A few quick words on moral objects

Alas, I have been quite busy—and how I wished to be involved in posting content here.   I have been toiling away at teaching, editing two Garrigou-Lagrange translations while also working on another translation-cum-commentary volume (unnamed for now, until I am sure I have a publisher). 

This latter volume started as a project just to straighten up my own thoughts on some basics.  However, it has become a good locale for proposing the old Thomist's school's distinction between moral and physical being.  Alas, Martin Rhonheimer (whom many disagree with, often for rather cryptic reasons, I think) has seen some of this with great depth; however, he has made an unfortunate remark in Martin Rhonheimer, “The Perspective of the Acting Person and the Nature of Practical Reason: The ‘Object of the Human Act’ in Thomistic Anthropology of Action,” in The Perspective of the Acting Person: Essays in the Renewal of Thomsitic Moral Philosophy (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 2008), 212-213:

Every deliberately chosen human act, on the other hand, already necessarily has an object at the moral level, because its object is this exterior act itself, as a “good understood and ordered by reason.”  To deny this is to fall into physicalism.  Traditionally, to avoid this danger, it was customary at this point to resort to the Deus ex machina of the mysterious “transcendental relation of the physical object to the moral norm.” This solution, however, more juridical than moral, hindered a proper understanding of the intrinsic constitution of the moral object, and therefore also of the goodness or evil that human acts intrinsically possess on the basis of their object.  To avoid the necessity of recourse to this Deus ex machina or—light those who were aware of the inadequacy of this “legalistic” solution and rebelled against it—to avoid ending up in proportionalism or consequentialism (which are nothing other than variations of the same ethical-normative extrinsicism), one must place himself “in the perspective of the acting person,” conceiving the object of a human act as the proximate end of the will, that is, as an “object rationally chosen by the deliberate will” on which “primarily and fundamentally depends the morality of the human act (Veritatis splendor, n.78).


Indeed, here, one wonders about the source for this wording, whose appeal to transcendental relation clearly harkens from the Thomist school.  It is neither that of Lehu nor that of the great manualists Benedict Merkelbach and Dominic Prümmer.  Indeed, as can be seen in Austin Woodbury’s notes on ethics, Fr. Rhonheimer’s supposed Deus ex machina seems to be a kind of mingling of the Thomist position with the Suarezian and Nominalist conception of morality as being a merely extrinsic denomination.

 See Leonard Lehu, Philosophia Moralis et Socialis (Paris: LeCoffre, 1914), n.77: “Moralitas consistit formaliter in relatione reali transcendentali actus ad regulam morum.”  By “actus”, Fr. Lehu certainly does not mean “physical object.”

And also Benedictus Henricus Merkelbach, Summa theologiae moralis ad metem D. Tomae et ad normam iuris novi, 5th ed., vol. 1 (De principiis) (Paris: Desclée de Brouwer et Soc., 1947),  n.115 (p.108): “Moralitas est conditio omnis actus humani et definer solet: conformitas vel disconformitas actus humani cum sua regula, recta ratione.”  And, ibid., n.116 (p.109): “Sed moralitas est intrinsecus respectus seu relatio transcendentalis, i.e. intrinseca habitude ipsius actus, qua tendit ad obiectum praecise ut conforme vel difforme cum regulis morum.  Est sentential Thomistarum.” 

And also Dominicus M. Prümmer, Manuale theologiae moralis, 13th edition (Barcelona: Herder, 1958), cap.3 a.1 (p.68): “Moralitas actionum humanorum definiri potest: transcendentalis relatio actus humani ad normam moralitatis” and (p.71): “Moralitas consistit formaliter in tendentia (seu relatione transcendentali) ad obiectum, quatenus istud praecise substat regulis morum.  Regulae autem morum sunt lex aeterna et omnia, quae derivantur a lege aeterna, ut sunt omnes alia leges iustae et conscientia.  Ita explicant essentiam moralitatis omnes fere Thomiste, e.gr. Ioannes a S. Thoma, Gonet, Salmanticenses, Billuart.  Ratio autem huius sententiae est, quia actus formaliter constituitur per tendentiam ad suum obiectum; tota enim ratio actus est eius obiectum.  Quod quidem in ordine physico ab omnibus admittitur et per se patet; sic e.gr. actus visionis formaliter constituitur per tendentiam ad obiectum visum.  Ergo a pari actus moralis essentialiter constituitur per suam tendentiam in obiectum morale.  Obiectum autem est morale, in quantum subicitur regulis seu norma morum...  Norma supreme obiectiva moralitatis est lex aeterna seu ratio divinae sapientiae, prout est directive omnium actionum humanarum… Norma proxima obiectiva moralitatis est ratio humana, i.e. dictamen rationis rectae, non quidem per se, sed in quantum est participatio legis aeternae.”

I plan to have more on this forthcoming, but the project is still being toiled through...  I spent a good part of the day today transcribing and commenting on Woodbury's treatment of this topic.