The Three fonts of morality

There are three fonts (sources, basis) for morality:

  1. intention
  2. the act itself and its inherent moral meaning
    (which is the moral object or essential moral nature of the act)
  3. circumstances

All three fonts must be good for the overall act to be good (morally licit).

  1. intention includes the intended means as well as the intended end

If a physician intends to relieve the suffering of a patient, that intended end is good. But if he also intends to use the means of euthanasia, then the intention is bad. The one intention includes both the intended means and the intended end, and so if either the means or the end is bad, the intention is bad.

  1. the moral object (or simply the object) is a term adapted from philosophy and used in moral theology by St. Thomas Aquinas. The object is not the intended end or purpose of the act. Rather, human acts have an inherent moral meaning within Creation, that is, within the purpose and meaning of created things before God. The moral object can be described as the essential moral nature of the act, or as the inherent moral meaning of the act.

In the second font, the act itself (narrowly considered, apart from intention and circumstance) is considered along with its inherent moral meaning. The act and its meaning cannot be separated because moral meaning is inherent to human acts.

  1. the circumstances include knowledge of past events, of the present situation, and the totality of the foreseeable consequences. A certain judgment of the prudential order is needed to evaluate the circumstances. If the good in the circumstances morally outweighs the bad, then the third font is good.

If any one font of morality is bad, the overall act (including all three fonts) is bad and so the act is immoral and cannot licitly be done.

But if it is immoral, fonts 1 and 3 can determine culpability (guilt incurred).

More specifically, if an act is intrinsically evil (second font), the first and third fonts can give the act greater or lesser culpability, but can never exonerate the act (make it moral).

Culpability is determined by all three fonts.

If font 2 is bad, so that the act is intrinsically evil, then fonts 1 and 3 can effect culpability, but they can never justify the act.

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