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The Moral Act: The “Sources of Morality”

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The Moral Act: The “Sources of Morality”. There are three basic components for determining whether an action is moral or immoral:. The object chosen The intention (the “end”) The circumstances surrounding the action. The Object Chosen.

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There are three basic components for determining whether an action is moral or immoral:

  • The object chosen
  • The intention (the “end”)
  • The circumstances surrounding the action
the object chosen
The Object Chosen

This is the act itself (what you do).Pope John Paul II identifies the object chosen as the “primary and decisive element” for moral judgment.

Can you think of some acts that are morally GOOD?

Helping at your church

Giving to a charity

Tutoring a friend

Telling the truth

Helping your parents with chores

Can you think of some acts that are morally BAD?







If the object is bad, it automatically makes the action evil (even if the intention and circumstances are good).

  • An object’s goodness or badness is determined by the Law revealed by God. (Human reason and conscience can help us know these norms.)
the intention
The Intention

This is the “WHY” of the act. This is rooted in your WILL. Intentions can be good, bad, or mixed.

For example, the object is “giving to charity.”

Good Intention

Mixed Intention

Bad Intention

You want to help others, but you also want to get attention for your contribution.

You give to charity to help those less fortunate than yourself.

You give to charity to manipulate others into thinking you are someone you’re not.


The end (intention) doesn’t justify the means.

  • A good intention can never turn an intrinsically bad action into a just one.

For example, wanting to get into college is a good end (intention). Cheating to achieve this end is an intrinsically evil act; therefore, it cannot be justified because of a good intention.

  • A bad intention can turn a good act into an evil one.

For example, complimenting someone is a good act, but doing it simply because you want that person to write you a letter of recommendation is deceitful and insincere and erases the good of complimenting someone.

the circumstances
The Circumstances

This is the “HOW, WHO, WHEN, WHERE” of the act.

  • Circumstances can lessen or increase our blameworthiness (culpability) of an act.
  • Ignorance, fear, duress, and other psychological and social factors can lessen or nullify our responsibility for our actions.

For example, being overwhelmed by the fear of personal harm and not helping a dying victim at an accident scene could greatly diminish moral responsibility.

  • However…the circumstances surrounding an act can never change an act that is by its nature morally evil into a morally good act.

For example, fear of being ridiculed by friends does not justify speaking racial slurs.

to summarize
To summarize…

“A morally good act requires the goodness of the object, of the end, and of the circumstances together. An evil end corrupts the action, even if the object is good in itself(such as praying and fasting ‘in order to be seen by men’).

The object of choice can by itself vitiate [corrupt] 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.” CCC 1755

conditions that lessen guilt
Conditions that Lessen Guilt…
  • “Violenceis an external force applied by one person on another to compel that person to perform an action against his or her will.”
  • “Fearis a disturbance of mind resulting from some present or imminent danger.”
  • “Concupiscenceis the rebellion of passions [emotions] against reason.” It is the tendency of human nature toward evil.
  • Ignorance is lack of knowledge in a person capable of possessing such knowledge. There are two types of ignorance:

- Vincible Ignorance is that which can and should be dispelled. For example, if someone thinks it might be wrong not to eat meat on Fridays in Lent but purposely never asks a priest or a friend about it, then he still commits sin if he eats meat on those days.

- Invincible Ignoranceis that which cannot be dispelled. In other words, someone is ignorant of his own ignorance.

“We can sum up by saying that invincible ignorance eliminates the moral responsibility for a human act; vincible ignorance does not eliminate moral responsibility, but may lessen it.”