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Analysis of the moral act. A proposal

II.d.6. "Indirect voluntary" or "voluntary in causa"

There remains to be made one final and brief precision with regard to the expressions "indirect voluntary" and "voluntary in causa". Moralists generally use these expressions to refer to the connection of the effects of an action with the voluntariness of the acting subject; if these effects are neither what was intended or done (that is, they are not the direct object of the act of the will), their connection with the will must be indirect, by means of the will’s elected object or in causa, given that the elected object is the cause of what subsequently follows the effect.

St. Thomas nevertheless focuses matters in a different manner. On the one hand, he uses the expression "indirect voluntary" to refer only to the effects of voluntary omissions of actions which should have been completed, such as the case of a ship’s pilot who abandons his post and causes a shipwreck (84). The shipwreck would be the "indirect voluntary", which is the equivalent of saying that it is voluntary without an exterior act but certainly with an interior act of the will, which makes the act imputable to the pilot who deserted his post (85).

On the other hand he speaks of "voluntary in causa" to refer to the effects of an action which are not desired in themselves but which are produced as the result of an action undertaken. Thus someone who has voluntarily become drunk is responsible in causa for what he later does in a drunken state (86).

Thus what is "voluntary in causa" is also voluntary, but in a special way: the intention is not of the effect "voluntary in causa" but rather only of the cause. What differentiates "voluntarily indirect" effects from those that are "voluntarily in causa" is only that in the first case we are addressing an act occurs because of prior omission whereas in the second we are addressing acts that occur because of prior commission. Although later theology tended to identify "indirect voluntary" with "voluntary in causa", in St. Thomas these expressions are not the same. But for St. Thomas in both cases the effects produced, while not intended, are imputable to the will of the acting subject. They are voluntary in some way. Concretely, they are tolerated effects.

After having made these divisions when speaking of the influence of the effects in the action’s morality, St. Thomas omits them when it seems that reference should be made to "indirect voluntary" or "voluntary in causa", thus remaining as a mere theoretical or academic distinction. He then speaks of the influence of the action’s effects upon its goodness or evil and establishes, as we have seen, that the foreseen or reasonably foreseeable effects which occur as a necessary consequence of the action (tolerated effects) must be proportional to what is intended (87).

This apparent divergence is easily explainable: the division of the voluntariness into direct and indirect and in se and in causa is valid. Now this division, typical of formal Scholastic rigor, contributes nothing useful for evaluating concrete actions. In order to study these, things must be focused in a different manner: it must be determined whether the tolerated effects are proportional to what is intended, independent of whether the will provoking them can be related to them in one way or another. And this is what Thomas does: after establishing the theoretical division of voluntariness, he establishes the practical procedures for evaluating the influence of the effects of an action upon the action’s morality, without applying the theoretical division.

Using this method of focusing tolerated effects, an added advantage is obtained: the connection between tolerated effects and the will cannot be blurred. This is because the expressions "indirect voluntary" and "voluntary in causa" inevitably make us think that the effects are not, properly speaking, voluntary: an error, as we have seen, typical of the essentialist position, which appears to reduce what is willed to what is immediately related to the will, that is, to the object with its circumstances and to the end. By using the expression "tolerated effects", the relation of the effects to the intentionality of the will is clearly maintained: without being intended, tolerated effects connect with the act that provokes them, because it always or almost always causes them. Thus they are voluntary and imputable, even though in a peculiar manner.


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