The Problem of Evil as the Cornerstone of a Christian World View

As links reveal, this post coheres with efforts to find foundations for divine command morality. A factor of my motivation for understanding morality as based on divine commands is to understand retributive punishment. I believed that retributive punishment is crucial to understand the Christian world view that evil has been introduced by God’s creatures which God in His love for His creatures will correct. A Christian world view is a plausible account of what it would be like for line 11 below to be true.

A significant challenge to prevailing secular world views would be showing that an intelligible line of thought in philosophical theology leads to claims well explained by the Christian world view. Lines (1) through (10) below are philosophical theology. If I were to document sources for any of these lines, I would cite historical figures recognized as philosophers and not as theologians for any particular religious tradition. If I would cite sources on how to develop line (11) I would cite scriptures and theologians such as Church Fathers. I should be citing sources because I do not want to claim any originality for what I write. I admit originality only for what is not worth taking seriously. Perhaps, line (1), then, is original. Still, I believe line (1) is correct.

1. We cannot imagine experiencing reality without physical and moral evil.

2. If God is omnipotent, all good and the sole creator of reality, then reality is without physical and moral evil.

3. So, if God is omnipotent, all good and the sole creator of reality, then reality of which God is the sole creator is a reality which we cannot imagine experiencing.

4. We can, because of our experience, only too well imagine experiencing reality with physical and moral evil.

5. So, God is either not omnipotent or not all good or not the sole creator of the reality as we experience reality.

6. If God exists, God is omnipotent and all good.

7. God exists .

8. Hence, God is not the sole creator of reality as we experience it.

9. If God is not the sole creator of reality as we experience it , then the other creators are less than God and have been created with God’s permission to be subsidiary creators of reality as we experience it.

10. If God has delegated creation of reality as we experience it to subsidiary creators, He had a good reason for delegating creative activity and has a good reason for correcting the experienced reality produced by susidiary creators.

11. So, ultimately there will be a correction of reality as we experience it although we cannot imagine experiencing it!

Some remarks on the lines of the argument:

On line (1): An observation in a homily by my pastor, Fr, Matthew Hoover, gave me the insight that we pose the problem of evil but have no clear idea of what would solve it.

On line 9: I have sketched out how Satan could be the primary subsidiary creator.

Contrition is the Sorrow of Moral Harm

Starting with my 2014 book*, I have sought to understand the harm produced simply by violating a moral law. This is harm over and above any harm brought about by the act violating the moral law. I called this “moral harm.” To understand moral harm as a genuine harm, it needs to be shown that the occurrence of moral harm can be an object of human concern.

In this post, I answer that feeling sorrow over moral harm is feeling contrition, perfect contrition.

I have characterized contrition as not loving as God what loves. Awareness of not loving as God loves is awareness of a violation of a violation of a moral law. Awareness of a violation of a moral law reveals three conditions over which a human being can feel genuine sorrow.

First, there is awareness of the basic human good intended by the moral law which is set aside for the lesser good aimed at by its violation. There is a type of grief for the basic good set aside. For instance, a married man feels a special grief over setting aside the good of conjugal intercourse with his wife when he has a “one night stand” on a business trip.

Second there is awareness of choice of lawful control of our inclinations, passions and desires set aside by the violation of the moral law. There is a type of anxiety about becoming a slave to our inclinations, passions and desires. For instance, the man who had the “one night stand” starts to worry that he is one a path to destroying his marriage with serial affairs. This is also an anxiety about becoming irrational.

Third, there is awareness of the moral need for harm for the violation – retributive harm. There is a type of regret that some harm ought to be done. For instance, the man who had “the one-night stand” regrets that he ought not have the same satisfaction in his married life as before. This type of regret leads some unfaithful men to make the mistake of confessing an infidelity to their wives to get her to punish him and thereby remove the ad hoc norm requiring some harm for their infidelity. Forgiveness is obtained when the ad hoc norm is fulfilled by punishment.

Another example of regret for the moral need for retributive punishment occurs when someone feels a double regret when reading of one young man murdering another in the gunfights which happen a couple of times each week in big cities. We regret the loss of one life and the waste of another with the morally required imprisonment of the “winner” in the shoot-out.

In conclusion, note that addressing these three dimensions of sorrow provide an outline on how to convince someone of the truth of a basic moral law.

* Confronting Sexual Nihilism: Traditional Sexual Morality as an Antidote to Nihilism, Tulsa OK, 2014
A free copy of my book is available by emailing

Love of God is Essentially Love of Neighbor

The formula “Loving God is Loving What God Loves “ answers questions about the relation between morality and benevolence. There are two types of questions.

1. Does doing it because it is right diminish, if not eliminate, doing it because it is good for the other?

2. Is doing it only because it is good for the other amoral- without moral worth?*

The answer to the first question is No. Doing it because it is right is doing it because you love what God loves. God loves the good of the other. So, doing it because it is right is doing it for the good of the other.

An abstract answer requires an example.

Once I had an assignment as a Vincentian – a member of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. I was to be a companion with Edward who was battling depression and other behaviorial health issues. I talked with him over coffee except that he wouldn’t drink coffee. We attended a few movies, sports events, some political meetings. I visited him when he was hospitablized in behaviorial medicine wards. On the whole, I found time with him dissagreeable. I could tell that he found me agreeable because I accepted his dislike of so many things and complaints. Over the years I slowly disengaged myself from him because he did connect with a few more people and I stopped driving. After not hearing from him for about three years, there was a message on my phone that Edward called. I did not want to return the call. I was going to ignore the call. Then I thought that I ought to return the call. By being his companion for quite awhile, I made some comitment to give him attention. That was my thought about morality.

With my moral thought, I intended to call Edward. Most likely, I would have called sooner or later. However, I started to think about Edward and “put myself in his place” to imagine how he might be hurt by ignoring the call but have positive feelings if I returned the call. So, for Edward’s good I made the call immediately. It turned out to be a pleasant call. Edward wanted to update me on his improved current status. I returned the call that I thought I ought to make for Edward’s good.

This example suggests another question about the role of morality and benevolence.

Edward might have been humiliated if he realized that I returned his call because I thought that I ought to and that it was for his good. He might think that I didn’t do it for him. Morality and what is good for him are not who he is. I slighted him.

The question intermediate between the two above could be posed as follows.

May doing it because it is right and for the good of the other fail to do it for the other?

The answer is clearly Yes. In personal relations, especially romantic love, there is a way of interacting which could be called doing it simply for that other person. Willing it simply for the other is a different type of love than willing it for the good of the other.

But simply doing it for someone without contraints of morality and consideration for the good of the other can be very destructive for oneself, the other and society. Think of a wife who enables her husband to contiue in substance abuse simply because he claims that if she loves him, she will give the money he despartely wants now. Think of a man’s mistress who demands that he kill his wife if he loves her.

I am not denying the reality and value of the personal relationship of acting simply for the other. When contrained by morality and consideration of the basic human goods, it is a component of friendship.

The answer to (2) above depends upon the kind of good being provided.

If it is a basic human good** or a direct means to a basic human good, there is a moral obligation to promote those goods and never intentionally inhibit them. So, doing it because it is a basic good for the other is inevitably doing what you ought to do and thereby is a moral action, i.e., has moral worth.

For instance, parents want to promote the health and knowledge of their children. That is what they ought to do.

If the good is amoral such as some condition or object the other desires, doing it to satisfy the other may well be amoral but of value for making life agreeable. It has no moral worth in the sense of being neither right nor wrong. Classing an act as amoral is not classing it as immoral. Most of what we do in daily life is amoral.

For instance, parents enjoy satisfying desires of their children. For the most part, that is just acting naturally.

Of course, if what the other desires is only good in so far as it is something he desires, providing that good has negative moral worth; it is wrong. The enabling wife and man manipulated by his evil mistress are examples of this type of wrongdoing.

So, morality and love harmonize

* I am obviously concerned with a controversy about Kantian morality. But I am not here concerened with Kantian exegesis. I tried Kantian exegesis in my book pp. 178ff. Contronting Sexual Nihilism: Traditional Sexuality as an antidote to nihilism. Tulsa OK, 2014
A copy of my book is available without cost by emailing

** I use a modified version of New Natural Law morality. The New Natural Law view holds that practical reason, that is, is reason oriented towards action, grasps as self-evidently desirable a number of basic goods. These goods, which are described as constitutive aspects of genuine human flourishing, include life and health; knowledge and aesthetic experience; skilled work and play; friendship; marriage; harmony with God, and harmony among a person’s judgments, choices, feelings, and behavior. From an essay by Christopher Tollefsen on The New Natural Law Theory .

Contrition Requires a Firm Purpose of Amendment

This post fills a gaping hole in my previous attempts to characterize contrition. By “contrition,” I always mean “ perfect contrition .” Perfect contrition is sorrow for offending the source of morality over and above any sorrow about the consequences of the misdeed for which one is to have perfect contrition.

In my post Loving God is Loving What God Loves I characterized perfect contrition as a tripartite sorrow:

1. Sorrow over the basic human good set aside by the violation
2. Sorrow over the impediment to virtue produced by the violation
3. Sorrow over the requirement that harm be done

exacerbated by shame that those conditions for which we feel sorrow are known by the author of morality who wills only good for us.

I illustrated these conditions with an example of a married man feeling profoundly dissatisfied with himself over having, yet again, masturbated stimulated by internet porn. His condition could hardly be called contrition if in the back of his mind he resigned himself to continuing to act this way.

A firm purpose of amendment is extremely hard to characterize, as all of us who have tried to break a bad habit realize. It is so easy to fool ourselves that we have made a resolution “this is the last time.”

There needs to be some action plan to stop the offense in question. Those of us who are religious may realize that we need to ask God’s help to amend our lives.

An illustration of having an action plan for amending a married man’s life who masturbates to internet porn is provided by “That Man is You” TMIY. It is specifically for Catholic men. But a serious action plan needs to “get down to specifics.”

1.Go to confession immediately after failing.
2 Turn of media … only watch good media.
3. Get electronic software to help e.g. Covenant Eyes.
4. Go to bed together with spouse.
5. End each day with your spouse for 15 minutes.
5. Enriched environment .. friendship with other men.
6. Participate in an ascetical program, e.g. Exodus 90
7. Seek professional help.

This is from lesson 7 of TMIY’s lesson series “The Light of Men.”

Loving God is Loving What God Loves

The purpose of this post is to sketch out how there might be genuine human feelings of sorrow over the violation of a moral law, viz., moral harm. This would be sorrow over and above any sorrow felt about the consequences of the act violating the moral law. It presupposes the command moral theory which I have been developing over the past few years. Links to crucial posts are provided.

What might it be like to have sorrow over offending God or the source of basic moral rules?

The hypothesis of this post says: To love God is to love what God loves.

This hypothesis is not essentially theological. I am developing a divine command morality; so here it is theological. If I planned to characterize the source of our morality as The Moral Law, my hypothesis might be formulated as: To respect the moral law is to respect what the moral law respects. If I planned to take Rationality as the source of morality, my hypothesis might formulated as: To respect Rationality is to reason in accordance with Rationality. The various hypotheses are attempts to characterize how we can have a relation to the source of morality and, thereby, have contrition for the harm of offending it. I prefer to write of God and love because “love” connotes most clearly that the thinking of the source of morality is a combination of thought and feeling; not from pure theoretical thought.

People can love as God loves without thinking of themselves as loving God. However, as we will see, once one violates a moral law and still loves God, that person in some way recognizes that God has been wronged. This is because of the transparency of morality to the source of morality.

What God loves are the basic human goods aimed at by fundamental moral rules, the virtues or character traits people develop to attain these basic goods, and the freedom of will to accept and apply these basic rules.

For a list of the basic human goods in the New Natural Law Theory, see the end of Duty vs. Love. My moral theory is a revision of the New Natural Law theory.

So, loving what is good for humans and gives them moral dignity is loving God. Our dignity is the freedom to accept and apply the fundamental moral rules.

This can be expanded to say: Loving God is loving the basic human goods aimed at by fundamental moral rules, the virtues or character traits people develop to attain these basic goods, and the freedom of will to accept and apply these basic rules.

Sorrow over violation of a moral law, then, is tripartite
1. Sorrow over the basic human good set aside by the violation
2. Sorrow over the impediment to virtue produced by the violation
3. Sorrow over the requirement that harm be done

For background on the following paragraph see Normative theory of moral harm.

The sorrow over the requirement that harm be done is based on the good of our freedom of will. Our freedom of will brings with it the authority to create many ad hoc norms with moral force. These ad hoc norms come from applying moral rules. The ad hoc norms are eliminated from morality when they are fulfilled. For instance, a promise creates and ad hoc moral rule to keep the promise. When the promise is kept the norm to keep it is eliminated. When they correspond with moral rules they are good. But when they come from violation of a moral law they aim at destruction of good. God has given us the freedom to create these norms and consequently God has given us the freedom to create retributive punishment.

The norms for retributive punishment come solely from humans But God has given us the authority to create them.

These sorrows are exacerbated by shame that those conditions for which we feel sorrow are known by the author of morality who wills only good for us. This shame brings one who had loved God before violation of the moral law to recognition that God has been wronged.

Contrition is a having this tripartite sorrow and its associated shame.

I choose the following illustration because I regularly attend sessions of That Man Is You, (TMIY) which consists of videos and discussion to help Catholic men become better husbands and fathers. One video by Steve Bullman, founder of TMIY highlighted how masturbation with internet porn is corrupting men and dissrupting marriages.

Connsider a married man who has just finished masturbating after viewing internet porn. He feels foolish for choosing this trivial satisfaction over the good of the fundamental moral law for men,viz., the paternal principle . This good is the procreative and unitive conjugal coitus. He is anxious because now he is even further behind in the struggle we men have in controlling sexual desires. He is vaguely fearful that he might seek ever more stimulating porn and ultimately illegal porn. He judges that he deserves some bad things because such as the disgust his wife and children would feel about him if they knew of his behavior. And, although he hides it from his wife and children, he is ashamed because what he has done is there in morality to be known.

A Conceptual Path from Moral Harm to Contrition

In my book on sexual morality*, I confronted Steven Pinker’s example** of coitus between a brother and sister which had, as the imaginary cases for moral philosophy can stipulate, absolutely no harmful consequences in nature. I propose that there is a type of harm over and above natural harm which is specifically a moral harm. Without much development of the notion, I simply proposed that moral harm is the harm done merely by disobedience to a moral law. In my book, I left this notion of moral harm lie in the background of my argument for traditional sexual morality. My case was mainly that the harm of setting aside the rules of traditional sexual morality was a sense of lawlessness and ultimately a sense that life is pointless, viz., nihilism.

After publication, I realized that the argument of my book needed to be strengthened by clarification and justification of moral harm as the harm of simply disobeying a moral law.

I have religious or theological concerns about understanding the fundamental Christian thesis that Christ suffered and died for our sins. In my religious reflections I reached a stage at which I realized that I could not hope to understand doctrines about our redemption by Christ unless, I understood retributive punishment.

A breakthrough in my thinking about the need for redemption was that retributive punishment is repair of moral harm.

The proposal that retributive punishment is repair of moral harm demands portrayal of moral harm as something which can be repaired. What goes on in the violation of a moral law which is something which can be repaired? I conjectured that in violation of a moral norm the violator adds a new moral norm to morality. This new moral norm is ad hoc for this violation. The ad hoc moral norm specifies that some harm ought to be done. A violation of a moral rule does expose a choice that the good aimed at by the rule ought to be inhibited. Inhibition of good is harm. So, moral harm is a perverse moral norm, i.e., a norm with the force of morality but contrary to the goal of morality. This ad hoc norm with the force of a genuine moral norm is damage or dirt in morality.

See Revision of the Normative Theory of Moral Harm for elaboration of the proposal that violation of a moral norm creates a perverse moral norm

This damage to morality can be repaired by fulfilling the ad hoc moral norm and thereby removing it from morality.

Doing the harm required by the ad hoc rule is retributive punishment.

Besides trying to understand moral harm and retributive punishment, I want to understand a thought that abortion is always a grievous wrong despite the fact that it frequently can be justified by utilitarian considerations. What is it like to have sorrow simply over the breaking of a moral law that innocent human life should not be directly terminated? This question led me to the proposal there might be an analogue to the Catholic notion of perfect contrition. Perfection contrition is sorrow over simply disobeying God. So, perhaps, the genuine moral conviction that abortion is wrong is sorrow over simply disobeying a moral law against it. This would be sorrow over moral harm. This sorrow over moral harm would be sorrow over having the ad hoc moral laws requiring harm in morality.

This is where I am now in my investigations. I have in thought, or “on paper,” specified moral harm and contrition for moral harm. But it needs to be shown that there can be genuine human sentiments connected with what I have called contrition.

*Contronting Sexual Nihilism: Traditional Sexual Morality as an Antidote to Nihilism,, Tulsa, 2014
Email for a free copy of this book
** p. 63 of my book, Originally in “The Moral Instinct” in the New York Times Magazine,Sun Jan. 13, 2008

Moral Harm and Contrition

I write this after the November 8, 2022 elections showed that a majority of the people in the USA do not think abortion is truly immoral. My goal is to make a small contribution to conceptual resources for leading people, including myself, to realize the immorality of abortion despite the fact that utilitarian, cost/benefit reasoning, or however we label moral evaluation by weighing consequences do not clearly show the immorality of abortion.

What I accomplish in this post may seem abstract and lifeless; disconnected from any complex of thought and feeling anyone would call “contrition.” But this post is only a phase in a conversation trying to articulate what it would be like to have contrition for abortion. If I could clearly articulate and communicate having contrition for abortion, I would have something worth saying in efforts to convince people that abortion is truly immoral. Bringing someone to have contrition or realize that contrition is needed for an action is to prove the immorality of the action.

This is conversational development of concepts. What is conversational development of a concept? I write by imagining that it is my turn in a conversation to propose theses and definitions. My line of thought is proposed for modification and correction by others. They are not intended to be the “last word.”

Here I should state a crucial assumption about conceptual development which I did not realize I make until after I had published this post. I have never had perfect contrition for offending God or morality. I believe that I ought to have such contrition. My crucial assumption is that if I can find “just the right words” for characterizing perfect contrition the proper sentiments of perfect contrition will come along with having the right words or thoughts.

See Moral harm for crucial background.on how and why I defined “moral harm” as I have defined it. Contrition here means perfect contrition.

This post, via logic, connects contrition with moral harm.

First premise: Contrition is sorrow over having offended the source of morality by violation of a moral law.

Second premise: moral harm is the harm done simply by violation of a moral law .

These two premises yield a:

First conclusion: Contrition is sorrow over having offended the source of morality by producing moral harm.

My detailed characterization of moral harm is used as the:

Third premise. Moral harm is the occurrence in human moral thought of a prescription that harm ought to occur because of a violation along with a stress in morality’s authority until the harm which ought to occur upon violation of a moral law actually occurs.

This characterization and the first conclusion permit derivation of:

Second conclusion: Contrition is sorrow over having offended the source of morality by producing the occurrence in human moral thought of a prescription that harm ought to occur because of a violation along with a stress in morality’s authority until the harm which ought to occur upon violation of a moral law actually occurs.

Contrition has been logically connected with enough other concepts to write a book about contrition. So conceptual development is now best served by sketching out informally the vision of morality and contrition with which I am working.

Human moral thinking is a creation of God, viz., the moral authority. In moral thinking we produce norms. Correct moral thinking is thinking the norms for human behavior which God knows aim at basic human goods. So, in correct moral thinking we think as God thinks about what ought to be. If no one ever chose against the moral norms which God thinks, there would be a beautiful system of norms all aiming at the production of basic human goods.

However, we do choose wrongly. Unfortunately, in our immoral choices, we produce norms for moral thinking is always normative thinking. But in the case of the norms put into moral thought by immoral choices there are norms that the human goods aimed at by the correct norms ought to be inhibited, viz. evil be brought about. Hence, immoral choices produce ad hoc norms that evil ought to be. These ad hoc norms defile the beautiful system of moral norms the source of morality would have as our moral thought.

I have connected satisfying and thereby removing, these ad hoc norms with retributive punishment .

Here I conclude by noting that contrition is at least sorrow over having defiled the creation of the moral order with norms that some non-moral harm ought to be.

But this post is only a prelude to showing that this abstract definition of contrition can be exemplified in genuine human thoughts and sentiments.

Distinguishing Shame From Contrition

Before further explorations of personal, collective and vicarious contrition for abortion it is useful to distinguish shame from contrition. The theme is that our moral shame is of that for which we should have perfect contrition. Shame is a psychological condition* in reaction to what ought not have been while contrition is in part, at least, a moral judgment that a psychological condition of sorrow for being in conflict with the moral law specifying that for which there is shame ought not have been. I am guided somewhat by use of the prepositions “of” and “for.” Shame is of a concrete situation. Contrition is for violation of the abstract moral law. The distinction is made by observations about usage of these terms; not with precise definitions.

I begin with observations of my religious practice since that provides for me the paradigm cases of tallking of contrition.

I receive the Catholic sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession) about every eight weeks. Long ago when I was a child, I was ashamed of what I had to confess, had the so-called imperfect contrition of dreading the loss of heaven and pains of hell and felt ashamed of not having the perfect contrition of sorrow over offending God. I did not have to confess the absence of perfect contrition. I am ashamed to admit that I still lack perfection contrition.

The absence of perfect contrition was not an immoral act or the result of any immoral act. Still, I was ashamed of that lack because it indicated that I was not a very good person, or so I believed. I believed that I ought to have perfect contrition. I did not, of course, think that I ought to feel perfect contrition immediately. I believed having perfect contrition was a condition I should try to develop.

I did not then, and do not now, know clearly what it is like to have perfect contrition. Implicitly, I knew then, and explicitly now, know that I ought not dismiss pursuit of perfect contrition as an important goal. Dismissing perfect contrition as a goal worth pursuing would be tantamount to dismissing love of God as a significant goal. Here, the normative dimension of perfect contrition has emerged. Loving God is an obligatory good .

The commonly used phrases “you ought to be ashamed of that” and “you ought to be ashamed of yourself” does not indicate a similar normative dimension of shame. Shame per se is not a good to be pursued. Contrition because it involves love of God is per se a good to be pursued. Actually, the apparent obligation to have shame is to accept, have respect for, the moral law condemning that for which we should be ashamed.

My previous thoughts on You ought to be ashamed of yourself do not undercut what I have written here that shame is not a good to pursue.

I am searching for a purely moral analogue to perfect contrition as the sorrow about the violation of a moral law over and above any dread of the consequences of the violation. As noted above, an element of perfect contrition is having love of God as a significant goal. I propose, then, that an element of the moral analogue to perfect contrition is having love of, respect for**, the moral law as a significant, if not preeminent, obligatory good.

In conclusion, consider a comparison between love of God and respect for the moral law when we identify respect for the moral law as love of God.

To love God is to choose the good of God. The good of God is what God wills. Hence, to love God is to choose what God wills.What God wills is obedience to the moral laws for attainment of human happiness. So, to love God is to choose obedience to the moral laws for attainment of human happiness. If “respect for the moral law” = “love of God,” we get:
To respect the moral law is to choose obedience to the moral laws for attainment of human happiness***.

Added Oct. 31. If we do not have a command morality, which is invariably a divine command morality, we cannot really find a place for contrition. Respect for the moral law is only half of contrition. For full confession we need sorrow for disobeying the source of the moral law. If the source is impersonal as rationality or morality itself, there is nothing which our immoral choice has offended.

* “Pyschological condtion” refers to a combination of cognitive and affective states – combination of thoughts and feelings
** Respect for the moral law is preeminent in Kant’s moral philosophy. I keep returning to Kantian moral thinking in all my thinking about morality. But I am not doing Kantian exegesis.
*** Note that if the moral laws are for attainment of human happiness, the elements of happiness, the basic human goods, are obligatory goods.

Collective Contrition

Collective Contrition

To build an authentic moral barrier to abortion we should cultivate a condition of collective perfect contrition for abortion.

I wondered why we, and I in particular, should care about almost unlimited access to abortion. We, and I in particular, are not threatened with any great harm. The extreme damage to unborn babies might well be outweighed by the social problems solved by their destruction. Some, but not many, might fear the wrath of God.

Yet, there is a deep sorrow that elective abortions are legally permitted and that millions of women have and will use that permission. Explicitly, or implicitly, those of us opposing abortion want having this sorrow about abortion become dominant in society. The goal is to have the dominant thinking be that abortion is immoral with the appropriate thoughts and sentiments that being immoral itself is what makes it horrible.

The effort to understand thoughts and sentiments connected with violating a moral law led to the concept of perfect contrition . Perfect contrition is primarily a religious notion of sorrow over offending God by violating moral laws which are His commands. This religious concept is readily generalized to be a candidate for the thoughts and sentiment, if any, about violation of a moral law over and above sorrow and fear of any consequences of the moral violation.

I write, “if any” to indicate the prospect that psychological analysis of any particular sorrow about violation of a moral law might indicate that it is in fact some fear or grief about the consequences of the violation to society or oneself.

The concept of perfect contrition is not meaningless even if no one came ever be certain that they really have it. The concept is meaningful even if we can never be absolutely certain that it has anything in its extension. The concept is necessary for moral thinking, but it is not necessary that it be exemplified in any individual.

For those who might still be interested in twentieth century concerns over cognitive meaningfulness, note that claims of perfect contrition are empirically falsifiable.

Indeed, there is no authentic moral thought without the thought of immorality being a reason for sorrow regardless of any physical or social harm. Perfect contrition is necessary for morality. Dogmatic claims of psychological egotism that people have only selfish concerns and can make only selfish choices are dogmatic denials of morality. Case by case analyses to raise suspicion about unselfish concerns, as alluded to above, are efforts to show that there is no morality.

As important as it is to be honest about motives etc., unceasing efforts to uncover selfishness are uninteresting. They seem to be based on the dogmatic assumption of psychological egotism that there is always some selfishness to be uncovered. Of course, we are selfish and hypocritical. What is interesting is to show what it is like for a person to be sincere and unselfish.

In any event, we can set aside the whole topic of tortuous psychological analyses of individual motives. Morality is primarily collective thinking. So, if morality requires perfect contrition, then perfect contrition is an element in collective thinking. I admit that contrition seems preeminently a condition of an individual. However, we learn to think from others. So, if we can have perfect contrition, we have acquired it from others.

Upcoming topics are exploration of what collective perfect contrition might be like and the possibility of vicarious contrition.

Ontology, theories about what is real, are inseparable from my pursuit of truth in moral theory. I close with an argument for the truth of one of my major ontological assumptions.

There is no doubt that I assume that there is collective thinking in what I have written. But of more significance for the reality of collective thinking my act of writing and the act of anyone writing in reaction to what I write assumes and presents the reality of collective thinking. More generally any discussion, written or verbal, of the reality of collective thinking exhibits the reality of collective thinking.

Famous Relatives of Perfect Contrition

The title “Famous Relatives of Perfect Contrition” signals the influence of Ludwig Wittgenstein. In his 1953 Philosophical Investigations, he introduced the concept of family resemblance amongst concepts. The concept of family concept is vague. It is introduced with examples. Wittgenstein illustrated it with games. “Game” is not well-defined but we identify activities such as hop-scotch, bridge and baseball as games. In an effort to understand what it is to play a game, those three along with many others might be part of the discussion.

So, when I identify a concept as having a family resemblance to the concept of perfect contrition, I am thinking of it as a concept which very likely would come up in a conversation aimed at understanding perfect contrition. Or, conversely, a common concept which someone might help clarify by introducing the more rarely used concept of perfect contrition.

The main purpose of this post is to establish the intellectual respectability of the concept of perfect contrition for use in moral theory and moral theology. It is not a special concept for Catholic moral and sacramental theology. It is closely related to widely used theological and philosophical concepts. Perfection contrition comes from a distinguished conceptual family!

Begin with love of God. For Judeo-Christian religions, the Hebrew Shema expresses a fundamental belief. Central in the Shema we read

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all you mind and with all your might.”

Personally, I am more perplexed by love of God than I am by perfection contrition. But if I had perfect contrition, I would have love of God. For in professing perfection contrition I profess love of God. If I happened to fall and loved God, I would have perfect contrition. For a sinner, there is perfect contrition if and only if there is love of God. Sinners need to discuss something like perfect contrition to understand love of God.

My phrase “something like” means that the words “perfection contrition might never be used.

Sinless angels might love God apart from any contrition. A dimension of the notion of original sin is that for humans love of God is inseperable from notions of contrition and pleas for mercy. Perfection contrition is related to the concepts of angel, original sin and even immaculate conception.

Claims that God loves us no matter what we do or think, threaten theistic belief with vacuity. What we do must matter to God and we must respond to what matters to God. Again, discussion of a significanct Divine Love will use some notion like perfect contrition – sorrow for improperly responding to God’s love.

Reformation notions of redemption and salvation involve something like the concept of perfect contrition. What is that faith which guarantees salvation? Perhaps, it is God’s gift of sorrow for being a sinner because we were offensive to God whom we love. Reception of this gift is one’s salvation by being a person who loves God. I only hint at these subtle Reformation notions. I want only to suggest that something like perfect contrition would be used in serious discussion to clarify them.

In general, I think that any discussion to clarify concepts of the theological virtues: faith, hope and charity, will introduce something like the concept of “perfect contrition.”

Perfection contrition has distinguished philosophical brothers and sisters. We cannot meet her without getting introduced to the whole family of moral philosophy.

In Gorgias, Plato has Socrates reply that it is better to suffer a wrong than to do a wrong. Figuring out what one ought to suffer in doing a wrong would help figuring out what perfect contrition might be.

In The Republic, Socrates tries to appreciate why someone who had the ring of Gyges making him invisible so that he could get away with any crime would not be happy. This might have been the earliest written account of the problem of identifying an especially horrible sentiment and condition based simply on an intention to do what is immoral. It continues up to our time with efforts to understand egotism, altruism et al.

Indeed, rationality would be on the list, started above. All attempts to show the rationality of morality face the question “Why be rational?” Any morality, worthy of the name, requires some inclination frustration. What is the sorrow connected with intending to do the irrational which makes such a choice worse than any sacrifice of our inclinations? The whole Aristotelian tradition holds that showing the rationality of an action guiding principle suffices for showing it is a morally valid principle.

I doubt that attempts to identify morality with rationality can answer “Why be rational?” Rationality is abstracted from anything which cares about what we do or what is good for us. One reason why I now work on a theory of morality as the commands of a moral commander is that if there is a personal relationship between the source of morality and us, we can realize why we desire to be moral.

I cannot close without mentioning Kant’s concepts of moral worth and respect for the moral law. Kant tells us that a choice has moral worth if and only if it is made out of respect for the moral law. We might begin to interpret this, perhaps unattainable, standard for moral worth by imagining of what we think and feel if we ignore the moral law in a choice. To what have we failed to pay attention and what do we feel about ignoring it.