The purpose of this part of the book is to go through the main aspects of our humanity that we have in common, and to see how our actions can contradict these aspects of ourselves, and so to find what actions would be morally wrong for human beings in general.

Of course, what was said in Part I is still applicable; our individual situation modifies our "common" humanity in ways which will sometimes modify the rightness or wrongness of what we do; and our conscience may sometimes not be aware of the facts, and so we may be doing what in fact is wrong without realizing it.

Some might wonder why bother going through an analysis of our humanity, if it makes no eternal difference whether we are in fact acting inconsistently with our reality, as long as we don't realize it. The answer is that if you violate your nature, you are in fact fighting yourself without realizing it, and that is hardly a recipe for how to be happy even here.

And these are serious matters. Many mothers who have abortions do not realize that they are dismembering their own children; but that is what they are doing. And twenty million children have been pulled apart limb from limb or had their skin burned off since the Supreme Court refused to find out whether they were human beings or not. I think this is enough to show that it is worth trying to find out what the facts are about our reality and its acts.

We will approach the investigation first by considering the individual apart from any relation to other human beings; then as an independent being who can interfere with others; and finally as cooperating with others in a common enterprise.

6.1. Finiteness

The first aspect of our reality to consider is one we share with absolutely everything else except God: we are finite or limited realities.

In my books, Experience and Reality and The Finite and the Infinite, I tried to show that (a) to be is to do; to be real is to be active (in the broadest sense of the term); but that (b) to be a finite reality: a kind of reality or a degree of a kind of reality was either to contain a real nothing (which doesn't make sense) or to be a reality which is both reality and less than reality (which doesn't make sense either). I also showed that the only thing which could make sense of any finite reality was an activity which was unrestricted either in kind or degree, but was Absolute, Infinite Activity--and this is what people call God. There can be only one of these, because any "second" one that was really different would have to have its reality "modified" by something that wasn't activity, which would make it finite.

Thus, each of us, and each aspect and activity of each of us, directly depends for its finiteness upon the Infinite Activity which we call God.

We depend on God absolutely; that is, no act we perform can be fully accounted for by ourselves alone, because, as finite, we cannot account for the finiteness of the act (though we may account for why it is this particular type of finiteness rather than that one). But if God does not also act to account for the act's finiteness, it cannot occur. This goes for any act we do, any aspect of ourselves, and for ourselves as a whole.

GENERAL ETHICAL RULE: It is therefore morally wrong to act as if we did not depend on God in this absolute way, or as if we depended in this absolute way on anything else except God.

More specifically, we can spell this out in the following way:

1. Acts despising God are morally wrong. Obviously, the only person who could despise God would be someone superior to Him, not someone who depends on Him absolutely. Acts or statements despising God are called blasphemy.

2. In the same vein, treating objects, actions, or places used for worshiping God as if they were like anything else is morally wrong. This is called sacrilege. For instance, using goblets used for worship as drinking-glasses, vestments used in religious ceremonies as ordinary clothes, sacred names as exclamations, sacred rituals as jokes or ordinary events--all of these actions are morally wrong whether a person belongs to the religion in question or not. These are ways in which people show their dependence on the sacred, and to treat this lightly just because you don't agree with their ideas of this is to treat the relation to God lightly.

3. Worship of anything except the Infinite Activity is morally wrong. Worship is the term that means the acknowledging of one's absolute dependence on; and since the Infinite Activity is the one--and the only one--on whom we absolutely depend, it is clearly inconsistent to act this way toward others.

This is not to say that we can't act as if we depend on others--even others who have died, who may still have an interest in helping us after death as they have had in this life. We do depend on others; but not in the way in which we depend on God. Therefore, when you ask help from others around you, or you pray for help to deceased relatives or saints, you must make a clear distinction between this kind of help and the relation you have with God.

4. It is morally wrong to attempt to manipulate God, or to bargain with Him. You are absolutely dependent on Him; He is absolutely independent of you; to try to make him do something by some magical practice, or to try to offer Him something in return for a "favor you do for Him," or to try to control Him in any way is inconsistent with the relation you have with Him. You are His absolute slave, and He is your absolute Master.

This does not mean that you cannot pray for favors from Him. Indeed, such prayer acknowledges that anything that happens to you has God as at least one of its sources, and this is true. But to "vow" to God, "I will build you a church if you will cure my sickness," with the attitude that God is going to be "moved" by the thought of getting a church and will cure you for that reason pretends that God is an equal who can be bargained with, or someone who lacks something that you can give Him. The same vow, taken in the spirit of recognition of the depths of your gratitude if you are cured, is, however, perfectly legitimate.

5. It is morally wrong to refuse to worship God often enough so that in practice you do not forget your dependence on Him. This necessity to worship is the first of the "affirmative" duties we have, because, even though you may never act as if you despised God or were His equal; still, if you refuse to acknowledge your absolute dependence on Him, you are in practice acting as if He didn't make any difference in your life, when in fact He makes an absolute difference.

It is also true that to refuse to offer external worship or social worship is morally wrong. This would be to say that your "interior life" depends on God, but your external life has nothing to do with Him; or your personal life depends on God, but you are independent of Him as a social being. Both of these "independences" are false.

It follows also that if you suspect that the Infinite has revealed a way in which humans are to worship Him, it would be immoral to refuse to investigate whether this is so, or, having investigated, to refuse to use this form of worship.

This does not say whether or not the Infinite Activity has in fact revealed some special religion. But if you think He might have, and refuse to find out, then you are in effect saying, "I will acknowledge my absolute dependence on you, my Master; but I will do it in my own way, not yours, thank you very much." This is hardly the act of one who is absolutely dependent on another.

So those who refuse to go to church simply because "they get nothing out of it" are missing the point. If going to church involves mainly recognizing the God is the Master and you are the slave, this recognition is what you are supposed to get out of it--or put into it, rather; and whether you get "uplifted" or "inspired" or anything but bored is totally irrelevant. You are acknowledging that as a social being, you depend on God.

[See also Modes, 5.2.2]

6.2. Bodiliness

We have in common with everything else in the observable universe that we are bodies: many forms of energy that are integrated into a single unit that behaves primarily as a unit, and only secondarily as a "system" of many "interconnected things."

There are two things to note here. First of all, our bodies happen to be organized with a form of energy that is also a spiritual act, one that is conscious. As I tried to show in my book Living bodies, this spiritual act is one and the same act as the energy uniting the body.

Thus, we are not "spirits that inhabit a body;" what we are is a body, whose organizing activity happens also to be spiritual.

Therefore, it is morally wrong to act as if we are spirits which "have" or "control" our bodies, and to despise our bodies and "physical acts" as "beneath our true reality."

We are not angels who have got trapped into "matter"; we are material spirits, and our bodily acts are as much "ours" as thinking and choosing. This is not actually something which is very commonly violated nowadays, except by devout and "spiritual" people. The body is not evil--which is just as well, since it is us.

For most, the opposite of this is the problem.

It is morally wrong to act as if our bodies were controlled either by pure energy or by instinct, and as if feelings and not thoughts were our "true selves."

Our natures are so constructed that thinking is to govern all our acts, because our minds can understand our reality and how it is related to our actions, while feelings can't; and this act of understanding is the same act as the act which controls the body. Hence, to let the control be either automatic or instinctive is to refuse to recognize the unity of the body on the other side: to let ourselves act as if we were unthinking bodies when in fact we can think.

Since bodies are units of many parts, and it is the whole which behaves when the parts act, and in human beings the organizing activity builds the various parts in order for the body to perform certain functions, it follows that

It is morally wrong to remove a part of one's body and so deprive oneself of a function one has by nature.

This removal (which is called mutilation) puts the body in the self-contradictory position of being able by nature to perform some act, and yet not being able to perform the act because the part by which it does so was removed. The human organizing activity built the whole body in the first place; but the body is so complex that (unlike starfish's bodies, for instance) the "functioning" parts (whole organs), once removed, cannot be rebuilt; rebuilding is confined to individual cells, or to such things as hair and skin. Hence, removal of a functioning part (a part with a function attached) deprives the body of a power which it has, and so is inconsistent with it as a body.

But since the organizing activity, which built the body and which is the same as our minds by which we think, has control of the body, it follows that

It is not wrong to remove parts of the body when the Double Effect applies.

1. In the first place, it is not wrong, in general, to remove parts of the body which have no particular function or only a minimal one. Hair on the face, for instance (or on the head, for that matter) may be removed, if a person thinks he looks better that way. Ears may be pierced for cosmetic reasons, since this does not deprive the person of any activity he might otherwise perform; and so there is no real bad effect. Such removals and alterations of the body are not mutilations, even though they might be permanent and to some unsightly. Getting a tattoo (supposing that you are careful that you don't get one with an infected needle--which is a real danger, tattoo parlors being what they are) is not a mutilation. Since the "wrong effect" is practically nonexistent in these cases, any reason will do.

Cosmetic plastic surgery (plastic surgery done for the improvement of the appearance) is not morally wrong, provided the danger and expense of the operation is not worse than the bad effects (such as feelings of inferiority) attendant on not having it. Some of these operations can be quite risky, it is to be noted, including the risk of disfigurement if there is a failure; and these risks must be realistically assessed.

2. Functioning parts of the body may be removed if not having them removed would be worse than letting them remain. The reasoning goes this way: 1) The act of removing the part is only wrong in its effect (as we can see from 1. above); 2) there is a good effect (the avoidance of whatever harm comes from leaving the organ where it is); 3) it must not be the deprivation of the function which is the means toward whatever good effect is sought; 4) the deprivation of the function must not be wanted; and--as was said above 5) to leave the organ there would be worse, for some reason, than to be without the function it performs.

Thus, for instance, it would not be wrong for a person to donate a perfectly healthy kidney to another person who would die without the donation. We can get along with one kidney; the second is a kind of redundancy or "backup"; and so the damage done to oneself by having one kidney removed is less than the damage to the other by not having a kidney implanted.


A person never has an obligation to donate some part of his body to another person, even if the other person will die without it and the donor is not appreciably harmed by the donation.

The reason for this is that the only reason you could have an obligation to do something like this is if another person had a right against you for what you had to give him. But no human being has a right to another's body, since the "body" is the person, and this would mean owning another person, or making a slave of another person. And, of course, a part of the body, even if separable is not different from the body itself, because the body is not a system of interconnected "things," but a unit first and foremost.

Hence, while it is not morally wrong to donate an organ to another (and in general is a morally very good act); it is never required to do so; and if for some reason you are reluctant to do it, you have no reason to think you are guilty of any wrong.


It is immoral to choose the suppression of the ability to act, even if it is a means toward a very good purpose.

The reason for this, of course, is that if you choose not to have the ability you have by nature, you are choosing to be not what you are. You say, "Well, I don't choose not to have the ability; I just choose not to be able to exercise it." It is one thing to choose not to exercise an ability you have; but there is no difference in meaning between "not having an ability" and "not being able to exercise it." If you choose the suppression of the ability to function, you are choosing to be a contradiction.

For this reason, sterilizations are morally wrong, even if, for instance, the woman has herself sterilized because her life would be in serious danger if she became pregnant. The bad effects (in this life, at least) of not being sterilized clearly outweigh the bad effects of being sterilized here; but it is by not being able to reproduce that the danger to life is avoided; and so the woman would have to choose the contradiction of her nature as reproducing in order to achieve the good effect. The same, of course, would apply to a man who chose to be sterilized in order not to father any more children than he could afford to bring up decently.

Note here that people do have a very serious obligation not to have more children than they can bring up decently. It is a contradiction to cause a child to begin to exist if you foresee that that child won't have a decent chance to live a reasonable human life. The point here is that the end doesn't justify the means. You can't use sterilization as your way of fulfilling that obligation, for the simple reason that you can't be immoral to avoid being immoral.

Of course, when an operation done for some other purpose also sterilizes a person, and the sterilization is an unchosen side-effect, then the third and fourth rules of the Double Effect are fulfilled, and the only consideration is whether the resultant inability to reproduce is worse than what would happen if the organ were left intact. A diseased uterus or testes may be removed, even though this would sterilize the person.

[See also Modes, 5.2.2]

6.3. Life

But the human body is not simply a body; it is a living body. As I tried to show in Living Bodies, the difference between a living body and an inanimate one is twofold: (a) the living body exists at an energy-level greater than what would be expected from the energy of its parts (i.e., it is not dominated by the degree of energy it has); and (b) the living body has control over itself, and is not simply at the mercy of the energy striking it. The human body is so far removed from its degree of energy that its organization is basically spiritual; and it has such control over itself that, within the limits imposed by its genes, it is self-determining.

But since the range within which a human being can determine himself is given by the genes, and since all of the acts of life have an automatic tendency to prolong life indefinitely (as we saw in the arguments for life after death), it follows that

It is immoral to choose to die.

The reason is that the fact that you are alive is not one of those aspects of life that you have in your control; you did not give yourself life; and irrespective of your will, your living acts tend to prolong themselves indefinitely. In the last analysis, you cannot in fact stop living; if you choose to die, you will discover that you have stopped living as a body, but you have not stopped living. Hence, to choose to die is a contradiction; you can't accomplish your choice.

It is immoral in general to choose an act which will be likely to result in one's death.

We saw this earlier, actually, as examples of foreseen side-effects of one's act. When you choose an act that has an effect, in general, you are choosing the effect of the act, even if it is not the purpose of your choice. Hence, if you have evidence that a given act is dangerous to your life, you may not choose it without also choosing your death--unless, as I will say below, the Double Effect applies.

But specifically, this means

1. that smoking more than a pack of cigarettes a day is morally wrong, because it has been shown that this creates a significant danger of death.

2. that driving when under the influence of alcohol or drugs is morally wrong, because that too is objectively likely to cause death, not only to yourself but to others.

Nevertheless, a person may morally choose an act which will in fact result in his death when the Double Effect applies.

If the death is an unchosen side-effect of an act chosen for another purpose, the act may be chosen, provided all five of the rules are met:

1) The act has nothing wrong with it in itself except that it will result in your death; 2) the act has a good effect in addition to your death; 3) your death is not the means to this good effect; 4) the act is chosen for the good effect and not for the sake of your death; and 5)something (to you) at least as bad as your death would happen if you did not choose the act.

But can that fifth rule ever be fulfilled? Yes. Consider this situation: If some terrorist throws a bomb into a room in which you and twenty other people are sitting, you can throw yourself on top of it on the grounds that ten or twenty deaths are worse than one. Note that it is not by dying that the others are saved, because if you survived, you would still have blocked the blast and they would still be saved.

Again, you can, instead of defending your life when attacked, let the attacker kill you, choosing not to have him die; your death is no worse objectively than his.

It is even possible that there are types of life that are worse than death. Some have thought that it is less bad to die than to live in slavery; some think that death is a lesser evil than being maimed or diseased or mentally defective for the rest of their lives; and so on. Since "good" and "bad" are subjective, there is nothing objectively incorrect about such assessments. In no case may one want to die in order to avoid these evils, because then the death becomes the means to the good effect; but when a person is in a situation in which an act can result in death, but also and independently avoid such evils, the act may be chosen.

In general, for people whose situation is so bad that they think death is preferable, they don't really want the death, but the surcease from the intolerable life. They would almost universally gladly live if they didn't have to continue the particular kind of life that they find so burdensome. So the point here is that there is usually no problem in the fulfillment of the fourth rule; the real problem comes in the third, not having the death itself be the means toward the good effect.

Thus, a slave may choose to run away, even if he knows he will be killed for doing it. Here the death is not the means to escape the slavery, because if he is not caught, he achieves the good effect without the bad one. A person may refuse to have an operation which will save his life but leave him a permanent cripple. Again, it is not the death which allows him to escape being crippled, because if the disease does not kill him, he achieves the good effect without the bad.

Note that a smoker who has tried to quit and finds he can't without disrupting his whole life may be able to achieve a balance between the bad effects of quitting and the bad effect of being likely to die by smoking, provided the odds against dying are in his favor. But he would have to know what the likelihood of his survival is in order to have a clear conscience. You can't use this, however, in the case of drinking and driving, because another's life may be involved.

If a person is dying, he may morally choose not to take measures that will postpone the death, in order to avoid suffering and expense and other bad effects.


At this point we are only speaking about what you can do with your own life in this situation. What you can do about someone else who is dying and who is, for instance, unconscious, is another story which will have to wait until we discuss rights.

Here let me make a distinction between maintaining life by food, water, and air (which we need at all times) and postponing death by taking steps to prevent the dying process from advancing. Kidney dialysis machines (which supply the function of defective kidneys), artificial or transplanted hearts, respirators (which make you breathe, as opposed to supplying air for you to breathe), etc., are means of preserving life, or postponing (sometimes indefinitely) the death of a person whose own nature is in the process of dying.

A. A person may not morally refuse to maintain his life.

That is, even if you are dying, you may not refuse food in order to get it over faster. Since food is a necessity all through life, then this would be to starve yourself to death, which would involve choosing your death.

The general criterion here is that if whatever it is that you need would have somehow to be supplied to any normal person, then that is life-maintaining, even if you're getting it in an "extraordinary" way. For instance, we don't all by ourselves get food and water; in general, farmers and merchants and so on help us get our food and drink, and sometimes by highly "artificial" means as supplying the water through miles of pipes from the reservoir (note how expensive this sort of thing is also). So if you are being fed and hydrated intravenously, then this is maintaining your life, not postponing your death.

In the case, however, where food has to be forced into your stomach through a tube directly into it (in which care must be taken that the food does not spill into the abdominal cavity and decay there, and so on), there comes a point where you can argue that your digestive system is being forced to absorb food it is actively rejecting because of the dying process; and then this becomes something like forcing your dying lungs or kidneys to function. At that point, if you choose not to be "fed" in this way, you are refusing to postpone death, not choosing to die.

I hasten to say that there is nothing wrong with selecting these death-postponing measures and prolonging your life. It is just that you don't have to.

B. But when death is being postponed by equipment, and you choose not to remove it, you are not necessarily choosing your death, unless what you want is to die.

True, not using these machines may even certainly result in your death, but this non-use or removal has the independent good effect of saving expense, freeing the machinery for someone else's use, saving the agony of a continuation of a life that is nothing but pain, and so on.

Even with this last point, you are not choosing "life of agony" or "death," because you are dying anyway, and the life-preserving mechanisms are simply postponing the moment when it will happen. Therefore, you are really choosing between two more weeks (or years) of life as opposed to two more hours of life; and it can be worse to live in agony for two years than to live for only two hours. In this case--when you are dying anyway--the "quality" of the life you live can be a consideration in your choice.

Let us spell out the Double Effect here: 1. The act (of unplugging the instrument) is in itself neutral (if you were healthy, obviously there would be no problem; it's that it will result in your death that is the difficulty--the effect). 2. The act has a good effect: avoiding expense and suffering. 3. The death is not the means to the good effect, even if they occur at the same time, which can be seen by the fact that if the shock causes you to get healthy, then the good effect (avoiding the expense) has occurred without the bad one's happening. 4. You do not want to die, but to avoid the suffering and expense. And 5., as I said above, the alternative can be worse, given that what is in question really is the quality of the life you have left.

But a person in the same situation may not morally take an overdose of sleeping pills to end things quietly rather than prolong the agony, because then it is by dying that you stop the agony. When the death is the means, it is chosen.

Hence, if the "plug is pulled" and you keep on living, you can't do something to bring about your death.

[See also Modes, 5.2.3]

6.3.1 Control of acts

This is not the place to talk about the beginning and end of life, because obviously a person cannot choose for himself when or how to begin living, nor can he really find out for himself whether he is dead or not in such a way as to do something with his body like remove an organ. Those considerations belong in the chapter dealing with someone else's life, and need a discussion on rights first.

But the living body has, as I said, control over itself; and it exercises this control by subsystems of the body called faculties, which enable certain acts to be turned on and off, or used in various ways under the basic control of the organizing energy, which is also the mind. Thus, our visual faculty enables us to see or not to see; our nutritive faculty to increase our energy or not; our reproductive faculty to reproduce another human being or not; and so on.

It would be morally wrong to refuse to exercise a faculty if the non-exercise does damage to the body.

"Damage" here means that the non-exercise is the equivalent of depriving you of some ability that you genetically have. Thus, to refuse to eat enough so that you become weak or unhealthy would be morally wrong; to refuse to open your eyes and so to walk around bumping into things and courting injury would be wrong (though there is nothing wrong with blindfolding yourself in a controlled situation such as the game of Blind Man's Buff).

It is not morally wrong to refuse to exercise a faculty when no damage to the self would result from the non-exercise.

Thus, you are not contradicting your nature if you choose to remain a virgin and never have sex. Your sexual faculty gives you control over when and whether to engage in sex; and since no damage is done if you never exercise this ability, it is open to your free choice whether you want to be someone who has expressed himself sexually or not.

This goes for all our so-called "talents." The Parable of the Talents (from which this word--which means a large sum of money--was taken) does not refer to abilities to act or skills, but to the gift of the Message of the Gospel, which is not to be hoarded secretly, but spread. So if you are a "gifted" pianist, there is nothing wrong with never playing the piano and devoting your time to doing mathematics problems--which you may not be terribly good at. This is what "to be self-determining" means. If we had to exercise our talents, then self-determination would be a farce; the only thing we would be free to do would be to develop ourselves at the direction of the genetic tendencies of our bodies, and the controlling factor in us would then be under the control of what it is supposed to be controlling. This is clearly absurd. Therefore, we don't have to exercise our talents, to develop them, and certainly not develop them to the full.

This is not to say that it isn't a good thing to develop your talents and exercise all of your faculties; it is only that you don't have to--unless not doing so does you some damage, as I said.

To pass on to using the faculty, this should be said first:

It is not morally wrong to use a part of the body for some function other than that to which it is directed by its nature, provided this exercise does not hinder or contradict its natural function.

What do I mean here? You can use your ears to hold up your glasses, even though it is obvious that your ears' natural function is to hear--and even the function of the external ear is to help focus the sound that goes in to the eardrum. But holding up your glasses with your ears still enables you to hear just as well as before, and--let's face it--that protuberance on your face can hold up things.

So we mustn't, if we are to be sane, get too "naturalistic" here, even though this is "natural law" ethics. (This is one reason why I don't like the term, by the way; it makes it sound as if anything artificial or technological is morally wrong; but we are by nature technological beings--in fact, we are the technological beings.)

Nor is it wrong to walk on your hands. Our hands are adapted for grabbing things and picking them up, and are not really like other mammals' forepaws. Still, thought it is not consistent with the function of the hands to use them as if they were feet, it is not positively inconsistent with them either.

I am using my fingers at the moment to speak, by typing into a computer, which is then going to send impulses to a printer, which will then make masters to be reproduced; and you will "listen" to what I say by using your eyes. There is nothing wrong with this at all, because (a) these organs can without damage be used for these purposes, and (b) there is no contradiction of their natural function in doing so.

You would contradict the function of your eyes if you used them to look directly at the sun, which would destroy them; but not if you read something with them.


It is not morally wrong to suppress the functioning a faculty when this is the equivalent of not exercising it.

Suppressing the functioning of a faculty isn't quite the same as not exercising it because you're preventing it from doing its thing, and presumably it would be acting if you didn't take steps to force it not to act. But since you don't have to exercise a faculty, then it is legitimate to prevent it from acting if it acts when you don't want it to--always supposing that no damage comes of this.

Thus, if you don't want to hear, it is perfectly all right to put something in your ear to keep out the sounds. If you don't want to see, and for some reason your eyes keep opening, it is all right to cover them. If your head is aching, it is all right to stop the ache, keeping in mind that the ache is warning you of something wrong, and trying to cure the problem.

Note that this is not the same as mutilation, where you deprive yourself of the faculty itself. You can still exercise the faculty by removing whatever it is that is preventing it from acting; and so when you suppress the function, you still have control. When you remove the part of the body, there is no meaning to "having control" over exercising the act.

It is morally wrong, however, to suppress one of the functions of a multi-function faculty and exercise the faculty for one of its other functions.

In this case, you are pretending that the faculty doesn't do what it does; and this is different from either exercising or not exercising it. You want to exercise it, but here you want its function to be only part of what its function is, and thus you contradict the nature of the faculty in its very exercise.

Gluttony--or what is now spoken of with the medical term "boulimia," is a good example of this, insofar as it would be deliberately chosen. What this is is eating and then either throwing up or taking a laxative so that the food will not be digested. Eating has a pleasure-giving function, and it also involves the assimilation of the food into the body.

Note that this is now taken to be a "disease," and people who do this sort of thing are called "sick." True, they may be out of control; but that isn't really the point. The culture's current code-word for "morally wrong" is "sick" or "unhealthy," because it's taboo in our society to accuse an individual of doing something morally wrong (it's okay to accuse institutions or "the system," of course). But the point is that people recognize this behavior as self-contradictory, and so disapprove of it.

Now it may be that you are taking in more food than your body needs, and in fact enough food so that you are harming your health (i.e. doing damage to your body). It is obviously good not to do this; and clearly, not eating is a way to prevent it.


This is not to be taken to imply that one must intend all or even any of the "purposes" of the function one is exercising. As long as no function is contradicted or suppressed in the exercise, the part of the body may be used for any purpose one pleases.

For instance, you can eat for the sake of keeping somebody company, not because you want to nourish yourself or because you feel hungry and want to relieve the pangs or even because the food tastes good. Many is the parent who has eaten a child's first culinary creation with a smile on his face simply to make the child feel good.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with this. The moral obligation does not command that we "do good" (i.e. fulfill the aspect of ourselves which we are exercising) but that we avoid contradicting any aspect of ourselves; and that, of course, includes contradicting an aspect-of-an-aspect also in the course of fulfilling some other aspect of that aspect.

That is, when you try to prevent being nourished by food by eating and then suppressing digestion, you are exercising the faculty of nutrition in such a way that it only does part of what it does, and this is morally wrong. You are pretending that eating is only for the taste, and that the exercise of the faculty has nothing to do with assimilation of the food--which is the point here; That is a falsification of the faculty's function.

The point here is that the interference in the functioning of the nutritive system while exercising that system is what is morally wrong. A similar kind of wrongness to eating and throwing up would be intestinal bypass surgery, which is sometimes done to correct gross obesity. In this, the intestine is cut and then reattached (temporarily) to a lower part of the intestine, making the path the food travels through it significantly shorter, and therefore making it not possible to digest as much of the food. In this, the nutritive faculty is being exercises, but it is being prevented from doing part of what it does in the very exercise of it. This is wrong.

But suppose the person will suffer all kinds of health problems if this isn't done, because in practice it's the only way to keep him from absorbing far more food than his body can use. Sorry. The end never justifies the means.

You can put a balloon in his stomach which doesn't allow as much food to get in (because the balloon is taking up some room, and so the person feels full sooner); but you can't suppress the digestion or part of the digestion in the process of exercising the faculty of nutrition.

On the other hand,


There is nothing wrong with eating things that taste good and have no food value.

This is not exactly like what I said above with respect to eating just to keep someone company. There, the food does nourish you and fill you up and so on; it's just that you aren't interested in this at the moment. I am speaking now of things that in fact can't be digested, like cellulose, or which have no nourishing qualities, like coffee or artificially sweetened Kool-Aid. Of course, it is supposed here that no damage is done to the body by eating this kind of thing, as might be the case if you eat so much of it that you are undernourished.

This sounds a good deal like suppressing one of the functions of the faculty while exercising another, as when you eat diet food just because it tastes good and you don't want to gain weight (i.e. you don't want the effect it would in fact have if it were nourishing.) But you really aren't contradicting the functioning of your digestive system; it is still doing what it naturally does; it is just that there's nothing there for it to assimilate as it passes through the body.

That is, the act is still the kind of act that this part of the body performs; it doesn't have the effect it normally would have, because the "food" isn't really food, but just bulk.

But then aren't you contradicting the nature of the food itself? No, because there is nothing which has as its natural function to be food for human beings. There are all sorts of things we can eat, from ants to cows to broccoli and mushrooms; and some of them are in fact nourishing. But any plant or animal doesn't have as its "natural purpose" to be eaten by a human being. Its only natural purpose is its mature state, as I mentioned in Living Bodies.

Hence, even if you took food which was nourishing and boiled all the nutrients out of it because you liked the taste better that way, there would be nothing wrong in this, because, since it doesn't have as its function to nourish us, there's no way you can contradict this non-function.

The reason why this is not wrong is that you are not preventing your digestive faculty from doing all that it does; it is just that the things you ate can't be assimilated. Thus, drinking diet pop, which contains nothing nourishing, is not a contradiction of your nutritive faculty. Here you are not asserting the assimilative aspect of eating; but you are not doing anything to contradict it either. In the case of eating and purging, you are preventing the exercise of part of the function while exercising the function.

It is fairly easy to see this with respect to eating; but the principle also applies to sex. I think, however, that we should defer a discussion of that subject to a chapter of its own, since it gets quite complicated.

I hasten to add that many of the acts that are called "perverted" and are done between homosexuals, for instance, are all right by way of foreplay between marriage partners; as long as they don't constitute the whole act and it can reach its completion in a way that does not deny its reproductive character. It does not save such non-reproductive types of exercise of the sexual faculty such as oral sex that they are done between a man and a woman; what "saves" them is (a) that they are preliminaries leading up to a reproductive use of the faculty (and so don't pretend that it is only part of itself); and (b) both partners are willing to do these acts (and so one is not being used for the gratification of the other).

NOTE that one's partner need not particularly enjoy having sex at a given time or in a given way; it is that the partner must not be positively UNwilling to do it. You do not have to assert any particular function of an act; you must simply not deny any of its aspects when exercising the faculty.

Thus, it is perfectly all right to have sex because it is Tuesday and you both agreed (for some reason) that Tuesdays are a day you have sex on; neither of you especially wants sex on this particular Tuesday, but both are willing. Sex does not have to be thrilling; it is perfectly all right if it is routine. It is even permissible not to especially like it. Do not be deluded by our culture of sex; it does not have to be the be-all and end-all of a relationship of love between two people. The way some sex manuals talk, it is almost as if you not rising three feet off the bed every night makes you immoral. This is nonsense.

4. In the fourth place--here it comes--contraception is morally wrong, however it is done. But let us be clear what this is: it is taking a reproductive act when it is reproductive and doing something to suppress its reproductiveness with the intention of exercising the faculty as if it weren't reproductive when it is.

That's a long definition. The point is that the woman is not always fertile, and therefore sex, in itself, is not always reproductive, even though it is always a reproductive KIND of activity. That is, sex (and only sex) is the kind of activity which can reproduce; and so it is always a reproductive kind of activity. It is this, actually, which is denied by masturbation or homosexual sex.

But not every act of this type is in fact reproductive. Thus, one need not intend that there be children every time one exercises the sexual faculty.

It is a calumny to assert that those who hold that contraception is wrong say that "THE" purpose of sex is to have children. That would make sex after menopause morally wrong (since the woman can't have children then), and there are precious few ethicians who have ever held this.


It is simple dishonesty to take the act of sex when it is reproductive and prevent it from doing part of what it does. And that is what contraception does. No one would use a contraceptive during times when it was known that the woman was infertile, and that no child could result from the act. Why would one? No, the only reason that the "pill" is taken during infertile times of the month is that if it isn't, then it won't make the person infertile during the times when she is by nature fertile; and the person wants to be infertile during the times when she is fertile.

Is this a contradiction or is it a contradiction?

It is not morally wrong, using the Double Effect, to have sex ONLY during infertile times; and even to TAKE STEPS TO DISCOVER when these infertile times are.

Remember, the problem with contraception is not "not having children"; it is the contradiction in performing a reproductive act which is not reproductive. It can be, as I said earlier, good and even morally necessary not to have any more children, if they can't be brought up decently.

So the question is not a question of the purpose; it is one of the nature of the act as an exercise of a faculty. And since the faculty is not always reproductive, then it may be exercised when it is not reproductive, if the five rules of the Double Effect are met:

1) The act of having sex at a time when the woman is not fertile is consistent with the nature of sex; 2) the act has a good effect: one avoids children who cannot be decently brought up; but it also has a bad effect, because to exercise the act only during these times makes the whole series of acts not reproductive, and thus the sexual activity of the couple as a whole not reproductive--more or less analogously to homosexual sex.

The act is still the kind of act that is a reproductive kind of activity; but the deliberate exercise of it only when not reproductive, has the effect of denying that one's sexual activity as such has anything to do with reproduction.

But since this is the effect of a whole series of acts, and is not in any one of them, this bad effect may be an unchosen side-effect of the acts of sex.

To continue with the rules: 3) the non-reproductiveness of all of one's sexual activity must not be the means toward the good effect. And it is not, in general; what is desired is that this act not result in a child one cannot support, not that, should conditions change, one never have a child. 4) The non-reproductiveness of the whole of one's sexuality cannot be what is wanted; it is just unfortunate that now one cannot afford a child. And 5) the bad effect of possible non-reproductiveness of sexual activity as a whole must not be worse than what would happen if one refrained from sex altogether.

Thus, the "rhythm" or "sympto-thermal" method of family planning cannot be engaged in lightly, because there is a bad effect of this kind of thing. It must be a method of family planning, not of family avoidance altogether. Sex in general is reproductive; and so results in "family."

5. Finally, artificial insemination, even by the husband's sperm, is morally wrong.

Why is this? This is a use of the woman's sexual organs purely for reproduction. It must have nothing to do with sexual arousal or with love of the person using the organs, because this person is generally a physician. Consider what is happening. The man who impregnates the woman is not her husband, and he is not impregnating her with his sperm, but someone else's. He must not arouse her when he uses her sexual organs, because he doesn't want her to love him; this is just a business deal with him, or a favor to the couple. She must try not to feel pleasure at what he is doing, or she might be aroused toward him. The husband just stands aside, even if it is his sperm that the woman is being impregnated with; and of course if it isn't, then her doing this "out of love for him" so that "they" can have a child is a farce; he has nothing whatever to do with the whole procedure.

You can see what a mockery this makes out of sex.

But to continue with our control over our acts:

It is morally wrong to get into a situation in which one can act but cannot control one's actions.

That is, to use your control over yourself in such a way that you can act without being able to control yourself is clearly a contradiction. Therefore,

Getting drunk, or under the influence of drugs which take away control while leaving you capable of acting, is morally wrong.

It is not morally wrong to drink alcohol; what is morally wrong about it is being in this acting-without-control situation. And since this occurs to a greater or lesser degree with things like marijuana, heroin, opium, cocaine, and so on, the use of those substances would also be morally wrong--always supposing that the Double Effect does not apply (as in taking morphine for pain).

Many of these substances are also addictive, which means that they form a habit and become necessary for the person's survival. Forming habits is not bad in itself, nor is being dependent for survival on chemicals (we are all dependent on H2O, for instance). But since the chemicals themselves have a morally wrong aspect, then it would be immoral to choose to take them, even below the level of loss of control, insofar as it is likely that a habit of dependence will be formed. Once the habit is formed, you are permanently out of control--short of a miracle.

Note that this applies also to alcohol. Alcohol is an exceedingly dangerous substance; if you have any evidence of incipient alcoholism (such as "needing a drink"), then you have a serious obligation to stop drinking altogether. The alcoholic is always "sure he can handle it" until he gets so far gone that he has to recognize that he can't help himself. Alcohol is a fine thing to stay away from. There is, however, no moral obligation to do so if one drinks in moderation, unless there are signs of dependency beginning to appear.

6.3.2. The act itself

Finally, it is possible to contradict not the faculty but the act itself in its exercise, if you use it in such a way that it can't perform its real function.

The most common example of this, and one which will serve as a model, is lying. We don't have any "faculty of communication" as such; our vocal cords do not have of themselves any orientation toward communicating abstract ideas through words, any more than our hands of themselves are communicators as when we type or use sign language. There are many faculties that can be used to communicate; but there is none that is by nature communicative, as sex is reproductive by nature.

Hence, the liar is not contradicting any faculty he has.

But when you tell a lie, you expect the person you are lying to to believe you. Why? Because you are in a context where what you say by its nature has the function of revealing what you think the fact are. That is, the act of factual communication (as opposed to exclamations, stories, poetry, etc.) has in itself the function of revealing what the communicator thinks are the facts of the matter.

But when you lie, you communicate what you think is not a fact, with the intention of having the one who receives it take it as what you think is a fact. This is a contradiction of the act in the exercise of the act itself, and so is morally wrong.

Therefore, it is morally wrong to communicate as a fact something you think is not a fact.


What is communicated may not be what is said.

Certain conventions of speech communicate (i.e. are understood to mean) something different from the literal meaning of the words. For example, "Mr. Jones is out," spoken by his secretary, communicates "You can't see Mr. Jones," and nothing more. If the secretary said, "He's in but he doesn't want to see you," she might also be communicating that the inquirer was not "worthy" to see Mr. Jones, which could be false.

Hence, those who take such conventions literally and accuse secretaries of lying do not understand the meaning of conventional expressions; and it is the meaning of the expression itself that is communicated, not necessarily the literal sense of the words.

A person in general has no obligation to reveal what he thinks is the facts to another person.

Another person may have a right to know what you think, however, if he can't fulfill some obligation he has without knowing what you think about something. Thus, if you are asked a question by a lawyer in a trial, you must answer it, unless the Double Effect applies. The same would go for questions by parents of their children, or of those in authority in general.

A person may in fact have an obligation to conceal information he knows from other people.

If, for instance, you were told a secret by another person and agreed to keep the matter secret, then you have made a promise not to reveal it, and it is inconsistent to break a promise you made.

Secrets, it is to be noted, especially when you are told one after being asked to keep the matter secret, generally have the implied proviso, "if significant harm would not come from keeping the secret." A person cannot be expected to keep a secret when great damage would come from keeping it; and therefore to demand a promise beforehand and expect compliance without warning the person somehow is unrealistic.

Hence, secrets may sometimes be revealed when the Double Effect applies.

(It goes without saying, perhaps, that certain secrets may under no circumstances be revealed: those heard in Confession, for example; or certain secrets doctors learn from patients, etc.)

Information may never be concealed by means of a lie.

This, of course, is to use a wrong means for a good purpose, and would involve choosing the contradiction of the act.

When a secret must not be revealed, then keeping silence (or saying something equivalent like "no comment") is the way this must be done unless this silence communicates information.

That is, if someone asks you a direct question, "Were you downtown last night with Martha?" your silence could in fact communicate that you were; because if you weren't, you would answer "No."

Hence, if your being downtown with Martha is a secret that must be kept, you can't keep it by being silent or noncommittal in this circumstance.

In cases where silence or its equivalent reveals secret information, then you must say something that communicates no information.

What you say depends on the situation, and what you think the hearer will understand. For instance, the statement, "Martha is not the kind of girl that would do what you're thinking," might leave your questioner wondering whether or not you were actually there with her--though it may answer what is behind his question.

It is even possible for you to say "No, I wasn't," in this case, if you expect that the questioner won't believe you. If he realizes that either "yes" or silence mean the same thing, he probably realizes that "No" is the only possible answer you could give without revealing what he thinks you are trying to conceal. Hence, if you say, "No," he doesn't know whether this is because you weren't there, or because you are trying to keep him from knowing whether you were there or not. In this situation, you have made a false statement, but you have communicated nothing at all. You have to expect the hearer to take your words as factual to lie.

If this sounds like splitting hairs, it is. Nevertheless, given that we don't always communicate the literal meaning of what we say, it is legitimate.

As a footnote to this, let me say that if you have reason to think that the person will take what you said as your view of what is factually true, then you are lying. But this applies to children, when you tell them, for instance, about Santa Claus, not as a story but as literally true. If you think they will believe that Santa actually comes down the chimney on Christmas Eve, then it doesn't matter how "beautiful" the story is, it's a lie and is morally wrong.

There's nothing wrong with telling about Santa Claus as a story; children can distinguish fiction from fact; the problem comes in trying to convey to them that it isn't "meaningful," but actually happens.

To get around this, I told my children what was true about Christmas: that it was Jesus' birthday, and that unlike others, he celebrates his birthday by inspiring people to buy presents for each other. My kids would then spend their evening prayers in Advent asking Jesus (in my presence, of course) to inspire me to buy them an Easy-Bake Oven or a Ready Ranger backpack kit; and they thanked him as well as me when the presents appeared under the tree. They also had fun sitting on Santa's lap in the stores, of course, smug in their knowledge that it was all just pretend, and they knew the real truth about Christmas.

I use this as an illustration to show that if you abandon your fear of what you "give up" when you stop acting inconsistently with your reality, you very often find that what you gain is considerably greater.

Keep that in mind when we discuss sexuality.

[See also Modes, 5.2.5]

Summary of Chapter 6

Since our total reality and every act we perform is finite, absolutely everything about us depends for its finiteness on the Infinite Activity, God. Therefore, it is morally wrong to despise God (blasphemy); to treat objects, actions, places used for worshiping God as if they were like anything else (sacrilege); to worship anything except God; to attempt to manipulate or bargain with God; to refuse to worship God both interiorly and exteriorly and socially; if you suspect that a religion has been revealed by God, to refuse to find out and join that religion.

We are bodies, which means that we are forms of energy integrated into a single unit that behaves primarily as a unit; and our organizing activity is the same activity which is our spiritual activity of thinking. Therefore, it is morally wrong to act as if we were spirits which merely "have" a body, and despise bodily acts; to act as if our bodies were controlled by mere energy and instinct and not by thinking; to remove a part of a body and by so doing deprive oneself of a function one has by nature (mutilation), unless the Double Effect applies. It is not wrong to remove parts of the body which have no particular function. Cosmetic plastic surgery is not wrong, taking into account the danger of the operation. Organs may morally be donated to others; but a person is never required to do so. It is immoral to choose the suppression of the ability to act, even if the purpose is very good; hence, sterilization is morally wrong.

We are also living bodies, which means that our bodies exist beyond the limits of the degree of our energy, and are in control of themselves within the limits imposed by our genes. Since we do not control whether we are alive and since the tendency of life is to continue, it is immoral to choose to die. It is also immoral in general to choose acts which put one in danger of death, unless the Double Effect applies. Therefore, smoking heavily and driving after drinking are morally wrong. If a person is dying, he may morally choose not to postpone his death by taking life-preserving measures, using the Double Effect, balancing off the evil of not having an extra time to live with the evil attendant on that time. A person may not refuse, however, measures that maintain life, such as food, water, and air; to refuse these is to choose death. Life-preserving measures are those not necessary to maintain life, but which postpone the death when one is dying. One may not morally take measures to kill oneself to shorten an agonizing life.

The control over our acts which we have as living is done by subsystems of the body called faculties, which enable us to turn certain acts on and off and control them. It is therefore not wrong to refuse, even permanently, to exercise a faculty, as long as no damage is done to the body by the refusal; it would be wrong to refuse to do so if damage is done to oneself by the non-exercise of the faculty. It is not wrong to exercise a part of the body for some function other than its natural one, as long as the natural function is not contradicted and no damage is done to the person. It is not morally wrong to suppress the functioning of a faculty when this is the same as not exercising it. But it is morally wrong to suppress one function of a multi-function faculty and then exercise the faculty as if it had only part of the functions it has. Eating and then suppressing digestion (boulimia) is morally wrong, whether this is done by throwing up or by something like intestinal bypass surgery. One need not eat for the sake of either pleasure or nourishment, as long as the faculty is not suppressed. Nor is it is not wrong to eat things that contain no food value, because no exercise of the faculty is actually suppressed, and nothing has as its natural function "to be food" for human beings.

Control over one's acts implies that it is morally wrong to use one's control to get into a situation of being able to act and unable to control one's acts. Therefore, getting drunk or under the influence of similar drugs is morally wrong. If these drugs are addictive, then one can also be choosing to get into a morally bad habit; and when signs of dependency begin to appear, one must stop the drug altogether.

It is also possible to contradict the act itself in performing it. Lying is communicating as a fact something you think is not a fact. It does not contradict the "faculty" of communication, because we have no such faculty; it contradicts the act itself. What is communicated may or may not be the literal meaning of the words; it depends on what the community understands by the phrase. A person has in general no obligation to reveal what he thinks is the facts, unless a legitimate authority commands him. If he has been entrusted with a secret, he has an obligation not to reveal it. Secrets may never be kept by telling a lie; but must be kept by simple silence or their equivalent, unless this reveals (by implication) the information to be concealed. Then one must say something which communicates no information; and here, a false statement may sometimes be made, if the hearer would be expected not to believe it, since then nothing is communicated.

Exercises and questions for discussion

1. Some people say that they don't go to church because they get nothing out of it. Do believers have an obligation to go to church whether they get anything out of it or not? What evidence can you present to support your position?

2. If it's not wrong to donate an organ to another, can a person have a child because another child needs the organ that this new child can supply?

3. Is the "living will" (where you say that if you become incapable of saying so yourself, you want no life-preserving measures to be taken) moral?

4. A person gets branded as a sign of belonging to a fraternity. Is this morally wrong?

5. Since it's an artificial way of communicating to write something down on paper, reproduce it, and have the other person read it with his eyes, then isn't the very page you are reading the result of a morally wrong act?

6. Is a doctor lying when he gives a placebo (a medically neutral sugar-pill) to a hypochondriac patient and says, "Take this for a week and you'll feel better" knowing that by the "placebo effect" the patient's belief that he will feel better will make him feel better.