Explain the meaning & significance of the expression: “bonum ex integra causa, malum ex quocumque defectu”

My summary notes from Fr. Brian Mullady's book, 
Both a Servant and Free, chapter 6. 

Used in preparation for a moral theology exam.

“Bonum ex integra causa, malum ex quocumque defectu” = “An action is good when good in every respect; it is wrong when wrong in any respect”

This statement means that good actions must satisfy all three moral determinants: object, circumstance, and intention, that is, they must be in accord with the order of reason, for an action to be considered good.

On the other hand, when any of these three moral determinants are lacking, that is, not in accord with the order of reason, the action is wrong. Just as an evil of the body is contrary to nature, so an evil of the soul is contrary to reason.

These three moral determinants: object, circumstance, intention, are the objective criteria of judgment for the goodness or evil of a human act. 

(1) The Object

The morality of the human act depends primarily and fundamentally on the ‘object’ rationally chosen by the deliberate will.

Moral objects can be good, evil or indifferent depending on their relationship to reason.

One must ask: How does the action relate to the order of reason?

A moral object is good when the action causes goodness of the will, perfects us morally, and it arrives at the final fulfillment of man, the vision of God. Example: almsgiving.

A moral object is evil when the action precludes the existence of the order of reason in the soul both respecting the powers themselves in relation to their end and in relation to each other. Example: murder.

To spell out the importance of this moral determinant, Fr. Mullady looks at the 5th commandment, “thou shalt not kill.” Since this commandment relates to innocent human life, “innocent” is the key determining factor of the object being in accord with or against reason. He takes two different situations that both physically involve the death of a man to prove his point: 

  1. Capital punishment and killing in self-defence, whether individually or in war, are good in object because they affirm and protect the right of innocent life.
  2. Euthanasia and abortion are evil in object because they deny the right of the innocent to live. These are always evil because choosing them involves a disorder of the will.

(2) The Circumstances

Though there are moral objects which are good or evil in themselves, there are actions which cannot be so judged by these universal considerations. Therefore, circumstances may add a further constituting condition to reason that can affect how the action relates to attaining the end. Place and time are examples of circumstances. 

Circumstances must be considered for 3 reasons:

  1. They can add a further reason to the suitability or unsuitability of a given means to arriving at an end (Eg. to steal from a home or to steal from a church).
  2. They can aggravate or diminish a good or evil (Eg. to steal a small amount or a large amount).
  3. They can contribute to the praiseworthy or blameworthy character of an act (Eg. the widow’s mite or ignorance of a circumstance).

They cannot, however, make an action which is already evil from object good.

(3) The Intention

The third moral determinant is intention. This is the individual reason a person has while he is performing a deed.

For an action to be wholly good, the accompanying personal motive of the chosen action must be good.

Intention can add a further goodness to the good of an action which already exists, as to give a cup of water to someone for the love of God adds a further goodness to merely giving the cup of water b/c of the respect for the dignity of the human person.

Intention can also change a good action into an evil action. For example, one who gives alms blowing the trumpet before him for the sake of vainglory.

Also, absentmindedness and fear does not make an action wholly good.

Comments

  1. Gregory Smith says:

    Clear summary of

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