Moral Absolutes

Moral Absolutes: Tradition, Revision, and Truth (Michael J. McGivney Lectures of the John Paul II Institute)

John Finnis
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  • Book Info
    Moral Absolutes
    Book Description:

    Moral Absolutes sets forth a vigorous but careful critique of much recent work in moral theology. It is illustrated with examples from the most controversial aspects of Christian moral doctrine, and a frank account is given of the roots of the upheaval in Roman Catholic moral theology in and after the 1960s.

    eISBN: 978-0-8132-2047-5
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. vii-viii)

    These are the four Michael J. McGivney Lectures, given at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family, Washington, D.C., in September 1988, as the first in a series of annual public lectures to be sponsored by that institute and by the charitable foundation the Knights of Columbus, which Fr. McGivney initiated in 1882. The lectures were delivered in the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, whose true hospitality I enjoyed over a number of weeks. The annotations which I have added here and there, but nowhere exhaustively, are a scant measure of the service rendered...

  4. CHAPTER I Foundations
    (pp. 1-30)

    The foundations of Christian moral doctrine are being tested as never before.

    Dissension is well known. But does it go beyond rather marginal questions about the number and precise identity of the true moral absolutes? Does it challenge the very possibility of true moral absolutes? Does it go to fundamentals?

    It does. Certainly, the moral norms whose very possibility (as truths) is now disputed are not morality’s fundamental principles. Nor do they mark out the whole range of questions of conscience. They are not the whole substance of moral reasonableness, even when this is clarified by the faith which extends...

  5. CHAPTER II Clarifications
    (pp. 31-57)

    Philosophical and theological reflections on moral absolutes have a history, illuminated by the tale, or tales, of the tyrant’s wife. My version starts with Aristotle.

    There seem to be two relevant texts in the Nicomachean Ethics. Having defined right actions and emotions in terms of a mean, intermediate between excesses, Aristotle adds:

    But not every action nor every passion admits of a mean; for some have names that already imply badness, e.g. spite, shamelessness, envy, and in the case of actions adultery, theft, murder…. It is not possible, then, ever to be right with regard to them; one must always...

  6. CHAPTER III Christian Witness
    (pp. 58-83)

    Everyone has the experience of choosing, and of constraints—physical and psychological, logical, cultural and social—which block choosing what one wants or doing what one chose. But outside the cultures formed by the Old and New Testaments, few have acknowledged with clarity or firmness the reality of free choice.

    There is free choice where one really does have motives for choosing and doing each of two or more incompatible options, but these motives are not determinative, and neither they nor any other factor whatever, save the choosing itself, settles which alternative is chosen.

    Because nothing—not even the motives...

  7. CHAPTER IV Challenge and Response
    (pp. 84-106)

    How, then, did so many Catholic moralists come to reject and formally attack and denounce the church’s constant and firm teaching of specific moral absolutes? And to embrace and teach theories which in secular philosophical debates had long ago proved incapable of withstanding rational criticism?

    Secular thinkers, of course, had generally rejected the absolutes. Their understanding that reason does not support the moral alternatives did not deflect their will to adopt principles of action which promised to preserve social peace, prosperity, and liberty of action within whatever community and era formed the horizon of their practical interest. So it would...

  8. Index
    (pp. 107-114)
  9. Back Matter
    (pp. 115-115)