The three prongs of morality

The source for the purposes of this thread is here: vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p3s1c1a4.htm

The verbatim quote:1) the object chosen;
2) the end in view or the intention;
3) the circumstances of the action.

Let’s translate them into everyday language:1) what the agent wants to achieve.
2) why the agent wants to achieve it.
3) how the action is carried out.

Can’t argue with it. It is clear and obvious. It is not “invented” by the church; any rational person would come to the same conclusion. But reality is sometimes not clear and obvious. Let’s take a real world example, depicted quite dramatically in the movie: “Full Metal Jacket”. If you have not seen it, here is a short excerpt of the pertinent part.
A group of American soldiers are sent out to investigate a territory during the Vietnam War. They are on their own, no support. They are cut off from the main forces. As they approach a seemingly abandoned factory building, a sniper opens fire on them, and manages to kill at least three of them.

They storm the building firing at the windows, and manage to get inside. There they find the sniper, a girl, who was seriously wounded in the counter attack. She begs the soldiers to shoot her. Some of the soldiers want to grant her wish. But the leader of the group says: “No, we shall leave her to the mother-loving rats”. When the other soldier disagrees, the leader says: “If you wanna waste her, then waste her”. And the soldier (for whom it is his first kill) raises his gun and shoots.
Here comes the question: Catholic theology forbids “mercy killing”. Yet we are expected to be compassionate and merciful. The compassionate act is to fulfill the request, leaving someone to be devoured by rats (while still alive) is as horrible as it can be. They don’t have the ways and means to help the sniper. They may even feel revenge because she killed their comrades (not nice, but understandable). There is NO THIRD OPTION. Either kill or leave and allow her die.

For an abominable heathen (like me ;)) the solution is obvious. Raise the gun and kill. It is not a murder, it is a mercy killing. The intent is what makes the difference. Funny that the Catholic ethics says that if you do the “right thing” for a “wrong reason”, it will still make your action immoral. If you help out a homeless but secretly you want to feel good about yourself, your act was immoral. But the reverse is denied. No matter how noble, compassionate and caring your intent is, the “mercy killing” is still considered to be a murder.

How would you act in such a case? And even more importantly, how would you justify your action to yourself? I know the propensity of trying to avoid hard hitting dilemmas. But in this case there is no “get out of jail” card. You must choose. How would you choose?

Presumably I would wrap up her wounds and hoist her up and carry until she lived or died.

When consent is given, euthanasia is tantamount to murder and suicide.

There is no such thing as a “mercy killing.” Life is an inalienable right; it is not ours to dispose of.

God, in His Providence, has promised us sufficient grace to endure all hardships. In Christian theology (esp. Catholic theology), suffering is a source of great merit, and it can be a powerful means for uniting us to God, both here and hereafter, thus helping us to achieve our final end.

Of course, you may disagree with some or all of what I have said, but it is hardly possible to demonstrate these truths briefly.

With the former moral framework in mind, I would do the following:
If left with one of two options: to either a.) ‘mercy kill’ or b.) leave the girl behind
I would invariably choose the latter. The end does not justify the means; evil cannot be committed to bring about a good.

A certain atheist was once asked something to the effect of: “If you had to rape one person to save 1000 lives, would you do it?” Apparently they answered in the affirmative. This, to me, is a clear example of modern thought on morality; we have lost sight of our dignity, our purpose and our end.

I must add one thing. In the scenario you gave (or Kubrick gave), nothing tells us about whether or not it is a “just war” for either party (there is not sufficient space to elaborate on the concept of a just war). If it were a just war for the Americans, then direct killing is morally permitted under certain circumstances, including when the opposition is an active member of a group that is perpetuating injustice. In such a case, it could be permissible to kill the girl, but not for the intention of delivering a “mercy killing.”

A question like this touches on so many different moral principles that it is hard to offer a succinct answer.

Clearly refuted by You. (That is, not by you, but by You.)

Of course, if you don’t subscribe to a system of heroic morality, but merely to a namby pamby, mediocre, self-interested, "humans are mere fodder for political and ideological” regimes, kind of morality, then – perhaps – you (ah… not You, You, but you) may have a point. :nope:

Which part of “there is no third option” did you fail to understand? Thought experiments are designed to present a real ethical dilemma. They cannot be modified into a convenient trilemma just because both solutions are unpalatable. Nevertheless your attempt to wiggle out is also telling. It proves that the problem is real for your professed ethical system. And people are usually very reluctant to face serious dilemmas, which expose the weakness of their ethical system.

I understand your sentiment, but I disagree.

Actually, when the suffering party is your pet, I am pretty sure that you would bring it to the vet and end its suffering. I am constantly amazed that people are more humane with their pets than their fellow human beings.

Yet, somehow people choose suicide, because the promised “grace” proved to be insufficient. Of course if someone chooses the suffering, no one should interfere with their intent. Let them suffer as much as they want to - at least until they change their mind.

Indeed, but I appreciate your effort to present your view.

**Thank you very much! At last there is someone who gives an honest answer, and does not try to change the parameters. **

I agree with you. The end cannot justify the means, but the end and the means cannot be evaluated separately. The “end”, the “means” and the “intent” must be taken into consideration.

It would be a horrible choice, but our ethical system is based upon minimizing the unnecessary suffering. If one can find a solution where all the suffering is avoided, that would be optimal. But reality almost never offers optimal solutions, and in those cases we must rely on our principles. As the Hippocratic oath says: “First, do no harm”. It should continue: “If however, harm is unavoidable, make it as small as possible”.

There is no dignity in suffering; we create our purposes; and the end is the same: we all die. According to the sign in the national forests: “Do not take anything but pictures, and do not leave anything but footprints”. Now, obviously I understand the reason for our different approaches. You believe in God and I don’t. I would be amenable to reconsider if only someone could give a good reason to believe in God.

Be as it may, I appreciate your effort to answer, instead attempting to move the goalposts. You are unique so far… and such uniqueness should be cherished. I will drink to your health tonight. Cheers!

The part that wants to constrain the set of answers only to those that are untenable and ignore the answer(s) that are morally unobjectionable. :wink:

Thought experiments are designed to present a real ethical dilemma. They cannot be modified into a convenient trilemma just because both solutions are unpalatable.

Dishonest thought experiments are designed to create a fake ethical dilemma where one would not otherwise exist. They cannot reasonably modify a situation into a convenient dilemma just to highlight a subset of the solutions that are unpalatable. :rolleyes:

Nevertheless your attempt to wiggle out is also telling. It proves that the problem is real for your professed ethical system.

Nevertheless, your attempt to fabricate a dilemma is also telling. It proves that your professed ethical system has a real problem. :shrug:

Both solutions are unpalatable - perhaps that is the only good point here. What you call “Wiggle out”, others call recognizing the realistic course - since the scenario departs from a real world set of options. At the end of the day, murdering is not the moral course, even if it appears the “kinder”.

Your situation could only be a true dilemma if the situation logically excludes any other options. The point being made is that that kind of logical constraint only exists if you assume something about the soldiers in question – that their morality is of the crippled kind that would permit them only to mercy kill the sniper or leave her to die owing to their “loyalty” to their mission or something like that.

The problem then arises whether such “loyalty” is, indeed, morally legitimate. You’s point is that Catholic or Christian morality wouldn’t require a crippling of its morality based upon some military end. Ergo, your “dilemma” is a false one because it doesn’t logically commit Catholic or Christian morality to the two options, so it can’t be used as an attack on Catholic or Christian morality. Nor does it function to expose any weaknesses in that system because it presumes a weaker one in the first instance. A military “moral system” – where one’s duty to one’s orders or mission – perhaps could be subject to your “dilemma,” but a robust Christian one that doesn’t subscribe to the absolutely binding moral nature of military authority or orders would not be.

I suppose we could re-write the Good Samaritan parable in a similar manner to show why your dilemma simply misses the point.

Imagine a soldier was under strict orders to return to his base, posthaste and with no excuses, but on the journey he comes upon a severely injured fellow in a rat infested area. So the soldier’s options (due to his orders) would be to mercy kill the fellow or let the rats slowly and painfully gnaw him to death.

Of course, you could claim that carrying the fellow out of the area or treating him are not allowed in this version of the “dilemma” parable because of his “orders,” but that assumes the obligatory nature of a crippled morality to begin with, so you couldn’t use such a flawed “dilemma” to critique Christian morality advocated in the Good Samaritan parable without disallowing it in the very construction of your “dilemma.”

This point is what Gorgias was getting at, I think.

Do you really assert that you have access to ALL options in ALL the possible scenarios in real life? And that none of them presents a problem where both options are “morally” repugnant? That in every case there is a “morally” acceptable option? That would be very naïve.

I did not actually call it “moral”, I call it the lesser of two evils. Big difference.

Do you guys really think that in real life there is always a morally acceptable (correct) option available? If that would be the case, then no real dilemmas would exist. But real life does not care about our wishes. The cards are dealt, and we must play the “game”. All the lifeboat scenarios present problems when you must choose between a “smaller” and a “greater” harm.

Actually, my ethical system is simple. If you must cause harm - due to the circumstances beyond your control - then choose the course of options, which causes as little harm as possible. I see no problem here. If you see a problem, spell it out. Let me learn.

Not really. If you are going to use a dilemma to critique a Catholic moral system, you have to show that a Catholic moral system would, by its nature, be logically constrained to the two choices you propose in your supposed “dilemma.”

Why would any soldier, let alone a Catholic one, not have other options? What are the logical or moral constraints that would not permit the sniper to be aided or carried out? You don’t provide these, you merely rule them out arbitrarily.

Thanks for the reply, Pallas Athene. Cheers!

“Think of all those ages through which men have had the courage to die, and then remember that we have actually fallen to talking about having the courage to live.”

  • G.K. Chesterton

I cannot sufficiently answer your questions without demonstrating the existence of God. Rather than attempting to do so, I will pose a question to the naturalist. If everything is natural, how can we possibly defend the notions of rights, freedom, good and evil? The answer is, we cannot.

:thumbsup: Yep!

Sometimes, though, the ‘terse & snarky’ option is a temptation that I can’t resist… :blushing:

LOL… no, my friend. It’s naive to think that the best option might only be the “morally offensive, but only least morally offensive” one. One may always choose otherwise, without acceding to the ‘obvious’ choices made available to us.

I did not actually call it “moral”, I call it the lesser of two evils. Big difference.

Indeed. And, if there are only two evils to be chosen, then the third choice – saying ‘no’ to both evils – is the only moral choice available. In ‘Full Metal Jacket’, the characters acquiesce to the acceptance of the immoral choices. That’s the whole point of the scene: not that the protagonist chooses correctly, but that he surrenders to the situation – giving up who he is as a moral actor – and makes the seemingly more ‘compassionate’ of two immoral choices. It’s a scene of defeat, not of victory, in a difficult situation. I’m surprised that you missed that nuance. :sad_yes:

Do you guys really think that in real life there is always a morally acceptable (correct) option available? If that would be the case, then no real dilemmas would exist.

Ahh, Grasshopper… you are beginning to understand… :wink:

But real life does not care about our wishes.

Indeed. ‘Real life’, then, does not deal in morality. We do. Therefore, we – as moral agents – imbue situations with morality and meaning. As a result, we cannot take a ‘real life’ situation and presume that it constrains us, vis-a-vis moral choice. We constrain ‘real life’ and give its amoral situations a moral dimension. If you wish to think that you’re a victim of ‘real life situations’, be my guest. You will find it a horribly unsatisfying game to play.

All the lifeboat scenarios present problems when you must choose between a “smaller” and a “greater” harm.

On the contrary, all lifeboat scenarios invite you to transcend choices which offer only ‘harm’ and encourage you to embrace choices which allow you to manifest moral action.

Actually, my ethical system is simple. If you must cause harm - due to the circumstances beyond your control

With all due respect, your ethical system is flawed, if it requires you to throw up your hands and acquiesce to the notion that you “must cause harm”.

You are welcome to present your questions. The answers are rather simple, from the naturalist’s point of view.

First let’s consider the “rights”. Rights are social constructs. On a desert island you can do whatever you want to do. In a society things are more complicated. When you have the “right” to do something, that means that you are free to do it without the fear of repercussions. Or you are free NOT to do it, again without the fear of repercussions. For example, you have the right to vote according to your conscience, and no one can (legally) prevent you from voting for or against any candidate you choose. Your right is enforced by the agency of the government. Without enforcing your right, it is an empty slogan.

Freedom is equally simple. You can perform an action or refrain from performing an action, that is all. Regardless of the possible repercussions.

Good, bad an evil are tad more complicated. These categories are only applicable to living beings. Something is “good” if it promoted life or its quality. Something is “bad” if it hinders life or decreases its quality. No need to refer to some nebulous God. Sometimes, the good and bad effects cannot be separated. The acts may have both good and bad side effects. In such a case the analysis needs to go “deeper”. But generally speaking we talk about an “evil” action, when someone knowingly and intentionally causes harm to a living entity, where that harm is NOT compensated by more beneficial effects.

I have access to all options and can choose. It may be that all choices have bad consequences and in this case, one can do no better than choose an act that is not intrinsically evil, and of those, the one with the least bad consequences.

I did not actually call it “moral”, I call it the lesser of two evils. Big difference.

Indeed, but that comparison belongs only to variations in the third font. You don’t get to choose an intrinsically evil act to bring about what you consider the lesser evil in the consequences. Not in Catholic theology anyway. In your system where only consequences (to the extent you can foresee them) matter, then of course you can!

Actually, my ethical system is simple. If you must cause harm - due to the circumstances beyond your control - then choose the course of options, which causes as little harm as possible. I see no problem here. If you see a problem, spell it out. Let me learn.

See above.

Reality does not care about your wishes. Sometimes the circumstances FORCE you to make one of two choices, where both will cause harm to someone. To deny that is an example of “ostrich-policy”.

That is what I have been talking about. If there are only “harmful” actions to choose from, we are obliged to choose one with causes to the least amount of harm. Maybe you could enlighten Gorgias, who still did not grasp this point.

First, I do not accept that there are “intrinsically” evil acts. All there prongs must be taken into consideration. Second, we all must base our decisions based on what we know or foresee. And in my system it is NOT the consequences (alone) are that matter… it is ALL: the intent, the means and the consequences that must be considered.

As far as I can tell, you only care about consequences - offsetting harm vs benefits.

I am well aware that you do not accept intrinsically evil acts exit. That is what “allows” you to commit any act where you perceive the balance of outcomes to be superior.

Catholic theology recognises the inherent ordering of an act which determines whether the 2nd font is good and such ordering is not altered by intention or circumstance. Your basis for recognising good and evil are also different from the Catholic basis, the latter tied to God. Catholic theology is fundamentally at odds with your model. It is not resolvable - no harmonisation of the two is possible.

Perhaps you missed the part about restricting acts to those without evil in the 2nd font?

The circumstances (3rd font) can tolerate some bad consequences (evil in the sense of harm – physical evil --, not in the sense of moral evil) if the good consequences outweigh the bad. And that is why the principle of double effect can justify an act with bad consequences (effects). If the intention is entirely good, and the act has a good moral object, then the bad consequences can be tolerated if the good consequences are of greater moral weight.

“Luminous beings we are, not this crude matter.” - Yoda (philosopher and poet)

Matter has no rights. If our rights are not inherent to our nature, then they are only constructs, lacking any real force or objective quality.

If naturalism is true, freedom is illusory; our actions become reducible to blind chemical processes. Naturalism, therefore, negates human freedom and human rights. If only more philosophers were willing to admit and expose this profound flaw in naturalistic accounts of morality…

Good and bad presuppose a fixed standard of goodness. Such a standard does not exist anywhere in nature. Good and evil also presuppose freedom. But naturalism negates freedom. Matter - however complex - just is; it cannot be accused of evil-doing, nor can it be praised. A tree that falls on a boy and kills him is not held accountable. But if our actions are the product of nature, then a murderer is as blameless as that tree.

If C (consciousness) is caused by B (brain function), then D (our deeds) is caused by B; C is stripped of causal efficacy.

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