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Analysis of the moral act. A proposal

II. The thomistic approach to the question

St. Thomas' approach to moral acts begins with an extreme that does not properly belong to the study of ethics: an appropriate description of immanent actions, that is, of those acts of understanding and of the will (12). For Thomas, whatever a person thinks or wants can indubitably be described with words: he thinks of a dog, he wants to go to the mountains. But the thinking and desiring of a person are not things that can be described with words. This is because for Aristotelianism, when a person understands or desires, he is not producing a form or essence which can be described with word. What he does is exercise the act which is, to the extent that some reality remains as the object of this act (the understood object in the case of intelligence, the desired object in the case of the will). The person thus develops an activity that allows him to "touch" external things (13). By means of this "touching" the person knows or desires these things. But his understanding or desiring in no manner comprise that which the intellective capacity reach: they are two distinct realities.

Nevertheless it is evident that in order to describe this activity of understanding or desiring, Thomism in the first instance must recur to the word which designates the understood or desired object. From that point Thomas admits that the end and the moral object are determiners of the will which allow the will to be known, which make it possible to know what is desired (14). But the end and the moral object are not acts of the will. Essentialism nevertheless repeats "the intention is the end ...". (15)

Veritatis Splendoris completely consistent with the Thomistic approach. Thus, in referring to the decision of the will, it affirms that "the object of the act of willing is in fact a freely chosen kind of behavior", (16) and is not desire itself. Now the connection between the act of the will and the action is produced by means of the "something" which coincides in them both, by means of their quidditasor moral object, which is at the same time the definition of the voluntary act and the human description of the physical action; the action is a determiner of the will thanks to this quidditas.Thus a few lines later the encyclical makes somewhat more explicit the previous sentence and affirms that "the object is the proximate end of a deliberate decision which determines the act of willing on the part of the acting person" (17). Because of this it is necessary to admit that the connection between the will and the actions is different from the connection affirmed by essentialism. This intentional aspect of the act of the will is admitted even by those who criticize Veritatis Splendorfor its way of focusing the moral object: the voluntary act is "to point towards" for them as well (18).

From these premises, the Thomistic analysis of the moral act will show aspects different to those we have already seen.


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