The Meaning of Intrinsic Evil
Cathleen Kaveny April 26, 2009 - 7:43pm
Deacon Greg Kandra, of the Deacon's Bench, seems like a very good man. I think, however, his take on the term intrinsic evil is quite misleading.Here's an article I did in America on the topic.Incidentally, I think he's quoting Catholic Anwers's voting guide==not the Bishops'. The term "non-negotiable" seems to be new with Catholic Answers. It seems, as far as I can tell, to have roots in the 1960's anti-war protest movements. Not in the long tradition of Catholic moral theology. If anyone could point me to a manual of moral theology which uses that term, I'd be very surprised.For an interesting critique of Catholic Answers's voting guide, see this article by Amy Uelmen. My own analysis, too, oversimplifies what is an enormously complex scholarly discussion. The way in which we identify the object of the action has been controverted, including the degree to which circumstances can enter into the object ==the core meaning of the act. St. Thomas has a notion of the object, but the degree to which the contemporary understanding of intrinsic evil can be traced to him, or is a later development of scholastic theology is disputed. What counts as an "abortion" (the later tradition distinguishes between direct and indirect abortions) has been disputed.The moral analysis of "mutilation"--traditionally understood as an intrinsically evil act, has evolved in interesting ways. In the 194o's, Jesuit moralists were examining the question whether castration to stop prostate cancer was morally permitted. That, eventually, could be justified on the principle of "totality" (the well=being of the whole person). Harder to justify was mutilation to donate an organ. It was so justified. It is no longer clear why, or to what degree, mutilation is an intrinsically evil act--if it can be justified by some consequences, such as saving a life.These are not easy categories to define or work with. Caveant blogger magisterque.
About the Author
Cathleen Kaveny is the Darald and Juliet Libby Professor in the Theology Department and Law School at Boston College.