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


The basic principle of morality (formulated in 7‑F) is: In voluntarily acting for human goods and avoiding what is opposed to them, one ought to choose and otherwise will those and only those possibilities whose willing is compatible with a will toward integral human fulfillment. This formulation articulates the moral requirement that one act in accord with reason in the pursuit of true human good. Derived from this basic principle are its primary specifications, here called “modes of responsibility” (treated in general in 7‑G). These modes are more definite than the basic principle of morality, yet they are more general than the moral norms regarding specific kinds of acts to which they lead. Each mode excludes a certain unreasonable way of willing, a particular way of acting which is inconsistent with a will toward integral human fulfillment. The present chapter will explain in detail how each mode does this and will indicate the virtues in which it is embodied.

As will be explained (26‑A), the modes of responsibility correspond to the eight Beatitudes (see Mt 5.3–12). Although the relationship will not yet be apparent, the modes are listed in the present chapter in the order of the Beatitudes to which they correspond, with the Beatitude concerning the lowly (or meek) taken as the second and that concerning the sorrowing taken as the third.1

The modes of responsibility, which are the primary specifications of the first principle of morality, are principles of concrete moral norms. These modes make the first principle applicable to human acts. Each mode excludes a way in which human fulfillment can be blocked, and thus indicates a requirement for integral human fulfillment. The first mode excludes laziness and requires proper ambition. The second mode excludes individualism and requires responsible participation in community. The third mode excludes the quest for mere gratification and requires self-control. The fourth mode excludes frightened failure to pursue goods and requires courage. The fifth mode excludes acting on feelings of partiality toward persons; it requires fairness. The sixth mode excludes seeking the experienced aspects of goods to the detriment of a fuller participation in them; it requires clearheaded pursuit of real goods. The seventh mode excludes a choice out of hostility against any good (that is, against any person); it requires forbearance. The eighth mode excludes any choice to destroy, harm, or impede any one good for the sake of another, or another instance of the same sort of good; it requires reverence for all human goods—that is, for all persons.

1. The opposite order of the second and third Beatitudes is perhaps preferable, and nothing vital will depend on this point. The order indicated is accepted here because, being that of the Vulgate, it is found in most past Catholic discussions of the Beatitudes. Readers familiar with my earlier works in which the modes of responsibility were articulated in a strictly philosophical way will notice that they are considerably reworked here. This has been done in the light of faith, especially the relationship I think I have found between the modes of responsibility (and their corresponding natural virtues) and the Beatitudes or Christian modes of response (and their corresponding Christian virtues, exemplified in the character of Jesus).