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Analysis of the moral act. A proposal

II.a) Foresight

In the first instance it is necessary to underscore that what is being judged when studying human action from the moral viewpoint is the correctness of the will, whether the person has elected appropriate goals; whether, in short, the action can be approved because it was good, because it possesses good will (19). But just how is this good will manifested?

In the first place by means of reflection. The act of understanding finds itself prevailed upon by the act of the will (20). Thus the good man does not act in ignorance and will actively procure its elimination from his conduct: if he does not know what is good and what is bad and he has good will, he will not wish to run the risk of acting badly and he will diligently endeavor to inform himself before acting.

Thus before considering the object, end and circumstances, and the associated rules for indirect voluntary, a moral theology which adequately comprehends human acting must consider the acting person's foresight, because foresight depends upon the will. Whoever fails to reflect before acting does not in fact wish to, and this failure is morally imputable. Thus the connection in theSumma between the study of ignorance and the study of the rest of the moral act is made explicit, a connection that essentialism did not emphasize.

Veritatis Splendormakes explicit this connection between understanding and will when it tries to clarify that the conscience is not an autonomous source for morality, but rather that the intellectual judgment prior to the action must attempt the search for the moral truth of the action being undertaken: "The maturity and responsibility of these judgments [of the conscience] -and, when all is said and done, of the individual who is their subject- are shown ... by an insistent search for truth and by allowing oneself to be guided by that truth in one's actions" (21). An appropriate foresight moreover will cover the material development of the acts and their foreseeable consequences (22).

As is evident, simply to speak of foresight is to summarize completely under a single term the complex interrelation that exists between the intellect and the will when action comes into play (23), and between them and the acts of prudence which lead to appropriate action. When he develops his moral theory, St. Thomas when speaking of acts of the intellect which precede those of the will prefers to speak of counsel (24), that is, of the act of prudence (an intellectual act) prior to action, and it is more correct to consider the matter in this fashion. Nevertheless the term foresight is more common and leads to an understanding of the same idea, reflection prior to action. Logically this action is possible only as an act of the virtue of prudence; otherwise it cannot be practiced (25).

It must moreover be considered that the act of counsel allows one to know not only what is going to happen because of the action, but above all whether the action is good or bad and whether it should be put into practice or rejected (although later on the will can freely act against the counsel of prudence). Prudential knowledge is practical knowledge that moves the will freely toward good action. In fact St. Thomas employs the term foresight only when speaking of foreseeing the consequences of action (26), as does Veritatis Splendor(27). I think that, in any event, the term foresight can also be used to designate the act of prudential counsel; although the term counsel refers more specifically to the practical and moral aspect of the action, it does not exclude knowledge of the consequences of the action, but rather encompasses it and, as I noted above, the term "foresight" works out to be more common.

In summary: the act of counsel is a kind of intellectual "seeing", practical, and with reference above all the moral aspect of the action; but precisely because it is a kind of intellectual "seeing", it can also be denominated foresight.

As a final point it becomes interesting to review that Veritatis Splendor,when speaking of conscience and making reference to St. Thomas, indicates that "in order to 'prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect' (Ro.12:2), knowledge of God's law in general is certainly necessary, but it is not sufficient: what is essential is a sort of 'connaturality' between man and the true good. Such connaturality is rooted in and develops through the virtuous attitudes of the individual himself: prudence and the other cardinal virtues, and even before these the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity" (28). Thus one must keep in mind that when we employ the expression "formation of conscience", we are really speaking of the formation of the cardinal virtues, especially prudence, with the support of the supernatural organism provided by the theological virtues; and we are not referring to an entity called conscience which has to be formed in any particular manner (29).


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