Sources of Morality of Human Acts

Human beings are creatures with intellect and free will.

"Human acts" is a technical term in moral theology that refers to acts which are fully human. That is, they are informed by understanding and choice. A human act is a deliberate act. Sally chooses to have a dish of rum raisin ice cream: human act.

In contrast, for our purposes, "an act of a human being" is any act that a human being does. It does not have to be a properly "human act." Jake rolls over in his sleep: act of human being, not a human act.

ONLY "HUMAN ACTS" HAVE MORAL QUALITY.

-Acts that are not "human acts" – like snoring – are not deliberate and do not have moral quality.

-Many human acts are morally indifferent – ordinarily, whether I wear the blue or white shirt, for example.

-The moral quality of human acts depends on the object, intention and circumstances.

Object

The act, or thing done, considered from it moral perspective. This is not what just a camera would catch but the moral content of the act.

Sammy takes Jane’s purse from her desk.  NOT the OBJECT (Sammy could be getting the purse for Jane).

Sammy steals Jane’s purse; Sammy brings Jane the purse she forgot to take home with her.   These are moral objects; the first is a bad object and the second is a good object.

Other examples -- all the following are proper moral objects:

He decided to murder his mother.

The heart patient disobeyed his doctor’s instructions about avoiding cholesterol.

She stole the money.

She lied under oath.

They drove recklessly while drag racing.

She helped her elderly neighbor by shopping for him.

Common errors.

He went into the bank and saw the safe was open and unguarded (no moral act or decision)

The theology assignment or the homework assignment (no verb).

The Church (no verb)

She wanted a good grade.  ("Want" explains the reason the deed was done – i.e. names the intention, but fails to name what was done.)

He wanted a date.  (Same problem as the preceding).

Intention

The reason the act was done. The object and intention are always different.

Sammy stole the purse to get money for drugs (bad intention); Sammy stole the purse to get money to buy food for a hungry homeless man (good intention).

Sammy brought the purse to Jane because he wanted to save her the bother of going back to the office (good intention); Sammy brought the purse to Jane’s apartment because he hoped that she’d invite him in and have sex with him (bad intention).

Circumstances

Anything pertaining to the act other than the object and intention, including the consequences. Circumstances do not make an act good or bad – that is, they do not affect the moral quality of an act – but they do increase the goodness or badness of an act.

Sammy took all the cash Jane had in her purse but left her license and credits cards; or Sammy stole from Jane who is very poor and needed the money to feed her baby; or Sammy stole from Jane who is quite rich and never missed the money. In each case the bad act (stealing) is more or less bad because of circumstances.

Sammy went far out of his to to bring the purse to Jane's apartment because Jane has severe arthritis and it would have been punishingly painful for her to have to go back for her purse; or Sammy doesn’t particularly like Jane and did the kind deed for her anyway.  In each case the good act is better than it might be under other circumstances.

For an HUMAN ACT to be MORALLY GOOD human act to be morally good, the Object AND the Intention have to BOTH be GOOD. The following chart show when an act is morally good and when it is morally bad

Object

Intention

Circumstances

Morality of Act

Good

Good

 

Good

Good

Bad

 

Bad

Bad

Good

 

Bad (note this!)

Bad

Bad

 

Bad

   

Can make a good act better or less good, or a bad act worse or less bad, but do not change the moral quality of the act itself.