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Moral Life Introduction
Transcript of Moral Life Introduction
Moral theology is the
science of human behavior that evaluates good and evil actions and is informed by Divine revelation. Let's break that definition down.
We must never forget that moral theology is a practical science. In other words, it involves using reason to achieve a certain end, or goal.
A Practical Science
A science is any organized body of certain knowledge, founded upon a set of first principles that explains things in terms of their causes.
Moral theology is a science in that its body of knowledge pertains to good and evil human behavior, its first principle is, "Do good and avoid evil," and it explains human action in terms of its psychological causes.
It might be objected that moral theology doesn't seem much like a science, at least not in the modern sense.
But wait a second . . .
Moral Theology is a Science
However . . .
How is it a Science?
That's because today most people associate science with the physical sciences and their methodologies: i. e., observation, hypothesis, experimentation, and theory.
Back in tha day
Prior to the Enlightenment, the domain of science was much broader. It included disciplines like logic, mathematics, meta-physics, ethics, politics, and even theology, in addition to natural philosophy (what we call "science" today).
This restrictive way of associating science with only the physical sciences is a fairly recent historical development.
We find some people today going so far as to claim that if you want to know, prove, or establish anything as factual then science, in the modern sense, is the only way to do it.
That all changed when the scientific method was developed. Its remarkable successes made natural philosophy and its methods the preeminent science: they became the new standards for all knowledge and learning.
The result was that the broad understanding of science was replaced with a narrow one. In time, many people came to think that certain knowledge could only be found in the physical sciences.
Modern society has inherited the belief that science alone deals with knowable facts; everything else is a matter of opinion and conjecture.
Scientism is the name for this inflated confidence in the power of science. It's the belief that know-ledge is found in science alone and that its methods are applicable to all other disciplines.
The Good . . .
Undoubtedly, modern science has increased our knowledge and benefited our lives. That's good. The Catholic Church is not anti-science; you shouldn't be either!
In fact, any discipline that included certain knowledge, first principles, and explanatory causes was con-sidered a legitimate science.
Back in tha Day
. . . and the Bad
The problem is that the successes of the physical sciences have lead some people to mistakenly think that science has all the answers. It doesn't. Science is founded on all kinds of logical and philosophical assumptions.
Ultimately, these considerations show that there are other legitimate sciences apart from the physical sciences.
Moral theology is one
of these sciences.
scientia = knowledge
Moral Theology Evaluates
Good and Evil Actions
Moral theology evaluates, or judges human actions as either good or evil;
right or wrong.
These sciences may not study physical things, or use the scientific method to make discoveries, but they can provide certain knowledge and offer practical benefits in their own proper ways.
What is Good?
To know whether a certain action is good, we must first have a working definition of the good. What do we mean when we say something is good?
All these meanings convey a common idea: i. e., desirability. So we can initially say that the good is some thing, or object that we desire.
Object & Subject
We then observe that there are at least two components to the good: something (an object) that is desirable to someone
Since the object of the good is being-as-desired, it follows that there must be a subject-who-desires. This subject possesses its own, limited existence and uses the good in order to fully develop the perfection that is proper to its nature.
Until now, we've been talking in abstract terms. So let's take a concrete example and discuss it.
Although there is a subjective component to the good that is located in each person, there is also an objective component to the good that is grounded in the real world and therefore independent of
A crucial consequence of the objective component of the good - its real world grounding - is that goodness is a matter of fact. It includes those things that really do sustain and develop your existence to its fullest.
Needs vs Wants
This means there is a difference between real needs and felt wants. In fact, there are good things you might absolutely need that you don't want, and bad things that you might desperately want that you don't need.
Speaking of bad things, since good is convertible with being, it should be obvious that evil is convertible with non-being, or nothingness.
of the Good
According to St. Thomas Aquinas, evil is a privation. He says, "For evil is the absence of the good, which is natural and due to a thing." In other words, it's the lack of some good that should be present.
Having defined the good in terms of being as desired by someone, we can now relate this definition to the notion of moral good.
A Definition of Good
On the basis of these observations, it should be clear that the good is being as desired by someone.
The moral good is simply those free actions ordered by reason that contribute to the overall, natural perfection of a desiring subject.
Defining Moral Good
This assumes, of course, that you have a nature to perfect. What's a nature? It's the essence of what you are as determined by God. You are essentially a rational animal.
To the extent that your actions perfect your nature, they are morally good; to the extent that they ruin your nature, they are morally evil.
When you use your reason and free will to perform morally good acts, you really will flourish; when you use them to perform morally evil acts, you really will languish.
Flourish or Languish?
The truly horrifying thing about evil acts is that they actually negate your existence.
The position we take with regard to the moral good is known as ethical realism. We will briefly examine three views of the moral good that reject the objectivity of good and evil.
Moral relativism considers how some people and societies view the moral good differently, and on that basis concludes that no notion of the good holds a privileged status over any other.
Moral Theology is Informed
by Divine Revelation
Moral subjectivism considers moral judgments as equivalent to statements of subjective approval or disapproval. In other words, moral judgments are expressions of personal taste.
Moral consequentialism considers the good to be synonymous with happiness, and that morally good acts are those that produce the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest amount of people.
Moral relativism is open to the following criticisms:
1. While people and societies often disagree over the good, they also frequently agree.
2. Disagreement over the good does not imply that all views of the good are equally valid.
3. If moral relativism is true, then there is no genuine moral progress.
Moral subjectivism is open to the following criticisms:
1. It cannot explain moral disagreement.
2. It renders all moral judgments infallible.
3. If moral subjectivism is true, then there are no moral facts whatsoever.
Moral consequentialism is open to the following criticisms:
1. It favors the group over the individual, ignoring the justice owed to the latter.
2. It rejects the fact that some acts are forbidden no matter what the outcome is.
3. It assumes that one can always predict which actions will produce the greatest amount of happiness.
Although human reason is capable of identifying many moral principles, it is wounded by sin and prone to error. Informed by Divine revelation, moral theology brings clarity to our confusion.
As Catholics, we believe in a God who freely reveals Himself to humankind.
God's revelation is transmitted in two ways: Sacred Tradition, and Sacred Scripture.
Sacred Tradition refers to God's revelation contained in the doctrine, life, and worship of Church as handed down by the Apostles and their successors.
Sacred Scripture refers to God's revelation as put down in writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. It includes the Old and New Testaments.
The Magisterium, or teaching office of the Church, is tasked with authoritatively interpreting Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture.
You can find the Magisterium's
moral teachings in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, primarily in
Part Three: Life in Christ.
So what exactly is the content of Divine revelation? Simply stated: the Ten Commandments, the Eight Beatitudes, and their exposition at the hands of the Magisterium.
We will examine the content of Divine revelation during the second half of the school year.
The goal is happiness in this life, and ultimate happiness with God in the life to come.
That's not to say . . .
. . . moral theology is somehow worthless if studied simply for its own sake. However, the knowledge it provides should be put to use!
The purpose of this course is not just to learn theories about morality, but rather, to put those theories into personal practice!
Ultimately, you shouldn't be content just to learn about the ways of being good, but you should also want to be good.
The objectivity of the good is the single most important aspect of moral theology.
Ethical realism is the view that goodness is a property of real being, and that there are facts about what is good and what is evil.
The object of the good is always some being, or thing that exists. We then note that beings are desirable to the extent that they are perfect, and they are perfect to the extent that they exist.
It follows that the object of the good is some being seen from the aspect of desirability, or being-as-desired.