TOC Previous Next A+A-Print


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


These are the eight modes of responsibility:

1. One should not be deterred by felt inertia from acting for intelligible goods. This happens when one refrains from doing something worthwhile out of laziness, conquerable depression, or the like. Words like “energetic” and “diligent” signify the virtue corresponding to this mode; words like “sluggish” and “slothful” name the vice. Revelation deepens the first mode by making God known as a liberator and so counteracting the hopelessness induced by evil.

2. One should not be pressed by enthusiasm or impatience to act individualistically for intelligible goods. This happens when one acts by oneself, although knowing that by cooperation with others the good would be more perfectly attained insofar as others could share in it. In one aspect, the corresponding virtue is called “team spirit”; the vice is named by expressions like “going it alone” and “overcommitted.” Revelation deepens this mode by making known humankind’s original common life and vocation, and the need for every person to play a particular role in God’s plan.

3. One should not choose to satisfy an emotional desire except as part of one’s pursuit and/or attainment of an intelligible good other than the satisfaction of the desire itself. Violations occur when people act for no good reason, on account of impulse, craving, routine, or the continued lure of goals which no longer make sense. The virtue is called “self-control” or “discipline”; the vices “lustfulness,” “greed,” “fanaticism,” “jealousy,” “impetuosity,” and so on. Revelation deepens this mode by manifesting the dignity of human persons and by clarifying the reality of free choice and moral responsibility.

4. One should not choose to act out of an emotional aversion except as part of one’s avoidance of some intelligible evil other than the inner tension experienced in enduring that aversion. This happens when one is deterred from reasonable action by feelings of repugnance, fear of pain, anxiety, and so forth. Words like “courage” and “perseverance” signify the virtue, while the vice is expressed by words like “irresolution” and “squeamishness.” Revelation deepens this mode by making it clear that evil has a limited reality and that God is dependable.

5. One should not, in response to different feelings toward different persons, willingly proceed with a preference for anyone unless the preference is required by intelligible goods themselves. This mode is violated when one’s treatment of others is marked by partiality toward some (including partiality toward oneself). The virtue is called “fairness” and “disinterestedness”; the vice “favoritism,” “selfishness,” “prejudice,” and so forth. Revelation deepens this mode by making it clear that all human beings stand in a similar relationship to God, who is fair and merciful to all.

6. One should not choose on the basis of emotions which bear upon empirical aspects of intelligible goods (or bads) in a way which interferes with a more perfect sharing in the good or avoidance of the bad. This happens when people act for the conscious experience of a good rather than its fuller reality. The virtue is named by expressions like “sincerity,” “clearheadedness,” “having a sound set of values”; the vice by words like “superficiality,” “frivolity,” and “childishness.” Revelation deepens this mode by making clear the primacy of divine reality which transcends experience.

7. One should not be moved by hostility to freely accept or choose the destruction, damaging, or impeding of any intelligible human good. Violations occur when negative feelings cause people to act destructively (including self-destructively). The virtue is named by words like “patient” and “forgiving”; the vice by words like “vengeful” and “resentful.” Revelation deepens this mode in that God is shown to be long-suffering and forgiving.

8. One should not be moved by a stronger desire for one instance of an intelligible good to act for it by choosing to destroy, damage, or impede some other instance of an intelligible good. This happens when one deliberately acts to bring about something bad, either for the sake of a good or to prevent something else bad. The virtue is signified by the word “reverence”; the vice by “craftiness,” “expediency,” and so on. Revelation deepens this mode by enhancing reverence for the goods of human persons made in God’s image. The acceptance of certain practices (for example, killing in warfare or capital punishment) both in the Old Testament and by Christians does not tell against this mode. For one thing, the people of Old Testament times did not have perfect access to moral truth; for another, there is reason to think an authentic development of doctrine may be occurring in regard to just these matters.

The eight modes of responsibility together guide action positively toward integral human fulfillment. An ideal rather than a goal, integral human fulfillment shapes a good life by requiring that one’s actions be suited to its realization (if that were possible) and ruling out actions incompatible with this. The third and fourth modes direct one away from a life of sentient satisfaction toward intelligible human goods. The first and eighth modes require one to pursue some of the goods and not act against any. The sixth mode excludes a life focused on mere self-satisfaction, and the fifth requires one to treat others fairly. The seventh mode forbids revenge and so conduces to community despite the wrongs people do one another. And the second mode calls for a will toward cooperation with others in genuine community.

Alternative world views tempt people to turn from the vision of moral truth; one who deals uprightly with this temptation makes a more or less explicit commitment to integral human fulfillment. Such a commitment is basic in the sense that it shapes the whole life of one who makes it. For Christians, their act of faith constitutes such an upright commitment; for those who have not heard the gospel, their basic commitment serves as an implicit act of faith.