The Trouble with 'Intrinsic Evil'

New web-exclusive piece now featured on our home page: David Cloutier's "'Intrinsic Evil' & Public Policy." From the story:

Moral theologians will continue to debate which acts, described in what way, fall into the category of the intrinsically evil. But the case of adultery highlights how inappropriate the term intrinsic evil can be in discussions about civil law. After all, adultery is both intrinsically evil and graveand yet very few people are hankering to recover civil laws against adultery. So a moral category that seems to promise clarity and purity loses its clarity and purity as soon as it is applied in the public sphere. Not everything the civil law forbids is intrinsically evil, and not all intrinsic evils ought to be forbidden by law.Meanwhile, while we squabble over non-negotiables, Hitler swamps Europe, or the rich use government coercion to oppress the poor in Latin America, or we all continue to abuse the natural world as if its resources and resilience were infinite. If the non-negotiables are supposed to trump everything else, why should Paul VI and John Paul II have even bothered writing documents on peace and on the right to development of poorer nations? And what are we to make of Benedict XVIs categorical insistence inCaritas in veritatethat advanced countries can and must lower their domestic energy consumption and must make a serious review of its lifestyle whichis prone to hedonism and consumerism? Are these statements to be ignored by the citizens of the richest, most militarized and consumerist nation in the world just because they arent about intrinsically evil acts?

Read the whole thing here.

Dominic Preziosi is Commonweal’s editor. Follow him on Twitter.

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