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Analysis of the moral act. A proposal

II.d.4. Consequences and circumstances

We have seen that the term "circumstances" has for St. Thomas a technical meaning (the accidental complement to the definition of what is decided), and this is the sense we have been using up until now. Another way of using the term is also appropriate, less technical, and more similar to its usual usage. St. Thomas also uses this meaning of term (74), and it appears in Veritatis Splendor (75) as well as in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (76). From this other point of view its meaning would be approximately the following: circumstances are the entirety of things which surround the action in some sense and have a certain relevance to it (77).

From this point of view, initial and more generic, whatever is not included in the decision or the act of the acting agent (which refers only to the moral object) can be considered circumstance. Thus seen from the act of the will, the diverse elements of the moral act can be considered their circumstances; the end (78), accidental details shaping the moral object (79), or the consequences (80).

As is evident, this consideration of what is surrounding the act as circumstances is perfectly reasonable and valid. Its practical use, however, in the evaluation of concrete situations establishes various problems. The principal problem is that the connection of the circumstances with the moral subject is made fairly obscure. Employing circumstances in this wide sense, connecting them with human will, winds up being counter-intuitive. It appears first of all that we are speaking of deeds derived from a decision of the will, such that with deeds alone we would be able to evaluate a decision morally. This, as we have previously shown, cannot be done while simultaneously maintaining a semblance of coherence. The connection with the acting subject becomes fundamental: Veritatis Splendor recommends that moral acts always be considered from the subject's point of view (81).

Part of the difficulty is that the connection between the effects or consequences of the action and the will of the acting subject is also obscured. In fact St. Thomas abandons the quidditative description of the consequences as a special type of circumstances in order to evaluate the influence of the consequences of an action in a moral act. He adopts the acting subject's viewpoint and considers, most correctly, that in order for the toleration of certain effects to be morally acceptable, these have to be proportional to the intended end (82). From the viewpoint of the quidditative description, this result is almost impossible to obtain.

One of the problems of essentialist morally is precisely that due to its presuppositions, it cannot abandon the quidditative description of the action and can consider effects only as circumstances. Perhaps for this reason, its evaluation of the influence of an action's effects upon morality has never been as clear and clean as that of St. Thomas, who limits himself to establishing the necessity of proportion between what is intended and what is tolerated. In the Thomistic study, moreover, the connection between the effects and the subject is patent: the moral agent tolerates them.

Thus it is clear from the foregoing that it becomes preferable to speak of the effects of the act as such effects or consequences, and to renounce their quidditative description. Even though the effects are circumstances which occur around the moral act (seen from the moral act they are something surrounding it, something that circum-stat), and have a quid that can be described, this manner of focusing makes it dangerously difficult to attain a clear comprehension of the morality of the subject who provokes them by his decisions.


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