TOC Previous Next A+A-Print


Chapter 6: Critique of the Proportionalist Method of Moral Judgment


Chapter four explained that moral norms direct choices toward human goods, and chapter five clarified these goods. Chapters seven through twelve will give an account of norms consistent with Catholic teaching on natural law in general and on specific moral questions. Before proceeding with this constructive work, however, we need to examine and criticize an alternative view which has been accepted by some Catholic moral theologians.1 Although sometimes called “consequentialism” because it focuses upon states of affairs consequent upon choices and their execution, this theory is here called “proportionalism” because what is most central to it is its appeal to the proportion of good and bad as a basis for moral judgment.

The simplest account of the derivation of moral norms from the human goods is proportionalism. According to proportionalists, a moral judgment derived by this method is true when it prescribes the choice of what will bring about a better proportion between good and evil than any alternative which might have been chosen. Proportionalism is rationally indefensible; moreover, its conception of morality is incompatible with Christian faith.

1. Some typical examples of proportionalism are in a collection: Charles E. Curran and Richard A. McCormick, S.J., eds., Readings in Moral Theology, No. 1: Moral Norms and Catholic Tradition (New York: Paulist Press, 1979), esp. the articles by Louis Janssens, Joseph Fuchs, S.J., and Bruno Schüller, S.J. McCormick summarizes the position, counting himself among those who hold it: Notes on Moral Theology: 1965–1980 (Washington, D.C.: University Press of America, 1981), 709–11 (hereinafter cited as “Notes”). McCormick’s evolution can be followed. In Notes, 349–67, McCormick showed reserve and called the method “consequentialism” (see esp. 359). By Notes, 529–44, McCormick defended Fuchs against critics of the method he then accepted.