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Analysis of the moral act. A proposal

II.c.5. Indifferent actions

As can be inferred from the Thomistic study of the moral act, and as St. Thomas expressly mentions, there can exist human acts that because of their object are morally indifferent. In such actions, the decision of the will deals with an object that considered in itself indicates neither order nor disorder in the will choosing it. St. Thomas sets forth as examples picking up a straw from the ground or going to the countryside (60). In effect these actions considered in themselves display neither order nor disorder with natural law.

Now the consideration of the decision (or the moral object) separate from the rest of the elements in the moral act is artificial. There really exists no action formed by a pure decision only: all action contains prior foresight, it is moved by an intention, and it has consequences. It is impossible to have indifferent intentions. Thus all concrete human action is good or bad, although its decision (described by the moral act) is really indifferent. (61)

Despite the clarity of this formulation, the opposing thesis is found relatively frequently: there can be no indifferent actions, not even considered in themselves. This manner of considering things is perhaps the fruit of an excessive emphasis on the moral object as the fundamental qualifier of the goodness or evil of an action, an emphasis that is likely derived from its essentialist consideration. In effect if the entire burden of an action’s goodness or evil resides in its moral object, it is completely impossible for there to be actions that are indifferent in terms of their objects, because it is precisely the object that makes an action good or evil. In St. Thomas the consideration of the object as the source of morality (as the determiner of the will’s decision) is appropriately counterbalanced by other elements and there is no insuitability in saying that there are indifferent decisions-actions if they are considered in themselves; they cannot be if the moral agent’s acting is considered conjointly.


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