How are human acts ordered toward God?

From Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor (1993):

But on what does the moral assessment of man’s free acts depend? What is it that ensures this ordering of human acts to God? Is it the intention of the acting subject, the circumstances — and in particular the consequences — of his action, or the object itself of his act?

This is what is traditionally called the problem of the “sources of morality”. Precisely with regard to this problem there have emerged in the last few decades new or newly-revived theological and cultural trends which call for careful discernment on the part of the Church’s Magisterium.

Certain ethical theories, called “teleological“, claim to be concerned for the conformity of human acts with the ends pursued by the agent and with the values intended by him. The criteria for evaluating the moral rightness of an action are drawn from the weighing of the non-moral or pre-moral goods to be gained and the corresponding non-moral or pre-moral values to be respected. For some, concrete behaviour would be right or wrong according as whether or not it is capable of producing a better state of affairs for all concerned. Right conduct would be the one capable of “maximizing” goods and “minimizing” evils.

Many of the Catholic moralists who follow in this direction seek to distance themselves from utilitarianism and pragmatism, where the morality of human acts would be judged without any reference to the man’s true ultimate end. They rightly recognize the need to find ever more consistent rational arguments in order to justify the requirements and to provide a foundation for the norms of the moral life. This kind of investigation is legitimate and necessary, since the moral order, as established by the natural law, is in principle accessible to human reason. Furthermore, such investigation is well-suited to meeting the demands of dialogue and cooperation with non-Catholics and non-believers, especially in pluralistic societies.

Veritatis Splendor 74

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