Saturday, January 07, 2017

Quaeritur: Can Circumstances Change the Species of a Human Act? (Part 2)


(Continued from Part 1.)

Quaeritur: The more I delve into the issue of the moral determinants of a human act, the more mind-racking it seems to get.  I ask you to please answer these questions in your kindness.

- Respondeo per partes.

1)  Is the following proposition true or false? "Moral philosophers/theologians in the scholastic tradition teach that what makes a human act intrinsically evil is the object of the human act because it is the object of the human act that gives the human act its species."

- The proposition is true.

2) What does it mean that an act is intrinsically evil?  What acts are some examples of intrinsically evil acts?

- It means that the object is evil, and therefore, because the object of an act is what gives the act its species, it follows that the act is evil in its species.  Examples of acts that are evil due to their object: any act of murder, theft, lying, etc.

3) Is an intrinsically evil act identical to an act that is “bad in itself”?

- Yes.

4) Is the object of an evil human act ALWAYS "intrinsically" evil?  In other words, can the object of a human act be such that it is evil, but not intrinsically evil?  If so, we then have a human act that is intrinsically evil, but which has an object that is not intrinsically evil, but only evil extrinsically.

- Technically, when we say that an act is intrinsically evil, we mean its object is evil (as opposed to its end or circumstances).  It means the act is evil in its species, i.e., due to its object.  It wouldn't be precise to say that the object of the act is intrinsically evil.  

5) It is said that you can have a human act where the object and end that are good, but the circumstances are evil, thereby making the human act evil.  I cannot think of a case that shows this.  Rather, I am under the impression (based on your first post) that if the circumstance is evil, then it is truly not a circumstance, but a condition of the object.  Therefore, there can never be true circumstances that are evil in and of themselves.  If I am wrong, please provide me with an example.

- Yes, you can have circumstances that render evil an act that is otherwise good (that is, if it is good in its object and its end).  The act would not be intrinsically evil, just evil accidentally.  St. Thomas teaches this, but doesn't seem to give examples in Ia-IIae, q. 18. However, we can easily come up with some examples: pursuing legitimate, pleasurable activities in excess (eating, sex, sleeping, vacationing, etc.); or doing any of these, or anything else, really, at the wrong time, or in the wrong place.  In this case, the act would not be evil in its species, or essentially evil, but only accidentally so.  Still, it would be evil.

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