The Elements of Philosophy: 1.8.51.3

“While the distinction between ends and means is clear, the reality these terms describe is not so simple.  Sometimes a thing may be an end in one respect and a means in another.  To deal more precisely with the complexities of the concrete situation, philosophers make various divisions of end.  (1) Related ends in a given series may be distinguished on the basis of their order of achievement.  A proximate end is that for the sake of which something is done directly or immediately.  An intermediate end is that in view of which the proximate end is sought and which itself is desired for something else.  Both proximate and intermediate ends are also means, each often being referred to as means-ends.  The last end in the series is called the ultimate end.  This may only be relatively ultimate, as when  the series of which it is the last is subordinate to a higher end or ends.  The absolutely ultimate end, the supreme end of man is said to be happiness [§51.4].  (2) Another division of end is that into objective end (finis qui), the good or object itself that is sought, e.g., money or knowledge; personal end (finis cui), the person for whom the good is desired, e.g., health is sought for Peter; and formal end (finis quo), the act in which the good is possessed or enjoyed, e.g., the enjoyment of food is in the eating.  (3) The end of the work (finis operis), sometimes called the end of the act, is the normal purpose or function of a thing or action, or the result normally achieved; e.g., cutting is the normal function of a knife.  The end of the agent (finis operantis) is what the agent actually intends when acting, be it identical or not with the end of the work; so a person may use a knife for cutting or as a screwdriver.”  (The Elements of Philosophy by Father William A. Wallace, O.P.; PART 1.  //  CHAPTER 8.  ETHICS  //  [Section] §51.  THE ENDS OF HUMAN ACTION  //  [paragraph] 3  //   [pages] 157 and 158)

Obiter Dicta:  Happiness is the goal of human life.  Adherence to the idea that happiness is the goal of life is a necessary condition for forming and keeping a healthy morality.  To the degree that a morality or moral philosophy has as its ultimate end something other than happiness (e.g. power, wealth, beauty, salvation, fame, holiness) is the degree to which that morality or moral philosophy becomes weird, strange, inhuman, and inhumane.

Within Roman Catholic theology and magisterial teaching our human purpose is to seek a reasonable happiness in this life and supreme happiness in the next.  To attain this goal one learns that holiness and salvation are necessary constituents and conditions.  Nonetheless, the center of the moral target at which a person must aim so as to live a good life is happiness.  This was the opinion of the philosopher of moderate realism, Aristotle (385 to 323 B.C.) and the philosopher/theologian Saint Thomas Aquinas (A.D. 1225 to 1274).

Key:  For an explanation of the reference and cross reference forms used in this book (e.g. [§19.6] and (11:292c), see previous posts in this blog entitled “The Elements of Philosophy:  Preface (7)” and “The Elements of Philosophy:  Preface (8)”.

The Elements of Philosophy: 1.8.51.2

“Four elements contribute to an understanding of the concept of end in moral philosophy:  its terminal nature, its causal aspect, its identity with the good, and its relation to means.  (1) As terminal the end is simply the outcome of the concept of what an agent does or seeks, and as such it terminates his movement toward that goal.  Even when the goal aimed at is action, as when one plays simply for the action involved in playing, the end, in this case the action itself completes the agent’s striving.  (2) As causal, the end is what is first intended and so exercises a determining influence over the actions leading up to the goal.  When a patient dies in the midst of an operation, death is for him an end in the sense of a terminus; but the patient’s death is not the end in the sense of the cause or reason for the operation, since it is not what the surgeon intends.  The intended end, health, is responsible for each step taken by the surgeon in preparing for and carrying out the operation.  If health were not intended, they would not be.  Somewhat paradoxically, that which is final in the sphere of action is the cause of all the activity leading up to it; hence, the name final cause.  (3) As good, the end gives the reason why the agent tends to it or wills it; thus end and good necessarily involve each other.  Its desirability is the very reason why the good is a cause:  good is said correlatively to appetite [§26.1]; whatever satisfies appetite and perfects it is suitable to it, and is therefore desirable.  Such a concept of good is obviously wider than that of moral good.  Man has different levels of appetite, and an object will be morally good only if it fulfills and is suitable to the whole person; it must benefit man as man, not simply as he is a sensitive or a living being [see §62.2].  End, final cause, and good on this accounting can be seen as identical.  One and the same thing is called end because it is the term of an agent’s striving, final cause because it influences the agent to act to begin with, and good because it indicates why the agent is so moved.  (4) As related to means, the end specifies why something else exists or is done; the “something else” referred to is the means.  A means cannot be understood without referring it to the end in view of which it is chosen.  What attracts the agent to the means is not so much its nature as a particular kind of thing as it is its value value for achieving the end; but otherwise, what the agent sees and seeks in the means is basically the goodness of the end itself.”  (The Elements of Philosophy by Father William A. Wallace, O.P.; PART 1.  //  CHAPTER 8.  ETHICS  //  [Section] §51.  THE ENDS OF HUMAN ACTION  //  [paragraph] 2  //   [pages] 156 and 157)

Obiter Dicta:  The moral principle of double-effect or multiple-effect provides a way for a person to deal with some difficult moral situations as they are experienced in the real world.  Let us imagine that a person is seriously ill and requires a surgery or therapy (chemo/genetic) which will likely harm another person.  The classic example is that of a mother who is suffering from cancer while carrying a child within her.  The treatment for the cancer may kill the child.  The mother may undertake and the physician(s) may provide the therapeutic treatment to protect the health of the mother even though that same treatment may well harm the fetus within her.  The reason why it is morally acceptable that the child might be harmed is that this end, the harm of the child, is not intended.  What is intended is the health of the mother.  This is called double (or multiple) effect because there are two (or more ends) only one of which is intended by those participating in the therapeutic act; the intended end being morally good and the harmful end not being intended.

Of course, the person (mother) who has this choice may choose, with all moral rectitude, to forego the therapeutic treatment for her (his) own health so as to more greatly insure the equal health/life of the other person (child).

Since and perhaps influenced by the writings of the French Roman Catholic philosopher Rene Descartes (A.D. 1596 to 1650), much of morality has become focused on bio-medical issues.  Sometimes, Descartes is associated with the beginning of modern technological science which, includes, modern medical science.  Because of this we see the development of many medical procedures previously not imagined or available.  One example is the explosion in various forms of cosmetic surgery and chemical augmentation.  This predominant focus of morality on bio-medical issues is both fortunate and unfortunate.  Fortunate because modern medicine has many issues requiring good moral thinking.  Unfortunate because there are many other social and political issues requiring the attention of moral thinking.

As regards each and every human act, the identified and desired end is what motivates an action.  The means is what is chosen to acquire that end.  Sometimes, it happens that the means becomes an end, as required by the situation or in the imagination of the actor.  In that case, that means becomes an end.  For example, a person decides he/she needs a motor vehicle go get to his/her job to earn income to support the family.  In this case, the end is acquiring a living income.  In this case, obtaining the vehicle may well be a proper moral choice.  But let us suppose that this person becomes enamored with acquiring a vehicle which has specific cosmetic appeal; feeding some need for acceptance/approval/admiration on the part of the person desiring it.  In this case the means has become the end, and in this particular case, perhaps a morally disordered end.

Key:  For an explanation of the reference and cross reference forms used in this book (e.g. [§19.6] and (11:292c), see previous posts in this blog entitled “The Elements of Philosophy:  Preface (7)” and “The Elements of Philosophy:  Preface (8)”.

The Elements of Philosophy: 1.8.51.1

“The end (5:355d) is the cause of causes, and nowhere is this axiom more applicable than in the study of human action, for a knowledge of the ends of man’s activity confers the greatest intelligibility on the human act itself.  The end may be defined as the object by virtue of which an event or series of events happens or is said to take place.  In this sense it is the same as a final cause [§35.10], that for the sake of which something exists or is done, that for which an agent acts or action takes place.”  (The Elements of Philosophy by Father William A. Wallace, O.P.; PART 1.  //  CHAPTER 8.  ETHICS  //  [Section] §51.  THE ENDS OF HUMAN ACTION  //  [paragraph] 1  //   [page] 156)

Obiter Dicta:  Crime mysteries in fiction (and in fact) have exposed us to three important factors to consider in order to determine the criminal; means, opportunity, and motive.  The motive or the intended end/result/goal is the factor which organizes and binds all of the clues obtained.  The same is true in the determination of every moral act.  To determine the morality of a given act, one is aided by identifying the motive intended by the moral actor.

Key:  For an explanation of the reference and cross reference forms used in this book (e.g. [§19.6] and (11:292c), see previous posts in this blog entitled “The Elements of Philosophy:  Preface (7)” and “The Elements of Philosophy:  Preface (8)”.

The Elements of Philosophy: 1.8.50.9

“The structure of the human act, so detailed, explains how the intellect moves the will in a general way; a more exact determination of the movement of the will pertains to a discussion of motive (10:39a).  In the order of specification, of final causality [§35.10], the will can be moved by the intellect and also by the emotions and the sense faculties as these awaken a response to the apprehended good.  In the order of exercise, of efficient causality [§35.8], however, the will holds the place of first mover in man and so is itself unmoved by any other power.  As far as man is concerned, the will simply moves itself.  This need not preclude, however, that the will be moved in its exercise by the First Unmoved Mover who is Pure Act.  As already explained, the efficacy of the First Cause is such that his power extends not only to the production of all things, including the will-act, but also to the mode or manner in which such things are effected [§48.8].  Experience, moreover, is the best proof that the will is an agent that acts freely.  But as a secondary cause in the ontological sense [§47.6], even the will must be moved to its proper operation according to the nature of its being as a participation of Being itself.  Since its nature is to operate freely, it is moved freely by the sole cause of its nature.”  (The Elements of Philosophy by Father William A. Wallace, O.P.; PART 1.  //  CHAPTER 8.  ETHICS  //  [Section] §50.  THE HUMAN ACT  //  [paragraph] 9  //   [pages] 155 and 156)

Obiter Dicta:   To the degree that a person is not coercively manipulated, emotionally or physically or mentally or relationally, is the degree to which a person is in control of and responsible for her/his choices and actions.

However, the ability to be able to choose freely and act is a power/capability given to the person by God.  In order to be aware of situations and choices clearly, in order to desire appropriately, in order to choose and act freely; the conditions necessary for these abilities and aptitudes are provided by God.

Key:  For an explanation of the reference and cross reference forms used in this book (e.g. [§19.6] and (11:292c), see previous posts in this blog entitled “The Elements of Philosophy:  Preface (7)” and “The Elements of Philosophy:  Preface (8)”.

The Elements of Philosophy: 1.8.50.8

“In light of the foregoing, one may distinguish the component parts or specific acts that make up the complex human act, which is always concerned in some way with ends, and means.  The list below analyzes the human act in terms of its various steps.

Concerning the end

1. [Intellect] Apprehending an end 2. [Will] Willing an end

3. [Intellect] Judgment about an end 4. [Will] Intending an end

Concerning the means

5. [Intellect] Deliberating about means 6. [Will] Consent to means

7. [Intellect] Judgment about choice 8. [Will] Choice of means

Concerning execution

9. [Intellect] Command to execute choice 10. [Will] Use of powers to execute

11. [Intellect] Judgment of end attained 12. [Will] Enjoyment of end attained

Not every human act man performs involves all these individual steps, nor need the steps occur in exactly this sequence, but every human act in the practical order does involve seeking some end, a judgment and a choice of means, and a consequent decision to attain to the desired end by carrying out the chosen course of action.  The steps, particularly 7 and 8, are also helpful for showing how man’s free act, or what is sometimes called him free will [§28.2], is actually a joint product of intellect and will.  The intellect, in its practical judgment with regard to means (7), is a determining cause of the will’s choosing one action rather than another (8).  But this is a determination coming from knowledge; and hence the will, in exercising the act of choice, is still choosing freely what is proposed on the part of the intellect.  Even though one knows what one should do, freely choosing to do it or not is a freedom of specification inseparably connected with appetite, with the will in its act of choice.”  (The Elements of Philosophy by Father William A. Wallace, O.P.; PART 1.  //  CHAPTER 8.  ETHICS  //  [Section] §50.  THE HUMAN ACT  //  [paragraph] 8  //   [pages] 154 and 155)

Key:  For an explanation of the reference and cross reference forms used in this book (e.g. [§19.6] and (11:292c), see previous posts in this blog entitled “The Elements of Philosophy:  Preface (7)” and “The Elements of Philosophy:  Preface (8)”.

The Elements of Philosophy: 1.8.50.7

“There are two types of free act, corresponding to two types of freedom:  exercise and specification.  (1) Freedom of exercise is that between contradictory alternatives; it is the freedom of an agent to act or not to act in an absolute sense.  In any given situation, a man who is at all rational can will to act or not.  This sort of freedom man as a voluntary agent always has; and as related to the interior act of willing or not willing, the voluntary act and the free act, for all practical purposes, are identical.  (2) Freedom of specification presupposes freedom of exercise and looks further to some object specifying the act to be done by the agent.  It is the choice of this alternative rather than that or, more precisely, the choice of this means in relation to a desired end.  The free act of choice, therefore, is concerned with means properly, not with ends as ends.  To will an end as an end is not a matter of choice but a matter of simple willing; an act of the will centering precisely on the means is the act of choice.  When reference is made to human freedom in moral contexts, it is usually this freedom of specification that is meant.”  (The Elements of Philosophy by Father William A. Wallace, O.P.; PART 1.  //  CHAPTER 8.  ETHICS  //  [Section] §50.  THE HUMAN ACT  //  [paragraph] 7  //   [page] 154)

Obiter Dicta:  If I understand Father Wallace correctly, what we choose to do (what we are free to choose to do or free to choose not to do) is the means to a desired end, not the end itself.  If a person finds a given end/goal/perfection good, s/he will necessarily desire that end/goal/perfection.  S/he has no choice in regard to the end/goal/perfection.  What s/he does have freedom to do, is to choose or not choose to do action which s/he decides is a means to that given end/goal/perfection.  For example, a person does not have a choice in regard to happiness; the will desires this automatically.  What s/he has a choice in regards to are the various means which s/he imagines/thinks are steps to acquire a happiness.

Key:  For an explanation of the reference and cross reference forms used in this book (e.g. [§19.6] and (11:292c), see previous posts in this blog entitled “The Elements of Philosophy:  Preface (7)” and “The Elements of Philosophy:  Preface (8)”.

The Elements of Philosophy: 1.8.50.6

“An alternative exposition of the free human act may be given by explaining how such an act is free.  Here it becomes necessary to distinguish between a voluntary act and a free act; for although a free act is necessarily a voluntary act, not every voluntary act is strictly a free act.  A free act, most properly speaking, is an act of choice (3:620a).  There are occasions, however, when it makes sense to say that man has no choice and that what he wills to do he must will to do [§28.3].  Such acts are voluntary in that they proceed from the will as a principle, but they are not free, at least in the usual and proper sense of the term.”  (The Elements of Philosophy by Father William A. Wallace, O.P.; PART 1.  //  CHAPTER 8.  ETHICS  //  [Section] §50.  THE HUMAN ACT  //  [paragraph] 6  //   [pages] 153 and 154)

Obiter Dicta:  There are situations in which coercion influences a choice.  This coercion may be physical or mental or emotional or relational or religious/spiritual.  

There are occasions in which coercion is an appropriate tool for leading a person to choose one particular action from a group of options.  In this regard one thinks of parenting or education/formation in which the parent/teacher needs to teach a child/student through habitual experience to learn to prefer one choice over another.

There are other occasions in which the coercion is inappropriate.  It might be inappropriate because the coerced choice meets the desires or needs of the person doing the coercion rather than the needs or desires of the one coerced.  Or it might be inappropriate because the coerced choice is not beneficial to the one being coerced.

Key:  For an explanation of the reference and cross reference forms used in this book (e.g. [§19.6] and (11:292c), see previous posts in this blog entitled “The Elements of Philosophy:  Preface (7)” and “The Elements of Philosophy:  Preface (8)”.

The Elements of Philosophy: 1.8.50.5

“The foregoing definitions apply primarily to the four cardinal virtues, viz, prudence, justice, temperance, fortitude.  In a broader sense, human virtues may be either intellectual or moral, depending on whether they perfect the intellect or the will, the two basic principles of human action.  Good habits of thinking perfect the human intellect either in its speculative dimension with the intellectual virtues of understanding [§36.2], science [§13], and wisdom [§36.1], or in its practical dimension with the habits of art [§58.1] and prudence [§54.7], although the latter is also moral to the extent that it requires right appetite for its proper operation [§55.6].  Good habits of desiring perfect the appetite, either the will by means of the virtue justice [§56.1], or the sense appetites by means of the virtue of temperance [§55.3] in the concupiscible appetite and the virtue of fortitude [§55.4] in the irascible appetite.  There will be corresponding vices for each of these virtues by way of contrary habits.”  (The Elements of Philosophy by Father William A. Wallace, O.P.; PART 1.  //  CHAPTER 8.  ETHICS  //  [Section] §50.  THE HUMAN ACT  //  [paragraph] 5  //   [page] 153)

Obiter Dicta:  It takes persistence to develop a good habit which will allow a person to overcome and avoid pleasurable actions which have deleterious/harmful/bad/evil results.  It takes courage to develop a good habit which will allow a person to overcome and avoid emotionally laden actions which also have deletrious/harmful/bad/evil results.

Key:  For an explanation of the reference and cross reference forms used in this book (e.g. [§19.6] and (11:292c), see previous posts in this blog entitled “The Elements of Philosophy:  Preface (7)” and “The Elements of Philosophy:  Preface (8)”.

The Elements of Philosophy: 1.8.50.4

“The notion of habit as perfecting or bettering human action is not in conflict with the division of habit into good and bad, that is, into virtue and vice.  Any habit permits man to operate better than he otherwise would, but whether a habit is good of bad is a moral consideration, distinct from the psychological explanation of how a habit develops a power more fully.  In general terms, the distinction between virtue as a good habit and vice as a bad habit turns on whether the habit produces acts conducive to promoting man’s moral good or evil.  Acts of virtue are those that are suitable to human nature, i.e., they are acts habitually performed according to the rule of reason.  Acts of vice are opposed to human nature inasmuch as they are habitually opposed to the direction of reason.  More precisely,  a virtue may be defined as a good habit by which one lives righteously, or, alternatively, as a habit inclining one to choose the relative mean between the extremes of excess and defect.  Vice as the contrary habit, would incline one to choose either of the extremes, both morally evil.”  (The Elements of Philosophy by Father William A. Wallace, O.P.; PART 1.  //  CHAPTER 8.  ETHICS  //  [Section] §50.  THE HUMAN ACT  //  [paragraph] 4  //   [pages] 152 and 153)

Obiter Dicta:  There is an English language aphorism, “Moderation in all things.”  This advice relates to the Latin language aphorism virtus stat in media res which is literally translated as “Virtue stands in the middle.”   This Latin saying is a translation of Aristotle’s (385 to 323 B.C.) moral insight that most virtues seem to be situated between two vices; one vice being a deficiency of the associated virtue and the other vice being an excess of the associated virtue.  So, for example, the vices associated with the virtue of courage might be called cowardice and rashness (rash-bravery).  When laid out in this manner, it becomes apparent that a virtue is an actual thing whereas the vices associated with that same virtue have no actual existence in themselves.  These vices are deficiencies/absences/privations/excesses of the associated virtue.  These vices are like a shadow which is not so much an actual thing as only the absence of sunlight illumination which is an actual thing.  The shadow is only seen in contrast with actual illumination.  If everything was un-illuminated, one would see no shadow.  Similarly, vices are only discerned in contrast with a known virtue.  Without virtue, vices would not be identifiable.

Aristotle’s doctrine of virtues situated in the mean was in part influenced by an inscription found on/within the temple of Apollo at Delphi; μηδὲν ἄγαν (pronounced may-dane ah-gan) which literally means “do the middle”.

“Moderation in all things” is morally confusing advice and an inadequate translation of the associated Latin and Greek language aphorisms.  “Moderation in all things” is sometimes taken to justify the attitude that in moral matters one should always seek compromise or choose the least of two evils.  Such attitudes ennoble mediocrity at best and evil at worst; both being false morality-like types of aiming at the middle.  Aristotle intended meaning is that one should identify what a virtue is and then aim at that.  Doing so, one will often discover that this virtue is found somewhere between two associated virtues of deficiency and excess.  But one does not begin by identifying vices and adopting versions of them to guide moral action.  A true morality in line with sound ethical reasoning always seeks to discover virtues and then aim one’s behaviors at those.

As a further aside, this insight of philosophical and metaphysical moderate realism directly contradicts and refutes the acceptance of any Manichaeism; i.e. any doctrine which holds that good and evil are two equal things.  The realities that sunlit-illumination and heat and virtue actually exist, and that vice and shadow and cold are not actual but exist only as privations/absences; these realities prove the inadequacy of moral dualisms. 

Key:  For an explanation of the reference and cross reference forms used in this book (e.g. [§19.6] and (11:292c), see previous posts in this blog entitled “The Elements of Philosophy:  Preface (7)” and “The Elements of Philosophy:  Preface (8)”.

The Elements of Philosophy: 1.8.50.3

“A habit (6:880d) can be understood initially as a disposing of power [§21.7] to act in a determinate way.  Man is able to perform a variety of acts through his various powers, but without the disposing influence of habit most of his distinctively human acts would be done haphazardly.  A habit develops and strengthens a human power, enabling the power to operate more effectively and with more facility.  So understood, a habit may be defined as a firm disposition (4:907b) of a power to act in a determinate way.  As the actualization of a power or potency it may be seen as a perfection.  A habit, moreover, far from being merely mechanical in operation and somehow alien to good human action, actually enters into the performing of human acts so intrinsically that it may be regarded as a second nature:  habit makes its distinctive act a kind of natural act just as a power is the first source of a natural act.”  (The Elements of Philosophy by Father William A. Wallace, O.P.; PART 1.  //  CHAPTER 8.  ETHICS  //  [Section] §50.  THE HUMAN ACT  //  [paragraph] 3  //   [page] 152)

Obiter Dicta:  It is interesting Father Wallace writes, “…A habit…enters into the performing of human acts so intrinsically that it may be regarded as a second nature.”

In his Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle (385 to 323 B.C.) speaks of habits as not being natural.  He gives the following example to explain what he means.  Imagine holding a rock in your hand.  You let go of the rock and it falls to the ground.  You do this again and again and it falls to the ground.  You could ask the rock not to fall to the ground, but it still would.  We can imagine you commanding the rock not to fall to the ground or even inflicting on it some attempted punishment to teach it otherwise, and yet, it would still fall to the ground.  The reason the rock falls to the ground is because it is it’s nature/essence to fall to the ground.  The rock cannot be taught, cannot learn, to not fall to the ground. Natures/essences are necessary characteristics/qualities of a given thing.

Then, Aristotle continues by inviting us to imagine a person who is cowardly.  Through example, education, incentive, encouragement, perhaps punishment, this person can be taught to attempt to act with courage.  This person can be taught to act courageously time and time again.  Finally, through this modeling and education, s/he adopts the excellence of character referred to as courage where in the recent past s/he was cowardly.  S/he attains the habit of courage.  Obviously, Aristotle continues, this cowardliness and this courage are not by nature.  Because this vice of cowardliness could be unlearned, it was not a necessary natural characteristic.  And since this person learned to act courageously and be courageous, this virtue of courage was not by nature.  Both were learned.

Aristotle then concludes by pointing out that virtues and vices are not by nature.  They are learned.  They are the fruit of formation and education.  Thus, one must be cautious and speak in a qualified way when one speaks of habits as being natural.  And perhaps, it was with a sense of caution that Father Wallace speaks of habits as a qualified type of nature; a second nature.

Morality is about learning virtuous habits. Morality is the root of and reason for education.

Key:  For an explanation of the reference and cross reference forms used in this book (e.g. [§19.6] and (11:292c), see previous posts in this blog entitled “The Elements of Philosophy:  Preface (7)” and “The Elements of Philosophy:  Preface (8)”.