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Analysis of the moral act. A proposal

II.b) Intention

Once the objective to be pursued in the moral agent's situation is known thanks to the act of prudence, it falls to the agent to desire or not the objective proposed by the intellect. To desire an objective is to have intentions. Intention is the act of the will that moves the agent to achieve a specific objective by means of subsequent actions (30). The intention is not the end, although the end pursued is what allows us to describe the intention in words.

The good or the evil is not the end, but the will which desires an appropriate or inappropriate end, which adjusts itself or not to what is previously known by prudential judgment (31). The ends, that is the physical acts which are the end of the voluntary act of intention (32), whatever they be, are morally indifferent considered in and of themselves. All reality is good or bad from the moral point of view only when compared with the nature of the acting agent (33).

Thus the second element necessary for judging someone's good will is seeing his intention. It is correct to speak of the end, because the end is the object of the intentional act. But speaking only of the end is potentially disorienting, as the last five centuries of the history of moral theology seem to indicate. It is preferable to speak directly of intention. Evidently it is the intention of an end. But what matters morally speaking is not the end, but the will of this end, that is, the intention of the person, which is what permits us, at least in part, to judge morally (34).

The encyclical Veritatis Splendor expresses itself in the same manner when analyzing consequentialist or proportionalist ethical doctrines: it speaks of the end in order to refer to the end to which is ordered the choice of the will after it has deliberated, whereas it employs the word intention to speak of the act of the will which refers to the ultimate end (35). It equally insists that in order to sustain a correct ethical doctrine one must consider not the deeds (that is, the ends in and of themselves) but rather the acting subject's point of view (that is, the intention) (36). Thomistic doctrine does precisely this: it fixes its gaze upon the intention, although it needs to speak of ends in order to clarify what is intended.

It has to be specified that the intention of the end encompasses the end pursued and the intermediate ends leading to it; in one single act of the will various different objects can be included as long as they coincide at least in part in the formal reason (37); in this case, as long as they share an orientation to the end pursued. This formal unity allows all the ends to be encompassed in a single intention. There do not thus exist within the subject various distinct intentions moving him to the end being pursued. McCormick nevertheless distinguishes between ends and motives; ends would be intermediate ends and motives would be more remote ends, those that are really pursued as ends in themselves; to each of one of these ends would correspond a distinct type of intention (38). This interpretation, apparently taken from Veritatis Splendor n. 80, appears to be mistaken: as we shall soon see, only one intention can move us to action.


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