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Moral Life in Christ
Transcript of Moral Life in Christ
Object and Subject
Good & Evil
"Good" might also mean the following:
- serving an intended purpose
- possessing perfections that are
proper to a thing's nature
- producing something
All these meanings convey a common idea: i.e., desirability. So we can begin by saying that the good is something desirable.
So there are at least two elements to the good: something (an object) that is desirable to someone (a subject).
wait a second!
Does this mean good is just a matter of personal taste? No! There's a difference between real needs and felt wants. Moreover, if good were a matter of personal taste, then we should be able to determine a thing's goodness (but we recognize, rather than determine, what's good).
To the extent that you use your reason and free will to ruin yourself, you are doing poorly. You're not achieving your potential.
The truly sad thing about people who make evil choices is that they are actually negating their own existences! They are becoming less than what they should be.
The point is to be happy: it's that which all human beings desire. We strive to perfect ourselves because we want to be happy.
Of any thing that makes us happy, we can ask, "Does this happiness satisfy all desire?" If the answer is, "No," then we have to look for something that can provide ultimate, lasting happiness.
the word "good"
In a word: happiness
the objectivity of good
All this talk about self-perfection begs the question, "To what end?" What's the point in doing good and avoiding evil?
There's only one Thing that can provide ultimate happiness. St. Thomas Aquinas puts it thusly, "Final and perfect happiness can consist in nothing else than the vision of the Divine essence."
the Beatific Vision
So perfect happiness can only come from intimate union with God. We call this the "Beatific Vision." It is the final end for which you were created.
other ethical systems
Consequentialism suffers from serious deficiencies, the least of which is that it's often difficult, if not impossible to determine the consequences of one's actions in advance. How do you know that your action is going to produce a good outcome?
A major problem with consequentialism is that it seems to ignore the proper respect and dignity owed to each individual. The "transplant" example:
Subjectivism holds that moral good and evil is reducible to subjective approval or disapproval. It follows that there is no objective good, nor are there any moral facts whatsoever.
criticisms of subjectivism
Utilitarianism holds that the morality of an action is determined by the amount of happiness it produces for the largest number of people. A major proponent of utilitarianism was philosopher John Stuart Mill.
other ethical systems
We will also look at how other ethical systems have defined "good" and whether or not their definitions stand up to scrutiny.
The foregoing discussion shows that, contrary to popular opinion, goodness is objective. It includes those things that, in fact, sustain and develop your existence to its fullest.
moral good & evil
So far we've looked at good and evil absolutely. Now we're going to consider moral good and evil. The moral good consists of those free actions ordered by reason that contribute to the overall, natural perfection of a subject.
Good & Evil
Since ethics deals with the nature of good and evil, it is necessary for us, as Catholics, to define what we mean by "good."
Evil is a privation. St. Thomas Aquinas defines it thusly: "For evil is the absence of the good, which is natural and due to a thing." In other words, its the lack of some good that should be present.
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. In His wisdom, He created all things, and their natures are an expression of the eternal ideas by which He designed them.
Another problem with subjectivism is that it doesn't explain the reality of moral disagreement. Consider two people who disagree over the morality of stem cell research. Subjectivism says these people are just expressing their personal opinions. But we tend not disagree over matters of personal taste. About what, then are we disagreeing?
Although most people agree that good should be pursued, and evil avoided, there is disagreement over what good and evil actually are.
What are some ways in which we use the word "good" in ordinary language?
If good is convertible with being, then evil is convertible with non-being, or nothingness.
To the extent that you use your reason and free will to perfect yourself, you are doing well. You're achieving your full potential!
What about competing theories of good? Let's look at the following three: consequentialism, subject-ivism, and utilitarianism.
One problem with subjectivism is that it means we're morally infallible. But this doesn't seem right. Most people would agree that something like slavery was a mistake.
On closer inspection, we find that good is being-as-desired. Why? Because things are desirable only to the extent that they are perfect, and they are perfect only to the extent that they exist. Thus, goodness and existence, or being, are identical.
Since goodness is being-as-desired, it follows that there must be a subject-who-desires. This subject possesses its own, limited existence and develops it to the fullness of perfection that is proper to its nature.
Consequentialism holds that moral good or evil is based solely on the outcome, or consequences, of the action in question.
The name was coined by Catholic philosopher G.E.M. Anscombe
According to consequentialists, if you have one person who's organs can help save the lives of five others, then it is acceptable to kill the one person to save the other five.
criticisms of utilitarianism
Utilitarianism suffers from some of the same problems as consequentialism. By favoring the multitude, it fails to respect the rights of individuals and the justice they deserve.
It can also be used to justify actions that most people would consider morally wrong. For instance, Hitler could justify killing millions of Jews on the grounds that he was purifying the human race.
Good and evil are not matters of personal taste. They are grounded in the real world, and consist of those things that objectively perfect you as a person.