Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.
Showing posts with label Moral Absolutes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Moral Absolutes. Show all posts

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Veritatis Splendor: Part 28--Intrinsically Evil Acts

HE MORALITY OF THE HUMAN ACT," emphasizes Pope John Paul II, "depends primarily and fundamentally on the 'object' rationally chosen by the deliberate will, as is borne out by the insightful analysis, still valid today, made by Saint Thomas." In making that statement, the Pope cites to St. Thomas's work the Summa Theologiae, Ia-IIae, q.18, art. 6.
I answer that, Certain actions are called human, inasmuch as they are voluntary, as stated above (Question 1, Article 1). Now, in a voluntary action, there is a twofold action, viz. the interior action of the will, and the external action: and each of these actions has its object. The end is properly the object of the interior act of the will: while the object of the external action, is that on which the action is brought to bear. Therefore just as the external action takes its species from the object on which it bears; so the interior act of the will takes its species from the end, as from its own proper object.

Now that which is on the part of the will is formal in regard to that which is on the part of the external action: because the will uses the limbs to act as instruments; nor have external actions any measure of morality, save in so far as they are voluntary. Consequently the species of a human act is considered formally with regard to the end, but materially with regard to the object of the external action. Hence the Philosopher says (Ethic. v, 2) that "he who steals that he may commit adultery, is strictly speaking, more adulterer than thief."

Respondeo dicendum quod aliqui actus dicuntur humani, inquantum sunt voluntarii, sicut supra dictum est. In actu autem voluntario invenitur duplex actus, scilicet actus interior voluntatis, et actus exterior, et uterque horum actuum habet suum obiectum. Finis autem proprie est obiectum interioris actus voluntarii, id autem circa quod est actio exterior, est obiectum eius. Sicut igitur actus exterior accipit speciem ab obiecto circa quod est; ita actus interior voluntatis accipit speciem a fine, sicut a proprio obiecto. Ita autem quod est ex parte voluntatis, se habet ut formale ad id quod est ex parte exterioris actus, quia voluntas utitur membris ad agendum, sicut instrumentis; neque actus exteriores habent rationem moralitatis, nisi inquantum sunt voluntarii. Et ideo actus humani species formaliter consideratur secundum finem, materialiter autem secundum obiectum exterioris actus. Unde philosophus dicit, in V Ethic., quod ille qui furatur ut committat adulterium, est, per se loquendo, magis adulter quam fur.

In determining the object of any particular act, a certain projection is required: one must project oneself into the situation of the acting subject. In other words, the analysis is perspectival: "[i]n order to be able to grasp the object of an act which specifies that act morally, it is . . . necessary to place oneself in the perspective of the acting person." VS, 78.

The object of an act is something distinct from its purpose, from the intent behind it, from the consequences which flow from it. The object of the act relates to the "freely chosen kind of behavior." The object "is the proximate end of a deliberate decision which determines the act of willing on the part of the acting person." The behavior itself must be compared to "the order of reason," and, if it is in conformity with the "order of reason," and the intention of the acting subject is good, then "it is the cause of the goodness of the will." The act not only is good, it also "perfects us morally, and disposes us to recognize our ultimate end in the perfect good, primordial love." VS, 78.

Since the object of an act is something that is compared to the "order of reason," an order which we do not ourselves make as it is an objective order ultimately based upon God, it follows that there are certain kinds of behavior whose object is always against the "order of reason," and which are in each and every instance wrong. When St. Paul says that one may not do evil that good may come (Rom. 3:8), St. Paul is saying that intention alone does not define an act; rather, the object of the act, the kind of behavior chosen to implement the intent must also conform to the good. Both intent and object must be good. Hence, as St. Thomas points out: "Let us say that someone robs in order to feed the poor: in this case, even though the intention is good, the uprightness of the will is lacking."* There is, then, no "Robin Hood" exception in traditional morality: one cannot rob (object) the rich to feed the poor (intent). One cannot give false testimony (object) to put a guilty man in jail (intent). One cannot commit prostitution (object) to obtain money to feed one's children (intent). As St. Alphonsus Liguori succinctly states it:
It is not enough to do good works; they need to be done well. For our works to be good and perfect, they must be done for the sole purpose of pleasing God.

Non sufficit opera bona patrare, oportet ea probe patrare. Ut autem opera nostra bona perfectaque sint, necesse est ut illa fiant una mente satisfaciendi Deo.**

The Pope therefore condemns theories that refuse to consider the species of an act, the object of an act, and characterize the goodness or badness of an act without regard to the kind of act involved, but rely entirely on the actor's intent, the consequences of the act, or a combination of both intent and consequence. Teleological theories of ethics--utilitarianism, consequentialism, proportionalism--thus stand condemned as irreconcilable with classical moral thinking.

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 behavior 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.

VS, 79.

The moral uprightness of the object of an act, of its species, is determined by reference to the "order of reason," which means by reference to the "very being of man, considered in his integral truth, and therefore in his natural inclinations, his motivations and his finalities, which always have a spiritual dimension as well." VS, 79. In other words, the object or species of an act is measured by "the contents of the natural law," which is equivalent of saying "that ordered complex of 'personal goods' which serve the 'good of the person': the good which is the person himself and his perfection." VS, 79. The Ten Commandments present a good summary of the contents of the natural law. VS, 79.

There are, then acts whose object is always disordered, whose species are, in each and every circumstance, evil intrinsically, and must never be done.
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."
VS, 79.***

The Pope then gives some examples--some express, some implied, but in any event not intended to be exhaustive--of such intrinsically evil acts--prohibited in all times and all places:
  • Acts which are hostile to life itself: homicide, genocide, abortion, euthanasia, voluntary suicide;
  • Acts which violate the integrity of the human person: mutilation, physical and mental torture, attempts to coerce the spirit (forced conversions); use of artificial contraception, homosexuality, adultery;
  • Acts which offend human dignity: forcing a person to accept subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, trafficking in women and children, treating humans as if they were mere instruments of profit, and subjecting them to degrading conditions of work;
  • Acts which are unjust to God: idolatry, blasphemy.
VS, 80-81.

No good intention, no circumstance, no alleged good that may be derived thereby--nothing--excuses or justifies the undertaking of an intrinsically evil act:

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.

VS, 81.

There are such things as intrinsically evil acts. Their existence is true. Their denial involves a rejection of man's created nature, of the truth of who man is. More, they involve the rejection of Jesus Christ, the Truth incarnate, who displayed in himself, the truth of man and the Truth of God, and who promised man that he would know the Truth, including the Truth about evil. The Christ who promised man the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, of Truth that would set him free, that would allow man to "interiorize the law, to receive it and to live it as the motivating force of true personal freedom, 'the perfect law, the law of liberty.'" VS, 83 (citing James 1:25).
*The Pope quotes St. Thomas's In Duo Praecepta Caritatis et in Decem Legis Praecepta. De Dilectione Dei: Opuscula Theologica, II, No. 1168.
**VS, 78. The Pope cites to St. Alphonsus Liguori's work The Practice of Loving Jesus Christ, VII, 3.
***The quotation is from the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation R
econciliatio et Paenitentia (December 2, 1984), 17: AAS 77 (1985), 221, but reference is also made to Paul VI, Address to Members of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, (September 1967): AAS 59 (1967), 962: "Far be it from Christians to be led to embrace another opinion, as if the Council taught that nowadays some things are permitted which the Church had previously declared intrinsically evil. Who does not see in this the rise of a depraved moral relativism, one that clearly endangers the Church's entire doctrinal heritage?"

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Natural Law's Modern Cousin Germain: Exceptionless Rights

ANY ADVOCATE OF NATURAL LAW will recognize that there are some acts that are intrinsically evil and that no circumstance will justify them. In short, they will recognize some exceptionless or absolute norms that under all circumstances apply. It follows that when these are "translated" into rights, that there will be some rights that are absolute, exceptionless, inalienable, inviolable. There are some moral (human) rights of persons that cannot be violated--whatever the circumstances--without injustice and moral fault. "Correlative to the exceptionless duties entailed by this requirement [to use practical reasonableness and never act against the basic values, whether in oneself or other human beings] are, therefore, exceptionless or absolute human claim-rights--most obviously, the right not to have one's life taken directly as a means to any further end."*

For the calculative utilitarian or consequentialist, always attune to expediency over morality (or perhaps, more accurately, equating morality with expediency), the notion of absolute rights is, of course, folly. For a utilitarian or consequentialist, the statement "Whatever the circumstances, φ ought not to be done, φ ought not to be treated that way!" is incomprehensible. He would not be caught dead saying such a thing, although he might capitulate to some moral sense if the φ was killing him painfully for another's pleasure.

Civilian Victims of Firebombing Dresden

Finnis has this striking J'accuse against every government in the world, one that merits quoting whole for its boldness:

What is more striking, perhaps, is the fact that, whatever may be commonly professed in the modern world, no contemporary government or élite manifests in its practice any belief in absolute human rights. For every government that has the physical capacity to make its threats credible says this to its potential enemies: 'If you attack us and threaten to defeat us, we will kill all the hostages we hold; that is to say, we will incinerate or dismember as many of your old men and women and children, and poison as many of your mothers and their unborn offspring, as it takes to persuade you to desist; we do not regard as decisive the fact that they are themselves no threat to us; nor do we propose to destroy them merely incidentally, as an unsought-after-side-effect of efforts to stop your armed forces in their attack on us; no, will destroy your non-combatants precisely because you value them, and in order to persuade you to desist.'

NLNR, 225.

And before we exclude our own government from this harsh accusation, we ought to remember that it was we who targeted innocent civilians at Hiroshima and Nagasaki with nuclear holocaust and Dresden with conventional firebombing. We ought to remember our flirtation with, if not outright participation in, torture of Islamic terrorists. All manner of sins can be authorized under our consequentialist ethics, as by definition consequentialist ethics deny the absolute. There are no lines a consequentialist or utilitarian will not cross, and we are all utilitarians, all consequentialists now.**

*There are others mentioned by Finnis: "the right not to be positively lied to in any situation (e.g. teaching, preaching, research publication, new broadcasting) in which factual communication (as distinct from fiction, jest, or poetry) is reasonably expected; and the related right not to be condemned on knowingly false charges; and the right not to be deprived, or required to deprive oneself, of one's procreative capacity [remember here the lionized Justice Holmes's words in Buck v. Bell: "Three generations of imbeciles are enough."]; and the right to be taken into respectful consideration in any assessment of what the common good requires." NLNR, 225.
**And even if we have not slipped into consequentialist or utlitarian clothes, we may be closet consequentialists or utilitarians dressed in classical morality but with a casuist's and not an innocent's heart. We may abuse the principle of unintended consequences or double effect so as to play with what intended, versus what is not intended or what is only an indirect or collateral effect. Although abuse does not condemn use (abusus non tollit usum) of these principles, we must protect against abuse.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Contra Consequentialismum: There Ain't No Such Thing as Absolutes

WE NOW REACH THE HEART OF DAVID ODERBERG'S BOOK Moral Theory: A Non-Consequentialist Approach: his criticism of the majority theory in the West: consequentialism. In getting to this point, Oderberg discussed the notion of rights, and how they relate back to obligations (duties) and eventually to law, a law that pre-exists man, and which he discovers, but does not make. Though some rights may be based upon custom, the foundation of rights is not custom. Though some rights may be based upon contract, the foundation of rights is not contract. Though some rights may be held by the common consent or opinion of men, the foundation of rights is not opinion. The fact that customary or contractual or deeply felt rights exist does not impugn the fact that rights, in their most fundamental sense, are not customary, conventional, or emotional, but go beyond such relative bases and reach backward to a pre-existing, given reality of good and right, an objective order, the compliance with which human happiness depends. Any moral theorist who builds the foundation of his ethics on something other than natural law will always come to a failure of his theory as it collapses to relativism.

The fact is any objective moral order requires that a moral order pre-exist us. We have to be blind to miss the pre-existing, objective order. The Schleiermarcherian notion of Sichselbstnichtsogesetzthaben, "not-having-posited oneself," and of Irgendwiegewordensein, a "somehow-having-come-to-be," which cannot be gainsaid, compel us to face the objective fact that there is an objective reality, including a reality of right and wrong, of which we are not master, but which we have been given by Another, namely God, and which we discover, not make.*

What about the consequentialist's or utilitarian's efforts to describe morality?** Are they an exception to the rule? Can they escape the ineluctable conclusion that morality is not made by man, but is given us by our Creator?

David S. Oderberg

The consequentialist theories of morality are, ultimately, incompatible with a notion of natural right.

According to consequentialism, the criterion of rightness and wrongness of actions is whether they maximize good consequences. What are those good consequences? This is one of the first matters on which consquentialists differ.

Oderberg, 66. Many competitors vie for first place among the consequentialist theories for what ought to be the measure to be maximized: pleasure, the satisfaction of people's interests, some plurality or ensemble of goods that aggregately measure "well-being" are frequent suggestions. Consequentialists seem hopefully divided. Whatever that one measure is--take your pick--the analysis of consequentialism's defect is the same. Call that measure "X" and the consequentialist's goal to maximize X.

Consequentialists are also divided into "act" consequentialists (where and individual act is analyzed to see if it maximizes X) versus "rule" consequentialists (where a rule of action, and not the individual act itself, is analyzed to see if it maximizes X).

Regardless of the particular color and stripes of the theory, consequentialists are dedicated to a number of propositions, one of which may called the calculative principle, and the other which may be called the impersonality or agent-neutrality principle.

First, the calculative principle proposed by consequentialism asserts that "it is possible," in fact it is always possible, "to evaluate states of the world in terms of the goodness of the consequences present in those states as a result of actions." Oderberg, 67. The consequentialist is therefore committed to the ability to calculate of consequences caused by an act or rule, and hence the calculations that are determinant of an act's goodness are always possible. "Whether a crude numerical approach is used, or an intuitive one, or something in between, the consequentialist is committed to the idea that everything can be compared with everything else, in order to arrive at a judgment of what action is X-maximizing in the circumstances." Goods are therefore commensurable. Both this calculative aspect, and the necessary corollary of the commensurability of goods, is problematic.

Second, the impersonal or agent-neutrality feature is that consequentialists all believe that "[e]very moral agent's overarching rational duty is to maximize X." Oderberg, 67. "It can never be the case that an agent is placed in a situation in which he has a specific duty that is incompatible with this maximization." Oderberg, 68. In short, an agent has a duty always to do good, as good is defined by the consequentialists (maximizing X, whatever X may be), all else be damned. In this regard, consequentialists all seem to suffer from an overdeveloped sense of duty and hence a sort of moral neurosis follows. They are burdened with a millstone caused by the banishment of intent from the moral equation. All is outside in this theory; nothing is inside in this theory. It is hideously inhuman, and in fact leads to the justification of the most immoral behavior. Invariably, as a result of his false theory of morality, a consequentialist will turn into a neurotic whitened sepulcher, complete with the unattended inside full of a rotten corpse and black heart. The moral neurosis arises from what is an impossible proposition, and that is that one's intent makes utterly no difference in the moral calculus that determines right or wrong:
[I]t does not matter for the morality [of a person's] action how [he] fails to maximize X in a given situation: he may deliberately choose an act that is sub-optimal (less-than-X-maximizing), or he may simply refrain from performing the act that is optimal (X-maximizing), with the result that, in one way or another, a sub-optimal state of the world eventuates; either way, he is equally guilty of immorality.
Oderberg, 67. Here is consequentialism's viciousness, here is its demonic kernel, here is it's black heart:

[T]he defining feature of consequentialism . . . is hat there is no such thing as an action that is wrong whatever the consequences, and conversely, there is no such thing as an action that is right irrespective of the consequences. No actions are absolutely right or absolutely right: they take whatever moral complexion they have from their contribution, in the circumstances, to the maximization of X.

Oderberg, 68-69. Breaking one's promise, committing adultery, homicide, lying, bombing innocent populations with an atom bomb . . . you name it. There are no moral absolutes.*** All is negotiable so long as X is maximized. X, whatever X may be, becomes the new deity, the irrepressible Juggernaut and moral tyrant. It is apparent that if all is negotiable to the moral calculus, it follows that consequentialism is "incompatible with the existence of rights which prohibit certain kinds of act no matter what the consequences are." A consequentialist would never say: fiat justitia ruat caelum. Do justice, though the heaven's fall. A consequentialist would say, to keep the heaven's from falling, do injustice.

The upshot of consequentialism--that there are no such things as absolute rights--is admitted by the more candid of the consequentialists, and Oderberg provides a smattering of representative quotes.**** Even if they use the word "right," they have re-defined it to conform with their theory, and so cannot be regarded as "right" in any traditional sense. They are about as much "rights" as Satan's promises are promises: Faustian bargains both.

*See Sichselbstnichtsogesetzthaben and the Natural Law. Throughout this posting, the spelling from quotes from Oderberg's works are Americanized. Thus, maximise is rendered maximize, judgement rendered judgment, etc.
**Essentially, utilitarianism and consequentialism are synonyms. As Oderberg notes, "consequentialism" was a derogatory term used by the philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe to describe the utilitarian theory of morality. The utilitarians have taken to wearing that badge with pride, sort of like Ultramontanes enjoy being called Papists.
***Perhaps one of the best monographs on this issue, and certainly one of the bests I have encountered, is John Finnis, Moral Absolutes: Tradition, Revision, and Truth (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University Press, 1991).
****Peter Singer: "I am not convinced that the notion of a moral right is a helpful or meaningful one." J. J. C. Smart: "[H]owever unhappy about it he may be, the utilitarian must admit that he draws the consequence that he might find himself in circumstances where he ought to be unjust." John Harris: "I do not accept that there are any 'absolute' or 'natural' rights . . . the use of the word 'right' more often serves to obscure the rights and wrongs of an issue than to elucidate them."