Feelings… Nothing More Than Feelings…

February 6, 2008 § 14 Comments

Suppose we start with an actual act we all stipulate to be intrinsically immoral. Not a category or species of acts, mind you, but an actual act. Lets say Bob tortures Fred, and whatever particulars obtain we all agree that it is unequivocally torture and unequivocally intrinsically immoral.

Now suppose we change the scenario by changing nothing but Bob’s interior disposition. Absolutely nothing else changes: Bob does exactly the same thing to exactly the same deontological persons and objects in exactly the same way. But on the inside he now has a feeling of regret, where before he had had a feeling of triumph.

Can this strictly interior feeling of regret change an intrinsically immoral act into a good act?

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§ 14 Responses to Feelings… Nothing More Than Feelings…

  • Scott says:

    I assume you meant this to not sound like an intention. That is, the guy intends to torture rather than intends to torture and feel bad about it.So I’m guessing you mean the regret is a consequence.Either way, the CCC seems crystal clear:1753 A good intention (for example, that of helping one’s neighbor) does not make behavior that is intrinsically disordered, such as lying and calumny, good or just. The end does not justify the means. Thus the condemnation of an innocent person cannot be justified as a legitimate means of saving the nation. On the other hand, an added bad intention (such as vainglory) makes an act evil that, in and of itself, can be good (such as almsgiving).39 1754 The circumstances, including the consequences, are secondary elements of a moral act. They contribute to increasing or diminishing the moral goodness or evil of human acts (for example, the amount of a theft). They can also diminish or increase the agent’s responsibility (such as acting out of a fear of death). Circumstances of themselves cannot change the moral quality of acts themselves; they can make neither good nor right an action that is in itself evil.

  • zippy says:

    I’m just illustrating that what a lot of people seem to think is a change of “intention” – these interior changes in disposition which people seem to think constitute “repentance” followed by doing exactly the same thing one did before (and which was not merely immoral but <>intrinsically<> immoral when one did it) – do not in fact constitute a change of intention.I agree that it is quite clear, but a lot of people seem to think that it isn’t.

  • Steve P. says:

    I would think intending to torture while feeling bad about it is probably worse than intending to torture while not feeling bad about it.I’m not sure how this is relevant to your ongoing discussion though. Surely you cannot be so naive to think that any of the intelligent Catholics who’ve disagreed with you in this forum think that feeling bad about a sin makes it less sinful.

  • <>I agree that it is quite clear, but a lot of people seem to think that it isn’t.<>I don’t doubt that regret without a change in intention is not sufficient to make a sinful act good. But I do think it is an abuse of language to say that the identical physical action done with a different intention is “doing the exact same thing” from a moral perspective.

  • zippy says:

    <>I would think intending to torture while feeling bad about it is probably worse than intending to torture while not feeling bad about it.<>Sure. An intrinsically evil act can be more or less grave based on these kinds of factors, but it does not cease being an evil act.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    I’d like to hear Zippy’s take on Crimson’s example of the sadist who punishes his child only moderately and at appropriate times, exactly as if he were a wise parent, but does it because he’s a sadist. Does his action count as “torture”? In that case, it’s intrinsically immoral, but you could make it not so just by being a wise and loving parent instead, etc.I’m going to guess Zippy will say the sadist’s action is not torture, hence, not _intrinsically_ immoral, though it is _in fact_ immoral.

  • zippy says:

    <>I’m going to guess Zippy will say the sadist’s action is not torture, hence, not _intrinsically_ immoral, though it is _in fact_ immoral.<>Exactly. If punishment is objectively just and proportionate, it is objectively just and proportionate. If one seeks the job of punishing out because of sadistic motives then one can do evil in meting out just punishment. It is always possible to do purely formal ‘evil in the mind’; but intrinsically evil acts are incarnate acts of embodied persons: specific kinds of <>behavior<>.Also, there is an element of unreality to many of the hypotheticals constructed in many of these discussions. It is logically possible to postulate a sadist who behaves <>identically<> to someone meting out just punishment. But it isn’t clear that that <>logical possibility<> translates into an <>actual possibility given actual human nature<>. In order to entertain the hypothetical we have to assume that a wicked sadist will behave in precisely the same way as a just parent. That is certainly <>logically<> possible, as is the possibility of pigs that fly. But human acts and their morality are constrained by actual embodied human nature, not by the arid abstraction of logical possibility.

  • <>In order to entertain the hypothetical we have to assume that a wicked sadist will behave in precisely the same way as a just parent. That is certainly logically possible, as is the possibility of pigs that fly. But human acts and their morality are constrained by actual embodied human nature, not by the arid abstraction of logical possibility.<>That’s rhetoric, not an argument. If mental and physical differences are legitimately distinct features of the human act, then why can there not be purely mental or purely physical distinctions between two acts?This is why I am suspicious of a Monophysite leaning in your argument. If the mental and physical are <>really<> distinct, there should be a case of <>real<> distinction between two acts based on purely mental or physical differences. Otherwise, the aspects are confused; there is identity, not merely unity between them.

  • <>It is always possible to do purely formal ‘evil in the mind’; but intrinsically evil acts are incarnate acts of embodied persons: specific kinds of behavior.<>That would be a good example of a bad Christological argument. The incarnate act can be distinguished by purely physical or purely mental differences, lest the unity between physical and mental in the act be confused with unique identity.

  • zippy says:

    <>That’s rhetoric, not an argument.<>Well, then this discussion is over. You’ve said your bit, I’ve said mine.<>That would be a good example of a bad Christological argument.<>That is a very strange statement, given that what you quote from me there wasn’t a Christological argument at all. It is you who keep trying to analogize intrinsically immoral acts to the personhood of Christ. I expect that works very well when we are analogizing good acts, but it is irrelevant to a discussion of intrinsically immoral acts.<>If the mental and physical are really distinct, there should be a case of real distinction between two acts based on purely mental or physical differences.<>IOW, if by ‘distinct’ we mean the sort of dualism I understand JPII to be rejecting in the case of intrinsically immoral acts then you win: assume the conclusion, get the conclusion.

  • <>Well, then this discussion is over.<>If you are going to choose that it be purely rhetorical, then indeed it is. But I don’t see any need for that.<>I expect that works very well when we are analogizing good acts, but it is irrelevant to a discussion of intrinsically immoral acts.<>It’s good as an analogy for analyzing the true nature of acts <>simpliciter<>, irrespective of whether they are good or evil. The determination of species comes after the basic determination of the nature of acts. That’s why VS invokes Christ as the icon of the human moral act. If you don’t understand the nature of moral acts, then you aren’t going to be able to say whether their nature is intrinsically evil.<>IOW, if by ‘distinct’ we mean the sort of dualism I understand JPII to be rejecting in the case of intrinsically immoral acts then you win: assume the conclusion, get the conclusion.<>But there’s no dualism. I am not separating the essential unity of the aspects of the act, in what would be analogous to Nestorianism. I am not saying that the mental completely separated from the physical or the physical completely separated from the mental determines the act. Nor am I positing a Nestorian-type monotheletism, in which the mental determination overrides the physical aspects of the determination, which is what so-called “fundamental option” theologies do. Rather, I am saying that both must be considered as distinct aspects of a real unity.

  • zippy says:

    <>If you are going to choose that it be purely rhetorical…<>Pointing out that the space of all actual possibility constrained by human nature is different from the space of all theoretical possibility constrained only by logic is not “purely rhetorical”. What was purely rhetorical was your reply characterizing the point as “purely rhetorical”.

  • <>Pointing out that the space of all actual possibility constrained by human nature is different from the space of all theoretical possibility constrained only by logic is not “purely rhetorical”.<>It is when you raise the point against someone who doesn’t deny it.

  • zippy says:

    <>It is when you raise the point against someone who doesn’t deny it.<>Several times you’ve demanded that I demonstrate <>logical<> impossibility. I said “when pigs fly” deliberately, because pigs flying is not a <>logical<> impossibility. But you are so inconsistent and all over the place — see e.g. the business about acts with a neutral object being made immoral through an immoral intention, which at one point you said was an impossibility and a few posts later you affirmed as obvious — that it is nigh impossible to even carry on a conversation. And now I think I really am done.

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