Consequences versus Intrinsic Evil

There are three fonts of morality, three things only that can make a knowingly chosen act of a human person moral or immoral:
1. intention
2. object
3. circumstances

It is always wrong to act with a bad intention, that is, with an immoral intended end. The intention is the reason or purpose which motivates the act; it is the end in view.

It is always wrong to knowingly choose an act which is inherently ordered toward an evil moral object. The object is the end toward which the knowingly chosen act is ordered, by the very nature of the act. Hence, if the object is evil, the act is intrinsically wrong; it is evil by its very nature, since its nature is nothing other than its ordering toward an evil end.

The intention is the end chosen by the agent, the person who acts. The object is the end inherent to the act itself.

It is always wrong to act when you reasonably anticipate that your act will do more harm than good. The circumstances of an act is the totality of the foreseeable consequences of that act for all persons concerned.

Even if the intention is good, and the act is believed to do more good than harm, the deliberate choice of certain kinds of behavior or certain specific acts — intrinsically evil acts — is always immoral, quite apart from a consideration of the intention for which the choice is made or the totality of the foreseeable consequences of that act for all persons concerned.

Striking a population center, that is, directly targeting civilians in warfare, whether with a nuclear bomb, or with artillery or conventional bombs, is intrinsically evil. It meets the definition of murder and of mass murder, regardless of its alleged usefulness in winning a war

Pope Saint John Paul II, in Veritatis Splendor, gives examples of intrinsically evil acts:

“Whatever is hostile to life itself, such as any kind of homicide, genocide, abortion, euthanasia and voluntary suicide; whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, physical and mental torture and attempts to coerce the spirit; whatever is offensive to human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution and trafficking in women and children; degrading conditions of work which treat laborers as mere instruments of profit, and not as free responsible persons…”

So arbitrary imprisonment is intrinsically evil, and therefore cannot be done for a good intended end, even in dire circumstances.

This entry was posted in commentary. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Consequences versus Intrinsic Evil

  1. Fr. Matthew says:

    Ron,
    I am not sure if I should have responded to you in this article or your other one about the archers.
    The moral object of most is not all of the economic sanctions against Putin and Russia ( and they have to be against both Putin AND Russia, since he is the Head of State waging this unjust war) are not intrinsically evil. It is NOT evil by nature. They are to not to harm innocent persons by its very act such as abortion or slavery or other intrinsic evils mentioned by Pope St John Paul II, or the acts Putin bombing Ukraine innocent populous areas. But the economic sanctions by the very act are to defend society against an unjust aggressor and also to punish that unjust aggressor. However, Regarding the consequences…with the economic sanctions innocents persons will suffer and be harmed. It seems that the principle of double effect can be applied to justify most is not all of the economic sanctions.
    And to conclude, off topic, thank you for your defense of dogma regarding the Papacy,
    God bless,
    Fr. Matthew

    • Ron Conte says:

      Targeting the government with sanctions is not intrinsically evil. But some of these sanctions are aimed at individual persons and individual companies or groups of companies, and these target the innocent. “to defend society against an unjust aggressor and also to punish that unjust aggressor” is the purpose of the act, not the moral object. It is in fact not a defense of Ukraine to prevent Russian companies from doing business in the U.S. or E.U. This does not directly defend the Ukraine and so it cannot be the moral object. The relation between the act and its object is always direct. Also, intrinsically evil acts are not justified by the principle of double effect.

      Even if the intended end is not the harm the innocent, that is the direct object of acts, such as refusing employment to a Russian individual, preventing companies from doing lawful business, preventing banks from transferring funds, freezing the assets of persons not accused of any wrongdoing. These acts directly target civilians who are not accused of any sin or crime, harming them. The purpose is in the font of intention; the consequences are in the font of circumstances. But the nature of the act is to harm the innocent directly, which is not moral.

  2. James Belcher says:

    Ron,
    Your fears of the Western Civilization of not being compassionate towards innocent people are coming true. I feel very sorry for the Citizens of Russia). All these sanctions from private businesses, (see list here – https://som.yale.edu/story/2022/over-200-companies-have-withdrawn-russia-some-remain of Russia) will very soon destroy the family fabric in Russia. They will have problems in paying for and obtaining the basic necessities to maintain any semblance of a normal life. This is a terrible humanitarian event which punishes these innocent people. In addition, since the citizens of Russia have no idea of what this war is about via the government’s propaganda, they will be embolden to back Putin’s regime. I have no problems with sanctions against the Russian government with little impact on its citizens.

    James Belcher

  3. James Belcher says:

    Ron,
    I am sorry for this additional post but I am truly disgusted and believe our current administration is committing an intrinsic evil act towards our own citizens. The inflation here is hurting most of its citizenry and its mostly due to the enacted legislation to prohibit producing more gas and oil. It is not the war. The sole purpose going from energy independent to obtaining oil from despots is to satisfy the few (green energy) while having no regard for the many. Its not that they are against oil – its only American oil. I try not to post anything that is political but I truly believe these are evil acts and certainly amoral acts being committed.

Comments are closed.