Category Archives: Moral philosophy

The Virtue of Taking Retribution

In this post I use my theory of moral harm to understand and appreciate the thinking behind retributive punishment. This is not to say that I show that the thinking behind retributive punishment is precise. It’s radically imprecise!

What is my theory of moral harm? My theory is that moral harm is the moral judgment, concomitant with a moral law, that harm OUGHT to result from violation of the moral law. See Moral Harm Is a Moral Judgment.

However, nothing in the moral law tells us what the harm ought to be. Moral laws are categorical imperatives: Don’t do it! Their “tone” conveys the message “Don’t do it or else!” The what else is unspecified harm – infinite harm in the sense of unlimited. For the functioning of moral thinking the threat, perhaps promise, of unspecified harm gives authority to moral laws. There is no negotiating with moral laws.

If we regard moral thinking merely as the evolution of one way, amongst other ways, of thinking and feeling to inhibit specific behaviors, it is not surprising that the sanction for violation of moral laws is infinite – unlimited. The trouble arises when we take it upon ourselves to apply the sanctions.

Unfortunately, this imprecision of the harm that ought to result leads us to great vices in moral practice. Some have taught doctrines about infinite torment by some non-human agency for small infractions, history and current events tell us of cruel and unusual punishments and terribly destructive vengeance has been allegedly justified as retribution.

Shortly we will appreciate use of the term “vices,” in an Aristotelian sense, to label the horrible excesses and sometimes shameful laxity in proposing and applying punishment.

The thinking behind retribution is radically imprecise and always requires moral reflection to justify a punishment. The radical imprecision rests on the fact, just noted, that the moral judgment that harm ought to result from violation of the law does not specify how much harm ought to come about. The imprecision is radical because it is at the roots of every moral judgment. From the tautology “The harm that ought to be a consequence of the violation is harm that ought to be” we formulate the dictum “The punishment ought to fit the crime.” Not surprisingly for a dictum formulating a tautology,the dictum “the punishment ought to fit the crime” tells us little. It only tells us that we are supposed to think morally, in some way or other, about what harm we ought to inflict if we take it upon ourselves to bring about the harm that ought to occur if a moral law is violated.

Punishment is intentional infliction of harm on people because a law has been violated. I restrict attention to laws which are also moral laws. This restriction includes the large overlap of morality and legality. Many of the laws of a community express the morality of a community Prohibitions against killing, cheating, beating, sexual misconduct etc., reinforce the moral laws. The point of this restriction is to set aside the complex discussion of the differences between morality and legality. I want to focus on interpreting thought about what ought to be done when a law is violated; be it legal or moral.

This harm which ought to result from the mere violation of a moral law is retribution for violating the law. Intentional infliction of this harm is retributive punishment.

To admit that the infliction of punishment for violations of rules is radically imprecise is not to admit that the proper amount cannot be decided upon. It is only to admit that it cannot be decided by further moral rules. So, if we say that meting out justice is totally a matter of following rules, application of punishment is not exactly meting out justice.

What justifies inflicting harm because a moral law has been violated? The moral law which has been violated provides the fundamental justification for inflicting harm because of its violation. For, on my theory, part of the moral law specifies that harm ought to result from its violation. Further moral thought is needed to decide who ought to inflict the harm, on whom ought it be inflicted and how much harm ought to be inflicted. But what is this further moral thought? Ultimately, it is not finding more rules.

Answering the questions about who inflicts punishment and on whom to inflict it is for social and political philosophy. Over the centuries many with the competence have confronted these questions. For simplicity, I consider cases where it has been morally decided that there is a group authorized to inflict the harm, it has been decided that the harm ought to be inflicted on the violators of the law ought and somehow the harm ought to “fit the crime.” To say that an infliction of harm fits the violation is really only to say that the harm is the proper retribution. I do not think that we have ever adequately decided what it is for a punishment to fit the crime.

I propose that the only moral justification for punishment is retribution. The other rationalizations for inflicting harm on violators are morally justified only in so far as they are part of retribution. Consider the others.

1. A violator may be restrained for many years to prevent him from committing more violations. However, the pain of the number of years of restrain ought to be neither more nor less than the harm which ought to follow upon violation of the law.

2. Pain, whipping, imprisonment, putting in stocks, etc., may be inflicted upon a violator to deter others from violating the law. Again, however, the pain to deter others and the violator from future violations ought be neither more nor less than the harm that morality requires for its violation.

3. The group authorized to punish may require a violator to make restitution for goods stolen, or more generally restoration for a condition destroyed by the violation. Making restitution and restoration are painful in so far as they require effort or loss of violator’s property. Now the requirement to make restitution or restoration are not punishment. So, restoration is not a justification for punishment. However, the authorities many consider whether the pain of restoration is some, or even all, of the, harm required by the violation.

So the moral way to mete out punishment is to aim at having the violator suffer the right retribution which as just noted, may involve attaining other goals. But moral laws do not tell us what is the right retribution. So, in meting out punishment we must recognize in moral thinking a type of moral thought different from following rules. I call this Aristotelian virtue thinking because the goal is to reach a mean: not too little and not too much harm. Punishing requires Aristotelian virtue thinking. Wise judges have the virtue of discerning what is the proper amount of punishment. Judges who are too lenient or too harsh have a vice.

Now as noted above, having the virtue of meting out proper punishments is not simply a matter of justice. I suggest that we have a moral imperative to show mercy. This mercy imperative authorizes modifying thought about “what is due” when finding the punishment which is neither too much nor too little.

With introduction of “mercy” into a discussion of the network of concepts in our ways of thinking morally about punishment, this post threatens to become a treatise on punishment. So, I stop here and repeat my goal for writing this post.

My goal has been to show that my notion of moral harm makes sense of the notion of retribution and the notion of retribution is essential for making sense of punishment although it does not specify what the punishment ought to be.

The Pain of Moral Harm

Theoretically moral harm is not actually harmful but actually moral harm is harmful! What?

In a previous post, I conceded that moral harm is not actual harm. Moral harm is the moral judgment that actual natural harm OUGHT to result from breaking a moral law. For instance, the moral harm of a murder is the thought, concomitant with judgment that murder is immoral, that bad things ought to a result from this crime. Separable from this judgment that bad things ought to happen might be moral judgments that the bad things be the death of the killer.

The moral judgment that harm ought to result can be a factor in causing all sorts of unpleasant thoughts and feelings. Some are of these thoughts and feelings are guilt, shame, anxiety, anger and hatred. These unpleasant thoughts and feelings can be classed as natural harms. They are painful. But they are the causal effects of moral harm; not the moral harm itself. Moral harm can help cause actual natural harm because moral harm by virtue of being a moral judgment is a thought. Thoughts have causal consequences. The pains of moral harm can be spread beyond the perpetrator of an immoral act. For instance, a murderer may suffer guilt and fear while witnesses suffer anger.

Of course, another type of natural harm connected with moral harm are the bad consequences which ought to happen as a result of breaking a moral law, do happen. The most obvious cases of this are when society punishes a perpetrator. A subsequent post will focus on moral harm and punishment. Here the point is that the actual harm that so to speak is required by moral harm is not the moral harm.

I am updating my post with the following quotation from a review in July 18, 2019 edition of the New York Review of Books. It illustrates that feeling moral harm is painful, that moral harm is diffuse by not condemning only the perpetrator, and is connected with the religious notion of atonement. Orlando Figes is reviewing novels of the Russian writer Sergei Lebedev. Figes writes on p.42 “In Lebedev’s fiction, the desire to confront the Soviet past comes with a sense of being burdened by its crimes. In Oblivion, the narrator travels to the island because he wants to atone for the sins of Grandfather II, whose blood runs in his on veins.”

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
45 W. Kenworth Rd.

Moral Harm is a Moral Judgment

In this post I make and support a claim that moral harm of an act is the moral judgment that harm ought to be a consequence of the act.

In my book*, I introduce a notion of moral harm to challenge Steven Pinker’s proposed counter example to an absolute prohibition against incest. For simplicity’s sake suppose the moral law in question commands: A brother and sister ought never engage in coitus with one another. Pinker asks us to imagine a scenario in which a brother and sister in their early twenties practice recreational coitus. He names them Julie and Mark. In the imagine scenario the couple takes such elaborate contraceptive measures that pregnancy is physically impossible. We are also asked to imagine that these siblings are psychologically disposed never to feel regret or guilt about this act. They will only remember it as some fun. And no one else will ever know about it.

Pinker alleges from anecdotal evidence that people cannot answer the question: What is wrong with what Julie and Mark did? Presumably his respondents understood the question as: What harm resulted from Julie’s and Mark’s recreational coitus. In the imaginary scenario it seems that every possible harm has been imagined out of the picture: unwanted pregnancy, regrets, bad example.

Pinker did not explore my type of response. I would reply: “ The harm Julie and Mark did was doing something they ought not do; they disobeyed a fundamental moral rule.”

My imagined argument with Pinker begins with challenging the very idea of doing harm simply by violating a law. The challenge could start by accusing me of begging the question. Pinker might claim that the question at issue is “What is wrong – what is the harm- brought about by disobeying the alleged moral law?” Pinker could go on to note that that I am begging off answering the question at issue by simply asserting that the harm is disobeying the law.

I would reply that I am not begging the question because the question is ambiguous. The question about the harm done by a morally forbidden act can be interpreted in two different ways as illustrated by the two questions A and B.

A. What is the harm done by performance of the forbidden act?
B. What is the harm done by violating the law forbidding the act?

Does it make sense to distinguish damage done by a violation of a law and damage done simply by the law’s being violated? The intelligibility of the distinction between harm done by a violation of a law and harm done by violating a law is brought out by considering traffic laws. It makes sense to consider whether I did any harm by violating a speed limit when my speeding caused no accident and was undetected. Even if many people will simply answer “Actually no harm at all” their answering the question, instead of challenging the question as senseless, indicates that they understand what is being asked.

However, a concession that it makes sense to ask about the harm done simply by violation of a law seems to bring us back to the original question which stumped Pinker’s respondents. A new question is “What is the harm done by the mere fact of violating a moral law?

I am faced with a dilemma between inventing some type of special harm which is necessarily connected with mere violation of a moral law or claiming that some natural harm always results from the mere fact that a moral law is violated.

If I invent some special non-natural type of harm such as creating disharmony in the moral order or even offending God, I make claims which I cannot justify since I want to justify my claims about morality on natural grounds.

If I claim that some natural harm, such as law abiding diminishes, situations can be invented as Pinker did with Julie and Mark, that shows the harm does not always occur.

What is the result of the discussion so far?

1. It is not a fact that acts violating moral laws always result in harm. (Pinker’s example)
2 It is not a fact that the mere violating of a moral law itself results in harm. (Concession from my dilemma.)

Because I cannot claim that there is some natural harm which inevitably result by the mere fact of violating a moral law but claim that moral harm is an inevitable consequence of violating a moral law, I have to concede that moral harm is not actual harm. So, to say that Mark and Julie suffered moral harm due to their incest is not to say that they or anyone else has actually suffered any harm. What, then, is moral harm?

It is a fact that people can get away with murder. My next sentence gives the key to my thesis about the reality of moral harm. People ought not be able to get away with murder. Unfortunately, there are many examples. Let one suffice. Think of a lynching in “the old south” of the 1930s. Of course, great harm was done to the black man. The perpetrators had enjoyment; let alone suffered harm. They died without any punishment or ill effects. Moral thinking warrants the thought “That is not how it ought to have been nor is it how it ought to be.” Some harm should have resulted from that terrible violation of the fifth Commandment “Thou shalt not kill!” Even now, after every member of the lynch mob is dead, there is still the warranted moral judgment that there ought to be harmful consequences. Now it is unspecified to whom the harm should fall upon.

The moral harm from the lynching is the warranted moral judgment that some harm should befall some human beings because of an awful violation of the moral law against killing.

The moral judgment creating moral harm is always unspecified with respect to whom ought to suffer harm and what the harm ought to be. The judgments about who ought to be harmed and how are separate moral judgments made to carry out the moral judgment that harm ought to result from violation of the moral law. The judgment that harm ought to occur because of a violation of a moral law is part of the moral judgment that an act ought not be done. That there is a sanction for violating a moral law is logically connected to the moral law. What the sanction ought to be and who ought to be sanctioned are further moral judgments – they are morally, not logically connected to the moral judgment that an act ought not be done.

I have used this notion of moral harm in a recent post Identity Politics and Collective Guilt.

In closing, I suggest much of the outcry for justice of the victims of clerical sexual abuse is a cry that some natural harm ought to result. The victims have to see that someone or something connected with the Catholic church needs to suffer harm even if the alleged perpetrators are long dead. There seems to be little complaint from the public at large if those of us who are faithful to the Church suffer economically and socially because of those secret sins between priests and boys.

* 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
45 W. Kenworth Rd.

Identity Politics and Inherited Collective Guilt

There is a Christian theme that proclaims bad news and good news about the human condition.

The bad news is that every human is born guilty of some sin committed by the first humans. Unless some reparation is made for this original sin by someone or some group suffering the pain required as punishment each and every human will suffer a biological death which is total annihilation. (This total annihilation of a living individual is the fate we implicitly attribute to individual mosquitoes whom we swat.) The bad news continues that no individual human or group of humans is capable of making reparation for this sin although some individual human or group of humans are responsible for making the reparation needed to remove this collective guilt.

The good news is that God became incarnate in the human individual Jesus of Nazareth who as both divine and human made this reparation by suffering a horrible crucifixion death in a judicial lynching. As a result each and every human is freed from the punishment of total annihilation at biological death. Instead each and every human individual will live again after biological death as a type of human individual just as Jesus did when he left his tomb shortly after his execution. However, the good news has a downside. Collective guilt has been removed.

As a result of Jesus’ suffering there is only individual responsibility. People have to make reparation for only their own sins and they have a strong tendency to commit sin because although the collective guilt for original sin has been removed the work of Jesus removed only the guilt but not the tendency in human nature which led to their being an original sin. Now with life after biological death humans can be rewarded or punished for the sins they commit in ordinary life.

I hope this synopsis of a fundamental Christian theme does not seem too glib or superficial. Indeed, as a commited Catholic, I take this theme very seriously. My goal here is only to bring out enough of this theme, which is sometimes called the Paschal Mystery, to highlight two concepts which are sometimes cited as showing that the teaching of the Paschal Mystery uses two primitive moral concepts which ought not be used by anyone who hopes to think rationally about moral issues. These are the concepts of a personal guilt which is inherited by virtue of belonging to a type of human and retributive punishment. (The concept of retributive punishment is the thought that reparation requires in addition to repair of any injury the suffering of some pain by the perpetrator of a wrong.)

I submit that these two allegedly primitive moral concepts are used by many of those who are said to practice identity politics or use so-called intersectionality theory to formulate policies on affirmative action.

See: Anthony S. Layne’s “ Social Justice: The Spiritual Dangers of Intersectionality.” For an excellent synopsis of Intersectionality Theory and how its application corrupts a Christian outlook by encouraging anger, resentment and a vengeful attitude.

I will focus only on allusions to white, English speaking males, in the USA who came from a functional two family with an income at least two times above the poverty level and with at least an average IQ. I certainly belong to such a group. Members of such a group are accurately described as privileged. I think that my privileges give me the responsibility to use these privileges for betterment of the human condition. Also I think that society has some weak responsibility to give me the opportunities for social good.

However, identity politicians, as I understand them, think that somehow my privileges were inappropriately acquired because somehow injustices by remote ancestors of my group brought about a society in which I have my privileges. I am guilty for having my privileges because I am the kind of person who did the wrong they did which led to my having the privileges. I not only do not deserve the privileges I have I am also holding them wrongfully. My guilt is holding them wrongfully.

My point in this post is to cite use of the moral notions of collective guilt and retributive punishment by contemporary groups of fairly sophisticated people as evidence that it is legitimate to use these notions. People still need these notions to express their moral thoughts and sentiments. My not dismissing them as primitive moral notions helps justify Christians using them in attempts to articulate the Paschal Mystery.

However, I am not defending identity politics and Intersectionality Theory. Indeed I intend to make a quick Christian critique of identity politics on their application of inherited collective guilt and retributive punishment for that guilt. What Jesus accomplished in the events of the Paschal Mystery was to remove inherited collective guilt. From a Christian perspective the retributive punishment for original sin or sins has been suffered. From a Christian perspective the concept of an inherited collective guilt born by each member of that collective will never have application again.

Christ made possible the situation that those who think the notion of inherited collective guilt is logically absurd and thereby never has application. But it is not logical absurdity that prevents inherited collective guilt from having application; it in fact never has application because Christ suffered the punishment for it.

A “Kantian” Condemnation of Artificial Marital Birth Control

This post interrupts my critique of theory of the moral neutrality of sexual activity. But it is related to the critique of this theory by arguing that some sexual activity, viz., artificial marital birth control is immoral.

In a National Catholic Register article in the May 1, 2010 issue Fr. Matthew P. Schneider, LC, published an article “We Must Explain Why Contraception is Wrong.” Fr. Schneider made an important point for preserving our traditional Catholic moral teachings when they are being challenged from inside and outside the Church. A good way to start confronting these challenges is to offer a variety of arguments for critical evaluation and improvement during the next several months. I propose that we declare 2019 the year of Chastity during which amongst other things to strengthen our chastity we redevelop rational defenses of Catholic teaching on sexual morality. Fr. Schneider offered three arguments in his article. In this post, I sketch out another which can be called:

A “Kantian” condemnation of artificial marital birth control. It is one of many which should be considered along with being reformulated in the next few months.

This is not Kantian scholarship. I rely only on the overview type of knowledge of Kant one might acquire in a survey course in ethics.

Artificial marital birth control is use of physical or chemical techniques to prevent conception during or after coitus by a married couple.

The explicit, or implicit, maxim of a married couple who use artificial birth control can be expressed as follows:

We will perform the reproductive act which we are entitled by our community to perform but for a period of our choosing we shall prevent it from being a reproductive act.

Now consider the Kantian “Categorical Imperative” that we ought to act only on maxims which we can consistently will to be universal laws of nature.

Generalizing such a maxim as a universal law for humans could be expessed as follows:

People shall perform the reproductive act which they are entitled to perform by their community but for a period of their choosing shall prevent it from being a reproductive act.

Such a generalization is inconsistent because given basic demographic principles it leaves open the possibility of the reproductive acts becoming insufficient for reproduction in the sense of reproducing a population. Current demographic facts show that this possibility is being realized.

In appraising this argument, the first question should be an examination of the Kantian Categorical Imperative and then of technical points such as my use of the logical principle that a claim C is inconsistent if C implies possibly not-C.

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 my book, I examine the case against artificial marital birth control in Ch. VIII 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.

Irrationality of Moral Rationalization

In my post immediately before this post,Pope Francis and Satan I proposed interpreting temptations from the devil as the temptation to practice moral rationalization.

I noted that in general, “rationalization” is an honorific term indicating an effort to make a practice or idea agreeable to reason by removing objections of reason to the practice or idea. For instance, my effort in the previous post to represent Satan in abstract terms is rationalization by avoiding the objections that there is no evidence of any beings corresponding to pictorial images of Satan and devils.

However, “moral rationalization” is a pejorative term. It stands for proposing reasons for not following a moral principle which provides for no exceptions. To be more specific: You engage in moral rationalization in a situation under the following conditions.

1. You accept, or ought to accept, a moral principle that says an act is wrong regardless of the circumstances in which it is to be performed, regardless of the intentions of the agent who performs the act and regardless of the consequences of the act. Such principles are classified as categorical or absolute and such acts as intrinsically wrong.

2. You search for and find in the situation circumstances of performing the action, intentions of the agent, or in the likely consequences of the action reasons for setting aside the absolute moral principle.

As I use the term “moral rationalization,” engaging in moral rationalization is logically inconsistent. The moral rationalizers both hold and reject an absolute moral principle. They cannot really avoid the logical inconsistency by saying that they may not give full consent to the moral principle because they are only committed to it by a social role such as being a church official. In these cases, they ought to accept it to avoid the inconsistency of accepting the principle by accepting the social role and then privately rejecting the principle.

People who do not hold absolute moral principles cannot engage in moral rationalization. In fact, they might hold that always considering the circumstances of the act, intentions of the agents and likely consequences of the act is rational deliberation.

People who do not hold absolute moral principles might do something similar to moral rationalization when they deceive themselves about the circumstances etc. in deliberation. For instance, a man might tell himself that she freely consented although he applied quite a bit of social pressure.

I am logically required, by acceptance of absolute moral principles and my model of Satan, to say that people who accept no absolute moral principles are under the influence of the Satanic temptation never to obey without question a moral principle. Of course,people who hold absolute moral principles but engage in moral rationalization are succumbing to the temptation of Satan as well as being logically inconsistent.

This talk of Satan is not as bizarre as it sounds at first. My model for angels is a model for new thoughts entering human thought. Human thought is that repository of thoughts available to all humans. Angels are beings capable of putting thoughts into human thought prior to any human individual thinking the thought. On my model Satan is the angel who put into human thought the thought of rejecting absolute moral rules.

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. I do not introduce anything like the notion of Satan in my book. I argue that the rejection of absolute moral principles for sexual activity ultimately leads to rejection of absolute moral principles for all activities. I go on to make a case that dismissal of all absolute moral principles leads to a stance that since everything in principle is permissible, nothing matters. 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.

Pope Francis on the Role of Satan in Sexual Abuse

Let us endorse Pope Francis recognition of the devil’s role in the sexual misconduct of some priests.

In this post I diagnose the action of the devil as insinuating the theory of the moral neutrality of sexual activity into human thought and profess that ultimately prayer in addition to reason is very helpful, if not needed, to combat the morally corrupting theory of the moral neutrality of sexuality.

As a reminder of Pope Francis’s thoughts on the role of the devil in sexual abuse, consider an excerpt from an April 1, 2019 National Catholic Register translation of of Pope Francis’ March 31, 2019 in flight press conference on his return flight from Rabat Morocco

In a question a Ms. Cristiana Caricato, TV2000. noted: “you often denounce the action of the devil, you did so also at the recent Vatican summit on abuse”.
Pope Francis emphasized his realistic stance about a devil by responding :

“I try to give you all the explanations and also the limits of the explanations. But there is a point that cannot be understood without the mystery of evil. Think of this: virtual child pornography.” . . .”this is not understood without the spirit of evil. It is a concrete problem. We must solve it concretely, but say that it is the spirit of evil.”. . . “to overcome the spirit of evil is not ‘washing one’s hands,’ saying ‘the devil does it,’ no. We too must struggle with the devil, as we must struggle with human things”.

I agree with Pope Francis that we must struggle with the devil. But how?

To resolve the sexual abuse crises we need to be clear about the misdeeds, we need to understand their causes and how to prevent the operation of those causes.. There are two kinds of misdeeds in the abuse crises. On one hand, there are the sexual acts of priests; usually with boys. On the other hand, there are the so called cover-up by clerical officials of the actual sexual misconduct. As a Catholic it is proper to regard the misdeeds as sins and their causes as temptations. Catholic tradition tells us that the world, the flesh and the devil are the sources of temptation to sin.

The sexual misdeeds always involve mortal sins: Always by the seducer and sometimes by the seduced. In this post, the focus is on the sources of the temptation to these mortal sins. In my opinion, many of the cover-ups are at most venial sins. Outright perjury is, of course, a mortal sin. I suspect, however, that many of the cover-ups were simply imprudent acts of mercy and forgiveness. We do not need to invoke the devil to explain imprudent acts of mercy and forgiveness. Any parent with a wayward child understands that temptation all too well as coming from a natural love for their children. Imprudent love for one’s children can be classed as a temptation coming from the flesh – human nature. I concede that it is almost certain that many of the cover-ups were motivated by a concern to protect the reputation of the clerical order. Such a temptation could be interpreted as coming from the world – concern about status in society. And the temptation could be called clericalism. It seems unlikely that concern about clerical rights and privileges are operative in a man lusting for a boy, or girl for that matter. Indeed, if a priest uses his clerical status to seduce a boy, lust explains his succumbing to temptation and “clericalism” only labels a means he has chosen to act out his temptation.

So-called clericalism is relevant for explaining the cover-ups; not the sexual sins. So let us turn to the role of the flesh and the devil in temptations to the actual sexual sins. Strong sexual desire, which I here equate with lust, may be a necessary condition for a sexual misdeed; but it is not sufficient for explaining sexual sins.

I propose that the devil by making available to us moral rationalization* techniques together with lust is almost sufficient for sexual sins. There still needs to be the free choice even after moral rationalization has concocted all sorts of excuses for setting aside moral rules.

In previous posts, I have sketched out how a devil corrupts human thought by providing moral rationalization techniques. One of the main posts is What is Satan?

Here is a brief synopsis of my model for the devil. God created an intelligence almost as great as his own. The function of this intelligence is to convey God’s thoughts to humans by placing God’s thoughts in human thought. (Angels are beings for conveying God’s thoughts.) Human thought comprises those thoughts which are somehow common to all human beings. Whoever thinks can think what is in human thought. God gave this supreme messenger free will. It could convey to human thought what God willed or it could choose to will something else. This supreme messenger rebelled by chosing to reserve to itself whether or not it would convey what God willed. Before conveying what God willed, it would consider whether or not it had reasons for passing on what God willed. This supreme messenger was the first moral rationalizer and it passed on to human thought this thought of rationalization-seeking reasons for setting aside the moral law.

Hesitating to obey an command known to come from God is illogical and immoral. By logic about the concept of God what comes from God is right and ought to be. So this moral rationalization of this supreme messenger is irrational and immoral.

In brief, the work of the devil is making available to human thought rationalizing thoughts for following the temptations of the world and flesh. In regard to sexual temptations the basic rationalizing technique is the thought of the moral neutrality of all sexual activity. According to this moral rationalizing thought there are always considerations which can justify any sexual activity. When under the pressure of lust simply thinking that there might be justifying considerations can lead one into succumbing to sexual desire.

So to struggle against the devil when sexual temptations arise is to block oneself from any rationalizing thoughts, which all depend upon the thought of the moral neutrality of sexual activity. Prayer and religious activity may not be necessary conditions for blocking rationalizing thoughts from becoming active in your thought. But I, and presumably those who have recommended prayer, have found that prayer and religious activity are sufficient for filling the mind with thoughts and sentiments which keep out rationalizing thoughts.

* I modify “rationalization” with “moral” because in general “rationalization” is an honorific term suggesting the removal of objections raised by reason. However, I intend “moral rationalization” to be a pejorative term. In moral rationalization, objections – reasons against- are raised which logically and morally ought not be raised. Indeed, my model of Satan is type of rationalization.

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 my book, I argue that the assumption of the moral neutrality of sexual activity ultimately undercuts all objective morality. 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.

Political Correctness Undercuts Apologies for Clerical Sexual Abuse

I am writing this post, shortly after the Vatican conference of bishops on sexual abuse. There, and elsewhere, lay Catholics as well as clergy are asked to learn to appreciate the deep suffering of and immense damage to all the boys and young men with whom priests performed homosexual acts.* Kathleen Beckman in her book Praying for Priests expressed well this call for sympathy and condemnation by writing “The weight of sorrow for the abuse victims is unspeakable, as is the pain of betrayal by clergy.” Leading clerics, including the Pope, offer public apologies with such words.

I am not responding well to the call for universal sympathy with the victims and righteous anger towards the perpetrators. I cannot sincerely endorse the apologies. The apologies sound like official vague pronouncements to make the officials look good and appease the public. But they do not make the officials look good. Nor do they appease the public. The condemnations and expressions of sympathy are overstated for the intended audience which, nonetheless demands overstatement which it will not accept as sincere.

In this post I attempt to diagnose why the official language seems so empty. The gist of my diagnosis is that the apologists are speaking primarily to an audience who believe that sexual activity is morally neutral but they use language which is appropriate only if they believe that there are special moral rules for sexual activity. Or put it this way. The audience wants the apologists to use the language appropriate to condemning the acts as intrinsically immoral and express regret that the boys on whom the acts were performed suffered moral corruption. But the audience does not believe that any sexual acts are intrinsically immoral but do believe that any harm done to the boys was psychological.

Let’s review the distinction between moral outlooks which hold that there are sex specific rules and those which hold that sexual activity is morally neutral by considering fellatio. Catholics should accept that there is a sex specific moral rule against fellatio. By this rule fellatio is intrinsically immoral. Under no circumstances, regardless of the mental states of the actors or consequences of the acting, it is immoral. Those who hold that sexual activity is morally neutral, hold that the morality of an act of fellatio depends upon the circumstance, mental states of the actors and the consequences of the action.

Now, only if you hold that fellatio is intrinsically immoral can you render unqualified moral condemnation on the seducer and hold without qualification that the seduced suffered the moral harm of moral corruption by being led into participation in an immoral act.

If I hold that the morality of fellatio of one male upon another is morally neutral, then the morality of the act depends upon the circumstances, the intentions of the participants and the consequences of the activity. Under the assumption of the moral neutrality of sexual activity, that these cases of homosexual acts between priests and boys need to be investigated more closely on what moral judgments to make and how to allot our sympathy.

I think the failure of the apologies and expressions of sympathy fail because of so-called “political correctness.” Politically correct language is language the public demands but which they will believe is insincere.

*I discuss homosexual acts because I am a male. Homosexual acts are the only kind I can imagine for these cases. I have never experienced any attempt of a priest or religious professional to seduce me.
*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 my book, I argue that the assumption of the moral neutrality of sexual activity ultimately undercuts all objective morality. 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.

An Assumption in Moral Philosophy which is Subverting Catholic Sexual Morality

A luncheon talk delivered to the Downtown Serra Club of Columbus, Ohio on Jan. 11,2019 at St. Charles Preparatory by club member Charles F. Kielkopf, Professor of Philosophy (Emeritus) The Ohio State University

Why have I asked for the opportunity to talk with you about the philosophical foundations of sexual morality? As Serrans we are concerned with the formation of those in ordained ministries. We pray that they “may be found worthy of the ministry they have received.” Unfortunately, there are indications that ordained ministers, the seminarians they form and the laity to whom they minister have and use a moral theory containing as assumption about sexual morality subverting Catholic sexual morality. As a result, they are not faithful to the ministries they have received.

I have a negative and a positive goal for this short presentation. The negative goal is to specify this subversive assumption, note how it subverts traditional sexual morality, consider how it damages society and offer evidence that it is made by a significant plurality, if not a majority, of Catholics including influential priests and bishops. The positive goal is to remind ourselves that we have the resources to combat this destructive influence on Church teaching and practice. I will highlight the roles of moral philosophy amongst these resources.

What is this subversive assumption? The subversive assumption is that no sexual act by itself is morally forbidden. However, sexual acts can be morally forbidden when non-sexual factors are considered. Whether or not a sexual activity is morally permissible depends on factors apart from what is done such as the circumstances in which it is done, the intentions of the actors and the consequences of the act.

For instance, the moral permissibility of sexual intercourse between two OSU students who have just met at a party depends on factors such as whether they are tolerably sober enough to consent, have harmless intentions such as “just to have fun” and are well protected against the undesirable consequence of pregnancy in this circumstance of being unmarried. Given the subversive assumption this hookup is morally permissible. However, change the circumstances to her being too drunk to consent, it would be morally wrong. Note, though, that the activity is not condemned for any misuse of sexuality. The wrong is using an asset of the girl without her consent.

In my book,* I call this subversive assumption “moral nihilism.” There is nothing in our sexuality which shows us how to use it.

In moral theory, the assumption operates by placing only indirect or conditional moral restrictions on sexual activity. Theoretically the assumption leads to judgments that a sexual act is permissible if the parties involved are capable of giving consent, are informed about the circumstances and possible consequences, actually give consent and the desirable consequences outweigh the undesirable consequences. In daily practice, the assumption rationalizes a consensual sex act which after a quick and careless consideration seems harmless.

Use of this assumption obviously entails that masturbation is morally permissible as well as homosexual relations between consenting adults. It does not require much more thinking to figure out that moral theories using this assumption justify artificial birth control. These entailments clearly subvert Catholic sexual morality. Such theories are frequently thought of as progressive.

I want to emphasize that people using progressive moral theories sincerely believe that their moral judgments are correct. They frequently render severe moral condemnations of public policy and practice with respect to social justice and environment protection. These theories yield judgments consistent with most of Catholic social teaching. They will condemn some sex acts as abusive such as fellatio of a forty year old man on a twelve year old boy even if both enjoyed great pleasure.

Nonetheless, despite good intentions use of this assumption for progressive sexual morality has some undesirable consequences. It is the assumption justifying the sexual revolution and dissent from humane vitae. Dissent from humane vitae has seriously damaged our Church. The December 2018 issue of the Atlantic had an article noting a surprising undesirable consequence of the sexual revolution. Not only is there a decline in marriages but there is a decline in young people having sexual intercourse. They stay home and masturbate fired up by internet porn and play with sex toys. Masturbation is sure and safe sex because there are no worries about getting consent or STDs.

What are some indications that this subversive assumption is operative in the moral thinking of our Church? There has been little attention to sexual morality since dissent from humanae vitae. Presumably, it is not thought that the sexual practice of a large number of Catholics, which match those of the followers of the sexual revolution are not seriously wrong, if wrong at all. I saw a poster of the Ten Commandments outside a PSR classroom. The sixth commandment was written as: Never hurt anyone! St. John Paul II’s 1993 encyclical veritatis splendor was clearly directed against Catholic moral theologians whose underlying moral philosophies make this assumption. The language of high clerics addressing current scandals suggest that they make this assumption. They avoid directly condemning sexual sins as violating sex specific rules or proper use of sexuality. They speak only of general rules of justice as being violated.

Consider the term “clericalism.” “Clericalism” is used to designate use of clerical status to coerce consent. So, instead of condemning McCarrick’s homosexual acts, they accuse him of a misuse of power, Indeed, use of terms such as “abuse” and “cover-up” function to avoid naming and blaming specific sexual act as sexually immoral. If they believed that there were genuine sexual wrongs, preventing cover-ups would be secondary to uncovering the sins covered-up and rooting them out.

As long as this assumption is dominant in our Church we are threatened with corruption. Now for the positive part.

What is a contrary assumption about sexual morality? A contrary assumption is that from contemplation and analysis of the human good to be produced by human sexuality we can uncover what we ought to do to produce that good and of, greatest importance, uncover what we ought not do to frustrate attainment of the good of human sexuality. Articulation of such analyses express the natural law, which St. Paul tells us in Rom. 2, 11-15, is written in everyone’s heart. These articulations are expressed as categorical, unconditional or absolute, prohibitions of certain sexual acts.

For instance, A man must not intentionally seek an orgasm except in sexual intercourse, open to conception, with woman to whom he is committed for life to care for her and any children resulting from their intercourse. (I needed the better part of a book to justify this principle.) All other intentionally sought orgasms are intrinsically wrong. There are no circumstances, regardless of the intentions of the actors or the consequences of doing them which justify them.

Obviously, from this type of moral theory masturbation and homosexuality are intrinsically wrong. I regret to say it: But artificial birth control for a married couple falls on the wrong side of being right.

Why should ordained clergy and influential Catholic laity hold a moral theory which leads to a moral theology supporting traditional Catholic sexual morality? There are two reasons: One theoretical, the other practical. For many judgments, such as condemnation of homosexual acts, we want to hold the strong “You can’t do that because it is wrong.” As opposed to the weak sectarian judgment “You can’t do that because you are a Catholic.” The factual reason is that the Thomistic moral philosophy which supported Catholic moral theology for centuries lost status in the intellectual world. It got too wrapped up in how to make decisions in difficult cases without up-dating the underlying theory. And the theory was poorly defended. It was ridiculed even by many Catholics after humane vitae. Proponents could not quickly answer questions such as: If it is wrong to stop a spermatozoa from reaching an ovum, why isn’t wrong to stop a bead of sweat rolling down your forehead into your eye? After all both are just following nature.

Is there any hope for a moral philosophy which will support traditional Catholic sexual morality? And, of more importance, is there hope for resistance within the Church against the influence of the operative moral philosophy which, if left unchecked, will destroy our Church. The second question comes up because far more than philosophy is needed to defeat the sexual revolution which has snuck into the Church with this subversive assumption.

There is hope for a rigorous moral philosophy which deserves serious consideration in the philosophical world. This is the so-called New Natural Law Theory started by Germain Grisez of Mt. St. Mary Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md. Some proponents are Robert P. George of Princeton and John Finnis of Oxford. It is still not seriously considered in the major secular universities.

Philosophy departments in the major secular universities determine what is to be taken seriously by other secular philosophy departments and Catholic philosophy departments which try to be like them. There is my effort to found a Kantian sexual moral philosophy in line with Catholic thought. I fear that it is a long shot for recognition; let alone acceptance. As a philosophical resource there is St. John Paul II’s theology of the body which can found a sexual moral philosophy with a sensitive analysis of the good of human sexuality

Non-philosophical weapons are available.
1. Millions of Catholics simply will not accept progressive sexual morality. They may not hold any moral philosophy or moral theology but the traditional sexual morality is written in their hearts.
2. The Church has not changed her teachings on sexual morality. And the weight of traditional will most likely prevent any changes.
3. Traditional Catholics have not remained silent when confronted with progressive sexual morality in society and the Church. For instance, we have EWTN, the National Catholic Register, Programs such as TMIY.
4 We have the promise that God will not abandon us. However, we must pray and work not to become in effect abandon by succumbing to a sense of abandonment.

A final suggestion is that perhaps as Serrans we should consider finding a way to exercise concern about the moral philosophy taught in seminaries.

*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. These blog posts are in effect work towards a 2nd edition. I have not changing the basic line of argument in my book. But in these blog posts I am developing better ways of expressing my argument by staying with the language of common sense and removing topics and language which could at best be of interest to professional academic philosophers. 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.

The Intercourse Theory of Conception

Don’t these people know about the intercourse theory of conception? That’s what I cynically ask myself when I read novels in which the author sends his characters merrily off, for all sorts of reasons, to start baby-making.

That sexual intercourse between a man and woman is the cause of conception is one of our best established theories. Coupled with awareness of this theory comes those positive and negative thoughts and feelings about sexuality. We realize its importance for human survival, pleasures and love. Yet we dread its disruptive power.

The intercourse theory of conception, and accompanying thoughts and feelings are common sense. Suddenly, it struck me that the way to make my defense of traditional sexual morality clearer is to stay with common sense. I am not saying that acceptance of traditional sexual morality is part of common sense. However, the beliefs and concepts used in a strong case for traditional sexual morality are expressible in the every day language with which we talk about sex. The argument does not need some special philosophical vocabulary and system. The ideas we use to talk about relationships, to give advice, to teach children about sex, to gossip, etc., are sufficient to follow, accept or reject the argument. The importance of emphasizing that the argument goes on at the common sense level is that it has to be given serious attention. It cannot be ignored as coming from some special religion or philosophy. It is not necessary to develop a special philosophical vocabulary and then show that use of this conceptual scheme is the correct way to represent reality as it is.

In my book, I tended to develop too much special vocabulary and explicitly draw upon the philosopher Kant. I am not changing the basic themes of the book. But I am setting aside ways of speaking, issues and scholarship which would be of interest to academic philosophers, reference to other philosophers and intriguing philosophical puzzles. I will write for the intelligent lay person using terms of everyday life. Of course, this does not eliminate the critical thinking need for making distinctions and defining how some crucial terms will be used in discussion. But critical thinking is common sense.

There are other common sense concepts whose use we need not justify. The language of morality: right, wrong, good, evil etc. does not need defense. We do not need to show that we have a right to talk about right and wrong. We do make the distinction between the results of natural processes we can alter and the results of natural processes, such as the getting of agreements by promises, which it is wrong to frustrate by lying. We do not need to justify using the notions of good character, a way a person ought to be, and a meaning for life. If we try to show that we are entitle to talk at the common sense level, we start an endless regress of justifying our ways of thinking. This undercuts giving an effective argument.

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. These blog posts are in effect work towards a 2nd edition. I have not changing the basic line of argument in my book. But in these blog posts I am developing better ways of expressing my argument by staying with the language of common sense and removing topics and language which could at best be of interest to professional academic philosophers. 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.