How can one be sure one is doing good?

It seems that by merely learning what is good and applying that knowledge one can be sure that one is doing good.

But doing good things requires that one should also have knowledge of contingent matters. But contingent matters are infinite according to St. Thomas Aquinas. Therefore, since infinite things are uncertainly known, then doing good things can only be done uncertainly.

But then, how could virtue be defined as right action in accord with good reason? For if it was, then we could never be virtuous since we can’t do anything but uncertainly.

Yet we know that this is a true definition so perhaps contingent matters are somehow not infinite.

So I will ask a few other questions that are related to my main one: (1) are contingent matters infinite? (2) are particular events knowable in some way? (3) Does our universal knowledge allow us to understand particular things and to impose a certain finitude upon them or is it essentially unable to comprehend the infinite particulars of life?

But maybe there is an answer to my question which is sufficient. We should not insist on mathematical precision and certainty in moral science. But moral practice is just an application of the ideas of moral science and therefore we should not expect moral practice to be so certain either. Is that a good answer? Even if it is, I’m curious to see what answers people might have to the above questions 1-3?

Good stems from Love.
Learn and live (Agape) Love and you will do good naturally.

Peace
James

We operate with an imperfect knowledge of our world. There are limits to what we will know. Without digging into possible differences that we may have in the meaning of the word “good” I think the most we can do is attempt to do the best that we can from the limited information that we have.

There are some fields that try to minimize harm to others through the examination of certain types of consequences of certain actions. For example, evironmentalism. It looks at how our use of resources harms other environments. Some humanitarian groups look at how workers are treated by companies that make the goods that we purchase. Looking at the recomendations of such groups might assist you in further minimizing how your actions have negative impacts.

Is it always, universally, and necessarily true that what is particular is always unknowable though?

I think it is but if that’s true, then does that make our good actions not really good but only good by opinion? And also, if the particular is unknowable then what is the epistemic classification of what we would call our knowledge of particular events? Is our knowledge of these things, to the extent that it is certain, not knowledge of particulars directly but only indirectly?

There is no way to know if we are doing good.

We could think we are doing good and fool ourselves, and then God slaps us upside the head at the last judgment.

In addition, the five senses show an incomplete view of the world so we cannot see the consequences of what we do, so we could think we do something good but later on in the afterlife and our judgment, we find out a good thing we did led to evil.

Given our limited mental capacity and our limited imperfect awareness I think it is fare to say that more times than not we do not have possession or access to of 100% of the information that is impacting a situation.

This sounds like something that is leaking into a concept of “objectively good.” That’s a discussion I avoid partially because of problems of epistemology, and partially because of disagreements of definitions and criteria. In either case we are left working with the knowledge to which we do have access and the inferences we make from it.

What you have is an experience. It sounds like what you are questioned on is whether or not you can infer information reliably from that experience. It’s not 100% reliable. This is an extreme example but some one that is schizophrenic[msp] has experiences that are divergent from reality and thus aspects of the diversionlead to false conclusions. A less extreme examples is that many of us dream every night and have an experience and while in the dream state we may not be able to tell it’s a dream until we wake up.

All you can do is try to do the best that you can. Your success rate probably won’t be 100%. But it may be better than if you didn’t try at all.

There is truth in this, but there is a lot we can know. The Truth has been given to us infallibly in the Church, and in the Holy Scriptures.

This is very true about the senses, but if one is walking in the Spirit, we will not have to wait until the judgement to know.

2 Peter 1:3-11

3 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, 4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, that through these you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion, and become partakers of the divine nature. 5 For this very reason make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 8 For if these things are yours and abound, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For whoever lacks these things is blind and shortsighted and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins. 10 Therefore, brethren, be the more zealous to confirm your call and election, for if you do this you will never fall; 11 so there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

His divine power has granted to us all things
By His promises we can escape the corruption o fthe world
If we are supplementing our faith with virtuues, we can know that we are fruitful and growing in Christ

It is up to us to be zealous in confirming our call and election.

In order to rate how well one is doing “good” depends on reality. Without knowing reality, all the data in the world cannot accurate predict “good.”

Exactly though. For reality can be seen in two ways either statically according to the science of metaphysics or dynamically according to every day experience (which is where we gleam our data).

Now the latter and the former together help to form our decision making lives, that is one applies the universal static knowledge to the shifting knowledge of events in order to calculate your next action. However, from all I’ve read the knowledge of events are directly impossible to know but to the extent we do know them, we know them only indirectly. This almost seems to establish a dichotomy between noumena and phenomena. We only know particulars as phenomena and not as noumena. For instance, the particular pencil is not known by us per “particular pencil” but only as an instance of “pencil-ness”.

Therefore our knowledge of how to do good is not knowledge in the strict sense but only a probable indirect inference, hence we don’t actually do good we only do things which approximate the good as a line ever reaches for the asymptote. My solutions to this problem still do not solve the problem of how we can ever do something which is know-ably good. Does anyone else have a solution?

Yes. I suggest using the Revelation of God, His standards, and HIs measurements. :smiley:

Again, that’s the point. Our knowledge of Catholicism is based on Aquinas, but Aquinas said that particulars are unknowable, so our knowledge of Catholicism must come to terms with this problem.

That’s what I’m trying to do here and simply going back to reevaluate the sources, like God’s standards, would be futile since his standards first posed the problem to which I could probably get a concise answer here.

Well, speak for yourself! There is plenty of Catholic thought that has not been influenced at all by Thomism. For reasons of politics, culture, and economics, the Eastern and Western Christians began to be separated some centuries before the Great Schism. I have found it very formative to study the Apostolic faith without Aquinas.

As you know, it was in Antioch of Syria that the followers of Christ were first called Christians, and there is a valid line of Bishops from there that goes back to Peter, older than the line in Rome. There are ancient documents in Syriac and Aramaic that have recently been translated into English for the first time.

How do God’s standards pose a problem for you? Are you speaking of an epistomological problem?

(1) I only understand things to the extent that they can be interpreted Thomistically.

(2) I’m talking about an epistemological problem and chiefly the same one I’ve been talking about except applied to God’s standards.

Here are two replies:

  1. an action is ‘good’ or not, depending entirely to the will of the agent. Therefore if the agent intends to do ‘good’, he is doing good (from a moral point of view)

Alternatively,
2) since we cannot know the particular case (owing to the infinite number of variables), we cannot know whether we are doing good.

That is my problem in a distilled form. Now perhaps (1) is a solution but if it is, I can be guaranteed to be doing good except from the point of view of reason which is a necessary condition for doing good. After all, if (2) is true, then we only have opinions, therefore we cannot act with reason (since reason is for knowing and not opining), and so as per (1), we don’t have a necessary condition for good action and therefore we can’t act good at all. It seems that both can’t be true.

But perhaps a true solution presents itself. If the infinity of particulars implies that we have only opinion, then this conclusion must be an opinion too. But this is contrary to my intention so there is some sense in which there are only a finite number of particulars and some sense in which the infinite number of possibilities does not eradicate certain knowing.

So how does one reconcile the infinite, particular and unknowable with the idea that we use the particular in applying our abstract knowledge and in evaluating this same abstract knowledge?

A possible solution is that particulars are not seen per se but only indirectly; this pencil is seen as “a pencil” and not " a this pencil". So our particulars are conditioned to appear as mere instances of universal and less concrete ideas. But if that is true, then I have made no progress in finding a solution, for then we won’t have knowledge of particular conditions strictly speaking but only indirectly; we have knowledge not of an individual thing insofar as it is individual but only a knowledge of that same thing insofar as it is an instantiation of an abstract idea; we know the pencil as an instance of “things called pencils” and not as “a wood object with x many scratches and of y color”. And even this latter description firmly fixes the pencil as a thing definitely known only with universal qualifiers like “wood” or “object”. So my solution is illusory.

Are there any solutions anyone can think of?

The most perfect solution is to obey the Church. God is the “gold standard” of good. The Church has been given the authority to speak for God. Therefore when you obey the Church you obey God.

Note also that the definition of moral given by Qoeleth is incomplete. Intention is only one of the three criteria needed to determine what is good (moral). They are 1) the act itself, and 2) the circumstance.

Well I do do all of that but why do I do it and what are my purely epistemological justifications for knowing that what I’m doing is good? Clearly my justification cannot be the divine authority since this very authority’s certitude is the subject of my question, so that I couldn’t avoid logical circularity if I proposed that authority as an answer. Neither is faith an answer since faith supposes reason and reason is one thing that I don’t have in regard to this question.

And let us look at the circumstances of a moral act. These circumstances are infinitely indefinite and so, as I’ve repeated, where is the certainty of morality? But finally, I reiterate my above questions as to the validity of my proposed solutions -is there some sense in which the indefinite particular is both definite and directly known i.e. is there a way to bridge the phenonmenon-noumenon gulf? Btw, I reject any kantian solution since I think there is a more directly thomistic answer.

What might these be, and why are the required?

for knowing that what I’m doing is good? Clearly my justification cannot be the divine authority since this very authority’s certitude is the subject of my question, so that I couldn’t avoid logical circularity if I proposed that authority as an answer. Neither is faith an answer since faith supposes reason and reason is one thing that I don’t have in regard to this question.

And let us look at the circumstances of a moral act. These circumstances are infinitely indefinite and so, as I’ve repeated, where is the certainty of morality? But finally, I reiterate my above questions as to the validity of my proposed solutions -is there some sense in which the indefinite particular is both definite and directly known i.e. is there a way to bridge the phenonmenon-noumenon gulf? Btw, I reject any kantian solution since I think there is a more directly thomistic answer.

Your demand for certainty is unreasonable. For us finite, limited creatures certitude is a pipe dream. The answer to all moral questions hinges on love. One must determine, with reasonable assurance based on Church teaching, that the planned action, or inaction, is a one of love.

:thumbsup: “reasonable” is the key word.

God doesn’t expect us to be infallible but impeccable!

I follow your idea- that in moral decision making, not to thing “This particular X” but simply “an X”. Thus the moral question becomes, “Should a person steal a car?”, rather than “Should this particular person take this particular object, which might be called a car?” I believe Singer uses the same idea, to argue that there can be no moral universals, since any action happens not to a ‘class’ but to a particular object/situation.

Moral imperatives seems necessarily to rely on classes of objects and actions. Whether such classes really exist (other than as abitrary mental constructs) is questionable.

I feel that we cannot really know for sure the right thing to do in many cases. It is a reassuring self-deception to think that we can. I do not say this to contradict Christian morality, or to argue for relativism. But there are all kinds of grey areas- deciding upon priorities in actions or service, etc.

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