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Analysis of the moral act. A proposal

II.c.2. Decision and action

Nevertheless moral theology judges not the action, but rather the act of the will executing the action. What is morally good or bad, that to which the action refers, is the decision of the will, the tending of the will toward this concrete action (44). Execution is not fundamental: if someone decides to do something bad and cannot execute his decision because of physical impossibility, he has nevertheless acted badly because he has a bad will (45), and the same is true for a good decision. Even then, that the action is in fact executed makes the act of the will complete, and for that reason, the consummated action has more moral weight than one that is decided but not executed (46).

Thus in order to analyze the goodness or badness of the acting, in addition to the foresight and intention, one must examine the decision together with the action that it entails. Again, it is confused to speak solely of the moral object with respect to the decision-action (in the same manner of speaking only of the end with respect to intention), because it changes the accent of morality, from the will which undertakes the action (where the weight of morality really lies) to the "something" human of the action undertaken.

The problems which arise from this manner of analysis are numerous. The principal problem consists in the great difficulty of showing the distinction between the moral object and the occurrence of the action, of the physical deeds. Thus when we say that killing is bad, in the first instance it appears that we are referring to the physical fact of producing someone's death. That it is bad to desire in a practical way (decide and execute, decision-action) the death of a person becomes obscured. But if this extreme is obscured, the result is that moral principles must have "exceptions"; in effect, we all realize that killing in legitimate self-defense, while not the most desirable action, can be done without moral culpability if the aggressor has established a mortal threat: it is a correct decision-action. Nevertheless, by applying the essentialist scheme of moral object together with the facile confusion of the moral object with the physical action (47), this action would be bad (it is killing a person, which is a bad action); and this interpretation is simply unacceptable. But if it were this way, moral principles have to have exceptions in order to be able to fit in with common sense (48). How does one conciliate this affirmation with the claim that there are actions that are always illicit? The conciliation is simply impossible.

The solution to this difficulty is quite easy: when one affirms that there are actions that are always evil we are not saying that a physical action is always evil. We are saying that this action is something that should never be voluntarily decided (49). Thus whoever kills someone in legitimate defense is defending himself (decision), and the moral object (the "something", the quidditative description of his decision) is to defend himself. Thus his decision is good although it produces the death of his aggressor. The will of the agent who justly defends himself is good, and this is what has to be judged from the moral point of view. Nevertheless from a rigorously essentialist point of view, with its insistence in the moral object, which comes to be confused with action, self-defense would not receive clear approval (50).


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