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EVALUATING MORAL ACTIONS

Reference:
Fundamental Moral Theology Lecture Notes, Fr. Eric Marcelo Genilo SJ, Loyola School of Theology

CCC 1750:
The morality of human acts depends on: the object chosen, the end in view or the
intention, the circumstances of the action.

The object, the intention, and the circumstances make up the “sources,” or
constitutive elements of the morality of human acts.

CCC 1759:
“An evil action cannot be justified by reference to a good intention.” The end does
not justify the means.

CCC 1760:
A morally good act requires the goodness of its object, of its end, and of its
circumstances together.

CCC 1761:
There are concrete acts that it is always wrong to choose, because their choice
entails a disorder of the will, i.e., a moral evil. One may not do evil so that good may
result from it.

Significance of CCC 1750, 1759-61:


One can only properly and adequately evaluate a moral act after considering the
three components of a moral act.

Elements of a Moral Act:

Object
The object establishes the “species” of the action. It specifies what kind of action it
is. In order to determine the object of the action, one needs to consider three
elements found in the object: the physical action, immediate action of the action,
and defining circumstances.

End
The end of the agent is the larger purpose for which the action is done. This is
another form of intention. It is different from the immediate intention of the action
which is part of the object. The end of the agent is the final goal toward which the
action is directed. It can also be called a long-term goal or motivation.

The end of the agent does not change the basic morality of the object if the object
itself is already good or evil. It can only increase or decrease the degree of evil or
goodness of the object. If the object is already evil, a good end cannot make the act
into a good act. However, if the object is morally neutral, a good or evil end of the
agent can turn the action into a good or evil action.

The relationship of the object of the action and the end of the agent is the
relationship between means and ends. The agent has a long-term purpose or end,
he chooses an object that will help him attain his purpose.
A good end can never justify an evil means. A good end can never make an action
good if the action’s object is evil.

Qualifying Circumstances
The qualifying circumstances of an act are external factors that can vary the degree
of goodness or evil of the whole act. Qualifying circumstances are different from the
defining circumstances found in the object of the action.

Overall Moral Evaluation of an Act


The object of the act may be neutral, objectively good, or objectively evil but the
final moral evaluation of the concrete action would still need to be completed by a
consideration of the end of the agent and circumstance.

A morally good act must be good in all three components. If even one of the
components has an evil aspect, the whole action becomes evil. However, the
seriousness of the evil of the whole action depends on how grave is the evil aspect
of the action. It is harder to get an action right and easier to get it wrong.