Self defense and consequentialism

Is not Church teaching on self-defense consequentialism. “If it saves you or your family, you may even have a grave duty to pull the trigger.” Yet we dont allow it for stem cell research or torture, or torching abortion clinics, because it is wrong. Please help me understand.

Someone threatening your family is IMMEDIATE grace danger.
The others do grave danger to society, but we have a chance to stop these things through laws and influence. You can’t influence a nut-job with a gun. Not at the point where he’s about to kill you.
Big difference.

Fetal stem cells came from the destruction of innocent life. A person trying to kill another is not innocent.

Exactly, the fetus is not coming after you and your family.

The self-defensive act is an attempt to repel a force, not to kill another.

Stem cell research is great, embryonic stem cell research is murder.

Torture is an intentional frustration of the basic purposes of the body or mind.

Torching an abortion clinic could be justified in certain circumstances other than the one we find ourselves in - which is that it would ultimately cause more damage than good.

Consequentialism is not merely holding consequences (intended or not) as important for measuring morality, or even as the sole determining factor in some particular act that is otherwise neutral… Consequentialism is a SYSTEM which uses consequences exclusively in ALL acts to measure their morality.

I am not sure what the question is, because you have pulled together at least three separate concepts: self-defense, duty, and consequentialism. What exactly is troubling you? Review CCC 2263-2265.

I think we can at least take consequentialism out of the mix. The morality of self-defense is not decided by the consequences. For example, it may happen that one kills the aggressor, yet the innocent person also dies, and it may still be morally acceptable.

Self defense is a right, but not always a duty. The Catechism says it can be “a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others.” This may be referring to those in authority such as police or soldiers, but perhaps it could apply to a head of household or other responsible family member.

Consequences, or expected effects, as well as other circumstances determine the morality of human acts which are both good in their object and intention.

Acts evil in their object or evil in intention or may never justified by their expected good effects.

In self defense, one has the right to stop an attack even if to do so requires killing the attacker. But the right is not absolute: If the attacker turns and runs, you do not have the right to chase him down and kill him; nor do you have the right, if he ducks into a crowd, to fire a shotgun at him and hit several others.

In burning an abortion clinic, one is potentially harming others who are not committing abortion.

And in embryonic stem cell research, the cells come from abortion. We are not to benefit from evil-doing. Research based on adult body-cells is perfectly OK.


In self-defense, killing the other person is neither a goal nor even a required means. If your act of self-defense causes the assailant to run away or surrender, you have succeeded.

In torture, you may say that your goal is to get information, but if you have decided to torture, you will not have succeeded unless your captive suffers pain or anguish. A person at your mercy is very different than an attacker, and the deliberate and calculated infliction of pain is very different from a swift act of violence intended to stop an immediate threat.

In embryonic stem cell research, the killing of a (very tiny) human being is a necessary means. You cannot succeed without doing it.

No. For it to be consequentialist, the moral object of the act done would not matter - only an assessment of consequences.

The CCC indicates that the moral object in legitimate self-defence remains good when it states:
"2263 The legitimate defense of persons and societies is not an exception to the prohibition against the murder of the innocent that constitutes intentional killing. "The act of self-defense can have a double effect: the preservation of one’s own life; and the killing of the aggressor. . . . The one is intended, the other is not."65 "

A good act may see a man killed, and an evil act may see a man killed.

“If it saves you or your family, you may even have a grave duty to pull the trigger.”

That’s right, but the moral object remains good in a legitimate act of self-defence.

Yet we dont allow it for stem cell research or torture, or torching abortion clinics, because it is wrong. Please help me understand.

The moral objects of the relevant acts are evil - the perceived balance of consequences can’t change that.

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