JMC : Moral Philosophy / by Charles Coppens, S.J.

Chapter II.
The Morality of Human Acts.

36. Having discussed in the preceding chapter the end of human acts, we shall next proceed to study their nature. With this purpose we shall examine: 1. The essential difference between morally good and morally bad acts, or the essence of morality; 2. The determinants of morality in any given action; 3. Accountability for moral acts; 4. Circumstances that lessen accountability; 5. The passions as influencing accountability; 6. Habits as facilitating moral acts.


37. Human acts are those of which a man is master, which he has the power of doing or not doing as he pleases. (No. 2. See also Ment. Phil., Nos. 194-199.) True, we are physically free to perform certain acts or to omit them -- to do one thing or its contrary, to choose this act rather than some other; but are we also morally free in regard to all such acts? Is it right for me on all occasions to do whatever my inclination prompts me to do? My reason plainly answers, No: it is evident even to a child that some actions are good in themselves, morally good, and others bad in themselves, morally bad. The good acts our reason commends and approves; these we call right. Evil acts, on the contrary, our reason disapproves and blames; these we call wrong. The ideas of right and wrong, like those of truth and falsity, substance and accident, cause and effect are "primary ideas" which are common to all men; hence, they are trustworthy ideas -- that is, the distinction existing in the mind between right and wrong corresponds to a distinction existing objectively in human acts. (See Logic, Nos. 119, 120.)

38. But though all men distinguish between right and wrong, it does not follow that all theorizers acknowledge the distinction. It often stands in the way of their false speculations. Such writers, for instance as Huxley, Spencer and the Agnostics and Positivists generally, admit no true liberty in man, and therefore they cannot consistently treat of human acts as such: there are no human acts with them, for there are no acts which a man has the power to do or not to do. The same holds true for all Materialists, who teach that nothing exists but matter -- acting, of course, by necessary laws. Pantheists likewise, admitting no real distinction between man and God, cannot speak of human acts as such, and cannot therefore correctly explain the difference between moral right and moral wrong. Nevertheless, all these false theorizers employ the terms "right" and "wrong" -- the distinction being too widely accepted to be ignored. They are forced, however, by the exigencies of their theories to misinterpret the meaning of these words. Without stopping to refute their false and demoralizing interpretations singly, we shall briefly explain the obvious, certain and common-sense distinctions between moral right and moral wrong.

The reason why our intellect approves certain acts, calls them morally good and pronounces them worthy of praise, precisely as free acts, is because it perceives that they are rightly directed to their true end, suitable to and worthy of a rational agent, conformable to the exigencies of things, and therefore that they ought to be done by man: man ought to do what is conformable to his rational nature and conducive to his perfection.

Our intellect disapproves of other acts, calls them morally bad or evil and pronounces them to be, inasmuch as they are free acts, deserving of blame, because it perceives they are directed away from their true end, are unbecoming and unsuitable to a rational agent, at variance with the exigencies of things, and therefore not to be done by man: man ought not to do that which is unworthy of a rational being, and which, instead of perfecting, debases him.

40. The radical notion conveyed by the term "good" is "suitableness to an appetite or desire." Using the word, then, in its radical meaning, we say something is good for a being which that being desires -- i. e., which is the object of its appetites. And the good is the object of the being's appetites because it tends in some manner to the perfection of the being; for the wise Creator has made all things such that they tend to what promotes their perfection. Hence we call that a physical good which contributes to perfect a being physically -- as, for example, food for the animal nature. We call whatever benefits the intellect, e. g., truth and science, an intellectual good. So, too, that which perfects a free being, as such, we call a moral good.

41. A free being perfects itself by drawing near to its ultimate end, its supreme good, which is God. Consequently, those acts are morally good for man which bring him nearer to God, the ultimate end of his existence; and those are morally bad which lead him away from God.

42. Since there are some human acts, like blasphemy, that are of themselves bad at all times, and others, like reverence for God, that are of themselves always good, the quality of goodness or badness must be something intrinsic to the acts and must depend upon their accord with or disagreement from the permanent natural order of things. It is clear that this order, with respect to human acts, corresponds to the relations which man, as a creature, possesses necessarily towards God; as a social entity, towards his fellow-men; and towards himself as a being endowed with various faculties, sensitive and spiritual. These relations in turn are founded on the essences of things; hence, the difference between the two classes of acts is an essential difference. Now the essences of things are modelled by the Creator upon perfections known to the Divine Intellect as existing in the Divine Essence; therefore the morality or immorality of a human act is determined ultimately by the intellect and not by the free will of God. As God can not contradict Himself, He can not make an intrinsicallv moral act immoral, nor remove the immorality of an act intrinsically immoral.

43. Some human acts are so disorderly as to turn a man entirely away from the pursuit of his true last end; for, in place of God as the ultimate object of desire, these acts substitute explicitly or implicitly something altogether incompatible with the love of God. There are other human acts, which, though impeding the soul's tendency towards its true ultimate end, do not become an obstacle to the attainment of that end. In this difference lies the distinction between mortal and venial sin.

44. Once the true meaning of morality is grasped, it is easy to detect the errors of certain false theories which have been fabricated to explain the power residing in all men of distinguishing between good and evil.

1. Some philosophers attribute this power to instinct. But instinct, in the accurate meaning of the word, is a blind impulse of nature, which prompts the animal to conduct itself in a determined manner, and thus to perform complex acts, without understanding their further purpose, for the good of the individual and of the species. Moral good and moral evil, on the contrary, are apprehended intellectually -- that is, by a cognitive faculty which can reflect and draw inferences; hence, in distinguishing between good and evil, we do not act blindly, but intelligently.

2. Some speak of a moral sense. If by a moral sense an organic faculty or the action of an organic faculty is meant, the use of the term is erroneous and misleading; because material organism, which is required for every organic action, cannot possibly grasp the abstract immaterial relations contained in the idea of moral good or evil. If, however, the term is employed to denote a certain perfection of the intellectual powers, a quickness and keenness of mind in detecting and judging the morality or immorality of human acts, it is used correctly.

3. Others maintain with Herbert Spencer{1} that this power of distinguishing between good and evil rests upon the power of distinguishing between what is useful and what is hurtful to men generally in the present life. Whatever tends to the temporal good of mankind generally is morally good, they say, and whatever generally does injury is morally evil. Now, it is true that moral good is ultimately useful to mankind even on earth, and moral evil is ultimately injurious. But moral good is not good because it is useful; on the contrary, it is useful because it is good, i. e., because it tends to make man more perfect, and hence better fitted to attain his last end. Moreover, it is a part of the universal harmony which God has established in His creation, that the moral good of the individual be either immediately or ultimately beneficial to the many. In this sense, honesty is truly the best policy.

4. In the theories of Hobbes, Paley, Mandeville, and the older English Utilitarians, regard to personal advantage on earth is the only motive of human action: that is morally good which brings me pleasure; the "moral good" is the "useful to me personally."

5. Finally, some in theory and very many in practice hold that the norma or rule of right and wrong lies in the opinion of men. That is right, they declare, which the majority of men approve. "Vox populi, vox Dei " -- "The voice of the people is the voice of God." But on many topics the opinions of men are changeful and often false. When, moreover, all men agree in calling a certain act good or evil, they do so because they see that in itself it is good or evil; but it is not good or evil because they call it so.

45. It may be asked whether every human act is either good or evil. We must make a distinction.

1. An act considered in the abstract, i. e., apart from all circumstances, may be specifically neither good nor evil. For instance, walking, riding, reading, etc., are acts that in themselves do not imply a tendency to our last end or a departure from it. All such are called indifferent acts: specifically, they are neither good nor bad.

2. But every moral act considered individually, i. e., as done in such and such circumstances of time, place and persons, is necessarily either good or bad. For, since we distinguish a good from a bad act by its conformity with fixed principles known to reason, it follows that when reason approves, the act is right; when it disapproves, the act is wrong. Now, in every individual human act, reason approves the act as a fit object for a deliberate choice, or disapproves it as an unfit object for such choice; therefore, every individual or concrete human act is either right or wrong.

The truth of this principle is made clearer in the next article.


46. To know whether an individual human act is morally good, we must consider it with reference to these three things which, because they determine the moral character of acts, are called the determinants of morality: 1st. The object of the act; 2d. The end, or purpose; 3d. Its circumstances. That the act may be morally good, all three determinants must be without a flaw, according to the received axiom: "Bonum ex integra causa, malum ex quocumque defectu," -- " A thing to be good must be wholly so; it is vitiated by any defect."

47. I. The object of an act is the thing done. In reality, it is not distinct from the act itself; for we cannot act without doing something, and the something done is the object of the act; say, of going, eating, praising, etc. The act or object may be viewed as containing a further specification -e. g., going to church, praising God, eating meat. Now, an act thus specified may, when considered in itself, be good, bad, or indifferent; thus, to praise God is good in itself, to blaspheme is bad in itself, and to eat meat is in itself an indifferent act. But that an individual act may be good, its object, whether considered in itself or as further specified, must be free from all defect; it must be good, or at least indifferent.

48. II. The end, or purpose, intended by the agent is the second determinant of an act's morality. The end here spoken of is not the end of the work, for that pertains to the object, but the end of the workman or agent (No. 11). No matter how good the object of an act may be, if the end intended is bad, the act is thereby vitiated. Thus, to praise God is good in itself, but, if in so acting the intention be to play the hypocrite, the act is morally bad. And this holds true whether the vicious end be the nearest, remote or last end (No. 9); whether it be actually or only virtually intended (No. 12). On the other hand, a good end, though ever so elevated, cannot justify a bad act; in other words, we are never allowed to do evil that good may result therefrom.{2}

49. The circumstances of time, place and persons have their part in determining the morality of an individual act. The moral character of an act may be so affected by attendant circumstances, that an act good in itself may be evil when accompanied with certain circumstances; for instance, it is good to give drink to the thirsty, but if the thirsty man is morally weak, and the drink is intoxicating, the act may be evil.

50. Under the head of circumstances certain effects of an act may be included; not such effects as are directly willed or intended, for these go with the second class of determinants (No. 48). But there may be other effects which the agent foresees or can foresee so related to the act, that, though he does not intend them, yet he consents to their taking place, inasmuch as he wills the act which, to his knowledge, is the cause or at least the occasion of these effects. Thus, in ordering a city to be bombarded, a general brings about, however reluctantly, the death of many non-combatants. Such an effect, he is said to permit, or to will indirectly.

51. If besides the good effects directly intended in an act evil effects are foreseen as likely to result, the act is not licit unless it fulfills the following conditions: 1. That the evil effect be not directly intended; 2. That the good effect intended be not produced by means of the evil effect, for we are never allowed to do evil that good may come therefrom. The general in the foregoing example does not kill the noncombatants in order that by their death he may destroy the combatants; 3. That the good directly intended exceed the evil effects. No one could licitly bombard a city for the sake of a slight advantage; 4. That the doer of the act be not under the obligation of averting the evil consequences in question.

52. The external action commanded by the will derives its good or evil character from the internal, elicited act of the will; hence, outward action does not of itself increase the right or wrong of the act. Indirectly, however, it may 36 Direction of Human Acts in General. readily do so; because outward action is apt to protract or intensify the inward disposition of the will, and thus increase the moral good or evil of the act.


53. When I perform a free act -- one which I am able to do or not to do, as I choose -- the act is evidently imputable to me: if the thing is blameworthy, the blame belongs to me; if it is praiseworthy, I am entitled to the praise. Every human act, therefore, since it is a free act (No. 2), is imputable to him who performs it.

54. But am I accountable for my free acts -- and to whom? Is there any one who has the right and the power to hold me answerable for my moral conduct? So far, we have not touched upon this question. We have simply shown that some acts are morally good and some are morally bad; that some ought to be done, and others ought not to be done (No. 39); and we have examined into the distinction between these two classes of acts, or the nature of morality. Proceeding further, we are now to show that a Higher Will binds us to observe the moral law (which consists in doing what is right and avoiding what is wrong), and holds us accountable for our moral conduct -- i. e., for our observance of the moral law. The Higher Will, which imposes the moral law upon us, is none other than the Supreme Will of God.

55. God's right to bind us is clear from the fact that He is our Creator and we are His creatures. (Ment. Phil., No. 211 et seq.) Now that which is made out of nothing, or created, belongs entirely to its Creator; therefore we, His creatures, belong entirely to God, and consequently He has a perfect right to the homage and service of our whole being. In the following thesis we shall demonstrate the great truth that God requires of us the observance of the moral law. It would be absurd to say that such observance degrades man. One might say, just as reasonably, that subjection to the laws of civilization is degrading to a savage. Nor is this comparison farfetched, since the moral law is the central figure of civilized society.

56. Thesis VII. God's will imposes the law of morality upon us, and holds us accountable for our observance of it.

Proof 1. The Infinitely wise Creator cannot fail to employ the proper means to direct all things to their appointed ends; hence, He directs by necessary tendencies beings that are not endowed with free will. Over these tendencies such beings have no control: thus He directs matter by physical laws; brute animals by instincts. Free beings He must also direct in the manner proper to their nature, i. e., requiring them to attain their appointed end by the free choice of the means peculiarly adapted to this object. Now, to require this of us, is to impose the law of morality upon us, since we tend towards our appointed end by doing what is right, and we fail to tend towards our end by doing what is wrong. Moreover, if the imposition of this law is to be effectual, as in His Infinite wisdom He is bound to make it, God must hold us accountable for our moral conduct. (See Ment. Phil., Nos. 222, 225.)

Proof 2. It is shown in Critical Logic (Nos. 156-164), that the judgments made by the common sense of mankind are true. Now, one of these judgments is that we are responsible for our moral acts to a Supreme Ruler, for this is found in the minds of all men who have the full use of reason; nor can a man rid himself of this conviction, though he may eagerly desire to do so. Therefore, all men are accountable for their moral conduct, i. e., for their observance of the moral law, to God, who is the Supreme Ruler, as He is the Creator of all things.

57. To say that God holds us accountable for our free acts, implies that He will punish us if we do moral evil. We shall show presently that we become entitled to reward by doing what is morally good. A title to reward, on account of good actions, is called merit. The foundation of merit is this principle of reason, that if a person freely benefits another, the latter ought, in equity, or by way of compensation, to make a proportionate return.

58. Merit is of two kinds. Condign merit is a strict title to a reward, on account either of a promise freely given or of a benefit received; it, moreover, imposes an obligation upon one person to make an adequate return to another. Congruous merit is not a strict title to a recompense, but only a matter of propriety or suitableness in the bestowal of a reward; hence there is no just claim on the one side and, consequently, no real obligation on the other.

59. Condign merit demands the fulfillment of two conditions: 1. The benefit conferred must be in no way due to the recipient; we can claim no reward from another for paying him a debt. 2. The person benefited must accept explicitly or implicitly the service rendered, or, at least, he ought to accept it. If this condition were not required, I should be obliged to pay every tradesman that might choose to send me his wares.

60. Thesis VIII. We can merit a reward from men, and from God also, though not in the same sense.

Part I. Merit with regard to our fellow-men. Proof. We often have the power either to confer or not to confer a benefit upon our fellow-men, according as we choose. Now, if we freely do good to others, reason dictates that they ought to do good to us in return; and thus we have a title, founded on reason, to receive a reward from our fellow-men. This title is called merit. Hence we can merit a reward from men.

Part II. Merit with regard to God. Proof We are often physically free either to do a certain act, whereby we honor God and thus contribute to His external glory, or not to do the act. If we perform the act in question, we give to Him what is, in some manner, a benefit, and we have what is, in some manner, a claim to receive a benefit in return.

Part III. The latter is not merit in the same sense as our merit with men. Proof The good we do our fellow-men, in so far as it is not due to them, obliges them strictly to a proportionate return; but we cannot strictly give anything to God which is not entirely due to Him, since, as creatures, we belong in every way to God our Creator. Consequently, if He owes us a reward at all, it is not for the benefits He receives at our hands; but only because He owes it to Himself to fulfill His promises of a reward. For, by implanting in every heart an insatiable longing after perfect happiness, He has implicitly promised us a reward -- on condition, of course, that we do our part. Therefore, we can merit a reward from God and men: from men, by reason of that which they owe us; from God, by reason of that which He owes Himself.


61. Since our accountability for an act is based on our power to control the act, whatever hinders or lessens this power must, to the same extent, hinder or lessen our accountability. There are mainly four such hindrances: ignorance, concupiscence, fear and violence.

62. I. Ignorance is the absence of knowledge. In Ethics it regards two classes of objects -- viz., laws and facts. If a man does not know that marriage between third cousins is forbidden, he is ignorant of the law. If he is not aware that his betrothed is his third cousin, he is ignorant of the fact. Ignorance, whether of the law or of the facts, is either vincible or invincible. When it cannot be overcome by the due amount of diligence, it is invincible; otherwise, it is vincible. The latter is said to be gross or supine when scarcely an effort has been made to remove it; and if a person deliberately avoids enlightenment in order to sin more freely, his ignorance is affected.

63. Thesis IX. We are free from responsibility for acts performed through invincible ignorance, but not for acts done in ignorance that is vincible.

Part I. In cases of invincible ignorance, we are not responsible. Proof. We are responsible for our acts only inasmuch as they are human acts. Now an act, inasmuch as it is done through invincible ignorance, is not a human act; for, in that respect, an essential element of a human act is wanting, namely, knowledge. Therefore we are not responsible for acts performed through invincible ignorance.

Part II. Vincible ignorance does not free us from responsibility. Proof. This ignorance could have been removed if we had so willed; hence, it is voluntary As any deordination in the act performed is caused by our voluntary ignorance, it becomes voluntary in its cause. But what is voluntary in its cause affects the morality of the act, as was explained above (Nos. 50, 51), and we are responsible for the morality of our acts. Therefore, vincible ignorance does not free us from responsibility.

64. Objections. 1. Invincible ignorance is rejected when offered as an excuse before civil tribunals. Answer. Human judges, unlike the Divine Judge, cannot see our thoughts. They are thus forced to consider presumptions of guilt, and it is presumed that a law duly promulgated is known to all.

2. In cases of invincible ignorance, our acts are free. Therefore we are accountable for them. Answer. Though free in other respects, they are not free violations of the law. For if I cannot know the law, I cannot will to violate it.

65. II. Concupiscence is a strong impulse of the sensible appetite inclining the will to seek sensible good and to fly from sensible evil. When it arises unbidden by the will, it is termed antecedent; but when it arises at the command, or continues with the consent, of the will, it is called consequent. As soon as sensible good or evil is perceived, the appetite generally acts instinctively. This first impulse is not free, and consequently not imputable to us. In as far as concupiscence impels the will, it restrains our liberty, and thus lessens our accountability. Yet, unless the impulse be so violent as to deprive us for the time being of the use of reason, it does not dispossess our will of the power to refuse consent; hence, when the will yields, though its consent may be reluctant, it does so freely and we are responsible. Consequent concupiscence is a willful intensification of consent, which therefore increases our responsibility.

66. III. Fear arises from the apprehension of threatening evil, and prompts us to seek safety in flight. Our will is thus dragged along, as it were, and so its freedom is restricted and our responsibility is diminished to the same extent. Great fear sometimes exempts a person from acts enjoined by positive law.

67. IV. Violence is an impulse from without tending to force the agent to act against his choice. It cannot affect the will directly -- i. e., the elicited acts of the will -- for we cannot will that which at the same time we do not will. But violence can sometimes affect our external acts. In so far as the violence is irresistible, we are not responsible for the external act. If, however, the will yields a reluctant yet real consent, we are blamable, though in a lower degree than if there had been no reluctance.


68. We have just explained how the passions of concupiscence and fear may affect our responsibility. It will be useful at this stage to consider the passions in general, the various kinds, the nature of each, the purpose for which they exist, and the use we should make of them.

Passions are movements of the irrational part of the soul attended by a notable alteration of the body, on the apprehension of good or evil. In the strict meaning of the word, passions are organic affections aroused by sensible good or evil. As such, they are common to man and brute, but impossible in an angel. Nevertheless, the names of various passions are often used analogically to denote affections of the will, that are entirely, or at least chiefly, due to intellectual cognition, as when we are said to love science, to hate ignorance, to desire honor, to enjoy a joke, etc. To this latter class belong the moral emotions, such as admiration of virtue, detestation of vice, etc. Owing, indeed, to the substantial union of our soul and body, the one cannot be strongly affected without, as a general rule, reacting on the other. For both sensitive and intellectual knowledge are accompanied with phantasms, by means of which the sensitive and, indirectly, the rational appetites are aroused to action. Besides, in man there is really only one will; which is called affective to denote the impulse of the sense-faculty, and elective to denote the free choice of the rational faculty, and it scarcely ever acts powerfully in either faculty without acting also in the other.

69. Our passions are of two kinds, concupiscible and irascible.

1. The concupiscible passions are those affections of the sensible faculties which regard their object as simply good or evil. They are six in number: good or evil in general excites love or hate respectively; desire is roused by good apprehended as absent, aversion by an approaching evil; when the good is attained, joy is excited, whilst, on the other hand, present evil causes sadness.

2. The irascible passions, which are five in number, arise when good or evil is apprehended as associated with difficulties or obstacles to be overcome. Difficulty or even danger in connection with a desired good is not always displeasing. If the attainment of a desired good which is difficult to acquire is apprehended as within our power, hope is aroused; if it seems to be quite beyond our reach, despondency follows, In the case of a coming evil, we are animated by courage if we feel that we can avert it, but we experience fear on perceiving that we cannot easily escape. Anger is roused by the presence of an evil to which we are unwilling to submit (St. Thomas, 1ma 2ae, q. 23). These eleven may be called the primary passions. All others are modifications or combinations of these.

70. The passions are intended by the Creator to assist us in attaining our last end. Hence in themselves they are not evil, but good. Yet they must be subject to the careful control of the will enlightened by reason. Generally their first impulses arise by a kind of physical necessity when the senses apprehend good or evil. However, as these first impulses are not free, they are not imputable to us. But as soon as the intellect perceives their presence, the will can act; and it must assert its control to regulate or suppress their movement, according as reason judges it to be right or wrong. If the will fails to do this, we become accountable for the consequences. The moral perfection of a man consists, to a great extent, in his power to control his passions and to direct their energies aright. Persevering efforts thus to regulate the passions beget good habits, which are invaluable aids for attaining our last end.

71. Zeno and the Stoics totally misconceived the relation of the passions to morality; they pronounced them to be moral disorders, which a virtuous man was bound to uproot from his heart. He was not to allow the sensitive appetite even to stir. Now, it is impossible to suppress all movement of passion; indeed, to check passion when it is conducive to true happiness, would be very unwise. It would make all impassioned eloquence and poetry impossible; it would cut off all high-spirited devotion to duty, all unselfish spontaneity, and banish generous pity and noble enthusiasm. The ideal of human nature fancied by the Stoics would be a mere calculating machine. A man's father and mother might be slain before his eyes, whilst he would be busy stifling his heart's natural impulse to fly to the rescue. The true doctrine which we have here outlined was formulated by Aristotle and his followers, the Peripatetics; but in its stead the Stoics attempted to substitute their strange misconceptions of the truth.


72. Habits are defined as more or less permanent qualities which dispose a faculty to act readily and with ease. A habit results naturally from frequent repetition of the same act. Thus, by constantly restraining the passion of anger, a person gains facility in doing so; or, in other words, he acquires the virtue of meekness. A habit is said to be "a second nature," because though not constituting nature it greatly facilitates certain operations of the natural faculties. Good habits, or those inclining us to do what is morally right, are called virtues; bad habits, or tendencies to what is wrong, are called vices. Brute animals are incapable of moral acts; hence they cannot form moral habits. Their power of imitation or the influence of peculiar circumstances may, it is true, enable them to acquire ways of acting which are not ordinary, which may indeed seem unnatural; as, when a bird is made to pronounce words. The power to act thus may be termed a habit, but, of course, not a moral habit. Man may also acquire habits that are more or less mechanical; but, besides these, he can form moral habits by the frequent repetition of free acts; and in Moral Philosophy we are concerned with only the latter class of habits.

73. Certain habits may be supernaturally infused into the soul, and in no other way can the supernatural virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity be obtained; so that natural acts, though ever so numerous, cannot of themselves produce a supernatural habit. Even natural virtues may be supernaturally infused or strengthened by Almighty God. Philosophy, however, considers only natural virtues and the natural mode of acquiring and developing them, all of which depend on the repetition of virtuous acts.

74. Virtue and vice necessarily imply freedom of action; no one is truly said to be virtuous for doing what he cannot help doing, nor can any one be called vicious for doing what he cannot possibly avoid. Now, freedom is a power belonging peculiarly to man's will; therefore all vices and virtues must, in some manner, be referred to the will. Besides, the will can influence the intellect considerably, not in regard to such judgments as are immediately evident, but in regard to the less immediate conclusions of reasoning. In this way it can so bend the intellect to consider certain motives for action to the exclusion of other motives that, after repeated acts of the same kind, the intellect finds great ease in certain modes of action rather than in others.

The will can also control the sensitive appetites or passions; and, as these are of two kinds, the concupiscible and the irascible, the relation of the passions to the will gives rise to two classes of virtues and vices. Accordingly, the moral virtues are reducible to four heads, called the four cardinal virtues: namely, justice, a habit belonging directly to the will; prudence, dwelling in the intellect; temperance, regulating the concupiscible passions, and fortitude, commanding the irascible passions.

75. I. Justice perfects the will, inclining it to choose always that which tends to our true good and the attainment of our last end. As such it is a general virtue, and includes all the virtues. In a more restricted sense, justice inclines us to give to every one his due -- to God by the virtue of religion, to our parents by filial piety, to our benefactors by gratitude. To other men we give their due by acts of what is commonly understood as justice. This, in turn, is of two kinds: commutative justice, by which we give to other men quid pro quo, i.e., an exact equivalent in return for what they give us; distributive justice, a virtue of the ruler, by which he distributes the honors, rewards, burdens, etc., of the community according to the merits and conditions of his subjects.

76. II. Prudence perfects the intellect, directing it to discern on all occasions what is best suited for the attainment of our last end. Thus defined, prudence is a general virtue, which includes: (a) Clear-sightedness, or a quick, accurate perception of the true value of means to an end; (b) Caution, which bids us take time to notice difficulties and to provide against them; (c) Self-distrust which disposes us to examine matters with care, and to accept the advice of others, especially if our own case is in question.

77. When clear-sightedness is perverted to the attaining of a morally bad end, it degenerates into the vice of craftiness or cunning; when carried to excess, caution becomes timidity, self-distrust turns into pusillanimity, and docility is changed into simplicity. In these, as in other matters, it is the part of prudence to indicate the proper mean, or middle course between excess and defect -- "virtus in medio," "virtue holds the middle course" -- the golden mean between too much and too little. "Avoid extremes" is an important maxim in moral conduct.

78. III. Temperance governs the sensible appetites in the use of things that especially attract them -- namely, sensible pleasures. The will can restrain these appetites and accustom them to follow the guidance of reason. When this is brought about, they are said to be well ordered, and as such they contribute to man's perfection. The virtue of temperance does not consist in an entire abstinence from what the sensible appetites crave, but rather in the golden mean of moderate use. A higher degree of restraint belongs to the virtue of mortification. Still, the golden mean of temperance cannot be kept perfectly without constant checks upon the cravings of the passions -- that is, without sometimes practising mortification by denying ourselves allowable pleasures. Concupiscence is like a fiery horse, which must be early broken in and controlled ever afterwards with a firm hand.

79. IV. Fortitude is the virtue by which the will commands the irascible passions to attempt what is lofty, though the means are arduous and even perilous, and to bear evils with composure. It thus embraces courage and patience. To attempt what is lofty is magnanimous; to contemn difficulties in the way is brave. Cowardice is the absence of fortitude; but fortitude, when carded to excess, i.e., beyond the bounds prescribed by prudence, grows into rashness. Thus, fortitude, like other virtues, must adhere to the golden mean. In this or that person, each of these four virtues may have different degrees of strength; nevertheless, no virtue can be perfect without the companionship of the others.

{1} I believe that the experiences of utility organized and consolidated through all past generations of the human race have been producing corresponding modifications, which, by continued transmission and accumulation, have become in us certain faculties of moral intuition, certain emotions corresponding to right and wrong conduct, which have no apparent basis in the individual experiences of utility. (Spencer's Letter to Mill.)

{2} The doctrine that the end justifies the means has been falsely attributed to the Catholic Church, and particularly to the Jesuits. No institutions in the world have more strenuously opposed the pernicious tenet either in their theory or their practice.

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