The morality of an act: CCC 1756 and CCC 2263


#1

CCC 1756:* It is therefore an error to judge the morality of human acts by considering only the intention that inspires them or the circumstances (environment, social pressure, duress or emergency, etc.) which supply their context. There are acts which, in and of themselves, independently of circumstances and intentions, are always gravely illicit by reason of their object; such as blasphemy and perjury, murder and adultery. One may not do evil so that good may result from it.*
CCC 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.”
*
The most fundamental good of a person is existence/life. Killing is an evil act that violates that. These two paragraphs mention murder that is an intrinsically evil act.
According to the CCC 1756 a morality of intrinsically evil acts is always wrong regardless of the intentions and circumstances.
The CCC 2263 says there are occasions when circumstances bring an agent into more complicated scenario when the double effect principle has to be explored. The intention of the agent changes how the morality of an act is being accessed.
How can we resolve this apparent conflict?
The only way is to realize that there are two types of intentions; an intention that motivates the agent to do something/to achieve a goal and the intention to choose a moral object that’s going to be used to achieve the goal. The end result is that the intention to use a different moral object redefines the act. That’s how a self-defense is morally OK because the intention is to choose good moral object and even if a killing happens it’s not intended and therefore it cannot be considered as a murder.

Having said that, the same logic has to be applied to saving woman’s life during ectopic pregnancies. A surgery in order to save a woman is intended good moral object; embryo dying after removal from the tube is not intended, therefore this is not an abortion.

Here is an example of an ‘inverted’ double effect principle. To procreate is intrinsically good but it cannot change a morality of a rape.


#2

There is no actual conflict in those 2 CCC paragraphs (which I think is what you have tried to explain above yourself?). [But I do see the **potential for confusion in that similar words “intentions” and “intentionally” appear, but in contexts that demand slightly different interpretations. “Intentional killing” refers to a proximate end, where as “intentions” refer to an ultimate purpose, motivation, reason etc.]

The intentions of an act (say, “to defend my life”) and the circumstances (“the potential for the death of the assailant”), do not nullify the intrinsic evil of an act of murder [CCC1756 obliges this statement]. If I am under threat from an assailant, I may not form a determination to end the life of my assailant, and then execute on that determination - that would be an act of murder, which is never permissible.

In more detail (copied from a post on another thread):

**Killing **(the consequences) in **self-defence **(intention) says nothing about whether murder occurred. This is explained as follows:

There are 3 fonts (sources) of morality:

  1. Intention (why we do something - motivation); eg. self-defence
  2. moral object (or proximate end - what we do);
  3. circumstances (including consequences); eg. I live; aggressor dies.

[See: http://www.catechism.cc/articles/moral-object.htm]

All have to be good for an act to be moral (the 3rd point is often a balance of good and bad outcomes).

The expression, or the fact, of “Killing in self-defence” tells us nothing about Item 2. If, in my anger and zeal (or otherwise), I resolve that my aggressor is to die, and I set out on that course and execute accordingly [Item 2], then the chosen act is murder - an intrinsic evil. The good intentions, and the on-balance good (or neutral) **outcome **cannot offset the intrinsic wrong. I will have acted immorally.

Ectopic pregnancy treatments (other than tube removal Salpingectomy) are similar in that the Intention is good, the circumstances are good (or neutral) but the Item 2 (eg. methotrexate injection) is inherently evil for it seeks the death of the baby. I don’t see the surgical removal of the baby as materially different because that act is not relocating the baby to a safe haven! Rather, it is a direct deleterious action on the baby - scraping it out. [Do you see methotrexate as immoral and surgical removal moral - or do you see both as moral??]

In the statement of your pregnancy example, that I have highlighted in red, you are confusing the Intended End and the Moral Object. The following article may help you see the difference - look at the last section “Intended End vs Moral Object”.
catechism.cc/articles/moral-object.htm

I do hope others skilled in this area will contribute to the discussion, as I fear you and I have monopolised this subject once before, and probably bored to death (though not intentionally ;)) many readers.


#3

Rau,
Excellent post! Thanks!!!
When you say “But I do see the **potential **for confusion…” it’s a good start.

An intention to choose one moral object - proximate end over the other is still agent’s intention and this intention determines if we are dealing with murder or not.
It also determines whether the killing of aggressor falls into #2 - it’s a moral object or it falls into #3 - it’s an unintended consequence.

The embryo’s death in the pregnancy example shifts to the #3 - it’s an unintended consequence, it’s not #2 - moral object. This is just following your murder analysis.

The question still stands; does the intention to choose one moral object over the other change the outcome of analysis of an act morality? Can this intention shift something from #2 to #3, if I stick to your numbering.


#4

But that is the same issue I pointed to long ago, your misunderstanding of “intentions” vs. “intentionally”.

An intention to choose one moral object - proximate end over the other is still agent’s intention and this intention determines if we are dealing with murder or not.
It also determines whether the killing of aggressor falls into #2 - it’s a moral object or it falls into #3 - it’s an unintended consequence.

You are just creating confusion - as though playing a word game. Don’t use the word “intention” here as you create confusion with the “intention” of #1.

The embryo’s death in the pregnancy example shifts to the #3 - it’s an unintended consequence, it’s not #2 - moral object. This is just following your murder analysis.

The embryos death is plainly not an unintended consequence of a methotrexate injection. Administering Methotrexate is to murder the baby (albeit for the wider intention #1 of “save the mother”). A methotrexate injection only serves the intention (saving the mother) if the baby dies. The act to scrape the baby from the tube is not materially different. The nature of the baby’s death is not evident from the #1 Intention (“save mother”), but it is intrinsic to the act of methotrexate injection or scraping a tube. This reminds us of exactly what the catechism said about the intrinsic evil of some acts. We can’t do evil in the service of good.

The question still stands; does the intention to choose one moral object over the other change the outcome of analysis of an act morality? Can this intention shift something from #2 to #3, if I stick to your numbering.

The Intention #1, cannot change the moral object #2. It is an independent font of morality.

I hope you have or will read this:
catechism.cc/articles/moral-object.htm


#5

Well, let me quote some dictionaries.
Google: intention -** a thing intended**; an aim or plan.
Merriam-Webster: intention - the thing that you plan to do or achieve : an aim or purpose
1: ** a determination to act in a certain way**

The intention is both; an aim, purpose but also a plan, a determination to act in certain way.
2263: " … The one is intended… " - what is intended; as Google says intention is ‘a thing intended’. CCC 2263 clearly talks about a determination to act in certain way.
You would go against dictionaries if you’d say otherwise.
It’s all good we know what we are talking about.

What is important is to understand that an intention is also an end result of agent’s decision making process how to act in a certain way. That’s a selection of the moral object. This is the point when we would know that an agent is defending and not trying intentionally to kill. Now we would know that the accidental killing is a consequence (#3) and it’s not the moral object (#2).

Therefore the 1756 can be true only based on the assumption that the agent has an intention of choosing good moral object.
It also means that the moral object alone does not say anything about the agent and it’s impossible to determine a morality of an act without the intention of choosing the moral object and the circumstances.


#6

Dictionaries won’t resolve it for you Jaaasonik . You are repeating yourself and I have already explained where you go wrong. I recommend you read the paper I provided as it addresses your misunderstandings exactly.


#7

This is part of your own post #2:

*Killing (the consequences) in self-defence (intention) says nothing about whether murder occurred. This is explained as follows:

There are 3 fonts (sources) of morality:

  1. Intention (why we do something - motivation); eg. self-defence
  2. moral object (or proximate end - what we do);
  3. circumstances (including consequences); eg. I live; aggressor dies.*

Killing is the consequence in self-defence.
Killing is the moral object in murder.

Is killing intrinsically evil only sometimes or all the time? If killing is intrinsically evil it should be #2 - moral object all the time. How come you put it in #3? Based on what? This: “Killing (the consequences) in self-defence (intention) says nothing about whether murder occurred.” is a false statement. Killing being the consequence is the reason why the murder did not happen. Unbelievable.

It seems you will not admit that the agent’s intention to choose different moral object is the reason why killing is being shifted from #2 to #3 so I suggest we stop our discussion. There is nothing else more to say.


#8

Is it clearer to you if I write the statement as follows:

The Death of the assailant at my hands (a consequence) in self-defence (intention) says nothing about whether murder occurred.

A killing occurred, but was it murder?   The answer is you cannot know based solely on this information Intention (#1) and Consequence (#3).    As CCC1756 says - 

It is therefore an error to judge the morality of human acts by considering only the intention that inspires them or the circumstances

Killing per se is not a “moral object”. You need to examine the particular act. The moral object is the end, in terms of morality, toward which the chosen act is inherently directed. When the moral object is evil, the act is intrinsically evil - and nothing - not a good Intention/Goal (#1) nor good Consequences/Circumstances (#3) can make it moral. This is why treating ectopic pregnancy by methotrexate is immoral. Because it seeks out death - evil.

I have no idea what your expression: “the agent’s intention to choose different moral object” means. But I am concerned that you are confusing #1 and #2 - I ask your again to read this paper which addresses exactly that common confusion.
catechism.cc/articles/moral-object.htm

I appreciate you disagree with the Catechism on this subject. I appreciate you disagree with me on this subject. Read the paper and let me know whether you disagree with the author (Conte) also, or perhaps you find his treatment agreeable.


#9

Perhaps you are confusing the scope of an individuals authority in trying to apply moral value?

For example, an individual faced with an immediate and certain expectation of death is permitted to defend himself with enough force to protect his life and this may result in the death of the aggressor. That is not murder. On the other hand that 80 year old Californian who shot the pregnant intruder in July, shot her in the back and killed her as she was fleeing, to stop her coming back again. That was murder. His intention … “to stop her returning” was far too removed from the scope of his authority. The act has to relate only to the immediate situation. That is the threat to his life in that moment. He is not authorised by more broad or general ends in the commission of an act of defense… only by the immediate and real threat to his life.

For the police or military whose scope is to protect the common good on the other hand… a pre-emptive strike could be legitimate by virtue of greater legitimate authority plus intelligence and public safety issues etc.

The individual is only permitted to that type of force by the immediate threat presented.


#10

What you write is not sufficient (but not wrong). Methotrexate injection might seem an act motivated by immediate circumstances, but when given in ectopic pregnancy is itself murder - an intrinsic evil. The 80 year old willed death or harm in his act. His act was intrinsically evil even if he was seeking the good end of ongoing safety.


#11

Rau, while what you have said so far seems to be correct (though I haven’t delved too deeply into this thread), I will say that the site you refer to is not a good one for exploring Catholic moral theology. The author is a self appointed “theologian” and the site has no nihil obstat or imprimatur. I do not recommend anyone use this site as a reference when considering Catholic moral theology.


#12

I’m familiar with Conte and his “status”. On this subject he is in line with authentic catholic teaching. I remarked earlier (a prior thread that gave rise to this one) that I actually do not always agree with Conte, but on this issue he is accurate, and addressed exactly the confusion Jaaasonik was experiencing. I intended only to refer to the subject document, not any wider “site”.

If you can point to an equivalently instructive document on this topic that has nihil obstat or imprimatur, I would be grateful.


#13

I don’t know of any off the top of my head. If I have time to search and find something I’ll post it.

But then again, I find the catechism to be entirely clear on this issue anyway and don’t see the contradiction that is suggested here. Your responses to the OP so far seem to cover it.


#14

Maybe you missed it but I’ll repeat.
The most fundamental good of a human being is existence/life. Killing is inherently directed at violating this fundamental goodness. It’s definitely an evil moral object of a murder; check 1756.

It’s not the moral object in self-defense though. It’s a consequence.
You should try to answer the question to yourself. What’s the mechanism that shifts the moral object of a murder to being the consequence in the self-defense.


#15

I am not confusing anything. There is no conflict between our posts.


#16

Your wording seems to be misleading and confused…

“Killing is inherently directed at violating this fundamental goodness. It’s definitely an evil moral object of a murder”

‘Killing’ in this context is not the moral object. Murder is the moral object. Likewise self defense is a moral object and death is the unintended consequence or accident.

Murder and self defense aren’t variants of the same thing. The CCC specifically states that “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.”

We have a right to defend ourself but no right “to kill in self defense”.


#17

Maybe the document that Conte referenced would be better?

usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/what-we-believe/morality/


#18

The moral object of an action is an independent font of morality. It is neither Intention nor Circumstance (incl Consequences)… The moral object of methotrexate injection is evil as death is willed. The moral object of an act by the home owner in the course of a home invasion that wills death is evil. The moral object of an act by the home owner in the course of a home invasion that wills to stop the assault is good.
.
The moral object is intrinsic to the actual act. And independent of the other fonts. All 3 must be good for the actor to act morally.


#19

Yes. So, considering the events of an assault or home invasion or similar where my life is threatened, the 3 fonts when acting morally can be expressed as:

#1. Intention - preserve my life;
#2. Moral Object - stop the assailant (self defence)
#3. Consequences - I live; Assailant may or will die.

If I made up my mind to end the life of the assailant, the moral object becomes the evil of murder, despite no change to #1 and #3. Then, I have acted immorally.


#20

1756: “… There are acts which, in and of themselves, independently of circumstances and intentions, are always gravely illicit by reason of their object; such as blasphemy and perjury, murder and adultery…”

There are acts … such as … murder…
These acts … by reason of their object…

Please, how can you say a murder is the moral object???
Murder is not the moral object… killing is the moral object!
Please, check with an expert, if you do not trust me.


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