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Chapter 8: The Modes of Responsibility Which Specify the First Principle

Question I: How do the eight modes of responsibility shape the life of a good person toward integral human fulfillment?

1. The first principle of morality was stated (in 7‑F), and each of the modes considered individually in the previous questions of this chapter. Here we gather together the elements of the analysis. Doing so will help make clear how the modes of responsibility are related to one another and how they direct moral reflection in a positive way, not merely forbidding evil but encouraging the pursuit of good. The present description of the humanly good life also will serve as the skeleton to be fleshed out by the account of Christian life beginning in chapter nineteen.

2. Integral human fulfillment means a single system in which all the human goods would contribute to the fulfillment of the entire human community. It is not a goal to be reached by human effort. Humanity has been and remains socially divided, and many who might have been members of a human community already have died. Human power cannot raise the dead or even make peace on earth among living men and women. As chapter nineteen will show, integral human fulfillment will be realized by God’s action; human persons can pursue it as a real goal only insofar as they can cooperate with God by a life of faith in Jesus. Considering integral human fulfillment in relation to human moral effort alone, however, it remains an ideal, not a goal toward which we can project our lives.

3. Still, as an ideal, integral human fulfillment does guide action. It does this by calling for a life which would contribute to integral human fulfillment if it could be realized and excluding action inconsistent with its realization. No one can act for all the human goods and avoid accepting every evil. However, if one follows this ideal articulated by the first principle of morality, one can and will act for some of the basic human goods and avoid choosing against any of them. Similarly, no one can live in community with all other men and women. However, one can cooperate with some other people and avoid creating barriers to community with anyone.

4. Thus, one lives as an upright person who follows the ideal of integral human fulfillment only if one acts in the service of intelligible human goods. If one instead acts on the basis of the urges and aversions of sentient nature as such, one is not contributing to the realization of the human goods. Indeed, to that extent one’s life amounts to little more than the life of a subhuman animal, except that one uses reason at the bidding of one’s animal nature. The third and fourth modes of responsibility forbid us to settle for an existence so far beneath our dignity. They require that what one chooses at least include some intelligible good which provides a reason for the choice.

5. Without violating either the third or fourth mode, one could fail to act in the service of intelligible goods simply by not acting at all. Someone too lazy to do anything worthwhile certainly would make no contribution to integral human fulfillment. In a sense, such a person would be more a vegetable than an animal. The first mode of responsibility rules out inertia and requires one to pursue some intelligible good or other.

6. In pursuing goods one is reasonably concerned with success. Unfortunately, not only the limits of human power and the effects of sin, but the sheer complexity of reality itself sometimes makes it difficult to succeed in achieving the goals one is reasonably pursuing. Often, a goal cannot be realized unless one chooses to destroy, damage, or impede some instance of a human good. A person whose will is set upon integral human fulfillment will not make choices incompatible with it by acting against any good. The eighth mode forbids doing so.

7. Without violating any mode mentioned thus far, an individual could pursue exclusively a certain aspect of the good of self-integration. The quest for personal fulfillment often means consistently trying to attain what one wants and prevent or avoid what one does not want. Such a quest is self-centered in a very radical way. Aspects of human goods which would be realized in other people and, in general, human concerns beyond one’s own experience are ignored except insofar as they touch oneself. Pursuit of so partial a good blocks openness to the larger possibilities of integral human fulfillment. Those whose hearts are fixed on the ideal will not adopt such a style of life. The sixth mode excludes it.

8. If there is to be any real human community, one must be fair to others. Without fairness, interpersonal relationships involve exploitation, and this prevents the real cooperation in the pursuit of goods characteristic of genuine community. This requirement of the ideal is specified by the fifth mode.

9. Without violating fairness, one can deliberately repay injury with injury, engage in retribution. To do this directly attacks some substantive good, such as life, and also obstructs the building up of community. The ideal of integral human fulfillment demands that when one suffers harm through another’s action, one try to limit the harm by not responding in kind. The seventh mode specifies this requirement.

10. Community requires still more. It is not enough to avoid a self-centered plan of life, to be fair, and to forgive injuries. If a person’s life really is to be in accord with the ideal, positive effort to help others and readiness to benefit from their help are needed. One must be open to community in the sense of being ready to undertake and extend it whenever possible. The second mode requires that one not ignore or set aside such possibilities through an individualistic way of acting.

11. To avoid individualism and meet the requirements of all the modes, one must make at least some large choices which will guide one’s day-to-day moral reflection. For one can fulfill one’s sentient nature within the larger context of an intelligent plan of life only by directing one’s life to the service of some of the substantive goods. Moreover, willingness to cooperate with others when possible implies openness to community with all human persons, for none are ruled out. Such openness is necessary to ensure one’s own attention to possibilities of cooperation which one might otherwise overlook.

12. Children who are well brought up can begin to adopt an intelligent plan of life by particular choices even before they are mature enough to make any commitments. By spontaneous goodness they can be willing to enter into community with all persons. But in our society such moral development in harmony with the ideal of integral human fulfillment is sure to be directly challenged. A person of normal intelligence can hardly grow up without being tempted not only to make particular immoral choices but even to reject moral truth and adopt some subjectively satisfying world view. This temptation will take different forms according to each individual’s previous moral formation. But whatever its exact form, in setting aside the alternative, those who meet the challenge freely submit themselves to moral truth and make a commitment to integral human fulfillment as they understand it.

13. This commitment shaped by the modes of responsibility will be basic in a person’s life—that is, it will be large enough to shape his or her whole life. At least implicitly it will bear upon all the goods and extend to all people. The concept of basic commitment will be articulated more fully (in 9‑E).

14. The act of faith can be such a basic commitment. Faith will be treated as the fundamental option of Christian life (16‑G and 23‑A). As for the upright person who has not already heard the gospel, he or she implicitly makes an act of faith by the basic commitment to serve genuine goods and build up community. If subsequently such a person accepts the gospel with grace and faith, it transforms his or her following of the moral ideal of integral human fulfillment into the following of Jesus by showing how heavenly fulfillment in him can be realized through human cooperation in God’s plan of salvation. Chapters twenty-three through twenty-eight will show how the basic commitment of faith shapes the whole of Christian life.