Thursday, August 23, 2007

Double trouble with double effect.

I’ve been pondering double effect for a while and thanks to the moral definitions in the previous post, I feel I have a better understanding of the phenomena.

Firstly when one acts one brings something into being: Something is made real through the act of the will. By running I make my intention of going for a run real. The things that are actualized in this world can be good, bad or indifferent.

When one performs a good act one wants to bring something good into the world. When one an evil act they causes an evil in this world. But what happens when one brings about an action which brings about both good and evil at the same time?

How does one form a moral assessment of surgery, in the days prior to anaesthetic? When the knife is put into the flesh, curing the patient (good) begins at the same time pain(evil) and mutilation(evil) is actuated. To deliberately cure someone is good, to deliberately hurt someone is evil, then how do we evaluate the morality of surgery if intrinsic to its actuation, good and evil result?

The Christian tradition stated that the moral species of the act is determined through its moral object: what was the moral quality of the “thing” realized through the act. Example; putting a dent in a brand new car--as in an act of vandalism--is evil, since by denting a car, it is privated in some way. The moral object of an act concerns itself with the moral quality of what is bought about by the act, not why the act was done.

Now according to Aquinas one does good when one actualizes a good, and one sins (peccatum) when one actualizes an evil; now sin in this context is non-pejorative. A man sins and does good when he performs an action with a double effect. So how to determine its permissibility or not?

Christianity has stated that acts which bring about a state with a mixed moral quality are permitted provided:
  • That a person may choose to act in a way which results in mixed moral objects provided that the person is choosing the good moral object.
  • The mixed moral quality of the act must on balance be good. A proportional assessment of the act has to be made and the result must be in favor of the good. In sum, a net good is achieved by the act.

Now a man is culpable for the things he has control over not for the things he doesn’t. In choosing an act which actuates mixed moral objects, one cannot be blamed if the evil moral object is bought about, not through any choice of the agent. He is inculpable. However if the evil moral object could be avoided in some way then the agent becomes culpable because he has some choice in what type of evil is bought about. No choice, no culpability. There is a double imperative in Christianity: do good and avoid evil.


Anonymous said...

[T]here exist false solutions, linked in particular to an inadequate understanding of the object of moral action.

[Proportionalism], by weighing the various values and goods being sought, focuses rather on the proportion acknowledged between the good and bad effects of that choice, with a view to the "greater good" or "lesser evil" actually possible in a particular situation.

The teleological ethical theories (proportionalism, consequentialism), while acknowledging that moral values are indicated by reason and by Revelation, maintain that it is never possible to formulate an absolute prohibition of particular kinds of behaviour which would be in conflict, in every circumstance and in every culture, with those values.

Such theories however are not faithful to the Church's teaching, when they believe they can justify, as morally good, deliberate choices of kinds of behaviour contrary to the commandments of the divine and natural law. These theories cannot claim to be grounded in the Catholic moral tradition.

In order to offer rational criteria for a right moral decision, the theories mentioned above take account of the intention and consequences of human action. Certainly there is need to take into account both the intention — as Jesus forcefully insisted in clear disagreement with the scribes and Pharisees, who prescribed in great detail certain outward practices without paying attention to the heart (cf. Mk 7:20-21; Mt 15:19) — and the goods obtained and the evils avoided as a result of a particular act. Responsibility demands as much. But the consideration of these consequences, and also of intentions, is not sufficient for judging the moral quality of a concrete choice. The weighing of the goods and evils foreseeable as the consequence of an action is not an adequate method for determining whether the choice of that concrete kind of behaviour is "according to its species", or "in itself", morally good or bad, licit or illicit. The foreseeable consequences are part of those circumstances of the act, which, while capable of lessening the gravity of an evil act, nonetheless cannot alter its moral species.

The morality of the human act depends primarily and fundamentally on the "object" rationally chosen by the deliberate will, as is borne out by the insightful analysis, still valid today, made by Saint Thomas.126 In order to be able to grasp the object of an act which specifies that act morally, it is therefore necessary to place oneself in the perspective of the acting person. The object of the act of willing is in fact a freely chosen kind of behaviour.

The reason why a good intention is not itself sufficient, but a correct choice of actions is also needed, is that the human act depends on its object.

One must therefore reject the thesis, characteristic of teleological and proportionalist theories, which holds that it is impossible to qualify as morally evil according to its species — its "object" — the deliberate choice of certain kinds of behaviour or specific acts, apart from a consideration of the intention for which the choice is made or the totality of the foreseeable consequences of that act for all persons concerned.

The Social Pathologist said...

JP II, of happy memory; Greetings.

Thank you for restating and reaffirming my position on the matter. I look forward to your esteemed colleague Benedict issuing a document on the doctrine of double effect, for the benefit of those "with intellectual holes to fill." Greeting also to Father Hardon, who also concurs with us and who offered his support.

My opponent is a man of good will and I pray that his understanding of double effect will be clarified. He fails to see that an action can have a good and evil effect intrinsic in its actuation and that the Catholic tradition has always allowed such acts provided they satisfied the appropriate criteria.

My opponent seems to think that because a double effect involves an intrinsic evil, it is morally not permissible. Yet how would surgery be permissible; for is not pain an intrinsic evil? After all, isn't freely choosing to inflict pain on someone torture? Both he and I agree that it is illicit.

It is a shame that this gulf has come between us, for he has many good things to say, I hope you will put a few good words in with the Master for him, I will try as well.

Please feel free to drop in whenever, and greetings to your co-contributor. You're always both welcome.

Anonymous said...

The moral object of an act concerns itself with the moral quality of what is bought about by the act, ...

My son, you seem to be using the word "object" to refer to the goods obtained and the evils avoided. Please notice that I refer to these as "consequences".

May God Bless You.

The Social Pathologist said...

Your Holiness! A second visit! seem to be using the word "object" to refer to the goods obtained and the evils avoided. Please notice that I refer to these as "consequences".

You would be correct in that interpretation if that is how I meant it, but I am afraid your Holiness that that would be an incorrect reading, due more to my sloppy writing rather than your objectivity.

I do not need to remind you Your Holiness, that the moral quality of an act is contingent on its conformity with God's Law and not on its consequences. As I see it; the will, operating through the potentiality of human actuation, directs this potentiality towards some end: It's object. Now this object--or state --has its moral quality determined by its conformity to the Divine will. I hope this clarifies matters.

Seeing that you have ear of the Saints, I would ask you put a good word in for me, so that by God's will, I can illuminate the minds of my opponents.