Making Good Moral Choices
MAKING GOOD MORAL CHOICES: TWO APPROACHES by Rev. Ronald Lawler, Joseph Boyle and William May The problem facing us in this section concerns the standards and procedures for arriving at the judgment that a certain choice is morally good or bad. The problem arises because it is not clear how the commandments of love are to be applied to actual human choices. We have already seen that the love commandments require a concern and respect for human goods, but we have yet to see how that concern is translated into practical norms and procedures of moral thinking. This difficulty is a real one in the present situation because Catholic theologians hold strongly opposed views on this matter. With some oversimplification it is possible to classify the opposing views into two broad approaches to moral thinking. They can be called, respectively, "proportionalism" and "the morality of principles." Both of these approaches are attempts to carry out the renewal called for by Vatican II; both seek to escape every kind of legalism and extrinsicism to show that morality is not a set of arbitrary rules imposed without concern for what the human person is and longs to be. Both explain the moral teachings of Christianity in terms of love of persons, and of the great human goods that animate all moral striving-goods like those discussed in the preceding section. Both seek to be faithful to the larger vision of Scripture and Christian tradition, understanding that man was made not simply to keep rules but to serve God creatively as his image, intelligently striving to do what is really good, what love requires. Proportionalism is so called because of its emphasis on the proportion of good and evil in actions. According to proportionalism, an act which would otherwise be immoral can be justified morally if the overall good or evil involved in doing the action compares favorably with the overall good or evil which the available alternatives would bring about. Thus, its basic principle can be called the principle of the greater good, or more commonly, the principle of the lesser evil. The morality of principles is so called because of its concern for unfailing faithfulness to the first principles of morality, that is, for faithfulness to every person and every human good. Thus, there is no necessary opposition between these approaches concerning the primacy of love or the nature of the human good. They disagree about how love and the human good should shape our choices. Each of these approaches to moral thinking is, of course, concerned with principles, and each shows real concern about the overall good and evil brought about by actions. But proportionalism emphasizes the overall outcomes of acts, evaluating them in terms of the principle of the lesser evil; and the morality of principles emphasizes loyalty to principles in a way that precludes overriding this fidelity because of the overall good or evil the action brings about. Thus, the designations of the positions are descriptive of their central features. . Proportionalism, as already noted, is a method of moral thinking according to which a person ought to choose that alternative course of action which promises the greater proportion of good over evil. In other words, proportionalists believe that intelligent concern for the human goods requires an assessment of all the good and evil involved in alternative possibilities for action. The purpose of this assessment is to determine, prior to choice, which of the alternatives promises the greater good or the lesser evil. This determination tells us which of the alternatives we morally ought to choose. The proportionalist method is considered applicable to any moral problem, but the Catholic theologians who make use of it tend to limit its application in various ways. This method is, however, used in an unrestricted form by many secular moralists. These thinkers are usually called "consequentialists," and they tend to treat the principle of the lesser evil as the single basic moral principle. The most widely known form of consequentialism is utilitarianism. In its classical versions this secular form of ethics held that there is really only one good that human action pursues, pleasure; and it taught that men ought always pursue that which leads to "the greatest happiness of the greatest number." Catholic proportionalists are far from being pure utilitarians. The whole context of their thinking is Christian, not secular. Generally they acknowledge the objective goodness and distinctive reality of each of the kinds of basic goods that we have noted above. Thus, they reject the oversimplified identification of the human good with pleasurable experience. They also rightly reject any suggestion that individual rights can be subordinated to the interests of society. Most importantly, proportionalists acknowledge that there are some moral absolutes -for example, that one should never seek to lead another into sin. Thus, they admit significant limitations on the applicability of the proportionality principle. But proportionalists distinctively hold that the most common moral absolutes traditionally taught by the Catholic Church-and, even now, insistently taught by the magisterium -are not valid. Ordinarily these moralists hold, against the received teaching of the Church, that not every act of contraception is immoral, that not every act of homosexuality or fornication is objectively wrong, that not every intentional taking of innocent human life is absolutely prohibited. Proportionalists typically hold that no kinds of acts, when defined in purely descriptive language, that is, language that includes no morally evaluative terms, are wrong, or . If one were to mean by murder an unjust slaying of an innocent person, then they would agree that every murder is indeed wrong, for the characterization of the killing as unjust is sufficient to settle its immorality. But the direct slaying of an innocent person is not held to be absolutely and in every possible circumstance wrong. Such an act does not include evaluative terms in its description, and it is conceivable that in some extreme circumstances such an act would be determined to be the lesser evil. In those circumstances killing would be a morally good act. Proportionalists recognize, of course, that there are some alternatives for action that, although not excluded because they are by definition morally bad, are likely to cause greater harm in almost all circumstances. To use one of their examples, it would be wrong to force a retarded child to have sexual relations. Such a norm is a "practical absolute" which is "virtually exceptionless." But, as these phrases suggest, the norm here is not absolute in principle. This, or any other act characterized in purely descriptive terms, might under some circumstances we cannot now think of be thought to be the lesser evil, and thus the correct thing to do. The proportionalist supposes that there is a radical difference between actions characterized evaluatively and actions characterized only in descriptive terms. This difference depends upon one of the most fundamental distinctions in the proportionalist approach-that is, the difference between moral evil and premoral, physical, or ontic evil. Moral evils are essentially morally bad choices and acts. By definition such acts may not morally be done. Thus, proportionalists would not allow the use of their method to justify an action already determined to be morally evil. One important implication is that we should never act deliberately to cause another to commit sin. Premoral evil refers to the depravation of some good that is due a person or a thing; premoral evils are really bad, but they are not as such immoral. Sickness and death are premoral evils. They are obviously bad, but not as such immoral. The question is whether choices deliberately to cause premoral evils are morally bad choices. The proportionalist answer is that a choice of what is premorally evil can be morally justified if there is a proportionate reason-if choosing or intending that evil is the way to realize the lesser evil in the situation. As a leading proportionalist has put it: Where a higher good is at stake and the only to protect it is to choose a non- moral evil, then the will remains properly disposed to the values constitutive of the human good.... This is to say that the intentionality is good even when the person, reluctantly and regretfully to be sure, intends the non-moral evil if a truly proportionate reason for such a choice is present. Thus, we have in the basic logic of the proportionalist method a ground for rejecting much of the Church's received teaching on sexual matters, for much of this teaching is about acts that can appear to affect only premoral goods, and it is possible to think of many situations in which the lesser evil will seem to require that one deliberately harm or fail to respect these goods. Since recent popes, synods, and episcopal conferences have very frequently reaffirmed the validity and importance of moral absolutes in the Church's traditional sense, it has become characteristic of proportionalists to hold that one need not assent to these teachings of the magisterium in specific moral matters. They hold this, even though the Church has taught these things with such force and in such insistent ways that many theologians believe they have been taught infallibly by the ordinary magisterium. Proportionalists argue that these teachings are proposed only by a fallible magisterium, and that it is licit to dissent from the most insistent teaching of the ordinary teaching authority of the Church, if one has sufficient reasons. . Of the many arguments adduced in favor of proportionalism, two seem especially important. The first is a philosophical argument that the fundamental principle of proportionalism is . Proportionalists argue that if one were not required to choose the greater good, or the lesser evil, the alternative would be that one would be obliged to choose the lesser good or greater evil. This alternative is patently absurd. The self- evidence of the proportionalist principle is said to be confirmed by the fact that it is the natural, obvious way to determine the right course of action, as the actual moral thinking of good people reveals. The good person will certainly concede that he ought not do what leads to a greater balance of evil over good; that is to say, he instinctively judges as a proportionalist. The reason for this conviction is that morally serious persons care about what is really good, and this concern, if it is to be thoroughly reasonable, must justify the principle of the lesser evil. The second major argument for proportionalism is that just as serious individuals make use of the proportionalist principle in their moral thinking so also does the Church. Thus, the adoption of proportionalism by Catholic thinkers, they claim, is a modest and legitimate development of moral themes already used by the Church, even if only implicitly. This argument is often supported by examples of the role of proportionality in the just-war theory and as one of the conditions of the principle of double effect. This development of moral teaching is especially appropriate today, so the argument goes, for a variety of reasons. As noted already, Vatican Council II called for a renewal in moral theology. In particular, the Council seems to have called for a more humanistic and less legalistic approach to morality. Proportionalism seems to many to be the proper response to this need in the life of the Church. It seems to be the worst sort of rule worship, the most uncaring legalism for a person to refuse to do an act necessary for avoiding great harms simply because it is prohibited by a moral absolute taught by the Church. Pastoral reasons are also cited in support of the legitimacy of this development. People today will not and cannot accept the moral absolutes that so burden people in the new circumstances of a greatly changed world. . The claim that the proportionalist principle of the lesser evil is self-evidently true cannot be sustained. This principle supposes that it is possible to determine which alternative has the better or the less bad effects overall. To make this determination it must be possible to "commensurate" in an unambiguous way goods and evils at stake in human actions. It must be possible, in other words, to rank, measure, or compare the goods and evils at stake. One must be able to tell how much harm to one good is offset by the realization of some other good. Unless one can do this, the proportionalist method simply cannot work as a rational procedure of moral decision-making. This commensurating of goods cannot be rationally carried out. Thinkers within the broad tradition of consequentialism have tried for centuries to show how human goods are commensurable but have never provided an account which is both analytically satisfactory and consonant with the common experiences of deliberation and choice. On the contrary, common experience shows that the goods at stake when a person must make a choice-the very situation in which moral guidance is needed-are not commensurable. It is because the goods between which we must choose are incommensurable that we must in the end settle what we shall do by choosing. Powerful philosophical and theological arguments have been developed which show that the common experience of the incommensurability of goods must of necessity reflect the reality of human motivation and choice. Moreover, there are other problems with this method, problems about how to determine the consequences, how many consequences to consider, and so on, which have led many non-Catholic moralists to abandon consequentialism altogether. It is somewhat ironic that Catholic thinkers have adopted a method of moral thinking that has been for over a century the centerpiece of secular humanist thinking at the very time when many secular moralists were despairing of its ability to withstand the objections raised against it. Those who deny the self-evidence of the basic proportionalist principle are in no way proposing that we are ever expected to choose the greater rather than the lesser evil. The claim is that proportionalists have selected an incoherent way to distinguish the greater and the lesser evil. Thus, what a proportionalist might claim to be the lesser evil really is not shown by proportionalist procedures to be the lesser evil. An example can clarify this. If a woman is considering having a direct abortion, she would, if following the proportionalist approach, list the central good and bad effects of deciding to have the abortion and of deciding to forgo it. Among the bad effects is that she would be choosing to kill directly and deliberately her own unborn child. Among expected good effects might be that she preserves her own mental and physical health, or that she saves the peace, unity, or financial integrity of her family. But how could she objectively add and subtract among goods and evils so diverse? Is the acknowledged evil of having the abortion such that it can be outweighed by the goods one anticipates by having it? How could she determine this? Her feelings might lean one way rather than the other, but the need is for a norm that will give rational, objective guidance in such situations. A leading proportionalist tries to deal with this difficulty as follows: "In fear and trembling we commensurate"; "we a hierarchy." This approach seems to concede that there is no rational way to determine the lesser evil. It proposes that one adopt, that one choose for oneself, a hierarchy of goods, as a way of rating the worth of the various goods. One cannot do it objectively; but one how one will weigh alternatives; then one chooses in the light of the subjective evaluation that one has given. What this means is that one does not discover what is morally good; one decides what one shall call good by an arbitrary assessment. One can indeed arbitrarily select ways of assigning values to the various incommensurable goods: of holding, for example, that the direct slaying of one's unborn child is an evil, nonetheless is less an evil than the sum of the evils which would follow if one did not have the abortion. However, this is evidently not a serious moral argument; it is a patent act of rationalization. One does not learn or discover that one's moral evaluation is the right one; rather one arbitrarily decides to adopt a standard of evaluation that will make one's preference turn out to be the right course. This objection to proportionalism does not imply that the phrase "lesser evil" has no use in the moral thinking of decent people, for it surely does play such a role. But "lesser evil" does not have only the one meaning given to it by proportionalists. Some people, for example, think that the morally right course of action is always good, even when it has very sad and tragic consequences. Such persons might express this conviction by saying that the right course of action is the lesser evil, while never for a moment supposing that doing what violated a moral absolute could be the greater good or the lesser evil. What the preceding argument precludes is only the specific use of the notion of lesser evil within the proportionalist method. It is by no means clear that morally decent people make use of this conception of lesser evil in their moral decision- making. The second argument for proportionalism is also unsatisfactory. Proportionalism is a far more radical position than its defenders acknowledge it to be. It encourages rejections of moral norms that seem to be infallibly taught in the Church, and of positions that certainly cannot be legitimately rejected by Catholics, even if they are not infallibly proposed. Thus, proportionalism cannot be a legitimate development of Catholic moral teaching. The basic problem is that proportionalism leads to the denial that many of the moral absolutes taught by the Church are in fact true moral absolutes. Its history suggests that this is essential to its whole program, for it developed within the Church during the early 1960s as a rationale for justifying some use of contraceptives. This denial of moral absolutes taught insistently by the Church involves a denial of a basic moral principle-namely, that one must not do evil that good might come of it. This principle, as enunciated by St. Paul (Romans 3.8) and taught by the Church over the centuries, excludes the possibility of overturning moral absolutes by appeal to consequences, and this is exactly what proportionalism enjoins us to do. Thus, it is implausible to maintain that a principle so opposed to what is fundamental in Church teaching can really be a development of that teaching. The precedents cited in favor of this claim are unimpressive. The fact that Christian tradition made use of some considerations about proportionality in some sense does not provide evidence for the claim that Christian tradition implicitly used or endorsed proportionalism, for it is not clear that proportionality was understood as a weighing of values, and even more importantly, such considerations were never used to overturn moral absolutes but only to settle issues in which it was clear that no moral absolute was at stake. Proportionalism therefore is not authentic development of received Catholic morality but a radical rejection of its central positions. Its claims to be the reasonable way to avoid legalism and to deal with pastoral problems are therefore suspect. Unless one supposes that any approach to morality that holds for moral absolutes must be legalistic, then it is by no means clear that proportionalism is the only way to avoid it. Caring deeply for persons and their goods does not mean attempting impossible ways or calculating and weighing the consequences of acts. Utter fidelity to persons and their goods seems to imply an absolute refusal to do kinds of acts that will harm them by attacking directly basic goods in them. And this refusal implies a rejection of the basic principle of proportionalism. Similarly, pastoral love for the faithful is not shown by encouraging them to reject authentic (and perhaps infallible) Church teaching, and to live in ways that the Fathers and saints have always said would separate one from the love of Christ. Even today it is an "eminent form of charity" to present Catholic teaching fully and persuasively, and to give every assistance to live in accord with its excellent norms. A final difficulty with proportionalism should also be noted. It is the development of a criticism of consequentialism highlighted by secular moralists-namely, that consequentialist forms of thinking tend to be demoralizing in a number of ways. Pastoral experience confirms the reality of this criticism. When the faithful are told that acts like those of adultery or fornication are not absolutely and always wrong but could be upright acts when proportionate reasons are really present, the faithful are deprived of bracing supports ordinarily necessary to strengthen them in the emotional and intellectual turmoil they experience at the time of temptation. If people are convinced that their own selves, their own moral identities, depend upon unswerving fidelity to moral principles, they have a defense lacking to those who are convinced that there is some way to rationally justify taking a course of action toward which they are inclined, although they know them to be unworthy. The experience of our time shows how much human rights are threatened when small exceptions to necessary defenses of rights are allowed. For instance, few people wished the massive abortions now overwhelming the world. At first it was urged that some abortions be permitted "for very good reasons." But if abortions are permissible when the calculation of goods and harms permits it (a calculation that cannot be objectively valid; a calculation that will be mightily affected by hopes and fears), then the nonobjective nature of the calculation called for almost certainly leads to the terrible consequences brought about by abortion. Clearly, there can be no inalienable rights when there are no exceptionless duties. Proportionalism therefore is inadequate as an approach to moral thinking for Catholics. Instead of providing guidance for the care and love of persons and their goods, proportionalism demands that human beings achieve a kind of knowledge only God could have, and undertake a responsibility for the consequences of actions that only God's providence can have. Instead of fidelity to the limited but real commitments we all have and to the moral absolutes which mark the boundaries for proper human participation in God's providence, proportionalism tells us to look farther-to consider all the effects, to put on a scale things that reflect in irreducible ways God's infinite goodness. This may seem noble to some, but it overreaches, taking as our own what we must trust to God's loving concern. Our moral thinking must not suppose that we can extricate ourselves from the tragedies and evils of human life; only God's healing recreation can do that. But we can be faithful, can have hearts and wills completely faithful to the goodness which God so loves and, in the end, will restore. Proportionalism, sadly, corrupts that fidelity. . As noted earlier, we give the name "Morality of Principles" to the broad approach within Catholic moral theology which, on the one hand, seeks to meet the challenge of Vatican II for renewal in moral theology and, on the other hand, seeks to maintain continuity with the received teaching of the Church on moral matters and with the best of the moral thinking in the theological tradition. The primary way in which the morality of principles maintains continuity with the tradition of Catholic moral teaching is by insisting on the truth and centrality of moral absolutes. This approach holds that the specific moral norms taught by Christian tradition as holding in every instance do indeed have such universal applicability. Such norms as "never directly kill the innocent" and "never commit adultery" are held to be true, always binding, and nontrivial. There can never be any objectively good reasons for violating specific principles such as these. This, of course, is not taken to imply that no moral norms have exceptions. Most norms do have exceptions. "Keep your promises" and "obey all just civil laws" are true general norms, but there are certainly circumstances in which the good person recognizes that they do not apply. What is new in the morality of principles is its effort to show that the renewal of moral theology called for by Vatican II does not lead to an abandonment of the norms always taught in the Church but rather to a fuller understanding of why these norms are essential to the fabric of authentic Christian living. To reject moral absolutes and the rich tradition of moral thinking developed for applying and refining them would not be to renew Catholic morality but to discard it. The renewal of moral theology is therefore understood within the morality of principles as an effort of deeper understanding and fuller appreciation of the significance of moral life within the economy of salvation. It is an effort to see how moral activity relates to the saving work of Christ, to the eternal destiny of Christians, and to the true humanism which faith has always held and Vatican II explicitly proclaimed. Thus understood, renewal in moral theology looks deeper into the sources of faith and into Catholic tradition to overcome a presentation of morality either as merely legalistic rules and regulations imposed by God or the Church, or as a set of directives which rationalistic arguments might establish. The morality of principles therefore does not defend Christian moral teaching, including the teaching on moral absolutes, in a legalistic way. One must not avoid blasphemy or homosexual acts regardless of the consequences of one's faithfulness to the rule simply because one superstitiously venerates rules. Nor is the universality of the rule grounded merely in some command of God, who perhaps inexplicably demands faithfulness, even when more harm than good would appear to follow from faithfulness to the precept in a given situation. Faith confirms that there are moral absolutes but also insists that moral absolutes are the requirements of love. The morality of principles recognizes that the implications of love are not simply rules but guidelines for authentic Christian life. Hence, proponents of the morality of principles point out that it is always wrong to do such deeds as faith has proscribed absolutely because acts such as these are incompatible with the goods of persons which God calls us to love and absolutely respect. To do such acts is always to act in ways contrary to the full perfection of human persons and communities, and so it is to act in ways unworthy of persons created in God's image and called to act as he does-never willing evil, never harming love, and always respecting the dignity of persons. Human goods are not ideals that dwell apart; they are the fulfillment of human persons, and flourish only in persons. Hence, to act so as deliberately to harm a basic human good is to act against the fulfillment of a human person. And that is incompatible with loving the person. The preceding argument in defense of moral absolutes is characteristic of the approach taken by those who hold for the morality of principles. But since this is a broad approach and not a single theory, not all who take this approach would develop the argument in exactly this way. Some would emphasize the dignity of persons, and how this dignity cannot be respected unless certain absolute rights and obligations are honored. Others would perhaps focus more on the precious human relationships and meanings that will be distorted unless these absolutes are accepted. But all versions of the morality of principles hold that moral absolutes protect what is most precious, lasting, and valuable in human life. In this sense they are all profoundly humanistic; all are variations on the theme that genuine love requires a care and respect for persons which absolutely excludes certain kinds of actions, namely those that harm persons, manipulate them, or disregard their true dignity. The contrast between proportionalism and the morality of principles is perhaps sharpest at this point, for while both are concerned for human persons and their goods, this concern is understood very differently by each. Unlike proportionalism, the morality of principles does not suppose that the demands of love can be captured by a single simple moral principle, like the principle of the lesser evil. More important, the morality of principles does not require the mistaken assumption that the goods of human persons can be calculated and measured on a single scale. The tradition's concern with a hierarchy of values was never construed as a scale on which one could calculate the lesser evil as a ground for moral judgment. The recognition that human goods are not calculable in the way proportionalism supposes does not mean that there can be no rational way to honor and respect them. Quite the contrary. We do not truly honor the precious goods of human persons when we are willing to harm them because doing so would, as we think, bring about the lesser evil. The morality of principles is serious about not harming human goods, and demands that in our acts we respect and honor each of them. Of course, we cannot in a given act immediately promote and pursue all that is humanly good; but we can always do acts in such a way that all the goods of human nature are respected and honored. Our fidelity to the whole good of human persons is often revealed not so much by the goods we seek but how we respect the goods that are not our immediate concern. The basic principle of the morality of principles can be formulated therefore as a principle of respect for the entire human good. We must always act in such a way as to be open to integral human fulfillment. Concern for the goods of persons is not therefore realized by trying, as it were, to create a world in which the maximum possible amount of good is realized but in making ourselves persons who humbly cherish and respect all that is good. This is not an attitude of contempt for the harms and tragedies which befall human beings, nor is it an attitude of self-righteousness that cares only for moral rectitude and not at all for human problems. It is, rather, realism about the multifarious character of the human good and our limited ability to make the world good. It is humility which recognizes that the solution to the problem of evil is not human action but God's healing re- creation. It is confidence that God will restore all that is really good and that we shall be part of the re-creation if only we cooperate by maintaining the steadfast loyalty revealed by Jesus and his saints, even in the face of failure and tragedy. The morality of principles therefore is a form of humanism; but it is one in which the true good of man is seen in its full and proper perspective-the perspective of the kingdom of God made possible by Jesus' human acts and God's loving response to them. Thus, it is an approach to moral thinking which is fully open to the larger and deeper meaning of human existence made possible by the revelation of Jesus. In this respect, it compares favorably with the rather narrow, secular, and this-worldly emphasis of proportionalism. Moral absolutes are only one ingredient in a morality of principles; but they have always had a distinctive place in Catholic moral thought. Even the most corrupt societies have known that adultery is generally harmful, and that divorce is destructive of the basic human community. But Christian thought has been distinctive in teaching that one should not commit adultery, slay the innocent, or seek divorce and remarry even for the most splendid reasons, even to avoid the most bitter consequences. Christian faith has seen that there are in fact evil kinds of deeds, deeds that always involve assaults upon the love of persons. Such deeds must never be done; there can be no "proportionate reason" for doing them. We must not do evil that good may come of it. We must not do even a small evil because a great good seems destined to come of it, or because a great harm can be avoided by doing it. (St. Thomas More was right in judging that he should not affirm by oath false statements already so affirmed by virtually all the religious leaders of England, even though it seemed that little harm and slight additional scandal would come of it, and even though his own life, his family's hopes, and the possibility of influencing the king for the better might be salvaged by doing the evil.) The morality of principles respects the rich complexity of serious moral thinking. It realizes that a good moral act involves more than doing a good kind of deed, or avoiding a perverse kind. It involves more than having good intentions in what we do, and more than seeking to avoid harmful consequences. St. Thomas Aquinas articulated what might be called a "principle of completeness" for evaluating human actions which required that good actions (like good persons and good realities of every kind) must be complete in their goodness. According to this principle, every aspect of the act must be morally good: a single moral flaw, whether in the kind of action one does, or in the intentions with which it is done, or in the consequences of other circumstances with which it is done, is sufficient to render the act morally bad. This principle does not prohibit actions because they have a tragic or unfortunate aspect to them; that would make most actions in this fallen world impossible. The integrity required is the integrity of a wholly upright will, of one who is unwilling to do whatever is contrary to a complete and intelligent respect for what is really good. Acts and other realities are morally bad to the extent that they lack any essential trait needed for their integrity and fulfillment. Thus, for example, if an act promises so much harm, and to do little good, in its outcomes, one who respects the Golden Rule will not do the act even if it be of a good kind and done with a good intention. One cannot merge these factors together and judge that one may do a bad kind of act, or approve an act done for a perverse intention, if one perceives that the act, considered in all its features, will have a greater balance of good consequences or aspects over bad ones. Each of the moral determinants must be good, or the act will not be a good one; it will not otherwise be faithful enough to what love requires. . Christian faith has always been more concerned that the faithful do excellent actions and so live morally excellent lives than that they produce many good effects in the world, or have wonderful things occur in their lives. Our lives are constituted far more by what we do than by what happens to us. Many people in today's world find this aspect of Christian faith to be very puzzling. Modern secular humanists and, in particular, secular consequentialists reject it altogether, for consequentialists believe that it is not actions but the overall effects of actions that are morally most important. Christian ethics, of course, does not deny that we have some responsibility for the predictable effects of our actions but maintains that our actions themselves are the center of moral life. Classical Catholic thought stresses the centrality of action because our free actions are the existential center of our lives. In our freely chosen acts we not only affect the world and other persons but also shape our own personalities and character. By choosing to do certain actions we determine ourselves to be one kind of person rather than another; we make ourselves to be friends of God by responding to his grace and freely loving all that is good, or we choose actions incompatible with love of God and fellowman. Of course, we do not choose only actions in the narrow sense. We also make large-scale choices that tend to establish the broader outlines of our lives: our vocations, our professional identities, and our basic relationships with other persons. And the measure of the responsibility we have for the wide range of consequences of our actions varies with the ways we relate ourselves to those consequences. What we deliberately choose to do and the ends we deliberately make our own have an especially great importance. Clearly we do not, in every free choice and action, deliberately choose all that flows from such choices and acts: all the side effects, all the other things left undone, and so on. What is foreseen to come about as a result of our choices-but is not itself chosen-is voluntary in a way; but it is not itself freely chosen. It is accepted or permitted but not positively willed. The voluntary acceptance of side effects is not self-determining in the way free choices of the objects and ends of our acts are. This difference is the basis for the crucial distinction in Catholic morality between what is directly willed or intended and what is indirectly willed or outside the person's intention. To deny the moral significance of this distinction, as proportionalists often do, is to deny something fundamental to Catholic morality. For if one rejects this distinction, and holds that there is no major difference between directly willing or doing evil and indirectly causing it, one would have to concede that it is permissible at times to do evil, and that there really are no moral absolutes. For it is scarcely deniable that even good people do, and cannot escape doing, acts from which bad effects flow. A parent who saves his or her child from the violent assault of an attacker may be able to do this only by a protective act that causes great harm or death to the assailant, however unintended that harm may be. But if every act that causes harm is morally indistinguishable from an act in which the harm is directly done or intended by the agent, then the absolute moral prohibition of directly doing evil would be meaningless. To deny the moral significance of the distinction between directly doing and indirectly causing (or permitting) evil is unreasonable. Anyone can see how different is the personal attitude toward evil in two cases: one in which the agent chooses only good, and allows evil to happen as the unintended effect of his or her actions when there are weighty reasons for doing so; and the very different case in which one fixes the heart upon doing or achieving the evil as a means toward some end. Even God, in creating this good world, which is filled with adventures of freedom and responsibility, permitted the free evil deeds of his creatures (which he in no way directly willed to bring about). If there is no difference between permitting evil and setting one's heart on it, God must set his heart on evil. But such a conclusion is not only absurd, it is blasphemous. It is possible for persons to set their hearts only on good. Permitting evil is not choosing it. Choosing evil can never be justified; permitting evil, while obviously not always justified, can sometimes be justified. Thus, it is not necessarily a violation of the Thomistic principle of completeness to accept bad consequences of actions. This should not be done lightly, and must be avoided whenever possible. But if the alternative to accepting bad consequences is to choose to do an immoral act, one must endure the bad consequences, for to choose to do evil is to set one's heart against what is good, and to determine oneself as a person who rejects what the love of God and neighbor requires. Catholic teaching has always held that it is a terrible flaw in an action-and a horrible tragedy for the one who does it-to do evil directly for any reason. Even if the most precious and necessary goods could not be achieved except by doing a deed that directly does even a small evil, the good man should not do that deed. He must care to make the world good; but the most important good he is to do, the most pressing service he has, in making the world good, is to make his own heart good, by doing only good actions. If he cannot achieve goods he loves by good actions, he has no morally good way to achieve them. Yet he can rightly hope in God, if, living rightly, he does what good he can do well, and trusts God to realize the goods that he himself cannot achieve in acting well. . Some protest against the traditional emphasis on freely chosen actions. They argue that actions alone are not the center of moral life. Character, or the basic and enduring moral orientation of the person, has a more profound significance. This has led some moral theologians to locate the basic self- determination of persons not in free choices but in a fundamental or transcendental freedom which cannot be found in any discrete choice but rather in the fundamental orientation of a person's entire life. This fundamental option, and not our free choices, is said to be what determines our basic response to God, our very moral identities, and thus our eternal destiny. This theory is correct in emphasizing that our lives can and should be organized by a fundamental commitment which shapes and orders all our life in response to God's call. It is mistaken, however, in holding that this basic commitment does not flow from the free, deliberate choices of our ordinary moral life but is rather the fruit of an allegedly profound, somewhat mysterious act at a deeper and ineffable level of freedom. Choices are spiritual realities and not physical events like the performances that carry them out. As Pope John Paul II has made clear, our free actions have not only a transitive aspect in which an event in the world is caused but also a nontransitive aspect which remains in the human self and determines the kind of person the agent is. Free choices therefore have enduring effects and in this enduring aspect are the basis for the virtues which form the fabric of a good life. The virtuous person is fundamentally one who has made the right free choices, and has made them in such a way that his or her entire personality, desires, reactions, and beliefs are integrated around these good choices. So Christian morality is not too "act-oriented" but recognizes the importance of a life of integrated and stable commitment to the Lord's work. Still, the Church also emphasizes that the discrete choices of a person's life are the root of personal self-determination and responsibility. Human action is trivialized if we fancy that a single choice moved by grace cannot be important enough to merit salvation or tragic enough to lose it. Thus, a single free choice can change the fundamental orientation of a person's life, as the Good Thief changed his fundamental option on Good Friday. The freedom of our choices is that whereby we determine ourselves; it is the locus of the "soul making" which is the center of the moral life. It is the part of our natures which perhaps most fully images the supremely free Creator of all; it is the part of us which allows us to be friends of God, not because we were in any way constrained or forced to be such but because we ourselves choose to be his friends. This freedom, however, has its burdens that make us want to hide from its full reality. We must, as the Church has always taught, use that freedom well; we must make hard choices but only good ones-choices to do actions that intelligently show that we love and cherish all that is good.
ENDNOTES 24. See Garth Hallett, (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1983), p. 46; Timothy E. O'Connell, (New York: Seabury, 1978), p. 153; Richard A. McCormick, (Washington, D.C.: University Press of America, 1981), pp. 354-355; Louis Janssens, "Norms and Priorities in a Love Ethic," , 6 (1977), 214; for a handy collection of proportionalist thought, see , ed. Charles E. Curran and Richard A. McCormick (New York: Paulist Press, 1978). 25. See Richard A. McCormick, (New York: Doubleday, 1981), p. 5; here, McCormick makes clear that he accepts a nuanced account of the human good like the one set out in Part II of this chapter. 26. See Lisa Sowle Cahill, "Contemporary Challenges to Exceptionless Moral Norms," in (St. Louis: The Pope John Center, 1984), pp. 121-135, for a clear, recent statement of the restrictions on the use of the proportionalist method by one who is sympathetic to it. 27. On practical absolutes, see Daniel Maguire, (New York: Doubleday, 1974), p. 99; on virtually exceptionless norms, see Richard A. McCormick, (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 1973), p. 73. 28. McCormick, , pp. 78-79. 29. For a recent magisterial statement on moral absolutes, see Sacred Congregation for the Clergy, (April 11, 1971), no. 63. The importance of moral absolutes for Christian morality is apparent to its opponents; see, for example, the influential article of Jonathan Bennett, "Whatever the Consequences," , 26 (1966), 83- 102. 30. Arguments for dissent from authoritative Church teaching are characteristic of the proportionalist movement. These arguments-involving more than appeals to the method of proportionalism-also involve views on conscience, authority, and ecclesiology. These matters will be discussed in detail in Chapter 5 of this book. 31. See McCormick, , pp. 78-79. 32. The most serious attempts by proportionalists to find this mode of moral reasoning in St. Thomas are those of John Milhaven, John Dedek, and Louis Janssens. See Milhaven's "Moral Absolutes in Thomas Aquinas," in , ed. Charles E. Curran (Washington: Corpus, 1968), 154-185, reprinted in Milhaven's (New York: Doubleday, 1972), pp. 135-167, 228- 236; Dedek's "Intrinsically Evil Acts: An Historical Study of the Mind of St. Thomas," , 43 (1979), 385-413; Janssens' "Ontic Evil and Moral Evil," , 4 (1972), 115-156, reprinted in , ed. Charles E. Curran and Richard A. McCormick (New York: Paulist Press, 1979), pp. 40-93, as well as Janssens' "Norms and Priorities in a Love Ethic," , 6 (1977), 207-238, and "St. Thomas Aquinas and the Question of Proportionality," , 9 (1982), 26-46. For a critique of the interpretation of Aquinas given by Dedek and Milhaven, see Patrick Lee, "Permanence of the Ten Commandments: St. Thomas and His Commentators," , 42 (1981), 422-433. For a critique of Janssens' interpretation of Aquinas, see William E. May, "Aquinas and Janssens on the Moral Meaning of Human Acts," , 48 (1984), 566-606. For attempts to find proportionalism in past Catholic thought, particularly in the just-war theory, see O'Connell, , p. 153. 33. This argument has been developed extensively by Germain Grisez in a number of his works; for a recent summary of the argument along with relevant references to earlier analyses, see his , ch. 6, q. F; see also Finnis, , p. 115. 34. See Alan Donagan, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977), pp. 199-209. 35. See Dan W. Brock, "Recent Work on Utilitarianism," , 10 (1973), 241-276; Bernard Williams, (New York: Doubleday, 1972), pp. 89-107; and Bernard Williams and J.J.C. Smart, in "A Critique of Utilitarianism," (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1973), pp. 172-209. 36. Richard A. McCormick, "A Commentary on the Commentaries," in , ed. Richard McCormick and Paul Ramsey (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1978), p. 277. This volume contains McCormick's , already referred to above, along with responses by several moralists, including an important, critical essay by Paul Ramsey and McCormick's responses to the essays. 37. See Grisez, , ch. 6, q. E, for an account of various meanings of "greater good" compatible with common sense and the Catholic moral tradition. 38. See ibid., ch. 6, q. D, for a development of this rejoinder. 39. See Williams, , pp. 104- 105: ".... A utilitarian is always justified in doing the least bad thing which is necessary to prevent the worst thing that would otherwise happen in the circumstances (including of course, the worst thing that someone else may do)-and what he is thus justified in doing may often be something which, taken in itself, is fairly nasty. The preemptive act is built into utilitarian conceptions, and certain notions of negative responsibility (that you are as responsible for what you fail to prevent, as much as for what you do) are by the same token characteristic of it. This being so, it is empirically probable that an escalation of preemptive activity may be expected: and the total consequences of this, by utilitarian standards themselves, will be worse than if it had never started." 40. This statement of the first moral principle is adapted from Grisez, , ch. 7, q. F; for a different formulation, compatible with the one stated here, see Karol Wojtyla (John Paul II), , tr. H.T. Willetts (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1981), p. 41; Wojtyla calls the basic principle "the personalistic norm" and explicates its meaning by contrasting it with utilitarianism and relating it to the love commandments. "The norm, in its negative aspect, states that the person is the kind of good that does not admit of use and cannot be treated as an object of use and as such the means to an end. In its positive form the personalistic norm confirms this: the person is a good towards which the only proper and adequate attitude is love. The positive content of the personalistic norm is precisely what the commandment to love teaches." 41. See , I-II, q. 18, a. 4, ad 2; this principle was adopted by later moral theologians and stated in the following pithy formula, which is almost impossible to render meaningfully in a literal translation: "Bonum ex integra causa; malum ex quocumque defectu." 42. See Joseph M. Boyle, Jr., "Toward Understanding the Principle of Double Effect," , 90 (1980), 527-538; and "The Principle of Double Effect: Good Actions Entangled in Evil," in , pp. 243-260. 43. For a discussion of this denial, see McCormick, , pp. 72-83. 44. See, for example, Josef Fuchs, S.J., "Basic Freedom and Morality," in his (Dublin: Gill, 1970), pp. 92-111. For references to other statements of fundamental-option theory along with a critical analysis, see Joseph M. Boyle, Jr., "Freedom, the Human Person, and Human Action," in , ed. William E. May (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1981), pp. 237-266. The articles by Ronald Lawler, O.F.M. Cap., and John R. Connery, S.J., in this volume provide further discussion and references on this matter. See also the remarks on this matter by John Paul II in (December 2, 1984), no. 17. 45. The self-determining character of a person's choices has been emphasized in the philosophical writings of John Paul II; see Karol Wojtyla (John Paul II), (Dordrecht, Boston, and London: D. Reidel, 1979), pp. 105-186, especially pp. 149-151. 46. See Grisez, ch. 2, q. l. 47. See Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Catholic Conference, 1976), pp. 10-12. Pages 78-97 of "Catholic Sexual Ethics" by Rev. Ronald Lawler, O.F.M. Cap., Joseph Boyle, Jr. & William E. May. Available from Our Sunday Visitor, Inc., 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750, also available in the Our Sunday Visitor Marketplace on the Catholic Resource Network.