What gives something moral value?

I’ve heard in discussions about abortion that a “person” (something which is morally valuable) is a being who has a rational nature. I’ve also heard that the threshold which divides us from animals is our rationality, our intellect and will.

But I’ve also heard that being and goodness are really the same thing because everything which God made is good. We can also perceive intelligence in some animals and think there are right and wrong ways to treat them even when they lack it.

So I’m not sure what to make of these views. Is a person a rational being or are all things good or are these views compatible? If the former is true, then why do we do we believe that God created everything good? If the latter is true, then why do we say a person is a “rational being”?


Confused :confused:

The International Theological Commission:
“natural law could not be presented as an already established set of rules that impose themselves a priori on the moral subject; rather, it is a source of objective inspiration for the deeply personal process of making decisions”

Thank you for the response, 1Lord1Faith.

I may need some help digesting this. So, without the jargon, this says that the natural law is not independent from the subject’s experience, but rather is known by a personal process of inspiration. I assume this means it is known by divine inspiration, such as that from the infusion of the Holy Spirit?

I’m not entirely sure what this implies for personhood. It seems to me to be addressing how we know the natural law rather than what has moral value. Maybe I’m missing some connection here?

There is a necessary connection between personhood and that which has moral value.

2.2. Moral experience: “one must do good”

  1. Every human being who attains self-awareness and responsibility experiences an interior call to do good. He discovers that he is fundamentally a moral being, capable of perceiving and of expressing the call that, as we have seen, is found within all cultures: “One must do good and avoid evil”. All the other precepts of the natural law are based on this precept(45). This first precept is known naturally, immediately, by the practical reason, just as the principle of non-contradiction (the intellect cannot at the same time and under the same aspect both affirm and deny the same thing about something) which is at the base of all speculative reasoning, is grasped intuitively, naturally, by the theoretical reason, when the subject comprehends the sense of the terms employed. Traditionally, such knowledge of the first principle of the moral life is attributed to an innate intellectual disposition called synderesis(46).

40.** With this principle, we find ourselves immediately in the sphere of morality**. The good that thus imposes itself on the person is in fact the moral good; it is behaviour that, going beyond the categories of what is useful, is in keeping with the authentic realization of this being – at the same time one and differentiated – who is the human person. Human activity cannot be reduced to a simple question of adaptation to the “ecosystem”: to be human is to exist and to be placed within a broader framework that defines meaning, values and responsibilities. By searching for the moral good, the person contributes to the realization of his nature, beyond impulses of instinct or the search for a particular pleasure. This moral good testifies to itself and is understood from itself(47).

  1. The moral good corresponds to the profound desire of the human person who — like every being — tends spontaneously, naturally, towards realizing himself fully, towards that which allows him to attain the perfection proper to him, namely, happiness. Unfortunately, the subject can always allow himself to be drawn by particular desires and to choose goods or to do deeds that go against the moral good which he perceives. A person can refuse to go beyond himself. It is the price of a freedom limited in itself and weakened by sin, a freedom that encounters only particular goods, none of which can fully satisfy the human heart. It pertains to the reason of the subject to examine if these particular goods can be integrated into the authentic realization of the person: if so,** they will be judged morally good, and if not, morally bad.**
  1. This last claim is of capital importance. It is the basis of the possibility of dialogue with persons belonging to different cultural or religious horizons. It values the eminent dignity of every human person, in stressing his natural aptitude to know the moral good that he must accomplish. Like every creature, the human person is defined by a combination of dynamisms and finalities, prior to the free choices of the will. But, unlike beings that are not endowed with reason, the human person is capable of knowing and of interiorizing these finalities, and thus of appreciating, in accordance with them that which is good or bad for him. Thus he recognizes the eternal law, i.e., the plan of God regarding creation, and participates in God’s providence in a particularly excellent manner, guiding himself and guiding others(48). This insistence on the dignity of the moral subject and on his relative autonomy is rooted in the recognition of the autonomy of created realities and corresponds to a fundamental given of contemporary culture(49).
  1. The moral obligation that the subject recognizes does not come, therefore, from a law that would be exterior to him (pure heteronomy), but arises from within the subject himself. In fact, as indicated by the maxim we have cited – “One must do good and avoid evil” – the moral good that reason determines “imposes itself” on the subject. It “ought” to be accomplished. It takes on a character of obligation and of law. But the term “law” here does not refer to scientific laws that limit themselves to describing the factual constants of the physical or social world, nor to an imperative imposed arbitrarily on the moral subject from without. Law here designates an orientation of the practical reason which indicates to the moral subject what kind of action is in accord with the basic and necessary dynamism of his being that tends to its full realization. This law is normative in virtue of an internal requirement of the spirit. It springs from the heart itself of our being as a call to the realization and transcending of oneself. It is not therefore a matter of subjecting oneself to the law of another, but of accepting the law of one’s own being.


I couldn’t really tease anything out of this^ quote that was any shorter than what I thought could answer how personhood and moral value are tied together. I think it’s saying that moral value rises out of personhood, and can therefore cross all cultural lines.

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