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The Thomist 65 (2001): 1-44 "DIRECT" AND "INDIRECT": A REPLY TO CRITICS OF OUR ACTION THEORY jOHNFINNIS University of Oxford Oxford, England GERMAIN GRISEZ JOSEPH BOYLE Mount St. Mary's College St. Michael's College Emmitsburg, Maryland Toronto, Ontario, Canada I The adjectives "direct" and "indirect" have been used in some documents of the Magisterium to qualify nouns that refer to certain ways in which one brings about bad outcomes. Those adjectives are used to distinguish cases in which an acting person intends the bad outcome either as an end or as a means ("direct abortion")1 from cases in which the moral agent, in doing some other, morally upright action, only accepts the bad outcome as its side effect. Rather than using "direct" and "indirect," it seems to us preferable to speak of what is intended and what is accepted as a side effect,2 and we shall usually do so here. To understand this distinction, one should begin by considering free choices and the actions that carry them out. Those are good or bad-in the first instance good or bad for the human persons who shape themselves by making such choices and carrying them out. Groups of persons also deliberate and act, and their actions affect and shape them too. 1 See, e.g., Catechism ofthe Catholic Church (hereafter CCC) 2271; John Paul II, Evangelium vitae (25 March 1995) 62. A primary source for these and other recent documents, on this point, is the set of statements of Pius XII cited in Evangelium vitae 62 at n. 66. 2 See Germain Grisez, The Way of the Lord Jesus, vol. 2, Living a Christian Life (Quincy, Ill.: Franciscan Herald Press, 1993), 473-74. 1 2 JOHN FINNIS, GERMAIN GRISEZ, JOSEPH BOYLE Of course, each individual who participates in the communal action will in so doing make his own free choices. Moral good and evil are a matter of whether and how fully or deficiently these choices are reasonable, that is to say, in accord with fully reasonable judgments about what is to be done or avoided.3 Before children can make free choices, emotional motivations attract them to, or avert them from, certain possibilities, and motivations of this sort are still operative in one's adult life. As one becomes capable of being motivated by reasons, one enters the moral domain by reasoning about what to do, by more or less integrating one's emotional motivations with each other and with reasons, and by more or less reasonably making free choices. But what is it to have a reason for action by which one might thus be motivated and guided towards choice? Essentially, it is to understand the intelligible con3 Of course, this statement must be qualified. People's capacities to judge correctly what to do and to exercise their freedom in acting on their judgment can be more or less limited in various ways. So, a person's moral quality depends on his selfdetermination in relation to his capacity to act reasonably. Thus a person whose capacity to act reasonably is limited may be a good person even while determining himself to an act of a kind that is wrong and would never be done by a good person free of those limitations. For that reason, Catholic moral theology and pastoral practice have recognized the difference between the "subjective" good and evil of persons and their choices, on the one hand, and, on the other, the "objective" good and evil of actions measured by unqualified practical reasonableness. This distinction can also be marked-though we do not recommend this way of speaking-by reserving the adjectives good and evil to qualify persons and choices, and the adjectives right and wrong to qualify choices and actions. Of course, the good and the right, the evil and the wrong, are sometimes distinguished in ways that we regard as inconsistent with sound morality and pastoral practice. For example, James F. Keenan, S.J., Goodness and Rjghtness in Thomas Aquinas's "Summa Theologiae" (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University, 1992), 173-174, holds that acts commanded by charity or "benevolence" "are good, though not necessarily right"-indeed, are good even if...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2473-3725
Print ISSN
0040-6325
Pages
pp. 1-44
Launched on MUSE
2017-04-05
Open Access
No
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