According to CCC 1755, "A morally good act requires the goodness of the object, of the end, and of the circumstances together." If any of these three is lacking, the act will be evil.
But not all evil acts are intrinsically evil. For that to be the case, the object of the act needs to be bad. Thus 1755 goes on to state: "The object of the choice can by itself vitiate an act in its entirety. There are some concrete acts - such as fornication - that it is always wrong to choose, because choosing them entails a disorder of the will, that is, a moral evil."
What counts as the object of an act can be difficult to understand. CCC 1751 states:
The object chosen is a good toward which the will deliberately directs itself. It is the matter of a human act. the object chosen morally specifies the act of the will, insofar as reason recognizes and judges it to be or not to be in conformity with the true good. Objective norms of morality express the rational order of good and evil, attested to by conscience.
This is rather hard to understand, and it would help us understand how this term is being used if we could get some examples of sins that have an intrinsically evil object. 1755 provides one such example--fornication--and a couple of paragraphs earlier 1753 provided a few more:
A good intention (for example, that of helping one's neighbor) does not make behavior that is intrinsically disordered, such as lying and calumny, good or just. the end does not justify the means. Thus the condemnation of an innocent person cannot be justified as a legitimate means of saving the nation.
So in addition to fornication being an intrinsically evil act, lying, calumny, and condeming an innocent person (in context, this seems to be a judicial condemnation) also seem to be intrinsically evil.
There are others examples also, and in Veritatis Splendor, Pope John Paul II provided several lists of examples in order to illustrate the concept.
In my previous post, I noted that John Paul II's citation of Gaudium et Spes' list of social evils cannot be read, without qualification, as a list of items that are intrinsically evil. It is, however, useful for purposes of providing examples of intrinsic evils (this is why the pope made the quotation in the first place), even if significant unstated qualifiers have to be identified in order to fish out acts that are themselves intrinsically evil.
The subsequent sections of Veritatis Splendor also contain what appear to be lists of intrinsically evil acts, and these are worth looking at as well. In section 81, the pope wrote:
In teaching the existence of intrinsically evil acts, the Church accepts the teaching of Sacred Scripture. The Apostle Paul emphatically states:
"Do not be deceived: neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor sexual perverts, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the Kingdom of God" (1 Cor 6:9-10).
The pope here appears to take St. Paul's list of mortal sins (or, I should say, of people who commit mortal sins) as providing further illustrations of intrinsic evils, the way that the Gaudium et Spes list did.
Continuing in the same section, he writes:
If acts are intrinsically evil, a good intention or particular circumstances can diminish their evil, but they cannot remove it. They remain "irremediably" evil acts; per se and in themselves they are not capable of being ordered to God and to the good of the person.
"As for acts which are themselves sins (cum iam opera ipsa peccata sunt)âSaint Augustine writesâlike theft, fornication, blasphemy, who would dare affirm that, by doing them for good motives (causis bonis), they would no longer be sins, or, what is even more absurd, that they would be sins that are justified?".
Consequently, circumstances or intentions can never transform an act intrinsically evil by virtue of its object into an act "subjectively" good or defensible as a choice.
Here again the pontiff appears to regard St. Augustine's list as providing further illustrations of intrinsically evil acts.
There is even an earlier reference in section 78, where the pope wrote:
[A]s the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches,
"there are certain specific kinds of behaviour that are always wrong to choose, because choosing them involves a disorder of the will, that is, a moral evil" (CCC 1761).
And Saint Thomas observes that
"it often happens that man acts with a good intention, but without spiritual gain, because he lacks a good will. Let us say that someone robs in order to feed the poor: in this case, even though the intention is good, the uprightness of the will is lacking. Consequently, no evil done with a good intention can be excused. 'There are those who say: And why not do evil that good may come? Their condemnation is just' (Rom 3:8)."
Here the pope seems to cite St. Thomas giving robbery as an example of an intrinsically evil act. One will also note that "robbers" appeared on St. Paul's list, as did "thieves," and "theft" appeared on St. Augustine's list.
Between the Catechism and Veritatis Splendor, it would appear that the following items can be classed as intrinsically evil:
- Condemning an innocent person
- Sexual perversion
- Any kind of homicide
- Voluntary suicide
- Torments inflicted on the body or mind
- Attempts to coerce the spirit
- Subhuman living conditions
- Arbitrary imprisonment
- Trafficking in women and children
- Degrading conditions of work which treat labourers as mere instruments of profit, and not as free responsible persons
In my previous post, we saw that many of these items--particularly those from the Gaudium et Spes list (which was in its original context a list of social disgraces or infamies)--need unstated qualifiers fleshed out or they will represent things that can be done in certain situations (e.g., indirect abortion, therapeutic mutilation, legitimate deportation of those who do not meet the just immigration requirements for a state). Others require the unearthing of so many unstated qualifiers that I'm not sure at this moment how to cash them out (e.g., "subhuman living conditions" and St. Paul's reference to people who are guilty of reviling). Still others have fairly clearly worked out definitions. These include fornication, lying, and theft.
It seems to me that if we look at the different sins on this list, they include references to intent or circumstances in the nature of their object.
This is an important point because in the comboxes some appear to have argued that considerations of intent and circumstances are irrelevant to the object of an intrinsically immoral act. In other words, the object of an intrinsically immoral act should be definable without reference to intention or circumstances.
This does not appear to be the case if the items on this list are all intrinsic evils. Let us take the following cases as illustrative since they have clearly worked out definitions: Fornication, adultery, lying, calumny, theft, and abortion.
1) Fornication: According to CCC 2353, "Fornication is carnal union between an unmarried man and an unmarried woman."
2) Adultery: According to CCC 2380, "When two partners, of whom at least one is married to another party, have sexual relations - even transient ones - they commit adultery." So adultery consists in a married person having sexual relations with one to whom he is not married (or having sex with someone that you're not married to).
3) Lying: According to CCC 2482, "A lie consists in speaking a falsehood with the intention of deceiving."
4) Calumny: According to CCC 2477, one "becomes guilty . . . of calumny who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them."
5) Theft: According to CCC 2408, "theft . . . is, usurping another's property against the reasonable will of the owner."
6) Abortion: According to Evangelium Vitae 62, "direct abortion" is "every act tending directly to destroy human life in the womb 'whether such destruction is intended as an end or only as a means to an end.'" It goes on to say that this "always constitutes a grave moral disorder, since it is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being."
It appears to me that every one of these definitions include elements referring to intention or circumstance.
1) Fornication includes a reference to the circumstance that neither of the parties is married.
2) Adultery includes a reference to the circumstance that one of the parties is not married to the other.
3) Lying includes a reference to the intention of deceiving.
4) Calumny includes a reference first to the circumstance that the remarks are contrary to the truth and second to the circumstance that they harm the reputation of others and give the occasion of false judgments.
5) Theft includes reference to the circumstance that the owner of the property reasonably wills that it not be taken.
6) Direct abortion refers to the circumstance that the child killed is an innocent human being.
In some cases the reference to intention or circumstance is buried deeply enough that we may tend not to think of it, as in the case of abortion. Human nature is such that unborn children are automatically innocent human beings, and we might have to do a thought experiment to surface the hidden reference to circumstance (e.g., by postulating a mad scientist who genetically engineers an unborn baby such that it is not an innocent human being--one that is a fully rational being who first murders its twin and then seeks to kill and somehow has the ability to kill its mother while still within the womb, perhaps by a release of poisons it generates). Despite the bizarre, "Stewie on Family Guy" quality of this thought experiment, it remains the case that--as John Paul II expressed it, "direct abortion . . . always constitutes a grave moral disorder, since it is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being," and the innocence of the human being killed is a circumstance of the act.
So it seems to me that one has two choices, either:
i) Say that fornication, adultery, lying, calumny, theft, and direct abortion are not intrinsically evil, or
ii) Say that references to circumstance and intent can be included in the object of an intrinsically evil act.
If a person says (i) then he's going to have to say that the lists of items given in the Catechism and Veritatis Splendor include a lot of things that aren't actually intrinsically evil, in which case the reference to "torments inflicted on the body or mind" may not refer to anything intrinsically evil.
If a person says (ii) then one is going to have to allow the possibility of including references to circumstances or intent in the definition of something like torture and allow that torture is still intrinsically evil. It would then follow that when intention and circumstances are spoken of as sources of morality over and above the object of the act that we are speaking of intentions and circumstances over and above those included in the definition of the act itself.
The latter seems to me to be the clear way to go. I have a much harder time imagining that the Church is wrong to speak of fornication, adultery, abortion, etc., as intrinsically wrong. It seems much simpler to say that the object of an intrinsically evil act can include references to circumstances or intent. Indeed, the difference between fornication and adultery consists in the fact that in the former neither of the parties is married and in the second at least one of them is. That's a difference of circumstance no matter how you slice it.
A careful reading of Veritatis Splendor does not prohibit this understanding. What the pope says is that if the object of the act is sinful then intent or circumstance--intents or circumstances over and above those referred to in the object--cannot make the act good.
This makese sense. If the object of abortion includes killing someone in the circumstance that the person is innocent, and if killing innocents is wrong, then abortion is going to be wrong regardless of what other circumstances or intents may apply to it. You can't justify abortion because of any other intent or circumstance because there is already an evil (the killing of a person who is in the circumstance of being innocent) built into the object of the act.
Similarly, if we define torture such that it involves the disproportionate infliction of pain then we have included a reference to an evil circumstance in the object of torture. Inflicting pain is not itself wrong--otherwise we could never punish people--but to inflict disproportionate pain is wrong.
We see other references to disproportion in other items on the list of intrinsically evil acts. For example: drunkenness. Drunkenness consists in drinking a disproportionate amount of alcohol. If you only drink a proportionate amount (and it can vary by situation, as in the case of needing to use alcohol as an anesthetic so that you can have a bullet removed from your arm in the Old West) then there is no sin. But drinking too much changes the moral character of the act so that it becomes the sin of drunkenness, which John Paul II includes in a list of apparent intrinsically evil acts.
This makes sense if we allow terms like "disproportionate" or "too much" to appear in the object of the act being defined. Drinking too much alcohol is evil, just as inflicting too much pain is evil. Drunkenness--since it involves drinking too much alcohol in its object--will be intrinsically evil, and torture--since it involves inflicting too much pain in its object--will be intrinsically evil.
Either one needs to be prepared to allow this or one needs to allow that the lists included in the Catechism and Veritatis Splendor contain some items that aren't intrinsically evil.