Good and Evil Actions

Good and Evil Actions: A Journey through Saint Thomas Aquinas

Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 337
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  • Book Info
    Good and Evil Actions
    Book Description:

    In Good and Evil Actions, Steven J. Jensen navigates a path through the debate, retrieving what is of value from each interpretation

    eISBN: 978-0-8132-1803-8
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Ralph McInerny

    It is inescapably true that we should do good and avoid evil, but how are we to know the difference between them? whenever St. Thomas faces this question, he quotes the Psalmist in the vulgate (Ps. 4, 6): Quis ostendit nobis bona? The answer is: Signatum est super nos lumen vultus tui, Domine. Who will show us what is good? The light of the countenance is sealed upon us, O lord. That is, by a participation in the divine wisdom, men have a natural capacity to discern good and evil.

    One becomes a good person by performing good deeds; a...

    (pp. xiii-xvi)
    (pp. 1-7)

    In 1954 Elizabeth Anscombe coined the term “consequentialism” to designate those moral theories that reduce the moral value of any action to its effects or consequences, leaving no moral significance to the act itself.¹ Although she thought consequentialism morally bankrupt, and patently so, she claimed the philosophical explanation of its inadequacy was lacking, and given the current philosophical resources, a reasoned account was likely to remain unavailable. She herself did much to provide the philosophical tools for the wanted explanation when in 1957 she launched the field of action theory with the publication of Intention.² If actions themselves, and not...

    (pp. 8-43)

    Traditionally, Catholic moralists have drawn a sharp distinction between two similar cases in medical ethics. In the craniotomy case, the head of the fetus is too large to pass through the woman’s pelvis, so that natural labor will not result in delivery but will continue indefinitely, probably resulting in the death of both the mother and the child. With the current medical technology of C-sections, the situation poses no difficulty, but a century ago there was no sure way to save the life of the mother without killing the fetus. standard procedure amongst non-Catholic doctors was to perform a craniotomy...

    (pp. 44-72)

    We are trying to identify the species of human actions. What belongs essentially to an action is a certain emanation from an agent toward some object. An action has a per se order from the agent to the object. what falls outside this order is circumstantial; it does not belong to the essence of the action. The movement or emanation of an action begins within the agent through some impulse or tendency, and this source within the agent provides the essential character of an action. Human actions, precisely as human, arise from reason and will; consequently, the intention of the...

    (pp. 73-131)

    We are trying to discover the species of human actions, the per se order arising from within the agent and moving to some object. Intention seemed a plausible place to look for the source of this order, both on account of the very words of Aquinas and because intention is a principle of human actions. Unfortunately, the effort to draw the line between what is intended and what is outside intention is plagued with difficulties. Indeed, rather than intention drawing the line between action and consequence, it seems that the action itself must draw the line between intention and what...

    (pp. 132-179)

    We have seen that the material or subject acted upon is central to the moral species of human actions. why does it play this central role? we can get a good idea by considering those cases when another human being is the subject acted upon. The act of murder, for instance, has another human being as its subject or material. The victim does not appear to be a fitting subject for this act of killing. Why? Because we should not bring about his evil but rather his good. In short, we should seek his good; we should love him, in...

    (pp. 180-224)

    This chapter addresses a few remaining difficulties before we proceed to consider the order of reason in more detail. First, some challenging texts must be examined in the light of Proportionalism (sections 5.1 and 5.2). Second, what we have learned of the specification of human actions must be applied to some difficult cases, such as self-defense, craniotomy, and hysterectomy (section 5.3).

    The first set of challenging texts concerns divine dispensations from the Decalogue. God commanded Abraham, for instance, to kill Isaac, an innocent youth. He also commanded the Israelites to despoil the Egyptians, and He commanded Hosea to take to...

    (pp. 225-278)

    The key to the moral species of human actions is the order to the good that reason aims to introduce in some material, which we have analyzed to some extent for the action of killing or harming more generally (chapter 4). The natural form introduced is death, but we have seen that this natural form implies using or subordinating the person for some further end. Human beings, however, are fit material for the act of using only if they are guilty of some offense, for the innocent are the chief parts of the common good, with whom the good must...

    (pp. 279-310)

    Aquinas teaches that human actions alone are good and evil in their very species. Other things are good or evil, but their good or evil does not define what they are. If we are fully to understand Aquinas’s doctrine of the specification of human actions, then, we must see why human actions have their good or evil in their very species. We must first see in what manner an action evil in species must always be evil, no matter the circumstances (section 7.1). These actions, called moral absolutes in the contemporary discussion, are the realization of negative moral rules without...

    (pp. 311-318)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 319-324)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 325-325)