Making Explicit the Inconsistency of Moral Thinking

The goal of this post is to bring out a fundamental logical contradiction in our moral thinking. By moral thinking I am referring to ways of thinking about right and wrong, what is good and how to get it apart from any effort to avoid inconsistencies. Our ordinary ways of thinking about morals take both rule following-deontological thinking and good pursuing -teleological thinking- as fundamental. Holding deontological and teleological thinking as fundamental produces the inconsistency.

Here I want to show that having this inconsistent way of thinking is based on our having free will because free will requires rule following.

Our moral thinking is logically inconsistent because we are free agents obligated to pursue what is truly good for us.

( Note that there is an assumption that some conditions are the genuine goods for humans.)

Having free will presupposes a need to be obligated to pursue what is truly good for us.

Consider a conjecture about the thought process at work in free will. We have the opportunity to exercise free will when we have a a choice between the following alternatives. We weigh the benefit of gaining a true good, e.g., life, over the costs of pursuing a path to attain a true good where benefits and costs are characterized in terms of satisfaction of inclinations. Suppose that it turns out that the costs of pursuing the true good outweigh the satisfactions of having the true good.
This is a real possibility.

A clear case of this occurs when a patient is suffering a painful terminal illness. Certainly, any characterization of the genuine human goods will bring out that they satisfy desires and inclinations. Still, it cannot be guaranteed that in all conditions the inclination satisfaction of true human goods outweighs the pains required to get them. This is especially the case when the probability of getting the satisfaction of the true human good is low.

Back to free will.

The alternatives for a free will choice are
1. to pursue the true human good
Or
2. follow our inclinations
which almost certainly will not be for sacrificing inclination satisfaction for sake of the true human good.

What might make the pursuit of the true human good choice worthy? Assume pursuit of a true human good is commanded by a moral rule. A true human good is desirable. But just in case we do not desire enough we are commanded to choose it. So, under my conjecture our capacity for free choice is the capacity to choose to obey a moral rule to pursue a true human good regardless of inclinations left unsatisfied.

The reality of free will as characterized here is well established in everyday life. It seems that people are faced with a choice of obeying moral laws when doing so is challenging. Frequently people seem to meet the challenges. I am almost certain that I have done so. Note that free will as here characterized makes no assumptions about universal causal determinism or divine omniscience.

But I do not want to digress into an examination of the problem of free will. My goal has only been to show that free will understood in a common sense way involves the concept of obligatory goods.

Elaborating on assuming true human goods would also be a digression from my goal of making explicit a contradiction in moral thinking. I admit that I am assuming that moral thinking does involve acceptance of some conditions as what makes for a good human life.

(I have been strongly influenced by the so-called New Natural Law theory of Grisez, Finnis et. al.)

The obligatory goods are various conditions which constitute a full human life. They are conditions such as knowledge, meaningfulness, enjoying beauty, liberty, sufficient food. It is a task for philosophers, where “philosophy” is to be understood as wisdom, to elaborate on the conditions which make for a full human life. Most people will have deficiency in enjoying these basic human goods. Maybe everyone will always have some deficiency with respect to these goods.

Once we have specified what is good we can specify what “harm” means when I write of “moral harm.” To produce harm is to bring about a deficiency in these basic goods.

This definition of “harm” brings us close to bringing out the inconsistency once we recall that the first principle of natural moral thinking is

Do good, avoid evil.

This principle tells us:
Promote the basic human goods and never produce harm.
A corollary is:
There ought never be harm. Or

NO HARM OUGHT TO BE.

However, we have not only the first principle of natural law as a moral rule but several moral laws commanding that basic human goods be promoted and never deliberately inhibited.

But laws, which are not mere words, carrying sanctions. They specify that harm ought to result upon their violation.

So, assuming that some moral laws have been violated we have

SOME HARM OUGHT TO BE.

So, here we have uncovered the inconsistency in everyday uncritical moral thinking.

The next post sketches out ways of avoiding this inconsistency.

Reason Persuades; Cannot Force Thought

My previous post established that reason is not a moral authority. That result does not denigrate reason but only leads to getting a clearer concept of reason. Reason is just too diffuse to be an authority about anything. But that does not mean that reason fails to be our only access to what is true and what ought to be.

I propose that we think of reason as human consciousness, thinking broadly construed, to avoid the impossible task of trying to construct a concept of how what we sense is connected with what we think. In fact, there is no separation. It is only for philosophical purposes that a separation was made. It is true that we can sometimes think through a problem better if we shut our eyes while holding our hands over our ears. But that helps because the thoughts or conscious states- making up what we see and hear readily distract us from what we want to think about. However, once I have made this proposal to think of reason broadly as human consciousness to set aside an insolvable philosophical puzzle, I will write of reason as I did in the previous post. That was the way we talk and write of reason in ordinary language.

Thinking or reasoning is the only way humans can find out and communicate what is the case, why things happen, how things function, what ought to be, etc.,. Over a period of at least several thousand years humans have developed fairly reliable ways to find out, manipulate and explain what is the case. I think current scientific method including mathematics is the most reliable ways of thinking about what is the case. I am not claiming that scientific method is a subclass of reasoning that is an authority on what is the case. It does not increase the force of a scientific demonstration to say “Reason tells us this is the right result.” Citing reason as an authority is irrelevant. The scientific experiment shows, with probability what is the case. Chatter about the rationality of scientific method is just propaganda to persuade those who cannot follow the reasoning.

There has not been agreement on a method of finding out what ought to be. I propose there is no agreement on a method for moral thinking because almost all of us have the notion of moral harm as fundamental in our thinking about what ought to be. As I have shown in several past posts, the notion of moral harm leads to the notion of a moral authority. Now many people cannot, or will not, accept the notion of a moral authority because amongst other things it requires acceptance of at least some type of semi-divine being. Many others for various reasons find the notion of moral harm morally repugnant. They cannot, or will not, accept that there is harm that ought to be.

Because of this deep disagreement about moral harm, our reasoning with one another cannot be expected to lead to agreement on a method for finding out what ought to be. However, we can still reason -converse- with others to reach conclusions about what ought to be done in some particular cases.

In my next post, I elaborate on what has been brought out in this post. Human moral thinking is fundamentally logically inconsistent.
The fundamental inconsistency is that moral thinking is both deontological (rule based) and teleological (good seeking).

This does not mean that people have to think inconsistently when thinking about morals. There are different ways of removing a fundamental inconsistency in moral thinking. The result is that different consistent ways of moral thinking can be taken and these ways will be logically inconsistent with one another.

Human Reason Is Not Our Moral Authority

The primary goal of this post is to point out that human reason is not a moral authority. If there are authoritative moral commands in our reason, they are not issued by reason itself. What is reason?

Here is the outline of the structure of reason I attribute to reason when I make my case that reason is not moral authority. I support my claims about the structure of reason by citing phrases which seem to presupposed reason has the structure I am attributing to it.

First there is reason itself considered by itself, viz., apart from any human or group of humans. Reason itself considered by itself is the candidate for the moral authority. We say “According to reason . . “

Second there is human reason. Human reason is a vast collection of what has been and is being thought by human beings through the ages. There are numerous subclasses of human reason, e.g., the thoughts of various civilizations and religions.

“Reason” is used descriptively in the phrase “human reason.” There is no claim that what comes from human thinking is always correct although those of us who are not total skeptics believe that there are some truths produced by human reason as well as some truths recognized by human reason. Human reason is logically inconsistent although human reason considered by itself is assumed to be consistent and always correct.

We need to assume that there is human reason because we cannot talk about reason in individuals without assuming that they learn to think by learning the thoughts of some culture – some subclass of human reason. We say “Human reason varies from culture to culture. . .”

Third, there is reason itself embedded in each human being. Call this “reason itself imbedded in individuals.” Reason itself embedded in individuals is the same in all people and is the same as reason itself considered by itself. We say “If I would only follow my reason, I’d get it right.”

Fourth, there is the reasoning of each individual where “reason “ is used descriptively as the collection of all the sense and nonsense we think. Call this “personal empirical reason.” We say “I can’t figure it out; my reasoning is all messed up.”

*There’s more. Fifth there is reason itself embedded in the collective of human thinking or reasoning. Call this reason itself embedded in human society “public empirical reason”. Talk of reason as the moral authority commits us to a social realism which holds that societies in some way think. We say “Human reason is biased.”

Human reason itself considered by itself, human reason itself embedded in individuals and human reason itself embedded in societies are the same and reason so considered is the alleged moral authority.

Assume that there is a single entity designated by “human reason itself.” Could this entity be our moral authority? Acceptance of this entity is to accept no more than the reality of human reasoning. Human reasoning does not enchant reality. Only a hard core dogmatic materialist would hold that acceptance of human thinking is something like accepting a demi-god. But a moral authority enchants reality . In the previous post we brought out that acceptance of a moral authority is acceptance of something like a demi-god. From that post, recall that a moral authority has a kind of omniscience about all violations of moral law, has anger or wrath about violations, decrees that harm ought to come about because of the violations and has some considerable capability to have that harm brought about.

So for an authoritarian morality, human reason cannot be the moral authority. This result disappoints me. I thought that adopting an authoritarian moral theory would enable me to give a stronger argument for a fundamental traditional principle of sexual morality than I gave in my book**. I hoped that I could show that the principle in question was a principle of reason and thereby had authoritative force.

This result does not show that an authoritarian moral theory is incorrect. Nor does it show that reasoning is irrelevant in trying to convince people of a moral principle. Reasoning plus action in accordance with what we say is all that we have to convince others. It is just that when we give others reasons, even compelling reasons, for a moral principle we are not giving them the command of a moral authority.

*All of these distinctions could be expressed much more exactly in the terminology of Aristotelian/Thomistic philosophy. But I do not plan to investigate the distinctions and assumptions systematically. My aim has been to show that they seem to be presupposed by our ordinary talk about reason.

**My book Confronting Sexual Nihilism: Traditional Sexual Morality as an Antidote to Nihilism was released by Tate Publishing on March 11, 2014. See Book Web Page for information about the book. Free copies can be obtained here by credit card by paying $3.75 for shipping and handling.





To receive a free book, send check of $3.75 for shipping and handling per copy. Send to:
Charles F. Kielkopf
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Authoritarian Morality Enchants Reality

The goal of this post is to acknowledge that assumption of an authoritarian moral theory is to accept the reality of far more than those who hold the scientism philosophy that there is nothing beyond what is necessary for providing truth conditions for claims on natural science. Authoritarian morality does not enchant reality with as many wonders as Christianity. But it certainly fills reality with a mental life far beyond what natural science can discover.*

The moral authority has to have something like the mentality we claim for ourselves and attribute to other people. The moral authority is a personal being which acts intentionality. (I underline terms suggesting mentality.)

The law giver has concern that its general laws are obeyed because the lawgiver is benevolent. We recognize the benevolence of the lawgiver in our recognition that the general laws are, if obeyed, for human flourishing. The law giver recognizes violations of its laws. The law giver has wrath when general laws are disobeyed. The law giver prescribes harm that ought to occur because of violations and the law giver intends that the prescribed harm occurs. The law giver recognizes when the prescribed harm or acceptable to it substitute has occurred. When satisfied the law giver resinds the prescription for harm.

So far, it may seem that these features attributed to the so-called moral law giver are only the features we would attribute to a human legislator. However, a bit of reflection brings out a tremendous difference. Start with recognition of all violations. Earlier, I called this “transparency” to the moral authority. Nothing wrong, or right for that matter, escapes the notice of the moral legislator. This is a type of omniscience. But the moral legislator is not willful or legislates arbitrarily even if it wills that harm ought to follow upon violations of its general laws. For the laws of the moral authority are immutable.

To say that they are immutable is to say that we can not imagine them being otherwise. For instance, I cannot think of what it would be like for abortion to be morally permissible. I may wish that it were morally permissible. But that is only a wish because I cannot think of what I wish for to be true.

These observations about a moral authority suffice to show that acceptance of a moral authority would certainly strike some one holding a scientist philosophy as imagining reality filled with some fantastic being.

* See Christian Re-enchantment for a sketch of how a so-called enchanted reality is philosophically forbidden to those who hold that there is nothing beyond what is necessary for providing truth conditions for claims on natural science.

In my book, I argued for a fundamental moral rule for male sexuality without any appeal to a moral authority. I hope to develop a stronger argument using authoritarian morality.

My book Confronting Sexual Nihilism: Traditional Sexual Morality as an Antidote to Nihilism was released by Tate Publishing on March 11, 2014. See Book Web Page for information about the book. See pp. 72ff. for discussion of moral harm. Free copies can be obtained here by credit card by paying $3.75 for shipping and handling.





To receive a free book, send check of $3.75 for shipping and handling per copy. Send to:
Charles F. Kielkopf
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Pope Francis’ Opens a Door to Sexual Nihilism

I take the liberty of quoting the entire article by Edward Pentin from the on-line edition of National Catholic Register,September 14, 2019. It is evidence that Pope Francis either endorses what I have called “The moral neutrality of sexuality” or is willing to have inconsistent sexual moral theologies taught as authentically Catholic. However, the moral neutrality of sexuality would be the sexual morality taught at the important the Pontifical John Paul II Theological Institute for Marriage and Family Sciences.

I have pointed out that accepting the moral neutrality of sexuality undercuts traditional Catholic sexual morality. Note that accepting the moral neutrality of sexuality is tantamount to accepting that no sexual acts are intrinsically morally disordered.

Let us pray that the Holy Father knows how to preserve Catholic Christianity as a serious religion if it in principle accepts that under certain conditions, with certain intentions and high probability of beneficial consequences any sexual act is morally permissible. The moral neutrality of sexuality undercuts the religious outlook of Catholic Christianity which views human beings as fallen, needing redemption for our sins, and divine help to avoid sin.

There is nothing like the struggle to be chaste, eg., struggling against temptations to masturbation, to convince us that we are strongly tempted to sin, we cannot avoid sin by our own efforts and we need forgiveness for our sins. Performance of the corporeal works of mercy is necessary for salvation. But they are far easier to perform than, say, practicing natural family planning. At least that has been my personal experience

The Catholic Register article follows.

New JPII Institute Professors Question Church Orthodoxy on Homosexuality, Contraception

Father Maurizio Chiodi and Father Pier Davide Guenzi currently teach moral theology at the University of Northern Italy in Milan, and both are well known for their questioning of moral absolutes.

VATICAN CITY — The latest development in what is becoming increasingly viewed as both a purge and a revolution of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute is the hiring of two moral theologians whose views on homosexuality and contraception contradict the magisterium.
The new professors, Father Maurizio Chiodi and Father Pier Davide Guenzi, both moral theologians at the University of Northern Italy in Milan, will begin teaching at the Pontifical John Paul II Theological Institute for Marriage and Family Sciences as part of its 2019-2020 curriculum announced this week.
Father Chiodi, whom Archbishop Paglia appointed as a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life in 2017, is to teach “Theological Ethics of Life” at the institute.
Father Guenzi is to lecture on the “Anthropology and Ethics of Birth.” Both professors, whose appointments follow highly contentious removals of long-serving lecturers in July, are well known for their questioning of moral absolutes.
In 2017, Father Chiodi gave a controversial Rome lecture on Humanae Vitae in which he used Chapter 8 of Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on the family, Amoris Laetitia, to justify contraceptive use in some cases.
More recently, he gave an interview to the Italian bishops’ newspaper Avvenire in which he asserted that, while each homosexual person is called to chastity, “under certain conditions” and depending on circumstances, homosexual relationships can be “the most fruitful way” for same-sex attracted persons “to enjoy good relations.”
The interview appeared to suggest that Father Chiodi was open to considering homosexual acts as “objectively good,” according to bioethicist Tommaso Scandroglio, writing in the Italian Catholic daily La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana.
Father Guenzi expressed similar views to Father Chiodi in another recent interview with Avvenire. On the subject of whether homosexual acts could ever be licit, Father Guenzi equivocated, saying it depended on the “relationship, between the intention of the individual and the sense of their actions.” In this regard, he added, “they may be deemed ‘imperfect’ as other sexual behaviors are, even within the life of a stable heterosexual couple.”
With respect to homosexual relations generally, he drew on Amoris Laetitia, Chapter 8, to assert that every situation has to be discerned differently. In recent years “we have learned that the natural law must be continually rethought,” he said. “There are deep dynamics inherent to each human person which ask to be respected as inherent to the structure of anthropology.”
Fathers Chiodi and Guenzi are two of eight new lecturers to be hired by the institute this forthcoming academic year, all of them Italian, while other incumbent professors including Polish philosophy Prof. Stanislaw Grygiel, a close friend of Pope St. John Paul II, have been sidelined or given their marching orders.
Grygiel has said he believes the institute is being “destroyed” and that John Paul II’s anthropological teaching replaced by “sociological and psychological meanderings.”
Both Professors Chiodi and Guenzi are understood to be close associates of the institute’s grand chancellor, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, and effectively replace Msgr. Livio Melina, a former president of the institute who held the institute’s now-obsolete chair of fundamental moral theology, and moral theologian, Father José Noriega.
The removals in July of Msgr. Melina and Father Noriega, and the way they were dismissed, led to over 200 scholars worldwide, including well-known U.S. academics such as professor Robert George and professor. Scott Hahn, signing an open letter to Archbishop Paglia, and the institute’s president, Msgr. Pierangelo Sequeri, asking they be reinstated.
The personnel changes come two years after Pope Francis issued a decree refounding the institute and giving it a new name.
The Register asked Archbishop Paglia whether he could give reasons for employing Fathers Chiodi and Guenzi to teach at the institute in light of their views on homosexuality and contraception. He has yet to reply.

End of Register article

I authored a book Confronting Sexual Nihilism: Traditional Sexual Morality as an Antidote to Nihilism Oklahoma City March 11, 2014. Sexual Nihilism is equivalent to the moral neutrality of sexuality. I argue that sexual nihilism leads to total moral nihilism which is frequently labeled moral relativism. See Book Web Page for more information about the book. Free copies can be obtained here by credit card by paying $3.75 for shipping and handling.





To receive a free book, send check of $3.75 for shipping and handling per copy. Send to:
Charles F. Kielkopf
45 W. Kenworth Rd.

Core Concepts of Authoritarian Morality

In this post, I sketch out three signigicant features of the moral authority in authoritarian moral thought. In passing, it is shown how authoritarian moral thought confronts Plato’s dilemma challenging authoritarian moral thought in his dialogue Euthyphro.

Previous posts brought out that moral thinking requires a concept of a being who commands the laws of morality, who cares that the laws of morality are obeyed, who commands that harm ought to result when moral laws are violated and who has the capability to have it brought about that the harm prescribed for violations of the moral laws actually occurs.

The issuing of prescriptions that harm ought to result from
violations of the moral laws can be called the wrath of the moral authority. Moral thought requires, further, a fear of disobeying the commands of this moral authority and incurring its wrath.. This fear of the moral authority can be called respect for the moral laws.

My goal is to draw out from my understanding of moral thought, the basic thoughts and feelings of all moral thinking. I appreciate that my goal seems an egotistical delusion. But reliance on personal analysis of the randomly assembled fragments of conversations and readings that happen to come my way is, I submit, a philosophers material for analysis. But for awhile I will limit my claims to what can be called, in light of my analyses, authoritarian moral thought.

In some later posts, I need to sketch out some account of my belief that individual people can uncover universal structural features of human thinking because the basic structure of any individual’s thinking is common to every individual person’s thought.

An important feature is transparency. The moral authority is a aware of all violations of moral laws. There is no way to evade this awareness of moral violations. I have been chided for having an allegedly childish concept of God as one who knows and judges all that we do. Actually I consider myself mature for holding and developing a concept of God as at least the all-knowing moral judge. Having a fully developed way of thinking about morality requires maturity.

Immutability is also an important feature of a moral authority. Recognition of immutability is especially helpful when we are challenged with the question based on Plato’s Euthyphro: Does the moral authority command it because it is right or is what the moral authority commands right simply because the authority commands it? If we answer “yes” to the first question, our answer presupposes that there is a standard of right and wrong apart form the moral authority. If so, the moral authority is not the foundation of our obligations; but the standard which it uses is the foundation. If we answer “yes” to the second question we are confronted with the objection that then torturing babies for amusement could be right if the authority commanded it.

What is immutability? If we accept a moral law we cannot imagine what it would be like for it to be changed. We cannot imagine the moral authority changing it. If we accept that the moral authority has condemned torturing babies we cannot conceive of it switching over to permitting it; much less commanding it. This is what it means to say that the moral authority has immutability with respect to laws. But the immutability is not total. The moral authority changes with respect to the ad hoc prescriptions for harm. The moral authority cancels them if the harm is inflicted or if the moral authority shows mercy.

In answer to the Euthyphro challenge, we should answer “yes” to the second question. We do not worry about claims that the authority could command acts and principles we already accept on its authority. We can not even think of the contrary to fact hypotheticals starting with, “Suppose the authority commanded X”, where X is something seriously in conflict with morality we have already accepted.

Connected with the immutability of moral laws is the autonomy of the moral authority. Nothing but the legislation of the moral authority is needed to validate its laws.

The full-fledged concept of God in the Judeo-Christian religions suffices for the concept of a moral authority. However, it is not necessary to have a concept of the Judeo-Christian God to have a concept of a moral authority. Concepts of lesser deities suffice. Monotheism is not required. The moral authority need not be the creator of all that is. The moral authority need not be all-powerful. The moral authority may be in a struggle with an evil deity as in Manicheanism or Zoroastrianism . The moral authority may have other beings exercise its wrath as did the Furies in Greek mythology. The moral authority need not have any compassion for wrong doers. It need never show mercy or forgiveness. It could demand that every prescription for harm as a result of wrong doing be carried out.

In the authoritarian stance on morality, the moral authority has to have some type of mentality or intentionality. It has to be regarded as in some way being aware of and caring about human affairs.
Total materialists can recognize no moral authority.

A very significant feature of the moral authority would be benevolence. We recognize the benevolence of the lawgiver in our recognition that the general laws are, if obeyed, for human flourishing. Morality does not consist of pointless rules imposed on us. Understanding the moral authority as benevolent leads to having a concept of obligatory goods. The rules of a benevolent moral authority would specify that certain conditions for human flourishing such as life and liberty ought to be promoted and never inhibited. Those who accept a benevolent moral authority hold that morality has goals beyond avoiding harm by disobeying the rules. In terminology of moral theory, those who accept a benevolent moral authority have a moral theory which is both deontological and telological

Unfortunately for developing my preferred moral stance, I have to admit that concept of moral authority by itself does not entail benevolence. In principle, the moral authority could be arbitrary. Those who accept a moral authority as arbitrary hold that no reason can or need be given for obedience to the rules beyond avoiding harm by disobeying the rules.

Evaluation of Feser’s Perverted Faculty Argument

This evaluation of Edward Feser’s* argument for traditional Catholic sexual morality is not a digression from my series of posts on the conceptual elements of moral thinking. The main point of my evaluation is to bring out that in moral thinking “ought” is moral fundamental than “good.” Or: thinking of what we ought to do is more fundamental than thinking of good to be accomplished by what we do.In the terminology of moral theory, I am making a case that moral thought is fundamentally deontological as opposed to teleological. Correct moral theory brings out that choices are to be driven by duty as opposed to being drawn by a goal (telos) of what is good.

I might be evaluating Feser’s article by a standard different from what he was trying meet. Feser’s goal might have been simply to show the correct formulation of the argument in the tradition of Aristotelian-Thomistic moral theory. I am evaluating his argument on the basis of whether or not it is an effective argument for the correctness of the basic principle of Catholic sexual morality.

To be an effective argument for the basic principle of Catholic sexual morality, the final conclusion has to be a statement that we OUGHT to follow the restrictions of Catholic sexual morality. A frequent criticism of natural law moral arguments is that they infer from a claim that there IS a way a system operates to a claim that that is the way we OUGHT to use the system.

For example,

The function of sexual intercourse IS to unite a man and woman in a union for procreation an rearing of children.
Therefore, sexual intercourse OUGHT to be used for uniting a man and woman in a union for procreation and rearing of children.

Feser writes on p. 381
No such gap, and thus no “fallacy” of inferring normative conclusions from “purely factual” premises, can exist given an Aristotelian Thomistic essentialist and teleological conception of the world.

But I challenge his argument mainly because we should not rest our argument on a conception of the world without admitting that such an assumption is taking a stance and thereby conceding that our argument is contingent upon that stance being correct. Moreover, I think that even if he explicitly conceded that he is taking a stance, he still makes a logical leap from “is” to “ought”
if his intention is to show that people ought to conform to traditional sexual morality.

It is in the use of metaphysics to justify moral claims about what people in the natural world ought to do where there might be inferences from “is” to “ought.”

In claims about the natural world, from an Aristotelian perspective, there may be no significant factual statement which does not also entail an “ought” statement because significant factual claims about any natural individual, species or system at least implies a claim about a final cause for the individual, species or system. However, factual statements entail an “ought” because there is an implicit premise to the effect:

If at the metaphysical level we can characterize a being with an essence E as choosing goal G, then at the natural level we can say that a being with essence E ought to choose G.

Such a premise should be explicit when used.

Consider Feser’s argument for traditional sexual morality. I present his whole deductively argument because it is so elegant. With the discussion of the premises in the article it is a clear and rigorous argument from Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics that conformity to traditional Catholic sexual morality IS an essential feature of a rational animal. But I focus only on the first and last premise.

His first premise as I mark it explicitly places his argument in metaphysics and not in physics.

1. Where some faculty F is natural to a rational agent A and by nature exists for the sake of some end E (and exists in A precisely so that A might pursue E), then it is metaphysically impossible for it to be good for A to use F in a manner contrary to E.

2. But our sexual faculties exist by nature for the sake of procreative and
unitive ends, and exist in us precisely so that we might pursue those
ends.

3. So it is metaphysically impossible for it to be good for us to use those
faculties in a manner that is contrary to their procreative and unitive
ends.

4. But contraceptive acts, masturbatory acts, homosexual acts, and acts of
bestiality involve the use of our sexual faculties in a manner that is con
trary to their procreative and/or unitive ends.

5. So it is metaphysically impossible for it to be good for us to engage in
contraceptive acts, masturbatory acts, homosexual acts, or acts of
bestiality.

6. But it can be rational to engage in an act only if it is in some way good
for us and never when it frustrates the realization of the good.

His conclusion is still at the metaphysical level. It tells us what is true about the essence of a rational animal.

7. So it cannot be rational to engage in contraceptive acts, masturbatory acts, homosexual acts, or acts of bestiality.

I use his term “metaphysically impossible” to emphasize that the conclusion is still a metaphysical claim.

So it is metaphysically impossible to be a rational animal and to engage in contraceptive acts, masturbatory acts, homosexual acts, or acts of bestiality.

Unfortunately it is all too obvious that it is physically possible to be a rational animal and to engage in contraceptive acts, masturbatory acts, homosexual acts, or acts of bestiality.

How can there be such a disparity between metaphysical truth and physical truth? The quick answer is that we are not as we ought to be. We get distracted by goods which are not our true good. So we do not choose as a fully rational animal would choose. We ought to choose as a fully rational animal would choose. And here we have the “ought” following from an “is.”

We need a premise (8) along the lines of:

8. We ought to choose and act on the physical or natural level as a rational animal characterized at the metaphysical level

* See Ch. 16 “In defense of the perverted faculty argument”
by Edward Feser in Neo-Scholastic Essays St. Augustine Press, South Bend IN 2015,

My book Confronting Sexual Nihilism: Traditional Sexual Morality as an Antidote to Nihilism was released by Tate Publishing on March 11, 2014. See Book Web Page for information about the book. In Ch. IV of my book I make a case for traditional Catholic sexual morality. If I were to prepare a 2nd edition of my book I would think of using Feser’s argument because I think it is persuasive. I would only add that I am explicitly assuming a stance and I do need to add an “ought” premise. Free copies can be obtained here by credit card by paying $3.75 for shipping and handling.





To receive a free book, send check of $3.75 for shipping and handling per copy. Send to:
Charles F. Kielkopf
45 W. Kenworth Rd.

Respect For the Moral Law

In my normative theory of moral harm, I first proposed that moral harm is an ad hoc prescription that harm ought to occur because of a violation of a moral law. For instance, if the moral law is “Thou shalt not bear false witness against your neighbor” and a man perjurers himself by falsely accusing his neighbor of theft, the ad hoc moral prescription is “Harm ought to happen because of this violation.”

Throughout my posts on moral harm, I have usually allowed the ad hoc proposals to be specified in more detail as “Harm ought to happen to perpetrators and accomplices in some proportion to the nature of the violation.” To specify that the harm be to perpetrators etc., helps make my theory closer to common sense.

Nonetheless, once harm is required for violation of a moral law, it remains to ask “For whom?” and “How much?” However, in this post I do not explore the questions of “To whom?” and “How much?” So, feel free to understand these ad hoc prescriptions for harm as demanding punishment to fit the crime for perpetrators. When I discuss collective guilt, inherited guilt and substitutionary atonement it is useful to bring out the separation of the issues of “to whom?” and “how much?”

Here I want to explore the significant enhancement of the theory made in the previous post. The enhancement is that genuine moral thought requires a type of fear. The ad hoc prescription cannot be interpreted simply as a normative statement that harm ought to be done for the violation. As I put it at the end of the previous post on wrath of God.

The major “take-away” from this post is that the prescription in morality that harm ought to happen upon violation of a moral law cannot be regarded as simply the statement of a prescription for harm. It needs to be understood as the expression of a being offended by the violation of a moral law, with the authority to command the harm threatened by the moral law and some capability to bring about this prescribed harm.

Similarly, the basic moral laws are to be understood as the actual commands of a being with the authority to issue the commands. Moral laws are not to be understood as primarily statements of the moral law.

The suggestion that moral laws are primarily statements of what ought and ought not be suggests a distorted picture of morality. It suggests that experiencing what is required by morality is obtained by consulting some moral law book to learn what is required. Now the distortion is not the suggestion of a immaterial moral law book. The distortion is the suggestion that experiencing the moral law is learning the fact that such-and-such IS written in the book. OUGHT cannot be based merely on what IS; not even what is commanded. An ought- an obligation- must be experienced as the reception of a command.

I admit that the suggestion of hearing a command from an immaterial moral authority is no clearer than the suggestion of reading a statement of a moral law in the immaterial law book of an immaterial moral authority. But the analogy to hearing a command corresponds better to the experience of being obligated than to reading a statement of the law.

Unfortunately, any serious discussion of the basic moral concepts will come in conflict with a dominant bias that there is nothing over and above that which can be investigated by the methods of natural science.

Let us return to the main question of this post. Amongst the constellation of concepts for moral thought we have uncovered that in authentic moral thought there is a concept of a type of fear. What is this fear? Like almost all concepts this concept of fearing to violate a moral law is a mixture of cognitive and emotional components: a feeling structured by thoughts. (Sometimes I like to call these thought/feeling complexes attitudes.) There is an emotion of fear but it is structured by thoughts about the moral commands. It’s a fear of the ability and willingness of the moral authority to have the harm which ought to occur upon violation of the law to actually occur. There is this fear about both violating the general moral laws and not having the ad hoc prescriptions for harm not being fulfilled.

I think we can call this fear of violating a moral law RESPECT for the moral law.

(I confess to being influence in selection of this English term for his German term Achtung as the concept characterizing the attitude of genuine moral thought towards moral laws. But I make no pretense of interpreting Kant.)

Why use “respect” which suggests more thought than feeling?

Moral laws are too frequently violated to suggest that people live in terror of the moral authority. Those who try to follow moral laws could be characterized as having a thoughtful fear. Even those of us who think moral laws are commands of God and violations provoke the wrath of God, I think could be characterized by having respect for the wrath of God. We do not expect God to send down fire and brimstone at, say, the many sexual sins. We think that God is offended by what goes on in bathhouses and believe that harm is and will be occurring because of what goes on. But we do not expect anything dramatic to happen. I am personally reluctant to classify the AIDs epidemic as God’s wrath blazing. But maybe I should.

But most of all it must be emphasized that fear of violations of moral laws and prescriptions is not so strong that it overwhelms our free will. Despite fear of violating moral laws, we can, and do, choose to violate them. Yet we can never choose to violate a moral law and have it be a correct choice. “Respect” is a good term for an attitude towards a rule that we know we can violate but can never be right in violating it.

Moral Harm as The Wrath of God

In my previous posts on moral harm, morality has been discussed from a secular perspective. There was no mention of God or divine beings who cared about human morality; let alone created it. I did not take this secular perspective because I do not believe that God cares that humans follow the morality He gives us. I take the secular approach because I want to find the simplest or most basic concepts in our moral thinking. Thinking of a violation of a moral law as simply a violation of a law is simpler than thinking of the violation of a law commanded by God. Finding the simplest concepts in our moral thought enables us to recognize its structure. Recognizing the structure of our moral thinking increases our understanding of what we are thinking when we think morally.

In this post, I want to introduce the concept of moral laws as commands of God. Looking at moral laws as divine commands enables us to think of violations of moral laws as sins. Previously, I proposed from the secular perspective,Revision of Normative Theory of Moral Harm, that moral harm is the addition to morality of a negative prescription that harm ought to be done because of the violation. This negative prescription was characterized as dirt or junk in moral thought because it was something out of place in moral thought. This way of characterizing moral harm makes moral harm something formal or even verbal. However, with moral thought personalized as the thought of God on how humans ought to behave, the prescription that harm ought to occur because of the violation is not simply words. The prescription that harm ought to occur is God’s thought. A thought of God that harm ought to occur because of a violation of one of His laws can be fairly characterized as the wrath of God.

So from a religious perspective common in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the moral harm produced by simply violating a moral law, is the thought of God that now some harm ought to occur to humans – usually the perpetrator.

Unless God relents what He thinks ought to occur will occur. So, when we add a religious perspective, moral harm seems much, much more harmful than when described merely in secular terms.

The major “take-away” from this post is that the prescription in morality that harm ought to happen upon violation of a moral law cannot be regarded as simply the statement of a prescription for harm. It needs to be understood as the expression of a being offended by the violation of a moral law, with the authority to command the harm threatened by the moral law and some capability to bring about this prescribed harm

Moral Harm vs. Moral Injury

I need to distinguish the concept of moral harm from the concept of moral injury. Moral harm is a concept I have introduced to connect a collection of concepts used in discussing morality. These are concepts such as retribution, atonement, collective guilt and penance. The concept of moral harm is offered as a concept to be used in characterizing what morality is – a concept for use in moral theory.

Moral injury is a concept introduced into clinical psychology to discuss the damage done to a person’s moral thought and sentiments after experiencing the stress of situations strongly violating the person’s moral beliefs and sentiments.

“Moral injury refers to an injury to an individual’s moral conscience resulting from an act of perceived moral transgression which produces profound emotional guilt and shame, and in some cases also a sense of betrayal, anger and profound ‘moral disorientation’. The concept of moral injury emphasizes the psychological, social, cultural, and spiritual aspects of trauma. Distinct from pathology, moral injury is a normal human response to an abnormal traumatic event. ”
Continue reading Moral Injury. for more details.

Usually, morally wrong acts cause harm in the natural world: physical or psychological harm. Moral injury is one of many kinds of natural harm which are caused by immoral acts. Moral injury is damage done to individuals by immoral acts. In contrast, moral harm is damage done to human morality simply by the violation of a moral law.

Two examples may illustrate the difference between moral harm and moral injury.

A young soldier has grown to admire the character of his platoon leader during training. This sergeant has become his model of how a man ought to be. He is a good father and husband as well as being a disciplined soldier. However, under combat conditions this sergeant “goes rogue.” He puts bullets into the heads of two prisoners after interrogation and on one occasion shot a woman going to a well because he said she was going to place a bomb in it.The sergeant lets it be known that anyone who reports him might not live long. Besides the physical damage this sergeant inflicts on his victims he also inflicts psychological harm on the young soldier who admired him. The young soldier becomes disorientated in his moral thinking. How could a good man be a killer?

Now the moral harm brought about by the sergeant’s egregious violations of the moral law “Thou shalt not kill” is addition to morality of a negative prescription that ought not be in morality. The prescription is that harm ought to occur to the killer. Morality is burdened with this negative prescription until it is cleaned up by the suffering of harm by the murderous sergeant.

For another example, consider the case of a fourteen year old Catholic boy who is struggling hard not to become a porn seeking masturbator. He recognizes the moral prohibition against intentionally seeking an orgasm outside coitus with a woman to whom he is committed for life. This boy seeks the advice of a priest. After several sessions with this priest, in some of which the priest has viewed pornography with him under the pretext of resisting temptation, there was a session in which they performing mutual fellatio. The boy left in shame and horror. He was painfully confused by sexual impulses and thoughts. Losing direction about what is right and wrong sexually is painful because you are totally under pressure from others on what you can and cannot do; and that direction from the outside, as opposed to inner direction, is totally ambiguous. Destruction of a sense of sexual inner direction along with losing hope in help from religion is a moral injury the priest inflicted upon the boy.

When we talk of sexual abuse, I propose that we restrict it to cases in which there was moral injury inflicted on one of the parties. I doubt that my proposal will be followed.

In this case of the priest and the boy, the moral harm is the damage done to morality by the priest violating the moral law against seeking orgasms outside marriage is a negative addition to morality of the prescription that harm ought to befall him. Our morality will be cluttered up with this negative prescription until some appropriate harm befalls this priest – until justice is done.

If the priest dies before any harm happens to him because of his seduction of the boy, many will lament that justice will never get done in this case. That failure to have justice done will remain forever in our morality as a failure to have a prescription fulfilled.

My notion of moral harm may not be a thought that people want to use explicitly. Indeed I do not know whether anyone has used it before. However, using it does help us understand some moral concepts we do use such as just illustrated: justice being done.