In natural law morality, the three considerations for determining the morality of an act are:
a. Object - that nature of the act and its orientation.
b. Intention of the person
c. Context of situation.
Hence, what Veritatis Splendor teaches is that intrinsically evil acts are always evil regardless of the person's intent and the circumstances in which the act is carried out.
However . . .
That's a little softer . . . like sandstone versus granite.
Here's a partial listing of acts considered intrinsically evil:
Other lists include:
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My fundamental beef with this approach is that many of these "acts" incorporate intent and circumstance into the definition of the act itself.
E.g., Murder and killing in self-defense or in times or war are all acts of killing, but it is the intent that makes one "murder" and the other two morally acceptable acts (or less evil, at least).
- giving people a ride somewhere is a good thing; trafficking is doing so against their will and with intent to sell them; intent and context determine the evil of the act, not the act itself.
- abortion is, by definition, intent to destroy an unborn life; doing so to protect the mother's life is acceptable; it is intent and circumstance that make abortion an immoral act, not the act per se.
- lying in certain circumstances is not necessarily wrong;
- artificial contraception is fundamentally ordered to thwart procreation, but NFP does the same by choosing to make use of the sex act only during such times when procreation is unlikely; intent and circumstance are basically the same in both acts, and this is where the human spirit is involved.
So . . . it's problematic to condemn an act as evil per se without regard to circumstance and intent. Acts, by definition, are expressions of an intent and always take place in a particular circumstance.
What am I missing, here?
0 views in two days.
LOL! Not much interest, I guess.
I've read through this about three or four times, on different occasions, so maybe the counter is broken.
I just haven't replied cuz I'm not sure I fully understand your "beef." I was going to deal with it later, re-read it afresh, etc.
Also, some of our readers out East may be without power (as in electricity).
I guess my browser was re-loading the page from the cache.
My beef is that you can't really speak of an act as evil without considering intent and circumstance, and the current teaching emphasizes act as act per se without such consideration.
Back in the mid-90s or so, whenever Veritatis Splendor first came out, there was a workshop for priests at the Spiritual Life Center in Wichita, where I worked at the time. A rather famous moral theologian was brought in to help the priests understand what the encyclical was emphasizing, and I was allowed to sit in as I was Family Life Coordinator (among other things) for the Diocese. After going on about the need to consider act, intent and context, the theologian emphasized that some acts were irredeemable no matter what the context/situation or the intent of the person. He seemed especially intent on zeroing in on artificial contraception, and I noticed a number of priests getting squeamish in their seats. At one point, a middle-aged priest known for his pastoral compassion raised his hand (and I'll report the exchange as best as I can recall).
Priest: Dr. XXX, what you're telling us is that some acts are evil no matter what the situation.
Dr. XXX: Yes, that's correct, although the context and intent of the person can reduce the degree of evil of the act.
Priest: I do not understand the nature of the intrinsically evil act called murder.
Dr. XXX: It is taking the life of another person.
Priest: Our soldiers do that during times of war as well, and the Church has taught that this may be justified at times for purposes of national defense, which is an extension of our right to self-defense.
Dr. XXX: Yes, that is true. In murder, however, one is killing but without self-defense.
Priest: But one is killing in both cases. . . (confused).
Dr. XXX: But in murder, as in abortion, one is killing another who does not deserve to die!
Priest: I'm sorry, Doctor, but aren't we one or two removes from the act itself when we pass judgments about who is innocent or guilty or deserving to die? Isn't intent and circumstance somehow constituitive of how we name an act, whether it be abortion, murder, or self-defense?
Dr. XXX (clearly exasperated): No, no, no! These are different acts!
Priest: How so? The act itself is killing. The rest is context, judgment and intent.
Dr. XXX: So are you trying to make a case for abortion sometimes being an act made in self-defense?
Priest (now exasperated): Of course not! I was just trying to clarify what you mean by act.
Dr. XXX: So are we clear now on what an act is?
Priest: I am clear to myself about what it means, but I do not understand how terms like abortion, murder, and other acts considered intrinsically evil can be named so without considering the intent of the person or the situation in which the person is acting.
Dr. XXX: Veritatis Splendor implicitly condemns proportionalism and situation ethics and makes it clear that there is right or wrong, regardless of circumstance. That is one of its main emphases.
Priest: OK, I will just sit down and listen now.
(He left at the break and did not return. I saw him at the Center a week or so later and told him I'd appreciated his remarks. His reply was that most priests told him the same.)
I see what you mean, but what framework or change in language would you prefer to capture the built-in relevance of intent and circumstance in defining intrinsic evil?
I see people grossly impaired in their development (i.e. moral capacity to love and not exploit others) who engage in all sorts of evil acts. The circumstances of their impoverished development don't make their immoral choices less evil, per se, just more understandable...I don't know...maybe I'm thinking more of evil as in the Hebrew definition of sin, which is to "miss the mark" of perfection. The mark of perfection is missed, that's one dimension. Circumstance and intent tell us why, and maybe you are suggesting that is the more important dimension of discussing intrinsic evil.
We could just speak of sinful acts instead, and that would incorporate considerations for intent and circumstance. E.g., abortion is a sinful act because it destroys the life of an innocent, unborn human being. Sin is the traditional way of speaking about wrongdoing, and it can usually be explained in terms of the harm it does to oneself and/or others without invoking terminology like intrinsically evil. If you take such an approach (defining particular acts per se as intrinsically evil), then an act like lying (which is considered "intrinsically evil") can be evaluated in terms of if it is doing harm or not (and we all know there are times when it can actually be charitable to "fudge" a little). Veritatis Splendor will acknowledge that there are circumstances when lying might not be a grave wrong, but because it is "intrinsically evil" to lie, it is nonetheless an evil to some degree.
The pre-eminent moral theologian of the 20th C. is generally considered to have been the Redemptorist Father, Bernard Haring, who wrote in many places of the dangers of adopting an overly objective understanding of sin. Haring was a close friend of Pope John XIII and an influential voice in Vatican II. He thought it was mistake to adopt a position that a sin can be defined by the inherent "structure" of an act. Pope John Paul II obviously took a different view in the epistles he wrote.
Phil and Shasha and others,
Ah! Yes, Shasha was on target in pointing out that east coasters might have been silent on this new thread because of hurricane issues. That was the case with this east coaster, anyway. Actually, the last post I made on the other thread, I made via flashlight and 22% battery power left in my laptop. But power is back on and …. lol….. that means the exasperator yet lives and now returns! (Yuck!)
Starting a new thread takes us out of the realm of both: issues concerning voting and of accusations concerning manipulation. So it’s a decent idea, a nice move, a defusing move, and hopefully will bear some fruit towards our understanding and cordial relationships – agreeable disagree-ers that we sometimes can be.
Upfront: this subject matter takes us into tricky territory. No doubt about that. Scary for me at first blush -- way over my head. Phil’s personal remembrance of the various priests agreeing with the questioning priest was a good example that showed pointedly the cloud that surrounds this subject matter. I don’t know that I can disperse that cloud. Nevertheless I somehow believe that there is a real gift to be realized if somehow we can disperse that cloud. Hopefully the H. S. will participate in our discussions and lead us to a clearer understanding somehow.
“Circumstance and intent tell us why, and maybe you are suggesting that is the more important dimension of discussing intrinsic evil.” (bolding mine)
While Phil didn’t address this remark, it attracts my attention. When I read it I think that herein might we find an answer. Perhaps the what and not the why is the issue we should give some thought to.
“Sin is the traditional way of speaking about wrongdoing, and it can usually be explained in terms of the harm it does to oneself and/or others without invoking terminology like intrinsically evil.” (bolding mine)
Yes, I agree with Phil that the traditional way of speaking about sin works. And, as Phil mentions, Haring (though I am unfamiliar with him beyond the name) was an admired dude whom I take it had a different take on things in morality realms. Yet JPII wrote what he wrote when composing Splendor of Truth. JPII desired to frame his discussion of these things in the context of intrinsic evil. I guess one could say that JPII agreed to disagree with his friend Haring’s thinking.
I’m thinking that perhaps JPII felt there was indeed a benefit to be realized and a need to use the terminology of intrinsic evil. That’s certainly what he introduced in his expounding. So perhaps we should try to put on JPII moccasins and imagine what he was driving at and why. (Blue-memes are faulted with the stigma of allegiance to authority so I fit in with the generalization -- and most generalizations have basis in reality, lol. But ‘unquestioning’ allegiance is a smear, imo, that blue-meme labelers label us with. – and I’m not saying Phil, here.)
Even if we are able to come to a viable understanding of what JPII meant and why JPII headed this way, since it’s still a free country, folk will be able to still disagree with him or agree to disagree. They needn't fear exploration -- or lol, exploitation.
A few perhaps extraneous, but I surmise relevant, things attend this discussion too, though derivatively.
These pertain to judging, a compassion that enables, and the thinking that many including Phil voice concerning the rarity of mortal sin.
I go a bit bonkers when I hear or read such statements. I think to myself: 400 million abortions and near as many forced sterilizations in China since 1980, 53 million and climbing abortions in the U.S. since the 70’s, the middle east in rubble due to wars, divorce at greater than 50%, pornography almost epidemic, human rights violations abounding, Christians persecuted and martyred all around the globe, ethnic cleansing and genocide, greed rampant even honored in business circles, usury an accepted banking strategy, poverty unattended, jails full, drug addiction increasing, gangs increasing – and nobody’s committing mortal sin????? It’s a rarity? All my listed mentions are venial realities?
There’s something rotten in Denmark.
JPII had remarked that man’s loss of the sense of sin was the greatest evil facing mankind these days.
Sin is said to blind us, to deaden our understanding. As sin increases (and it has been) deadening of our intellects accrues. We begin to call evil good even – as, for one example, pro-abortion-rights Christian churches now do. As pro-homosexual acts and homosexual clergy do, as any and all toleraters of evil do. We have become boiling frogs. We are hurting ourselves and endorsing and validating the hurting -- in the name of compassion, and of conscience (consciences subjectively determined). I constitute my own morality. Nothing is a mortal sin if I think otherwise. Sin doesn’t have an intrinsic domain some say. It’s all relative – and relative to me at that. I am God and the determiner/definer of sin. What I accept and reject becomes the criterion. The why can override the what. The why I do something can eradicate the what of my acts. ??? Can intent and motivation truly of themselves undo morality – undue reality. Sin is illusion. God is in reality. He is truth.
Interestingly, I heard on EWTN this week, some guest, remark that a journalist once asked JPII what single scripture he would quote someone if he had only one to express. Without hesitation JPII replied: “The truth shall set you free.”
I’m thinking the notion of intrinsic evil is somehow to be understood as flowing from the truth that surrounds reality. Sin has an intrinsic domain, culpability is a different issue. Our understanding, our compassion, our father forgive them for they know not, must not negate the reality that they indeed need to be forgiven for they have indeed sinned; and they must seek His forgiveness.
Interestingly, though the ‘Father forgive them’ was Christ’s plea from the cross, it did not undue the reality that the destruction of the temple in 70 AD brought to the Jews. There is a perfect justice in play amidst the infinite mercy. We presume to our loss.
As Phil points out, Haring’s concern was ‘an overly objective understanding of sin’. Perhaps JPII’s concern was an overly subjective understanding of sin. Which in these days do our readers believe to be the more prevalent understanding to be concerned with?.
Enough for now. (to be continued) I am sure your dibs will be forthcoming.
Pop, I'm honored that you used your scarce energy resources to interact on the forum.
So, things are obviously better now? Do you have access to gasoline? I read all sorts of stories about that.
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No rejoinder here. Thanks for your remarks. I think we can agree that the traditional understanding of sin is most adequate and properly nuanced to consider the gravity of acts, and also to nuance these in terms of circumstance and intent. The old moralists were no dummies, and they often did have pastoral hearts as well.
Re the hurricane: Gasoline is still a hard commodity to readily find. One can wait three hours on line and in the end find the person in front of them got the last of it. You can wait on line and find that only $10 worth is the ration amount at that station -- and since prices are being manipulated up to more than $4 a gallon, you go home with 2 1/2 gallons. Enough for tomorrow's three hour wait. Fights have broken out.
Many still without power- some even in my town, though me and mine got power back after 1 1/2 days.
No one knows when gasoline will be readily available again. Folk with gasoline powered generators are realizing they consume a lot of gas and with it being scarce they have to do the waiting line thing more than they'd wish to.
Some gas stations only give gas to people handcarrying gas containers, and not to cars. It's a gas!
Interestingly, some of the newer gas stoves can't be used since they require electricity for ignition (no pilots) or for their self-cleaning ovens or to overcome valves that enable gas flow. The new-fangled stuff has limitations the old stoves didn't have. It's a mixed bag. Some designs can be lit but some cannot. Folk are finding out which type they have!
Folk with wells using electric pumps to get water are without water. Bridges and tunnels into Manhattan are closed to cars with less than 3 people. Subways are flooded in lower Manhattan.
Morning mass readings by flashlight. Churches quite dark with altar candles only. Fun nonetheless.
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