on whether post-vasectomy sex was illicit or why it was so. I was requesting you to get off the fence, because I think it is relevant to the more general issue.

  • <>Double effect only applies when the act itself is not intrinsically evil, so that won’t do.<>But it’s also a case where if you willed the evil effect directly, the action would be intrinsically evil.

  • zippy says:

    <>But it’s also a case where if you willed the evil effect directly, the action would be intrinsically evil.<>Nope. An act which is <>not<> intrinsically immoral can be evil if you intend one of its evil effects as a means or an end. The PDE doesn’t make acts “become” intrinsically immoral when an evil effect is intended; it is the intending-of-the-evil-effect which makes the (otherwise morally neutral in itself) act evil.

  • <>An act which is not intrinsically immoral can be evil if you intend one of its evil effects as a means or an end. The PDE doesn’t make acts “become” intrinsically immoral when an evil effect is intended; it is the intending-of-the-evil-effect which makes the (otherwise morally neutral in itself) act evil.<>Yes, of course. So if you intend the performance of a salpingectomy as a means to kill an embryo, then that act is intrinsically evil: the murder of an innocent. I agree that PDE doesn’t make some action intrinsically evil, but it does often deal with evil effects that, if intended, would be intrinsically evil.

  • zippy says:

    <>…but it does often deal with evil effects that, if intended, would be intrinsically evil.<>Sure. Formal cooperation with evil (whether it is intrinsic evil or otherwise) is as bad as actually doing the evil onesself. Hiring a hit man is just as bad as doing the murder yourself – worse, probably. Intentionally “allowing” “nature” kill Terri Schiavo is as bad as cracking her skull yourself. (Though nevertheless there is no positive norm to feed the hungry which holds <>without exception<>, so “failing to feed a starving person” is not intrinsically immoral).And?

  • If you’re the one performing the act, that’s not formal cooperation with evil. If you perform the salpingectomy, and you intend the salpingectomy as a means for killing an embryo, then you didn’t formally cooperate with murder. You yourself committed murder, an intrinsically evil act.

  • zippy says:

    <>If you perform the salpingectomy, and you intend the salpingectomy as a means for killing an embryo, then you didn’t formally cooperate with murder. You yourself committed murder, an intrinsically evil act.<>And why exactly, if one’s intent is to kill the embryo as opposed to attempting to avoid directly killing the embryo, would one choose saplingectomy? You speak as though radically different intentions could nevertheless produce precisely, indentically the same chosen behavior in every respect. We are back to the fact that you are assuming the very dualism that I understand JPII as rejecting.At the very least you might want to consider the possibility that there is something wrong with your premeses.

  • William Luse says:

    <>That’s quite an admission, Zippy.<>What’s quite an admission is that anyone would think <>VS<> a “revolution in morality”.

  • <>And why exactly, if one’s intent is to kill the embryo as opposed to attempting to avoid directly killing the embryo, would one choose saplingectomy?<>Perhaps one takes perverse delight in the thought that it will appear pious to Catholics. Perhaps one likes the idea of murdering while making the act appear innocuous. Perhaps there is a clinical indication that makes salpingectomy the preferred treatment. Who knows? In any case, the hypothetical is that person has a desire to kill the embryo and choose salpingectomy as an instrument, and the hypothetical is not impossible.<>You speak as though radically different intentions could nevertheless produce precisely, indentically the same chosen behavior in every respect.<>But it isn’t the same chosen behavior. In one case, the chosen behavior is murder, and in the other case, it’s therapeutic surgery. The radically different intentions most assuredly did produce different chosen behavior, even though the physical expression of that behavior is identical.Let’s take it to a more trivial case. Suppose as a hypothetical example that you spank your kids because you just like to inflict pain on them, but you refuse to do it in times where there is not a disciplinary purpose, because you don’t want people to know you’re a sadist. The physical behavior is identical, but one person might be completely moral in doing it while someone with your internal disposition is not.Innumerable examples could be produced where people did identical acts deliberately in order to avoid giving any physical sign of their interior disposition, in which case the interior disposition alone is what makes the act evil. In all of those cases, the person acting with the wrong motivation has chosen a different behavior than the one who did the same thing innocuously, because behavior is a matter of will and not physical motion.

  • zippy says:

    <>In any case, the hypothetical is that person has a desire to kill the embryo and choose salpingectomy as an instrument, and the hypothetical is not impossible.<>Note that in my present understanding -ectomy is only licit late-stage, post rupture, where we know that the child is dying right now or already dead. So it really isn’t the sort of thing that can be done “in order to kill the child” unless it is already illicit as a chosen behavior, in my view.

  • William Luse says:

    Yes, I was going to surmise that for a salpingectomy to be murder, the doctor would have to perform it pre-rupture; performed post-rupture, it would not be murder. Thus, the nature of the act can be determined from its circumstances alone. We know the interior disposition by virtue of those circumstances. Same with the spanking case. The sadist will be hiding his act, so that another party will not eventually perceive that he inflicts pain for no just reason, while the just parent does not. In neither case is the behavior identical.I see Crimson is trying to do what others have done before him: drown you in hypotheticals until he stumbles upon one in which a change of disposition also changes the objective nature of an act. It hasn’t worked yet.

  • zippy says:

    <>Thus, the nature of the act can be determined from its circumstances alone.<>My preferred phrasing for this is that when an act is intrinsically immoral, the nature of the act can be determined from the chosen action or behavior: that is, from what one knowingly chooses to do to the objects under the direct control of one’s will. This is independent of the reasons why one chooses to do <>this<> to <>those particular objects<>.Note that the ‘objects’ are not strictly physical objects. Persons are not strictly physical objects. A person who is ontologically one’s wife is not a strictly physical object. A thing that is one’s property is not a strictly physical object. A prisoner who is under one’s power is not a strictly physical object. The falsehood that one speaks is not a strictly physical object (although the speaking of it is in part a physical act of the body).Also, what one is <>knowingly choosing to do to those objects<> is dependent upon what the acting subject knows and chooses.So this is by no means a physicalist understanding in any legitimate sense of the term. It just isn’t an understanding that allows us to squirm out of admitting to what we are choosing to do by appealing to a disembodied ‘fundamental option’ when we are choosing an intrinsically immoral behavior.Also note that under Jonathan’s understanding there isn’t any reason why we cannot legitimately claim that we are not murdering the child when we perform a salpingotomy. If a different strictly interior intention unattached to the specific chosen action can render the act licit, then whether or not salpingotomy is intrinsically immoral depends upon that strictly interior intention.

  • zippy says:

    JPII: <>“To separate the fundamental option from concrete kinds of behavior means to contradict the substantial integrity or personal unity of the moral agent in his body and in his soul. A fundamental option understood without explicit consideration of the potentialities which it puts into effect and the determinations which express it does not do justice to the rational finality immanent in man’s acting and in each of his deliberate decisions. […] Judgements about morality cannot be made without taking into consideration whether or not the deliberate choice of a specific kind of behavior is in conformity with the dignity and integral vocation of the human person.” […] “‘For mortal sin exists also when a person knowingly and willingly, <>for whatever reason<>, chooses something gravely disordered'”<>

  • William:<>I see Crimson is trying to do what others have done before him: drown you in hypotheticals until he stumbles upon one in which a change of disposition also changes the objective nature of an act. It hasn’t worked yet.<>But it must necessarily work as a logical matter simply by the fact that mental and physical components of the act are distinct, which is why I said that “innumerable examples” can be produced. There will always be some sort of act in which a purely mental difference corresponds to a real difference in act, lest the unity between the two be confused with unique identity. It simply cannot be the case, if the things are really distinct, that every mental distinction corresponds to a physical distinction or <>vice versa<>. There necessarily have to exist acts indistinguishable from one another except by mental difference, and those acts must necessarily include species that are classified as intrinsically evil acts.If salpingectomy is an example you dislike, we can take the case of somebody dropping bombs who knows civilians will be killed and deliberately intends that by dropping the bombs. The act is identical; only the disposition is different. And the disposition suffices to make something intrinsically evil (murder of innocents) rather than an act of just war. Eventually, there will be a hypothetical that distinguishes the two, so it would be just as well to admit that this is a conflict between basic principles.Zippy:<>that is, from what one knowingly chooses to do to the objects under the direct control of one’s will.<>One of those objects under one’s control is one’s chosen interior disposition towards other objects. You seem to be viewing “objects” as excluding what is in one mind, and that distinction is assuredly a purely modern notion. You can have interior objects for an action.<>Note that the ‘objects’ are not strictly physical objects.<>And they aren’t merely exterior either.<>It just isn’t an understanding that allows us to squirm out of admitting to what we are choosing to do by appealing to a disembodied ‘fundamental option’ when we are choosing an intrinsically immoral behavior.<>Fortunately, I am not trying to do that. Many actions are physically intrinsically evil, and no action that is intrinsically evil can be saved by further intentions.<>Also note that under Jonathan’s understanding there isn’t any reason why we cannot legitimately claim that we are not murdering the child when we perform a salpingotomy. If a different strictly interior intention unattached to the specific chosen action can render the act licit, then whether or not salpingotomy is intrinsically immoral depends upon that strictly interior intention.<>Yes, there is a reason. The reason is that the <>physical nature of the act<> is such that it cannot be united to the correct mental intention. There are plenty of acts that are <>physically<> intrinsically evil, such that the mere intent to do the physical component of the action is intrinsically disordered. See, e.g., ejaculating somewhere other than a vagina, direct abortion. And one would expect that to be the case, since the unity between the acts is characterized by both mental and physical components, one would expect that there would be acts that differ in morality solely by physical differences (e.g., ejaculating within a vagina vs. ejaculating elsewhere), just as there are some that differ solely by mental differences.Because salpingostomy and salkpingectomy are <>physically<> different, your conclusion doesn’t follow. A physical difference can change the unity of the moral act just as a mental difference can.

  • zippy says:

    CC:<>One of those objects under one’s control is one’s chosen interior disposition towards other objects.<>JPII:<>A fundamental option understood without explicit consideration of the <>potentialities which it puts into effect<> and the <>determinations which express it<> does not do justice to the rational finality immanent in man’s acting and in each of his deliberate decisions.<>

  • I’ve got it now. When you see “potentialities” and “determination,” you are reflexively reading that as “exterior potentialities” (i.e., potentialities in the “objective” world, in the modernist sense). You aren’t including purely mental potentialities and determinations toward purely mental objects. I can certainly see why this is confusing, since this has been a metaphysical difficulty in numerous other discussions I have had. It’s extremely hard to break out of the modernist notion that “objective” means “outside yourself.” The notion that sins “in the mind” or “purely formal sins” don’t involve objective changes is a quite natural extension of the idea that “objects” are something outside yourself. But actually, those things all represent real determinations of the will to some potency or another, real motions of the will that change the world, albeit only internally. What can’t be admitted is an essential disunity in the particular act between the mental and physical. A purely mental change incompatible with the physical components of one’s acts, for example, doesn’t change the essential nature of the act, because there is no way the changed intent can be united with the particular act. That is what VS is intended to forestall, at least as I read it.I at least understand the problem now, though. It’s just in the metaphysics of the will and its termini. You’ve got a notion of termini, objects, as being <>exterior<> termini, which is a perfectly mundane assumption in modernist thinking, one that is hard to escape. Getting around that one is tough, though, so I’m not sure how productive it would be to discuss cases any further. We’d have to get into a pretty complicated discussion on the physical nature of the will, how actions act as termini of the will, etc., which strikes me as a long and protracted discussion.Anybody know any good books on the will as appetitive intellectual power in gritty Aristotelian detail? I’ve got several on Thomist epistemology in mind (Maritain’s <>Degrees of Knowledge<>, Sweeney’s <>Authentic Metaphysics in an Age of Unreality<>, Wilhelmsen’s <>Man’s Knowledge of Reality<>), but I can’t think of one offhand that deals with the metaphysics of the will in gory detail. I’m sure that some Thomist moral theologian has done one, but I’ve focused more on the epistemological/mystical side of things.Anyway, I think we’d have to have some more common ground on those things before we could advance this discussion much further.

  • zippy says:

    <>(i.e., potentialities in the “objective” world, in the modernist sense).<>Well, no, when I say objective I mean objective. You know, like <>…the moral goodness of the acts proper to conjugal life, acts which are ordered according to true human dignity, “does not depend solely on sincere intentions or on an evaluation of motives. It must be determined by < HREF="http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_19751229_persona-humana_en.html" REL="nofollow">objective<> standards. These, based on the nature of the human person and his acts, preserve the full sense of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love.<>

  • […] My present view is that (married, obviously) sexual relations are definitely and unquestionably licit in cases (1) and (2a) (directly contrary to CJ’s impression). I don’t have a strong view of whether relations are morally licit in cases (2b) and (3a) (the ‘hard cases’ if you will), and I am pretty certain that relations are illicit in case 3b.  (It is this latter conclusion that makes some folks consider my views “hard core” or rigorous, sometimes incorrectly characterized as rigorist or physicalist). […]

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