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Moral Life 1

Happiness and Moral Acts

J Laney

on 26 August 2013

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Transcript of Moral Life 1

Moral Theology 1: Happiness & Moral Acts
We saw in the introduction that moral theology is a practical science the goals of which are happiness in this life and ultimate happiness with God in the life to come.
Voluntary Acts
We've seen that being a rational animal involves acting for a purpose, or voluntarily. Now we must consider the nature of voluntariness.
The word "circumstance" comes from a Latin word that literally means "to stand around." Circumstances are all the factors that stand around our human acts.
Material Goods
The first candidate for happiness is material goods: basic necessities like food and shelter, or even luxuries like fashionable clothes and the latest technologies.
The second candidate for happiness is honor: the respect and esteem given to us by our peers. Notice that honor is not something we possess. Rather, it is bestowed on us, whether deservedly or not, by others.
The Human Person
These goals may seem obvious, but we can understand them even better once we have a clear grasp of what a human person is.
Defining the Human Person
The Greek philosopher Aristotle gave us an unsurpassed definition of the human person. He said that man is a rational animal.
What's It Mean?
Rational animality implies two things: first, human beings are animals, or physical bodies capable of growth and sensation; second, and more importantly, they are rational, or capable of con-
sciously acting for
a purpose.
Why They Matter
Circumstances are important because they qualify, or modify the moral status of human acts. They can help us determine the extent to which a person is responsible for his actions.
human acts
A Big Difference
The fact that you consciously act for a purpose; that is, you deliberately and voluntarily will your actions, is what sets you apart from all other animals.
Your ability to will, or choose, is one of the two main powers of your soul. The object of your will - that toward which it is inclined - is always some perceived good.
Powered by Soul
You're presented with lots of limited goods on a daily basis. But amidst all these goods, is there one Supreme Good that provides the basis for your existence as such?
There is a Supreme Good: namely, God. You were created by Him and for Him. He is the only Good that will provide you lasting happiness.
The Supreme Good
Animals do act for purposes, albeit unconsciously and involuntarily. They act from instinct.
Your Role
This analysis of the human person reveals that you have a unique role to play in the attainment of your own happi-ness. Since you can voluntarily will your actions, you are largely in charge of the amount of happiness you experience.
Defining Happiness
Happiness is the goal toward which we are all working. But what is happiness essentially? It might be helpful to begin by considering several things that happiness is not.
The fact that these material goods always leave us wanting more is evidence that they are not capable of providing lasting happiness, and are therefore not the Supreme Good.
The fact that happiness, as we saw, is within your control, whereas honor is not, is evidence that honor is not happiness, nor is it the Supreme Good.
The third candidate for hap-piness is pleasure: the delight that comes from the gratification of bodily appetites. Pleasure always accompanies some concrete action on which it depends for its existence.
True Happiness
As we saw earlier, your will is inclined toward possessing the good, and God is the Supreme Good. So true happiness just is the possession of God.
Possessing God
Since God is not a material object, how exactly do you possess Him? The answer is simple: you grasp God with your intellect. The intellect's eternal contemplation of, and absorption in the inexhaustible reality of God is what we call heaven.
The Search is Over
Once the intellect or mind possesses God, it experiences the cessation of all desire. The search is over, and the state of eternal happiness begins.
The fact that pleasure can be derived from evil actions is enough to show that it is distinct from happiness, which has to do with choosing the good.
The Role of Grace
Try as you might, you cannot possess God without His help. God's grace is necessary for you to reach your final goal. However, you must use your free will and cooperate
with Him.
Doing Your Part
God will not force you to be happy against your will. You must do your part, and choose those goods that will make you truly happy.
Why's It Matter?
Voluntariness is important because voluntary acts are free acts, and free acts are the only kinds of acts for which you are morally responsible.
Human Acts
Voluntary acts are also called "human acts." Human acts, those deliberate acts for which you are responsible, are distinct from "acts of man," those in-deliberate acts for which you are not responsible.
There are two, main criteria for a voluntary act:
1. You know what you are doing with your intellect.
2. You choose what you are doing with your will.
After experiencing the perfect goodness of God, you'll never want anything else.
Two things cause a voluntary act: one is internal; the other is external. Jointly, the internal cause is the intellect grasping the good, and the will choosing it. The external cause is the object apprehended as good and desired.
Fear is the unsettlement you feel when facing a future evil. It can cause you to perform acts you might not otherwise perform. Fear may lessen your voluntariness.
There are several things that can restrain or even completely remove the voluntariness of an action. We will look at three: fear, coercion, and ignorance.
A fully human act is under your control. However, it may happen that you are forced to act against your will.
Unless the intellect grasps the good, the will cannot choose it. A lack of knowledge may thus lessen voluntariness. We will look at two types of ignorance: invincible and vincible.
Invincible Ignorance
In such cases, your voluntariness is completely removed and you are not responsible for your actions.
Ignorance is said to be invincible when a person has made an effort to be informed about the good, but is still unable to rid himself of the ignorance.
In such cases, the voluntariness is completely removed.
Vincible Ignorance
Ignorance is said to be vincible when a person has chosen to be uninformed about the good, and would be able to rid himself of the ignorance with some effort.
In such cases, the voluntariness is neither lessened nor removed.
What are They?
1. Who acted?
2. What was the act?
3. Where was it done?
4. Who helped?
5. Why was it done?
6. How was it done?
7. When was it done?
Once we identify the circum-stances we can better see whether a human act was done knowingly and willingly. Don't forget that knowledge and choice can affect voluntariness, or personal responsibility.
We can identify the circumstances surrounding a given act by asking ourselves the following questions:
What They Can Affect
By examining the circum-stances surrounding a human act, we can bring its moral status into focus.
Into Focus
While circumstances can affect personal responsibility, which pertains to subjective culpability, they cannot make an objectively evil act good.
What They Can't Affect
". . . the Church teaches that 'there exist acts which per se and in themselves, independently of cir-cumstances, are always seriously wrong by reason of their object.'"
~ Bl. Pope John Paul II
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