Saturday, June 19, 2010

A dissent rooted in utilitarian philosophy

Theologians, pastors and others who deny there is a necessary connection between moral goodness and right action are dissenting. And this dissent has its roots in utilitarian philosophy. In his Encyclical Letter Veritatis Splendor, Pope John Paul II teaches that, "The morality of the human act 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 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. The object of the act of willing is in fact a freely chosen kind of behavior. To the extent that it is in conformity with the order of reason, it is the cause of the goodness of the will; it perfects us morally, and disposes us to recognize our ultimate end in the perfect good, primordial love. By the object of a given moral act, then, one cannot mean a process or an event of the merely physical order, to be assessed on the basis of its ability to bring about a given state of affairs in the outside world. Rather, that object is the proximate end of a deliberate decision which determines the act of willing on the part of the acting person. Consequently, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches*, 'there are certain specific kinds of behavior that are always wrong to choose, because choosing them involves a disorder of the will, that is, a moral evil.'" (No. 78).

In the same encyclical, the Holy Father teaches that the teleological ethical theories (proportionalism and consequentialism), "while acknowledging that moral values are indicated by reason and by revelation, maintain that it is never possible to formulate an absolute prohibition of particular kinds of behavior which would be in conflict, in every circumstance and in every culture, with those values." (No. 75) and goes on to explain that, "Such theories..are not faithful to the Church's teaching, when they believe they can justify, as morally good, deliberate choices of kinds of behavior contrary to the commandments of the divine and natural law. These theories cannot claim to be grounded in the Catholic moral tradition....The faithful are obliged to acknowledge and respect the specific moral precepts declared and taught by the Church in the name of God, the Creator and Lord." (No. 76).

Certain acts (such as abortion, contraception, and homosexual acts) are intrinsically evil and are always and everywhere wrong by reason of their object, "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 exists acts which per se and in themselves, independently of circumstances, are always seriously wrong by reason of their object." (No. 80).

* CCC, 1761: "There are concrete acts that it is always wrong to choose, because their choice entails a disorder of the will, i.e., a moral evil. One may not do evil so that good may result from it."

"Historically, utilitarianism has been the best-known form of consequentialism. Utilitarianism assesses acts and/or character traits, practices, and institutions solely in terms of overall net benefit, which is often referred to as well-being or welfare. Overall welfare is calculated by counting a benefit or harm to any one individual the same as the same size benefit or harm to any other individual, and then adding all the benefits and harms together to reach an aggregate sum. There is considerable dispute among consequentialists about what the best account of welfare is." (See here).

1 comment:

Paul Anthony Melanson said...

I think so many have a hidden desire for abortion, "the joys of homosexual sex," anti-life contraception, and free sex in general.

Garvey's suggestion that Mill can provide us with "a way forward" is simply troubling in my view. It is to suggest that we are at a cultural impasse which can only be remedied by compromise. Mill was a compromiser. He attempted a balance of hedonism and eudaemonism in ethics, of empiricism and apriorism in logic, and of individualism and socialism in political economy.

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