Motivation: the most useless criterion for moral deliberation

Lots of people claim to have fascinating interior lives, but in my opinion introspection is a waste of time.  This is especially true if one is trying to make an ethical decision by discerning one’s true motivations.  The problem here is obvious.  A scrupulous man will never feel confident doing anything pleasant or in his interest, while an unscrupulous man will write himself permission slips to do anything because it’s all for love, compassion, or social justice.  If you’re trying to decide what’s the right thing to do, don’t worry about what your deepest intention is, just ask what is the right thing to do for somebody in your situation given the nature of the act, the duties of the actor, and the consequences for everyone.

Suppose you see a neighbor committing a crime, something serious enough that you have a duty to report him.  Now, suppose you really hate this neighbor, and you relish the idea of him being in trouble with the authorities.  After deep introspection, you decide that this desire to hurt your neighbor is probably what’s really motivating you.  What do you do?

Turn him in, of course!  We’ve already established that it’s your duty.  What need is there for further deliberation?

Another one we’ve talked about before:  the strain of Catholic thinking that a man may only sleep with his wife if it’s not for lustful reasons.  I hate to play this card that the liberals love so much, but this is something only a celibate could have thought up.  Who is able to judge his motives like this?

To me, a big part of the beauty of the Catholic religion is the escape from subjectivity.

72 Responses

  1. Lots of people claim to have fascinating interior lives, but in my opinion introspection is a waste of time.

    OK. If I am rational, then (assuming no new information appears) I should be happier to invest in company XYZ after its shares have gone down 10% than before. Introspection tells me that this is not the case. Investing more in XYZ after it has gone down 10% is really, really hard. So, generally, I’m pretty confident that introspection is useful in the social sciences.

    Also, I kind of wonder what philosophers would do all day without introspection. Our reactions to dopey thought experiments about meteors and trolleys and transporter beams implying rather implausible conclusions is kind of par for the course, isn’t it? Hmmm, unemployed philosophers actually seem to be an upside to your claim.

  2. @Bonald ” introspection is a waste of time. ”

    Ha! I know you are being deliberately provocative, and I think I appreciate your reason for saying this – but this impulse will tend to collapse into an unChristian focus on obedience, on submission to God’s will… and if *that* is what is wanted above all else, then there is another religion which does it much better than Christianity.

    (Christianity is about choices, and choice requires at least some degree of introspection.)

    Let’s say introspection is hazardous, rather than a waste of time.

    Capable of great good – but in an evil society such as this one, more usually capable of great evil (the ‘evil genius’ has been the usual type of genius for the past century – noting that the creativity of genius being essentially introspective/ imaginative among other things).

    Also, if people are not introspective then they will follow/ obey the dominant authority – which (here and now) will lead them into secular Leftism.

    So I think the opposite. We need *more* introspection – despite the risks – but an introspection having a basis in Christian metaphysics (of one sort or another). Only that *might* get us off the track to apostasy and collapse.

  3. Are you not confusing motive with intention?

    The confusion often arises because we sometimes speak of an action as “intentional” (done on purpose); but we can also speak of intention in acting; both of what someone intends to do and of his intention or aim in doing it.

    Again, intention is sometimes thought of as involving a sort of internal conversation with oneself; but it need not. Consider the example Miss Anscombe gave in her famous debate with C S Lewis: “You might ask me: “why did you half-turn towards the door?” and I explain that I thought I saw a friend coming in, and then realized it was someone else. This may be the explanation although I did not at the time SAY to myself “Hello! There’s so-and-so; I’ll go and speak to him; oh no, it’s someone else.”

  4. but this impulse will tend to collapse into an unChristian focus on obedience, on submission to God’s will…

    There is no such thing as an unChristian focus on obedience, on submission to God’s will. Obedience and submission to God’s will is Faith. That’s what the word means.

  5. I think it’s a very basic Christian teaching that the sinfulness of an act is independent of motives and intentions. Murder, stealing, sodomy, adultery, etc. just are sinful.

    Bruce C., maybe it’s just because of liberal’s abuse of the word, but I have a very negative reaction to “choice”.

  6. ” the strain of Catholic thinking (which includes such luminaries as Thomas Aquinas) that a man may only licitly sleep with his wife if the primary motive is impregnation”

    Where, precisely, does Aquinas say this?

  7. Hello AR,

    I’m sure I remember this, but now looking over the Summa’s discussion of the marriage debt I can’t find it. Reference to Aquinas is removed until citation is found, and thank you for the possible correction.

    One interesting thing I found was in his discussion of how it’s a venial sin to have sex during holy times, that it is “a more grievous sin to ask for the sake of mere pleasure, than through fear of the weakness of the flesh”.

  8. Bruce C. and Dr. Bill,

    Yeah, I’m afraid that first sentence does not hold up well under examination. What can be fruitful is thinking about consciousness in general, which requires recourse to one’s own mental processes. Thinking about what’s going on in my soul in particular doesn’t strike me as such a useful activity, much less so than going through a list of sins and asking “have I done this?”

  9. Hello MP Seymour,

    I have indeed been sloppy about this distinction here, which sometimes is important.

  10. MP Seymour,

    How about I just change the title so I don’t lead others into this mental slip I had?

  11. “[T]he sinfulness of an act is independent of motives and intentions”

    Certainly the sinfulness of an act may be independent of its motive, but not of its intention.

    If I take another’s umbrella from the hat stand, in the honest, but mistaken, belief that it is mine, I do not commit theft, for I have no intention to appropriate another’s property. Likewise, a woman who remarries, based on a false report, which she believes, that her husband was lost at sea does not commit adultery.

  12. Motivation is better, but the subject of intention raises interesting topics of its own, espececially in Catholic Moral Theology.

    Miss Anscombe has some typically scathing comments on its abuse: “From the seventeenth century till now what may be called Cartesian psychology has dominated the thought of philosophers and theologians. According to this psychology, an intention was an interior act of the mind which could be produced at will. Now if intention is all important–as it is–in determining the goodness or badness of an action, then, on this theory of what intention is, a marvellous way offered itself of making any action lawful. You only had to ‘direct your intention’ in a suitable way. In practice, this means making a little speech to yourself: “What I mean to be doing is. . .”.

    This perverse doctrine has occasioned repeated condemnations by the Holy See from the seventeenth century to the present day. Some examples will suffice to show how the thing goes. Typical doctrines from the seventeenth century were that it is all right for a servant to hold the ladder for his criminous master so long as he is merely avoiding the sack by doing so; or that a man might wish for and rejoice at his parent’s death so long as what he had in mind was the gain to himself; or that it is not simony to offer money, not as a price for the spiritual benefit, but only as an inducement to give it…”

    Examples abound in discussions of Double Effect and Remote Material Cooperation.

  13. What’s wrong with wishing for someone’s death?

  14. It isn’t taking intention into account that is useless: an otherwise neutral or good objective action can become evil through a bad intention. So bad intentions do make human acts morally bad.

    But a good intention can never make a bad objective action good.

    Intentions are a one-way street: they can make indifferent or otherwise good actions evil, but they can’t make bad actions good.

    [T]he opinion must be rejected as erroneous which maintains that it is impossible to qualify as morally evil according to its species the deliberate choice of certain kinds of behaviour or specific acts, without taking into account the intention for which the choice was made … – Veritatis Splendour

  15. @Dr Bill “There is no such thing as an unChristian focus on obedience, on submission to God’s will. Obedience and submission to God’s will is Faith. That’s what the word means.”

    I’m not saying anything controversial in reminding that obedience and submission is *not enough* – necessary, but not enough.

    The other major monotheism says it *is* enough – but Christianity requires more than this: require love, for example. If there is a core and uncompromizing principle to Christianity it is love – not obedience/ submission.

    Obedience/ sumbission get emphasized – especially by traditionalist Roman Catholics – in debating with Liberals/ Leftists/ Secularists – and that is appropriate for that discussion because it is so lacking in modern self-expression-focused ethics.

    But there are severe problems when what is being advocated is obedience and submission to church authorities that have been subverted by Leftism (or are fifth coumnist Leftists pretending – maybe even to themselves – that they are Christian); when these are the ones leading Christians astray.

    And there is another set of problems when debating the other major monotheism – who really are the uncompromising obedience/ submission specialists of world religion.

    My point is that Christians may paint themselves into a corner (an unChristian corner) by emphasizing obedience/ submission in the conditions that currently prevail in The West. The depth of the problem is that this is no longer possible – at the very least there must first be a process of discernment (an introspective process) to establish *which* authorities (even within the RCC) to which obedience and submission are owed.

    *After* which introspection may be set aside – but that is a big ‘after’.

  16. @Michael Patterson Seymour.

    If I take another’s umbrella from the hat stand, in the honest, but mistaken, belief that it is mine, I do not commit theft, for I have no intention to appropriate another’s property.

    Uhm no. Luke 12:48 offers minor consolation for those who commit an offense without knowing.

    But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes.

    The point here being that doing wrong out of ignorance still confers punishment it doesn’t get you off the hook. Accidentally taking the wrong umbrella does deprive the owner of the umbrella even if the intention/motive to steal was not there. An “evil” was committed no matter how unknowingly.

    Culpability refers to the ownership of the act, desert, on the other hand, refers to the punishment that is appropriate to the act. Clearly, in the instance where a man was acting out of honest ignorance, no punishment is due to him even though he objectively privated the owner of the umbrella. I think that there are certain acts which mandate divine retribution and ignorance is no excuse. In many ways, the whole Christian mission thing as about getting people to stop doing wrong acts in order that they may be saved.

    I think the difference between intention and motive is better understood within the scholastic tradition as the finis operis and the finis operantis but both involve a degree of deliberation and choice. Anscombe’s “why did you half-turn towards the door” highlights the attribution, to intention. of actions which really are the product of higher order reflexes. i.e. unintentional. One of the failures, I suspect, in traditional scholasticism is in the recognition as to what constitutes a deliberative act. The scholastics attributed more to rationality than was warranted.

    BTW, Arkansas Reactionary.

    The prohibition against sex for pleasure is quite consistent with the scholastic tradition and was only finally declared licit in Castii Connubi. (Amongst traditionalists at the time there was a lot of consternation at this innovation)

    Premise. Sex is for procreation.
    Wanting to have sex for another purpose which is not intrinsic to its end is to wish a privation on the act. i.e evil intention.
    Ergo sex for pleasure is wrong.

  17. “[T]he deliberate choice of certain kinds of behaviour or specific acts, without taking into account the intention for which the choice was made.”

    But VS distinguishes two types of intention here; the “deliberate choice” – doing something intentionally or on purpose and an ulterior intention, “the intention for which…”

    I do not believe VS condemns Aristotle in the EN, when he says, “But of what he is doing a man might be ignorant, as for instance people say “it slipped out of their mouths as they were speaking”, or “they did not know it was a secret”, as Aeschylus said of the mysteries, or a man might say he “let it go off when he merely wanted to show its working”, as the man did with the catapult. Again, one might think one’s son was an enemy, as Merope did, or that a pointed spear had a button on it, or that a stone was pumice stone; or one might give a man a draught to save him, and really kill him; or one might want to touch a man, as people do in sparring, and really wound him.” In all these cases, intention is lacking.

  18. MPS:

    A defect of knowledge might be when the policeman shoots a kid holding a toy gun, because the policeman thinks it is a real gun. In that case the object of choice does not correspond to objective reality because the acting subject is mistaken about objective reality. In the same manner a man might (in one of those academic cases of casuistry) accidentally sleep with his wife’s identical twin, in which case he has made a mistake and is not culpably guilty of adultery, although he has still materially committed adultery.

    But when the object of choice correctly corresponds to reality, when the person knows what behavior he is choosing and has not made a mistake because of a defect of knowledge (like thinking that the toy gun was real), that objective behavior chosen is what determines the species of the act.

    A person can choose a wrong objective action based on a defect of knowledge or a defect of will. In both cases he has done evil, although in the former case his culpability is reduced, possibly to no culpability at all in the case of invincible ignorance:

    It is possible that the evil done as the result of invincible ignorance or a non-culpable error of judgment may not be imputable to the agent; but even in this case it does not cease to be an evil, a disorder in relation to the truth about the good. – Veritatis Splendour

    In nutshell, anti-realism is as insane about human acts as it is about everything else. There is an irreducibly objective aspect to human acts which the Magisterium refers to as the ‘object’ of the act; and it is the ‘object’ of the act which primarily determines its moral species.

  19. slumlord:

    Premise. Sex is for procreation.
    Wanting to have sex for another purpose which is not intrinsic to its end is to wish a privation on the act. i.e evil intention.
    Ergo sex for pleasure is wrong.

    The moral species of an act though is determined primarily by the object of choice, though, that is, its irreducibly objective part: the concrete behavior which is chosen.

    Wanting sex for the sake of pleasure, that is, having pleasure as a motivation, is not immoral. Choosing an objectively disordered sexual act in the pursuit of pleasure is immoral.

  20. But merely depriving another of his property is not theft or any other delict. Theft is defined as a fraudulent meddling (contrectatio fraudulosa – Inst 4.1.1)

    “Anscombe’s “why did you half-turn towards the door” highlights the attribution, to intention. of actions which really are the product of higher order reflexes. i.e. unintentional.”

    Anscombe would not say so. I recall her giving the example of “Why are you drumming your fingers like that?” If the answer is, “Oh, for no reason,” the action is still intentional; if the answer is “Was I? I didn’t realise,” then it is not. “The telephone rang and I answered it” is intentional, even though I did not actually say to myself, “That’s the telephone. I better pick it up.”

    Often enough, intention is simply reflexive consciousness (Non-observational awareness) of what I am doing, am going to do &c As Wittgenstein says, “”For a moment I meant to . . . .” That is, I had a particular feeling, an inner experience; and I remember it.——And now remember quite precisely . Then the ‘inner experience’ of intending seems to vanish again. Instead one remembers thoughts, feelings, movements, and also connexions with earlier situations.” He also notes, “What is the natural expression of an intention?—Look at a cat when it stalks a bird; or a beast when it wants to escape.”

  21. “But when the object of choice correctly corresponds to reality…”
    Indeed, but we also need to define the “object of choice” pretty carefully.

    An action may well be intentional (chosen) under one description, but not under another (nailing down a loose floor-board; swinging a hammer; flexing certain muscles; making a noise). Some aspects of an action may be intended, others merely foreseen (and possibly unwelcome) and others unforeseen. For a real-world example, consider the debates around “collateral damage” in warfare.

    Again, I may have a fully formed intention, say, to build a house, or to complete one on which I have begun work. I have not yet decided on sash or casement windows, but I certainly now intend to have windows.

    Can we always say of a particular description of “the object of choice” that it is “the description”?

  22. MPS:

    Some aspects of an action may be intended, others merely foreseen (and possibly unwelcome) and others unforeseen. For a real-world example, consider the debates around “collateral damage” in warfare.

    Yes, I am quite familiar with the casuistry of double effect. I think the great majority of is sophistry wherein people know precisely what they are objectively choosing (the ‘object’ of the act) but want moral license to do it anyway.

    “Foreseen but unintended” applies to things like the a captain giving the order for his men to advance. He may foresee that some of them will be killed by the enemy, but he isn’t choosing to kill them himself — objectively. (The case of David and Uriah is a paradigmatic case of formal cooperation, wherein the enemy chose to kill Uriah and David’s intention was united with the enemy’s choice).

    Dropping a bomb on a bunch of people is, again objectively, a deliberate choice to kill everyone in the blast radius of the bomb. If any of those are known to be innocent in the pertinent sense – that is, known to be not engaged in any attacking behavior however broadly construed, infants being paradigmatically innocent in this sense – then dropping the bomb is murder, pure and simple.

    The great majority of double effect casuistry is sophistry aimed at justifying people in choices where they are quite aware of what they are objectively choosing. In this sense Bonald was right in the first place, and there was no need to change his post title.

  23. @Bonald

    Which makes sense. Since the Church used to prohibit sex on holy days, it would follow that it was worse to seek it then for pleasure, since pleasure in good is good, and pleasure in evil is evil.

    @slumlord

    It’s rather basic etiquette in a discussion to provide a citation when asked, rather than simply continue to assert the same falsehood

    @Zippy

    Actually all wrongdoing is reducible to a defect of knowledge, either a defect of knowledge regarding facts (e.g. This jacket is mine) or to a defect regarding the moral nature of the act (e.g. Stealing this jacket is not wrong).

    Note that a person can know of the general moral law on a subject while convincing himself that his particular act is different.

    Regarding bombs, is it your holding that it is wrong to bomb a military base if a civilian is present?

  24. AR:

    Regarding bombs, is it your holding that it is wrong to bomb a military base if a civilian is present?

    A civilian working on a military base is not ‘innocent’ in the pertinent sense, because he is choosing behaviors materially contributing to the enemy’s war effort. If his wife brings him lunch at work she also is not innocent in the pertinent sense.

    As with many ‘line drawing’ problems it is probably impossible to assert a positive demarcation criteria. However, an infant certainly is innocent in the pertinent sense.

  25. AR:

    Actually all wrongdoing is reducible to a defect of knowledge, either a defect of knowledge regarding facts (e.g. This jacket is mine) or to a defect regarding the moral nature of the act (e.g. Stealing this jacket is not wrong).

    I don’t think we are substantively disagreeing. I am just labeling the latter with the (I believe more traditional) ‘defect of will’. In any case it is the former which can be exculpatory, though it cannot turn a materially evil act into a good act.

    Note that a person can know of the general moral law on a subject while convincing himself that his particular act is different.

    Sure. Whether a particular concrete action does or does not fall under a particular moral species is often controversial.

  26. > Actually all wrongdoing is reducible to a defect of knowledge

    Please explain this. Surely I’m not the only one who’s ever knowingly done something immoral. I thought defect of knowledge and defect of will are different things.

  27. @Arkansas Reactionary.

    Actually all wrongdoing is reducible to a defect of knowledge, either a defect of knowledge regarding facts

    So if you educate them with enough “vigour” there is a potential that man is perfectible. Welcome to liberalism and gulags.

  28. @Zippy

    So if an infant is brought onto a military base, it is illicit to bomb it?

    @Bonald

    “First, when something evil is chosen; as man sins by choosing adultery, which is evil of itself. Such sin always comes of ignorance or error; otherwise what is evil would never be chosen as good. The adulterer errs in the particular, choosing this delight of an inordinate act as something good to be performed now, from the inclination of passion or of habit; even though he does not err in his universal judgment, but retains a right opinion in this respect.”

    http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1063.htm#article1

    Reply to objection 4.

    In the case of the adulterer, he knows that adultery is an intrinsic evil, but because his passion overrules his intellect, he contradictorily convinces himself that it is good for him.

    @slumlord

    Be worthy of a response to get one. Provide citations when reasonably asked, and don’t deceptively edit quotes.

  29. @AR

    From the Summa;

    I answer that, Just as the marriage goods, in so far as they consist in a habit, make a marriage honest and holy, so too, in so far as they are in the actual intention, they make the marriage act honest, as regards those two marriage goods which relate to the marriage act. Hence when married persons come together for the purpose of begetting children, or of paying the debt to one another (which pertains to “faith”) they are wholly excused from sin. But the third good does not relate to the use of marriage, but to its excuse, as stated above (Article 3); wherefore it makes marriage itself honest, but not its act, as though its act were wholly excused from sin, through being done on account of some signification. Consequently there are only two ways in which married persons can come together without any sin at all, namely in order to have offspring, and in order to pay the debt. otherwise it is always at least a venial sin

    and

    I answer that, Some say that whenever pleasure is the chief motive for the marriage act it is a mortal sin; that when it is an indirect motive it is a venial sin; and that when it spurns the pleasure altogether and is displeasing, it is wholly void of venial sin; so that it would be a mortal sin to seek pleasure in this act, a venial sin to take the pleasure when offered, but that perfection requires one to detest it. But this is impossible, since according to the Philosopher (Ethic. x, 3,4) the same judgment applies to pleasure as to action, because pleasure in a good action is good, and in an evil action, evil; wherefore, as the marriage act is not evil in itself, neither will it be always a mortal sin to seek pleasure therein. Consequently the right answer to this question is that if pleasure be sought in such a way as to exclude the honesty of marriage, so that, to wit, it is not as a wife but as a woman that a man treats his wife, and that he is ready to use her in the same way if she were not his wife, it is a mortal sin; wherefore such a man is said to be too ardent a lover of his wife, because his ardor carries him away from the goods of marriage. If, however, he seek pleasure within the bounds of marriage, so that it would not be sought in another than his wife, it is a venial sin.

    I highlighted it for you.

    A certain degree of familiarity of the topic is assumed.

    @Zippy

    Wanting sex for the sake of pleasure, that is, having pleasure as a motivation, is not immoral. Choosing an objectively disordered sexual act in the pursuit of pleasure is immoral.

    Aquinas would have disagreed.

  30. “All wicked men are ignorant of what they ought to do, and what they ought to avoid,” says Aristotle, “and it is this very ignorance which makes them wicked and vicious. Accordingly, a man cannot be said to act involuntarily merely because he is ignorant of what it is proper for him to do in order to fulfil his duty. This ignorance in the choice of good and evil does not make the action involuntary; it only makes it vicious. The same thing may be affirmed of the man who is ignorant generally of the rules of his duty; such ignorance is worthy of blame, not of excuse.”

    For him, it is axiomatic that acts of the understanding are specified by their object, so that good and bad choices are no more equivalent than apprehension and misapprehension, truth and error are equivalent species of an identical genus; rather, bad choices are paralogisms (παραλογισμός = Unreasonable or fallacious). The good choice, “This – being such – is to be done,” is intelligible, because intelligent; the act of the bad will is a surd, ultimately unintelligible. True enough, we can often trace its causes to instinctive or dispositional factors, but it remains logically incoherent.

    On the latter point, psychology looks for the causes (in the scientific sense of observed regularities) of human action, whereas moral philosophers, like Aristotle, are concerned with grounds or reasons for action.

  31. MPS

    Often enough, intention is simply reflexive consciousness

    Or a post ipso facto rationalisation. There is a growing body of scientific evidence–which philosophers have not grasped yet–which challenges traditional assumptions of consciousness and rationality. It’s surprising just how many actions are automatic, insofar as they happen by default.

    The phenomenon of automatism being a case in point. Extremely complex tasks can be performed during an epileptic seizure when consciousness is lost. For example, driving a car. The point being that we can observe purposeful action occuring where there is zero consciousness to confer intentionality.

    Furthermore, conscious thought itself can be divided into System 1 thinking–which is pseudo reflexive-System 2 thinking which may be partially so, and reflective thinking which appears to be wholly conscious. Anscombe may be misattributing intention to automatic act.

    It’s my opinion that one of the huge “fault lines” in Western civilisation was in the failure to recognise the limits of “rationality” and the property was assumed to have a greater domain than than what is demonstrably evident. This has lead to all sorts of imbecilities like, one-man-one-vote on the assumption that everyone is a rational actor.

  32. @Zippy

    Aquinas’s attribution of sin–(minimally venial)–when legitimate pleasure within marriage is pursued, is a logically rock solid position within the framework–as I understand it–of Aristotelian logic. There is no escaping it. I don’t agree with it but it is the necessary conclusion reached when the generation of offspring and satisfying the marital debt are seen as the proper ends of the sexual act.

    It’s interesting when you further reflect on this, the only time both parties can be free of sin in the sexual act is when they both are trying to have children. If party A wants to have sex for the purpose of legitimate pleasure and party B obliges their need, party A still is stained with some degree of sin–and remember, Aquinas says that its at least venial.The only morally good sexual act is one that is aimed at making babies. It’s not pretty but it is logical. I personally think that he would have come down very, very hard on NFP.

    It was only till Castii was promulgated that the unitive aspect of the sexual act was recognised. In other words the traditionally premised end of sex was redefined to include the unitive aspect. Applying the same Aristotlean logic to the new premise leads to a different and more humane understanding of the marital act, In our porn-soaked society its difficult to comprehend that many thought that this new definition was a break with tradition and had difficulties with the teaching.

  33. For those who are interested in the phenomenon of automatism.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Automatism_%28medicine%29

  34. slumlord:
    Noticing that Aquinas was wrong about something in particular is unremarkable. He was wrong about abortion too, for example. (It is more interesting to me that he was absolutely right when it comes to the subject of usury: that he understood the finance of business ventures better than all modern anti-realist theories).

    I’m not an Aristotlean, but one thing I _have_ found when exploring the claims people make about what long dead scholars thought is that more often than not these claims are straw men constructed by eliding (explicit or implicit) context.

    In any case, in my comment I made no claim about what various scholars have and have not argued. I just stated the teaching of the Church: that pleasure as motivation for sex is not morally wrong. Choice of disordered sexual acts (e.g. use of contraception to pervert the sexual act) is morally wrong. You can talk as if this is a reversal of some prior universal teaching to the contrary all you want, but I have no idea why anyone should take that kind of talk seriously. The fact that different people had different opinions on the subject throughout history does not imply discontinuity in doctrine.

  35. [5] It is evident from this that every emission of semen, in such a way that generation cannot follow, is contrary to the good for man. And if this be done deliberately, it must be a sin. Now, I am speaking of a way from which, in itself, generation could not result: such would be any emission of semen apart from the natural union of male and female. For which reason, sins of this type are called contrary to nature. But, if by accident generation cannot result from the emission of semen, then this is not a reason for it being against nature, or a sin; as for instance, if the woman happens to be sterile.

    Aquinas evidently had a broad meaning when he said “dine for procreation”, as he admits marital relations with a sterile person to be licit.

  36. AR:

    Aquinas evidently had a broad meaning when he said “done for procreation”, as he admits marital relations with a sterile person to be licit.

    The medievals took metaphysical realism for granted; but when modern people read ‘for the purpose of’ and project their own anti-realist prejudices on those words they think of ‘purpose’ as something purely subjective.

  37. Zippy:
    You keep trying to reframe the debate. This discussion has absolutely nothing to do with contraception. It’s about the degree of sin attributable to a licit conjugal act when looking at its motivation. If anything, it’s about Eros-Love. Nothing else. If you want to talk about contraception, well that’s for another time.

    AR:

    I don’t understand what your point is. No one –including Aquinas–disputes that a person can’t be held responsible for things beyond their control.

  38. IOW, “done for procreation” here just means “done in a manner consistent with the objective telos of the sex act itself, which is procreation”; it does not mean “done because the person doing it wants to procreate or is even materially capable of procreation.”

  39. slumlord:

    You keep trying to reframe the debate.

    That’s true, in a sense. I keep trying to reframe the debate back to what the medievals took for granted and moderns seem incapable of understanding: metaphysical realism.

    It’s about the degree of sin attributable to a licit conjugal act when looking at its motivation.

    That sentence contradicts itself. A licit conjugal act is licit.

    I could help you out of that jam, but I wouldn’t want to get in trouble for reframing.

  40. I’m not saying anything controversial in reminding that obedience and submission is *not enough* – necessary, but not enough.

    Well, I don’t see a way of reading what you are saying in a non-controversial way, and your follow-up didn’t help. You appear to be saying that obeying God is not sufficient (for salvation? for being a good person?) I don’t see a way to interpret that so that it is even borderline orthodox. Maybe if you gave some concrete examples of God-obedient yet awful Christians?

    Islam is different from Christianity in that their God (understanding of the same God, whatever) is different from ours. The sufficiency of obedience is common.

  41. @Zippy

    A licit conjugal act is licit.

    It is now but it wasn’t before.

  42. slumlord:

    It is now but it wasn’t before.

    So you say. As you constantly remind everyone in your comments and blogging, you reject Humanae Vitae and think you’ve got a new understanding of sex because the Church had sex wrong all along, just recently started to change its mind, and you know just where to lead her. Bonald was a fool for being continent; he should have just put his wife on the Pill.

    It is entirely possible though that you are just begging the question: that the problem, to the extent there is one, lies in your understanding.

  43. Dr. Bill: “Obedience and submission to God’s will is Faith. That’s what the word means.”
    St. Paul: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

    Have to side with Bruce C. on this one.

  44. Bonald, ( your pen name just autocorrected to bobsled btw)

    That virtue is a form of knowledge and that nobody does evil knowingly is Socrates’ position in the protagoras and the meno. I disagree, but I’m sure you would find plato’s explanation more engaging than anything anyone will post on here.

  45. It is interesting to read the entire passage from the Summa from which slumlord pulled his quote.

    He is citing from Article 5, “Whether the marriage act can be excused without the marriage goods?”

    The context is from earlier:

    Further, the intercourse of fornication and that of marriage are of the same species as regards the species of nature. But the intercourse of fornication is wrong in itself. Therefore, in order that the marriage intercourse be not wrong, something must be added to it to make it right, and draw it to another moral species.

    The goods of marriage “added” are enumerated as “faith, offspring, and sacrament.” I would certainly agree that positively excluding any of these in act would make intercourse illicit.

    (As an aside, as I understand it Aquinas often interchanged ‘motivation’ with ‘final cause’. I don’t know what he might mean by “indirect motivation”; but I know better than to just jump on my own first superficial impression from those words as an English speaking modern person.)

    I don’t really have a problem with it if Aquinas is just wrong — as I mentioned upthread, he is wrong about any number of things (e.g. according to Aquinas, pre-quickening abortion is morally wrong but does not fall under the moral species murder).

    But I also wouldn’t be surprised in the least to find out that slumlord is just projecting his own prejudices onto medieval Catholics who would be baffled by modern subjectivist insanity.

  46. The encyclical that was most on my mind in this post was not Humanae Vitae but Deus Caritas Est, particularly with regard to the relationship of Eros to Caritas. More particularly, how much Eros is permitted in the scope of marriage because it really seems that some of the early Church fathers left very little room for the licitness of desire. Compared to some of the Fathers Aquinas quotes, he appears a liberal in this regard compared to them, who talk an almost negative view of the legitimacy of Eros.

    Just to reiterate, since you seem to have a problem with the concept, Aquinas posits that when the primary motivation is pleasure, even though the act be done in a manner that is open to life, the man sins at least venially. Notice, Zippy, I wasn’t arguing for contraception rather pointing out where the primary motive of a licit coital act was pleasure then the man sins at least venially. Now, the issue here is why is desire looked upon so negatively?

    Neitzsche charged that the Church poisoned Eros, and Benedict tried to mount an unconvincing–in my opinion–defence of it. The reason I find this stuff interesting is, because in my opinion, the watering down of Eros has resulted in a diminishment of sexual polarity with regards to the sexes. The erotic qualities that foster Eros, the features of sexual polarity, have been watered down in the marital relationship so that men and women see each other as friends rather than lovers. Furthermore, its promoted a vision of romantic love which is meant to focus only on the sanctity of potential partners instead of their sanctity and sexual qualities. ( By sexual qualities I mean masculinity and femininity.)

    Now, this may not interest you in the slightest, and frankly I don’t care however, I do think that the sexual dilution, especially amongst Christian men has left them at a disadvantage in the current dating environment, where women, free to chose are opting for “hot” heathens rather than “tepid” Christians. It’s also one of the reasons I think there is a drop off in the marriage rate in the modern world.

    However, my comments weren’t directed at the issue of contraception, a position which many of the commentators here are aware of, and so I wish you would stop obsessing about the matter, till appropriate, and stop trying to reframe the debate.

  47. Intention is quite independent of conscious reflection.

    We need to guard against the Cartesian fallacy of believing that “intentional action” can be split into an internal mental state (the intention) and the observable “action.” This like supposing that we can say of a red balloon, “Here is the red and there is the balloon.” “Intentional” is a quality of actions and it is a quality that we can observe.

    Wittgenstein says, “Think of the behaviour characteristic of correcting a slip of the tongue. It would be possible to recognize that someone was doing so even without knowing his language.” Likewise, “Suppose you came as an explorer into an unknown country with a language quite strange to you. In what circumstances would you say that the people there gave orders, understood them, obeyed them, rebelled against them, and so on? The common behaviour of mankind is the system of reference by means of which we interpret an unknown language.”

    Introspection is not a particuarly reliable way of discovering intention.

  48. slumlord:

    Just two things:

    1) Again, that Aquinas and various individual Church Fathers were wrong about certain specific things is unremarkable.

    2) That word, ‘motivation’ – you keep using it, but it may not mean what you think it means. In attempting to divorce it entirely from concrete actions, to treat it as nothing but some purely interior subjective experience entirely independent of choices of behavior – to treat it as a ‘fundamental option’ oriented or not toward procreation, one of the necessary goods of marriage Aquinas discusses – you may be embracing an anti-realism entirely foreign to Aquinas. And if that is the case, the subject of contraception is entirely relevant: it is not I who am reframing your discourse, it is you who are reframing Aquinas’ discourse.

    (I offer [2] not as an established thesis, but as a possibility for consideration).

    Also, if (2) is the case it might explain the roots of your heresies in other areas.

  49. Modern people tend to view ‘motivation’ as a rarified bundle of pure subjectivity. Because of this post-cartesian detachment of the objective and subjective into distinct worlds, hermetically sealed off from each other in separate cartesian universes, when we hear the word ‘motivation’ we think of a rarified and purely subjective experience. Literally the very same action (movement, or realization of potency in act) might come from any number of different motivations.

    I don’t know much, but I don’t think that is how Aquinas thinks. I don’t think he understood final cause (a word he interchanges with ‘motivation’ when discussing human acts, apparently etymologically invoking something like ‘motive force toward an end’) as something literally separable from concrete actions in his account of human action.

    I suspect that slumlord wants to treat ‘motivation’ as a bundle of pure subjectivity, as separable from action under a cartesian view of objectivity and subjectivity. Therefore a ‘motivation’ which excludes the goods of marriage (e.g. the generation of children) is separable from the concrete action of the person: from the particular behavior he chooses, potential which he actualizes in objective reality in an exercise of the will. An act “motivated by the generation of children” might be literally the very same concrete action performed under a different subjective experience: ‘motivation’ characterizes this purely subjective cartesian ‘brain in a vat’ experience and can be separated from the actual (in act) choices of behavior that the person makes. Therefore when slumlord cites Aquinas about the ‘motivation’ for a particular act of marital intercourse, contraception in his (slumlord’s) mind is off-topic, because this rarified subjective cartesian experience of ‘motivation’ is what he (slumlord) wants to discuss.

    Again I don’t know much, but I doubt that Aquinas would have considered this cartesian view of ‘motivation’ a.k.a. final cause coherent. Final cause is not nothing but a rarified subjective experience, entirely severed from the concrete actions (motion, movement of potency-to-act) which it moves, different ‘motivations’ and ‘actions’ easily detachable and interchangeable like moral theology lego blocks.

    None of which is to even suggest that Aquinas was right on this subject. I just doubt that the kind of superficial post-Cartesian reading I am seeing of the concept ‘motivation’ – as a rarified subjective experience wherein literally the very same actions/movements could be chosen with entirely different motivations – is a fair reading of Aquinas.

  50. MPS:
    I just noticed your comment.

    We need to guard against the Cartesian fallacy of believing that “intentional action” can be split into an internal mental state (the intention) and the observable “action.”

    Said much more succinctly than me, thank you.

  51. Dr. Bill: “Obedience and submission to God’s will is Faith. That’s what the word means.”
    St. Paul: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
    Have to side with Bruce C. on this one.

    OK, but that quote does not support Charlton at all. Charlton’s position is that obedience of God is insufficient. What’s the other allegedly necessary thing, and how do we know this other allegedly necessary thing is, in fact, necessary?

    Charlton says love, and I guess you agree with him. So, pony up. What are some examples of people obedient to God and yet damned for a lack of love?

    And, no, Pharisaical fake obedience does not count.

  52. Charlton says love, and I guess you agree with him. So, pony up. What are some examples of people obedient to God and yet damned for a lack of love?

    More critically, what are some examples of disobedience toward God which are legitimately motivated by love of God?

  53. I think Charleton is basically correct. The moral minimum is to not commit any mortal sins but as a Christian you’re called to to do everything for love of God and to strive to have a relationship with Jesus Christ through the bible, prayer, and the sacraments.

    Also, Ignatian spirituality has traditionally placed high emphasis on discerning motivation. The Jesuit examen traditionally entailed pondering your motivation for actions to discover what sins were most deeply rooted and in greatest need of being opposed.

  54. @Dr Bill – Thinking about your comment helped clarify this for me – so thanks. I don’t think we disagree on this. The way it works is:

    Why should we be obedient to God? Answer: because we are his children, and he is our loving Father.

    We therefore know that God has our personal best interests at heart. It is God’s love for us that is the reason why we should obey him.

    In other words, obedience not the bottom-line, but God’s Love is – obedience is justified in terms of love.

    The other major monotheism is not based on God understood as a loving Father, but on an almighty God. The reason for obedience is God’s absolute power – for them obedience is the bottom-line. Obedience is justified in terms of absolute power.

    It is the difference between obedience to your loving Father, and obedience to an absolute Monarch who has no idea of your existence.

    That was the distinction I was trying to draw.

  55. Eh, I tend to be a bit leery of distinctions like that between “loving Father” and “almighty God,” as well as ideas based on such distinctions. It’s true that to neglect the loving Father part leads to error, but the solution is not to neglect “almighty God” or “absolute Monarch” instead. God is both a loving Father and “a severe man, taking up what I did not lay down and reaping what I did not sow.” Christ is both Savior and Judge.

    Put another way, there is no distinction between obedience and love: “If you love me you will keep my commandments.” To love is to obey, and to obey is to love. Yes, it is possible to produce the appearance of obedience without actually obeying/loving, but the same is (as modern paeans to “love” and “mercy” make all too clear) true of the appearance of love. “UnChristian focus on obedience, on submission to God’s will” is no less absurd an idea than “UnChristian focus on loving God” would be.

    This is pretty much the basis of Catholic teaching on sin: to commit a mortal sin simply IS an act of hatred toward God, and vice versa.

    On another note, while Roepke’s point about no mortal sin as a moral minimum is not wrong (at least, assuming Baptism), it may be worth pointing out that Sloth is a capital sin, and can be mortal, so simply not doing anything horribly wrong can itself be a horribly wrong thing to do, especially if chosen as a deliberate policy.

  56. I think Charleton is basically correct. The moral minimum is to not commit any mortal sins

    You say Charlton is correct and then affirm my position. We are discussing what is *necessary*, not what is a dandy extra bonus. Teeth-grittingly going through the motions out of a fear of damnation is good enough. Actually, you only have to teeth-grittingly go through the motions right before you die.

    It’s like Ripley said upon visiting the University of Steubenville: “I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit.”

    @Bruce Charlton
    I still don’t agree. It is enough to do what you have to do purely out of a fear of damnation. It is admirable, glorious, saintly to spend your life working to instill (assisted by His grace) such virtue, such crystallized love of Our Lord, in yourself that you obey Him purely from the working out of that virtue. But it is not necessary.

    The distinction you want does not make sense because God isn’t like a tyrant. So we can’t obey him like we obey a tyrant. We can think we are obeying him like we obey a tyrant, of course. In that case, we go to Heaven. Furthermore, the non-tyrannical nature of God isn’t a contingent fact. God can’t be like a tyrant. Tyrants lack some good. God does not, can not.

    The distinction you want is that Muslims worship a non-existent, false God. If one prefers, Muslims have a dramatically impoverished notion of God.

    Put another way, there is no distinction between obedience and love: “If you love me you will keep my commandments.”

    Yes. That is the resolution. Love is obedience.

  57. @Dr Bill. I’m sorry you can’t see this – but I think the reason is because you are talking about salvation and I am talking about theosis. I am talking about theosis because I do not think salvation is supposed to be a ‘big deal’ – the situation is set-up that if we want salvation we will have it – simple as that, instantaneously – THAT was the work of Christ.

    The problem is not one of people wanting salvation but being denied it by some ‘technicality’ of precise behaviour, some failure to do some specific thing. All THAT is swallowed up by the repentance Christ enabled for us (bearing in mind that the ultimate repentance is not something happening a nanosecond before biological brain death, but after death, at judgment).

    The BIG problem – especially in the modern world – is that so many people *do not want* salvation – at least that is what they are shouting loudly and explicity – that is what the moral inversion of modernity is all about. These are people who think that Christianity is evil, they do not want salvation when it is explained to them – they could be (are being) offered salvation on a plate – all that is required is acknowledgement of the reality of the Universe (i.e. that Christ is our Lord and Saviour) – and that acknowledgement IS repentance.

    But this acknowledgement they will not give. They have other ideas about the reality of the universe, and such people can know everything about what Christianity offers, and they could even believe that everything Christianity said was true – and they would reject it. I presume that this was the precise situation for Satan and his demons: Complete knowledge, absolute rejection.

    So I see the church, any church, as concerned with theosis – not holding the keys to ‘salvation’ in a restricted sense (of course, some people conflate salvation and theosis – conflate the instantaneous action of being saved from damnation, with the life-long striving for spiritual progression or sanctification towards becoming fully Sons of God – but they are different things).

    In every Christian church’s deepest, most truthful theology, this is acknowledged – that the church (although of course necessary – as we can percieve now, when the real, mystical church is so small, weak and corrupted by worldliness) is not the source of salvation, does not hold the keys of salvation.

    There is doctrine which implies or claims that the church has a monopoly on salvation (many denominations have this claim somewhere) – but this is the simple version for kids, or to make things clearer in a confusing world, or to clarify the necessity of the church.

    When pressed, the deep theology of every church (including the RCC) is always one which makes *salvation* (specifically) a simple matter between each soul and God and without a necessary role for the institutional church. But this deep theology also makes clear that salvation, although of infinite value, does not get you very far on the path.

  58. “the church is not the source of salvation, does not hold the keys of salvation.” – Bruce Charlton

    “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven” – Jesus Christ

  59. Also, the “moral minimum” is committing no sins, something no competent human has done in nearly two thousand years. Thankfully, the minimum for salvation is only to die in a state of grace.

  60. And theosis is just what happens when a person actually gets to heaven. Of course, everyone in heaven has perfect charity.

    But don’t get me wrong in my criticism of Bruce C, I certainly admire a man who is so holy and pious that salvation isn’t even a big deal for him. Indeed, a man so holy that he does not even need the Church!

  61. <i<The distinction you want is that Muslims worship a non-existent, false God. If one prefers, Muslims have a dramatically impoverished notion of God.

    Dr. Bill if you’re going to say that you should you should just save yourself the trouble and recognize that the “god” Charlton believes in is also false and indeed the gulf separating the true God from the Islamic Allah is infinitesimal compared to Charlton’s god. Also note that you are debating with someone who equivocates on theological concepts like “theosis.” So you’re not debating with someone who is not arguing in good faith but rather with someone who is pushing an agenda.

  62. Indeed. The Muslim deity possesses all the essential qualities defining the True God (omnipotence, omniscience, etc.). The Mormon deity possesses none of them.

  63. “I certainly admire a man who is so holy and pious that salvation isn’t even a big deal for him.”

    He isn’t saying that he’s holy and pious. He seems to follow something like decision theology where salvation is immediately available for those who truly choose it.

  64. Dr. Bill,

    “Charlton says love, and I guess you agree with him. So, pony up. What are some examples of people obedient to God and yet damned for a lack of love?”

    You equated faith with obedience. I’m not sure if that’s correct or not or if that’s how Paul is using “faith.”

    Paul’s words about charity simply came to mind in your discussion with Bruce C. I don’t have an answer to your question.

    How should I understand Paul’s words describing charity as necessary?:

    “and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.”

  65. Since we’re told to love others, I guess that obedience to God would include charity.

  66. The Devil has faith, he hath not charity (caritas).

  67. Re: slumlord

    You may want to revisit James 2, particularly verses 17-20. The devils “believe and tremble,” sure, but this is in fact specifically CONTRASTED with faith, since “faith without works is dead.”

    So, no, the Devil believes there is one God, but he does not have faith properly so called.

  68. […] Sin that he wishes (and I wish) Catholic pastors would provide. For no extra charge, he evaluates Motivation: the most useless criterion for moral deliberation. I wholeheartedly agree with […]

  69. A dead “faith without works” is more akin to a corpse than a nullity. A corpse is still a thing.

  70. Since we’re told to love others, I guess that obedience to God would include charity.

    Yes, of course. Obedience to God is not one thing among many we should do. It is the thing we should do. Read again what I am reacting to: the claim that there is some requirement for us beyond obedience to God. There is not.

    What St Paul is saying I have no opinion on. In the good old days, the Church encouraged us to stay away from reading the Bible. This was good advice. There is roughly no chance of a non-specialist reading the Bible successfully. Perhaps St Paul is engaged in some mysterious-to-me wordplay relevant to Greek speakers of the Classical Mediterranean world.

    A dead “faith without works” is more akin to a corpse than a nullity. A corpse is still a thing.

    Spoken like a good Protestant. There are not two kinds of faith. Faith does not mean intellectual assent. The Devil has not faith.

    Sometimes you just gotta imagine the air quotes. Chris Farley is not always around.

  71. Dr. Bill if you’re going to say that you should you should just save yourself the trouble and recognize that the “god” Charlton believes in is also false and indeed the gulf separating the true God from the Islamic Allah is infinitesimal compared to Charlton’s god.

    Of course. Christians have much more in common with Muslims than they do with Mormons. I was keeping some relatives company in Christmas Eve in front of a television. What to my wondering eyes did appear but The Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Elmo’s Christmas Special (or whatever). It was exactly as grotesque and Godless as one might imagine.

    But, but, but, not all the “Christmas” carols failed to mention God!!

    American “Christians” are always on and on about how evil the Muslims are because some of their women dress like nuns. I especially enjoy it when “Catholics” go on in this vein.

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