Monday, September 03, 2007

Moral Object Solutions.

Apparently My Blog is being read in heaven; no seriously. I got two replies to the Double Effect post from John Paul II (check the comments on the post) I do get an impressive audience. I wonder if it is a wireless link?

I’d thought I’d have another go thinking about moral objects.

What is a moral object?

One of the big problems in understanding morality is an understanding of the concept of the “moral object“. I’ve gone looking around on the web and have been mulling over Veritatis Splendor and most explanations seem to go give a partial understanding of the subject. I also feel that Veritatis Splendor may confuse the terminology a bit. Thinking about the matter a bit more, I feel that the military may have some useful ideas in helping us understand the moral object a bit easier.

The target of a military endeavour is called the objective. The objective is the thing to which military activities are directed. Military endeavours are usually divided into two different types of objectives: The strategic and the tactical.

The strategic objective is the purpose to which all military operations are directed. Principally they are the defeat of the enemy or a lessening of its power. Broadly speaking it is why military operations are constituted in the first place. The tactical objectives and the targets which have to be achieved--either in the form of possession, neutralisation or destruction--that have to be achieved in order to achieve the strategic objective. Now the strategic objective can be thought of analogous to the idea of intent while the tactical objective can be thought of as the objective of an act.

Notice that there are two different types of objectives. Intended objectives and objectives of acts. Both acts and intents have objectives but they are fundamentally different in their natures. The intended objective is a state we wish to achieve, this state may come about passively without us doing anything while an the objective of an act is a state we wish to achieve by our active participation.

This objective can be considered from many different perspective but when considered against a moral standard the objective can be thought of as a moral objective. The moral object can therefore be thought of as the classification of an object with respect to its relation to God’s moral law. Example: Let’s say A wants to murder B. The object of A’s intent is the unjust death of B. As it is never licit to murder, the object of A’s intent can be thought of as contrary to God’s law and therefore is categorically evil. A’s intent has an evil moral object. Broadly speaking bad intentions and bad acts have are bad moral objects, while good intentions and acts have the opposite. Moral theologians have also made the distinction in the following terminology:

The finis operis: the end of the operation , similar to the concept of the tactical objective,
The finis operantis: the end of the agent similar in concept to the strategic objective.

Personally, I think that the terminology doesn’t emphasise the distinction enough, so I ‘m suggesting a different terminology be used. (I’m open to suggestions of a better terminology).

Finis operis: Corporeal object.
Finis operandis: Intended object.

I want to be clear that by corporeal object, I mean human acts including thoughts; for thinking is a human action even though it is not strictly corporeal.

Now human acts can be considered as being directed towards a specific corporeal object. Human action is the ontic realisation of the corporeal object: The thing willed is made real by the act.

Now why does all this matter?

At any given point or place the universe as we know it exists in a certain ontic state. By ontic state I mean the bits and pieces that make up our universe have a specific relation to one another. The universe as it was on June 22nd 3.05pm exactly was in a different ontic state to what it was on Feb 12 1987 at 11.37 am.

Now the intent concerns itself with the nature of the ontic state, or the type of state the particular individual would like to see exist. The object of intent is a particular ontic state; while the corporeal object realised, is an active alteration of the ontic state: the act generates a particular ontic state. The important point being is that the corporeal object and the intended object are not the same. Sometimes the corporeal object is congruent with the intended object sometimes it is not: the corporeal object--with the contingent assistance of circumstance--is a means of attaining the intended object.

I think a change in terminology is important because ill will in discussions on moral matters frequently hinge on definitions, the current definitions are not precise enough. More tomorrow.


Anonymous said...

Yes, the use of the word "object" seems to have confused a lot of people, your opponent included, when it comes to double effect. But once all of the fog is penetrated, the whole argument in Veritatis Splendour simply seems to be a restatement of the traditional Christian position that intrinsically evil acts exist, and that one is never justified in doing them. But not every act that has evil consequences is an intrinsically evil act; this is why the principle of double effect exists. If every act that had any evil consequences was intrinsically evil, then the principle of double effect would not exist, since no act with evil consequences would ever be permitted. But some acts are morally neutral (taking a drink, lighting a fire, sinking a ship, shooting down a plane) and aquire their moral character from their intention and results. An action's consequences are not intrinsic to the object; and as Pope John Paul II has stated, it is not consequences that determine the intrinsic good or evil of an act. So simply having evil consequences CANNOT, by definition, make an act intrinsically evil. If it could, the entire point of Veritatis Splendour would be rendered null.

Conclusion; there is nothing in "Veritatis Splendour" that precludes the application of the Principle of Double Effect as traditionally understood, and as articulated by Father Hardon; indeed, it would be odd if there was, since "VT" wsa written explicitly to defend Christian Tradition.

Anonymous said...

I confess, some of the terminology used in Veritatis Splendor confuse me, especially the discussion of the "moral object". Is this what we used to call, back in college philosophy class, the "qualities of the act itself"? I've been looking around the web, and it seems that there is a good deal of controversy about this. Since you seem to have a conduit to the author himself, can you illuminate?

Kansas Yank

The Social Pathologist said...

Anonymous, I agree with you though my opponent does not not. I suppose the consequences of an act are not intrinsic to the moral object rather its actuation. In other words, what happens when we try to do something good is not necessarily what we would like to happen. More on this in the next few days.

Kansas Yank:
I think there is a lot of confusion about what is a moral object and a lot of people bandy the term around without any clear understanding of what it is. I think the first thing to realise is that intent and act are two separate things. The intent is really the state of affairs we would like to see come about and the act is the mechanism by which the state of affairs comes about. Both acts and intents have objectives. The objective is the deontological object. We determine the moral quality of an object by its congruence with the moral law. If an object is in agreement with the moral law it is said to be good otherwise it is bad or indifferent.

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