Chapter 2

Finiteness and bodiliness

In Chapters 6 and 7 of Section 4 of the first part 1.4.6 1.4.7, I showed that every being of our experience, which of course includes every human being, and every act of every human being, is finite and therefore in itself self-contradictory as being less than its own intelligibility; and I concluded from this that every finite act (and therefore every human being and every act of a human being) depends on God or it can't exist. Without him we can do nothing whatever.


Conclusion 1: It is morally wrong for any human being to act as if he did not absolutely depend on God, not only for his existence, but for every aspect of himself and every act he performs.

If you spell this out, there are several types of acts which are forbidden, and some which must be done so that in practice one does not act as if God made no difference in his life:

Conclusion 1a: Conduct insubordinate to God or an insubordinate attitude is morally wrong.

1 That sort of thing is called "blasphemy," or manifesting contempt for God; it is obviously is something that could only be done by an equal or superior to God; but we are absolutely and totally subordinated to him; we are complete slaves and he is the absolute Master. Any act or attitude which is insulting to God is inconsistent with this relationship.

A subclass of this would be sacrilege, which is treating objects, acts, or places used for worship of God as if they were like any other kind of objects, whether you happen to agree with the religion in question or not. These sacred objects are used to express the human relation to God, by which we humans acknowledge our relation to him. But every human being does this haltingly, imperfectly, and to a large extent ignorantly; and so it is inconsistent with a human being to say by his actions, "I worship God perfectly, and you must respect my manner of worship; but you do not, and I can treat with scorn the instruments of your worship." Even supposing you had divine revelation to guide you, who are you to say that you understand it perfectly? Hence, we must respect others' religious practices and objects, even if we think that the religion is basically mistaken.

In connection with this, let me note that there is a view current that conviction (especially religious conviction) is incompatible with tolerance. Any person who says, "My religion is factually true" will of course think that any religious view that contradicts it is false; and for this reason the general attitude toward such a person is that he is a bigot who does not respect others' views.

But this is not the case at all. Even in science there are people who hold one view of something (such as the Big Bang theory of the origin of the material universe) and others who hold an opposite view (such as the Steady State theory); and they can respect each others' positions, recognizing that the evidence is not absolutely conclusive, but with each still thinking that his reasons are more cogent than those on the opposite side.

That is, even if you are convinced that you are right, you can still understand how someone can be convinced of the opposite. I can, for instance, see how it is that many people think that fetuses are not human--in fact, I can make out a better case for their position than practically any one of them can, though I recognize where the fallacy is. It is not easy to think things through and spot subtle fallacies, especially when it is a matter that touches our lives.

And so it is in the case of religion. If Catholicism is, as I believe, factually based, the facts about Jesus' actually coming back to life and so on are two thousand years old; and by no means everyone is capable, as I happen to be, of going back to the Greek of the documents and looking at them in their historical context apart from the relativistic nonsense that has crept into everything we examine nowadays; and so it is perfectly understandable to me why very intelligent people would think it is all a myth. I happen to believe, in fact, as part of my faith, that a person needs special help from God to be free enough of bias that he can look at the evidence and see what it's actually saying. So even though I think that those who don't believe, for instance, that the Communion wafer is in fact Jesus' body are wrong, I have no problem understanding and respecting their view.

But as I say, there are those who consider my position bigoted and intolerant, because I am not willing to "respect the view" of a person who declares that what I ate this morning was really just bread, however much it might have symbolized Jesus or "meant" Jesus. No, I don't "respect the view" in the sense that I think it is on an equal footing with mine; what I respect is (a) the person who holds the view and even (b) the reasons why he holds it.

And those who hold that this is not enough contradict themselves. Obviously, they are saying that people who have convictions must not hold that those who disagree with them are wrong--which itself is a conviction that either (a) will not tolerate its opposite, or (b) at the very least thinks that its opposite is false. That is, if you say that in order to "respect" someone else's view, you have to hold that it is on an equal footing with yours, then clearly it follows that the view that respect does not entail this is on an equal footing with this definition of respect--and consequently those who hold that respecting others' view means giving them equal weight with their own simultaneously hold that respecting others' views does not mean giving them equal weight.

And that those who advocate "tolerance" in religious matters are really intolerant of those who hold convictions about truth is clearly demonstrated by an article in the July, 1990 issue of Faith and Philosophy by E. Stump and N. Kretzmann, answering the Theologian Gordon Kaufman, who thinks that philosophers are not "with it" as far as contemporary Theology is concerned in trying to dig out the "truth values" in religious statements. The authors say this:

But when he does make a positive point, Kaufman is, not doubt inadvertently, entering into the evidentialist discussions he deplores; for in such cases we can and should ask him for his evidence. For a theological example of this sort, consider (4), the claim that we sin against God when we try to make ourselves the ultimate disposers of our lives and destiny, and consider it in the light of (2), "God is beyond our understanding and knowledge." How can Kaufman know that it is not God's will that we should strive for ultimate independence? Not on the basis of any revelation, as (3)["we dare not claim" that any of the ways in which we conceive of God "have been directly revealed by God"] indicates; and certainly not on the basis of any philosophical inquiry, regarding which it is a sin--this very sin--to think it yields any understanding or knowledge of God.

The reason I bring this up is not only to show once again, as I did in Chapter 6 of Section 1 of the first part 1.1.6, how relativism absolutizes itself and so contradicts itself without realizing it, but to point up how intolerant those who advocate "tolerance" are. Who is Kaufman to say I sin against God if I hold some conviction about him? How does he know so much about God that such a thing is a sin?

But to return to the point, we must respect others' religious views and practices, even though we do not have to admit that they are correct.

Conclusion 1b: It is morally wrong to worship anything but the non-finite Activity.

Worship is the act of acknowledging absolute dependence on another.

But God as discovered through the investigation in Chapter 7 of Section 4 of the first part 1.4.7is the being on whom we absolutely depend, and the only being on whom we absolutely depend. Hence, it is inconsistent for any creature to apply this relationship to any other being. Of course, if a person thinks he depends on some other being or beings in this way, and has no reason to believe he is mistaken, then his conscience is clear.

But one of the reasons I have been at some pains throughout this book to show that the God the Christians believe in is not incompatible with the God known by reason is precisely that if Christianity wanted people to worship a God who contradicts what reason says God is, then Christianity, by this corollary of the moral obligation, would be a morally wrong religion, and would have to be abandoned by any person who understood what the facts are. And since, as I said, I happen to believe that Christianity is factually true, I would be doing a disservice to my readers, if any, in leaving the impression that it is false.

I might point out that Judaism or Islam has much less of a difficulty with this tenet of the moral obligation than Christianity, because they believe in a God whose characteristics match pretty well the ones you can deduce from what the cause of finite activity would have to be. But Christianity, with its notion of a Trinity, as if God were a committee, and an Incarnation, in which the Infinite becomes finite, is, to put it mildly, on a superficial level something that contradicts what is known about God; and so it is necessary, I think, to point up the fact that these facts do not necessarily contradict what God is known to be--though, of course, this showing that you can't prove that the two are incompatible does not of itself prove that the two are compatible; it only makes it not unreasonable for a person to admit the other evidence which indicates the factuality of what is said in Christianity.

But to return to acknowledging our dependence on God, note that acknowledging some dependence, even profound dependence, on others is not forbidden by this, but only acknowledging absolute dependence on others--as if their act entered into the very activity of our act. We do depend on other beings besides God, because we and our aspects and acts are also effects of various other causes besides God, as I said in Conclusion 17 of Section 4 of the first part. My features, for instance, as well as my beginning to exist, are due to my parents and their sexual interaction as well as to God; and so I depend for my existence on them--but in a different sense from the way my existence depends on God. My existence depends on my parents, because without them I would never have begun to exist (and so would not exist now); it depends on God in that as finite it could not now exist if God were not actively causing it to exist now.

But we can even depend on people who have died. As I mentioned in Chapter 3 of Section 4 of the third part 3.4.3, a person who dies does not go out of existence, and in that same section in Chapter 4 3.4.4, dealing with what life is all about, I said that, if he loves another, the other's fulfillment is part of his goal in life, and therefore even after death, he is "with" and concerned about the other. And, though he can no longer be affected, he can still act; and it is quite possible that he can do something to affect those he loves in the world. But he can only do so (because they are free) if they ask for his help.

Thus, it is perfectly legitimate morally to pray for help with our problems to people who have died and who can "intercede" for us with God, in the sense that God, who is fulfilling them, is bound by this to fulfill their goals for the others they love. As I write this, I see so many of those I care about suffering, and I am powerless to do anything for them; and I long to see them happy. My life is not only meaningless but a positive horror if they cannot achieve their goals; and so I can't wait to die, so that I will (a) be able to see how they have achieved these goals, and (b) be able to assist them because of my ambition that they achieve their ambitions.

And so if you, reader, want my help (since I am undoubtedly dead by the time you read this), then ask, and I will do what I can for you--and it will be much. Not that I am God; I am simply someone who wants you to be happy, and who, being dead, cannot be myself unless you are happy; and therefore, God, who has wiped every tear from my eyes, will do it. Even in my present state I am nothing, and he is everything--so you are not worshiping me if you ask for my help; you are simply doing what you would do if you ask for any person's help: establishing a solidarity among creatures, since we do depend on each other in many ways in addition to the absolute dependence each of us has upon God.(1)

Conclusion 1c: It is morally wrong to try to manipulate God or bargain with him.

This is traditionally called "tempting" God. The idea here is that you are treating God as a partner in a transaction, where you will do something "for him" if he does what you want; or where you put down conditions for him to act.

God is absolutely free and independent of us, as I said in Conclusion 12 of Section 4 of the first part; he neither needs nor wants anything from us, nor can he be affected in any way by what we do. Therefore, you have nothing to offer God in return for some favor. Hence, if you say, "God, I'll give a thousand dollars to my church if you'll cure me," you are supposing that God would be "motivated" by the money to cure you; and this puts you on an equal plane with God. Similarly, if you say, as Uzziah did, "I'll give you five days to save the city, and then I'll hand it over," you deserve Judith's reply, "Who are you to put conditions on God, and put yourself in God's place over human affairs?"

Hence, magic, seances, and so on, as an attempt to manipulate "occult forces," violates not only this aspect of our relation with God, but the one stated in Conclusion 1b also. You attempt to get control over what has control over you; and you also do so without acknowledging that it is God who has this control, not "the spirits of the air."

In spite of all this, I hasten to say that (a) there is nothing wrong with praying for favors from God, since by asking his help you are acknowledging that he enters into your getting what you want, and that you can't get it by yourself; and this is the truth. It may even be that the particular thing you want would be counter-productive for you if you didn't recognize that God was involved in it, and you thought that you got it totally on your own. You then share the farmer's attitude when the preacher passed his field and said, "I see you and God have done a fine job here," and he answered, "Yeah? Well, you should have seen it when God had it all by himself."

It is also true that (b) there is nothing wrong with expressing gratitude to God for the favors he has bestowed on you. In that sense, giving money to the parish as a thank-offering is morally noble; it is simply a recognition that God had a hand in your achieving your goal, and that he didn't need to act to bring it about. It is when the offering is promised beforehand as a kind of bribe that it becomes inconsistent with your creaturehood.

Conclusion 1d: It is morally wrong to refuse to worship God, even if you never actively declare your independence of him.

This is the first of the "affirmative" obligations we have. The idea behind it is that, even if you don't actually say you are independent of God, if you never say that you do depend on him absolutely, then for practical purposes you are acting as if God had no part in your life, when in fact without his causal activity on you, you could not exist or act at all. Hence, you must worship God at least sometimes.

And the criterion for how often is, of course, that you never act in practice as if God had nothing to do with what you are doing. This does not mean that you must explicitly acknowledge the dependence upon God of each act you perform; it is enough that you virtually acknowledge it. That is, if someone were to say to you, "Does God have anything to do with what you're doing now?" you would spontaneously reply, "Of course he does," rather than "Of course not."

But this doesn't help much, you say. How often does that mean? Every hour? Every day? Every week? Once a year? It will vary from person to person. It may be that a person who undergoes something like a "conversion" experience could be so filled with that consciousness that once in his life would be enough so that he always from then on realized his dependence on God in the virtual sense above. For most, it would be much more often than that. The Catholic Church, following the Hebrew tradition, has obviously thought that the normal person needs to worship God explicitly at least once a week to keep this attitude of dependence minimally alive; and this is why it has made this a rule.

The Scholastics rightly held that the negative tenets of the moral obligation were unlimited, and the affirmative ones all had limits to their obligatoriness; but it wasn't clear in Scholasticism (at least as far as I could discover) why this was so. And the answer is, of course, that we are free with respect to what is consistent with our reality to do anything we please; the obligation is simply that we must not choose to act inconsistently with it. And the affirmative duties are things that must be done in order to avoid doing the practical equivalent of some inconsistent act. Hence their limit is reached when the act's omission is no longer the same as actively doing something inconsistent. Hence, I am not saying here that it is not a good thing to worship God more often than you have to in order to avoid thinking of yourself as independent of him. The point is that you don't have to do it any more than you have to--obviously. In fact, worshiping too often can be a disvalue. I mentioned in Chapter 6 of Section 3 of the third part 3.3.6, dealing with choice how St. Ignatius had to break himself of ecstatic contemplation when he heard the word "God," or "Three," because it kept him from hearing his math lectures. There are even cases where it could be morally wrong to worship God; if, for instance, you worshiped God so constantly that you harmed your health or neglected your children or failed in some moral obligation you had.

Note that it is morally wrong to keep some area of your life apart from worship, as if this aspect of your life had nothing to do with God. There are those who worship God internally, but externally act as if they had no dependence on him at all; there are those who worship God as individuals, but engage in no social worship, as if their selves as interrelated to others had no dependence on God. To refuse to reveal to others that you depend on God is to say that God governs only your mental or personal life and has nothing to do with the way you relate to others.

We in the United States are apt to fall into this trap, because of the stupid way the Supreme Court has interpreted the "separation of church and state" (which in itself is the proper relation between civil society and religion, as we will see in the next part). Our attitude is that religion is a "purely personal matter" and not only does not have any social significance, but should not be brought to bear on our relation with others and especially our relation with civil society.

But the point of the "separation" is that government is not to try to dictate how worship is to be performed, but leave each person free to follow his conscience in this matter; it is not supposed to suppress the free expression of religion in its desire not to force people to adopt some religion. The fact that people of one faith or no faith see symbols of some other faith, or see people practicing some other faith, imposes no restrictions on their activity; and at the same time, it permits people to manifest their faith and to acknowledge the social dimension of their dependence on God. The separation is supposed to respect religions equally, not shove them into a corner.(2)

There is something further in this business of worshiping God, however. The end of Saul's reign came on the occasion of his not slaughtering the animals of a city he had taken, when God had told him to do so. He answered, when the prophet Samuel reproached him, "I was saving them to offer them in sacrifice." Samuel answered, "The Master says, 'I want obedience, not sacrifices.'"

That is, if you have reason to believe that God expects worship to take a certain form, and "you don't get anything out of doing it this way," and you choose to worship him in your way instead, then you are saying to God, "I will acknowledge my absolute dependence on you but independently of the way you want me to do it." This is no "absolute dependence."

Hence, if you think that there is evidence that God might have in fact revealed himself to human beings, and that this revelation might have included ways in which humans are to worship him, then you are now in the case of a person with an unclear conscience. Obviously, if he has revealed himself and expects people to follow some religion dealing with this revelation, then your refusal to join this religion would be an attempt to be independent of him. But if you think that in fact he might have done so and you refuse to investigate to find out whether he has or not, then you are willing not to worship him in his way, but only in your own.

Now in order for this to be the case, you must think (a) that there are facts which would indicate that he might in fact have given some kind of revelation of this nature, and (b) that there is some way to ascertain whether these suggestive facts actually indicate that he did reveal himself. That is, if you have no reason to believe that the whole religion issue is anything but superstition, you have no obligation to investigate; and if you have no reason to believe that there is any hope of settling the matter by looking into various claims, then you have no obligation either.

The point is that you can't stick with a form of worship you "feel comfortable with" if you think that there might be a form of worship that is mandated by God, however distasteful it might be to you. In that state of mind, you must find the facts, as far as is reasonably possible, or you are willing to do what is wrong.

Sorry about that, but it's an obvious conclusion from the very concept of worship. This does not mean, of course, that those of you who are convinced by the faith you hold have any obligation to investigate rival claims; your conviction is the very opposite of a doubt. But if you have a doubt, then you must find the facts, or if you can't, choose the morally safest course of action. I am not trying to "sell" Catholicism by this book; I am just laying out the facts as objectively as I can based on the evidence I have available to me--and I am quite aware that this evidence is distorted by my biases, though I don't know where the distortion lies, or I would try to correct for it.

But there's a lot to say, morally, isn't there? What I've said so far is just the implications in the fact that we are finite.

Now as to the particular type of finiteness we have, as is clear from Section 2 of the second part 2.2 and Chapter 1 of Section 4 of the third part 3.4.1, we are bodies (integrated clusters of forms of energy with multiple properties) integrated by an act that is spiritual, but in that same act "reduplicates" itself as a form of energy. We are, in short, embodied spirits.

Conclusion 2: It is morally wrong for a human being to act as if he were a spirit that "had" a body "attached" to it or as if he were just a body, even a body with certain spiritual "adjuncts."

The first sort of violation of this tenet has been called "angelism," and it is actually an attitude that is quite widespread among those who consider themselves devout. It is the attitude of despising the body and wishing to be "free" of it and of "mortifying" it, not to get our urges under control, but because they are "physical" and so are to be suppressed as "beneath our notice" as spiritual beings. Plato, of course, held this because of his theoretical mistake of considering the soul a "something" which got trapped into a body presumably because of some sin in its disembodied condition, and which was "in" the body as a pilot is in a ship. And philosophers since his time who have followed the Platonic way of thinking have also held, to one degree or another, his contempt of the body as an alien kind of prison. Platonic dualism is very strong in Descartes, for instance, the founder of modern philosophy.

Conclusion 2a: The more limited (more material) acts of the body are not to be regarded as "objectively worse" than the spiritual acts.

This corollary says that the energy-acts of the body, which are properties produced by the unifying activity which is both spiritual and material in one act, are just as much acts of ourselves as any other act we perform; and it is inconsistent with the fact that goodness and badness depend on subjectively created ideals, as I said in Chapter 10 of Section 5 of the first part 1.5.10, to pretend that just because these acts are infinitely more limited than the spiritual ones (which have no quantity at all), they are thereby not as "good" as the spiritual ones, or are to be despised. Objective limitation has nothing to do with goodness and badness, as I was at pains to point out.

And not even the people who "despise the flesh" believe this, since most of them think of music as something exalted, when in fact it is objectively one of the most limited of realities (nothing but the vibration of the air), and its effect is that the consequent vibrations of the tympanum in our ear give us emotions which we can then (spiritually) understand relations among, as I said in Chapter 1 of Section 5 of the fourth part 4.5.1.

But these same people would shrink in horror from the art of dining, because that is just "feeding the flesh," in spite of the fact that the external object is or used to be alive, and isn't just air vibrations, and that there are also emotional overtones connected with the tastes, odors, and appearances of foods, as opposed to just sounds, and that these impressions and their emotional overtones also can go together into very interesting interrelationships. But it's so--so "fleshy." It is precisely this attitude which is a morally wrong one.

But even though that is the case, it is also true that the activities of our instinct are by nature subordinate to the activity of understanding and choosing, as I said in the discussion of Conclusions 12 and 13 of Section 2 of the third part. And the point of choice in Section 3 of that part is that it is to be the basic controlling aspect of our nature insofar as it is conscious, and the function of instinct in humans is to supply information to understanding for our spirit to make an informed choice. Hence, we can draw the following conclusion:

Conclusion 2b: It is morally wrong to follow instincts or emotions as if they indicated the direction our "true nature" is to take.

Each human drive, as I mentioned in the chapters cited above, seeks its own fulfillment, not, as with other animals, the benefit of the individual or the species; and if followed unchecked, will only become stronger and stronger until it destroys the person. Further, once a person does make choices and plan his life rationally, and especially once this becomes complex and interactive, as in culture or civilization, then the automatically programmed responses to stimuli which drives (with their emotions) are are no longer necessarily appropriate, and very often will be positively inappropriate. Hence it is contrary to our nature to act as if the way we felt toward things is our "true" attitude toward them. This is as much as saying that reason is a kind of "false" epiphenomenon of our nature, and that the situation we have got ourselves into by using our minds is "unnatural." Certainly there are people who think this way. But this is to equate "natural" with "animal," and say that human nature has no spiritual dimension.

Conclusion 2c: We must see to it that, as far as possible, our drives do not become strong enough to take over control from our choice.

Deliberately to allow this would be to be immoral, since this is the equivalent of violating Conclusion 2b. Therefore, what this conclusion says is that some active steps must be taken to see to it that it is not likely to happen; and therefore, a certain amount of "mortification" of the emotions is morally required.

First of all, what is this "mortification"? It consists in deliberately doing the opposite of what an emotion inclines one towards--in situations, of course, where there is nothing morally wrong with this--in order to establish the subordination of the emotion to the choice. It would be done, obviously, in cases where the drive was weak enough so that one clearly had control, and should progress to times when the drive is stronger, until one had reasonable assurance that in all rationally foreseeable instances, the drive would not take over and force an act against what is known to be moral (or blind one to the facts, as I said in the preceding section). This clearly would have to be done with all the major drives: hunger, sex, fear, and so on; or one would be leaving an area of his life as potentially uncontrollable.

How much do you have to do of this? As in the case of worship, the answer is enough so that in practice you can see that, barring cataclysmic circumstances, you will be in control of your drives--and this will vary from person to person, and is never perfectly achieved by anyone, due to the "fallenness" I talked about in Chapter 5 of Section 4 of the third part 3.4.5. If a person thinks he is in perfect control of his emotions, he is deluding himself (and in fact is probably in the grip of some drive that is blocking out information from his consciousness).

Thus, dances and so on which allow both sexes to be in a situation in which the sex drive tends to be aroused and the circumstances make control fairly easy are probably morally necessary for most people; and a total avoidance of occasions of sexual arousal is generally far more dangerous than this sort of thing, because it leaves the person without any practice in coping with the urge, and so he is much less likely to be able to handle minor sexual temptations than a person who has realized that except in really extreme instances, the drive is controllable. The Puritanical (and to be fair, monkish) attitude that anything sexual is to be avoided is arguably more conducive to sexual license than these innocent sexual enjoyments.

This is precisely not to say that one should expose himself to situations in which the drive is apt to be strongly aroused: to look at pornography, for instance, in order to "steel oneself" against the sexual temptation. You would have to be pretty far advanced in sexual control to be able to do this; in which case, the pornography would not have any interest for you. The point is that drives can take over control and the rash idea that you can keep control under every circumstance denies the fallenness of our nature, which is the basis of getting control of instinct in the first place.

Hence, this exposure to controllable temptations and the deliberate going against what the emotions indicate is not to be taken as an excuse for what we used to call "seeking out the occasions of sin." It was a commendable attempt to recognize this fact that led to the Puritanical excess of avoidance of all temptations involving the major drives.

Further, one must not lose sight of Conclusion 2a, and think that because these acts can get out of control they are therefore somehow "evil." Every act of a human being is good; and the fact that the sex drive, for instance, can take over control is not an indication that it is not to be rejoiced in and followed when it leads us to do what we recognize as rational.

That is, the attitude sometimes attributed to Augustine, that it's okay to have sex in order to have children, but "you shouldn't take pleasure in it" is obviously stupid. The act is one of the most beautiful acts a human can perform, and the pleasure is a part of its beauty; the only problem is that because the drive is so strong and the pleasure is so intense, it is easy to do it when it is irrational to do so; and so it is dangerous. But this should not mean that when it is rational to have sex, it is somehow ignoble or infra dignitatem to enjoy the pleasure to the full. That error is a variation of angelism. Poor angels! They get no pleasure out of anything at all, because they have no emotions. Aren't you glad you're human and not one of them?

A third implication of our bodiliness is that we are units consisting of multiple parts, as I said in Chapter 2 of Section 2 of the second part 2.2.2; and these parts in the human being are often faculties, or parts that enable the person to perform or not perform a definite set of acts, as I discussed in Chapter 9 of Section 1 of the third part 3.1.9.

Conclusion 3: It is morally wrong for a person to deprive himself, by removal of a part, or suppression of the act of a part, of an ability he has by his nature as human.

Since these parts are faculties, and allow you either to act or not as you choose, there is nothing wrong with not exercising the power you have. But if you "don't exercise" the power by removing the organ so that you can't do the act you don't want to do any more, you put yourself in the self-contradictory position of being "a being who can do X who cannot do X."

That is, it is one thing to close your eyes, and another to remove them. In the latter case, even if you don't want to see ever again (which I suppose, absent any reason you would morally have to see, you could choose), you can't consistently do this by making yourself unable to see; because the person who is blind still is able to see, or blindness would never be curable, any more than you can cure the blindness of the book you are reading. It is always in principle possible to cure any such defect by replacing the defective part with a natural or artificial one which is not defective, because the unifying energy after all built the part in the first place because it was "the kind of thing that can do the act in question," and so it is the unifying energy that really has the ability, not the part itself, as we saw in Chapter 9 of Section 1 of the third part 3.1.9. Every part is in principle regenerable, for the simple reason that it was built in the first place by the unifying energy; it is just that, in very complex organisms, the ability to regenerate certain parts had to be given up for efficiency's sake in using the limited available energy.

But since this is so, it follows that it is self-contradictory to remove or damage the organ in question in such a way that the unifying energy can no longer use it to do what it can do.

Mutilation is the removal or damaging of a part of the body in such a way that the person becomes unable to do what he could do with the intact part.

There are some things, therefore, that are called "mutilation" that aren't mutilations at all. I happen to have a tattoo on my right arm (of a snake, if you're curious), which many people consider to be a mutilation. If I had known when I got it done what I know now, it would have been immoral for me to choose to get it, not because I was mutilating myself, but because it seems reasonable to say that various horrible diseases like hepatitis, AIDS, syphilis, and God knows what else, could be transmitted by the needle's use in decorating one body after another, since there is a certain amount of bleeding in the process.

But the danger aside, there is nothing morally wrong with decorating the body this way, because no ability the body has to act is impaired. Similarly, there is no mutilation in what to me is the barbaric practice of piercing ears for earrings--or noses for nose rings, or even teeth for the insertion of little diamonds, I suppose. For the same reason, hair and fingernails may morally be cut short (or even off, in the case of hair, or even pulled out), because the hair itself has no real function except decoration--or at least no function that can't be duplicated with a cap or turban. Not even cosmetic plastic surgery (e.g. changing the shape of the nose for reasons of appearance only) is morally wrong or a mutilation, as long as the function of the organs involved are not impaired.

And since beauty is basically subjective, as I said in Chapter 4 of Section 5 of the fourth part 4.5.4, what is one person's ugliness may very well be another person's beauty, and therefore mutilation has nothing to do with the "uglification" of the body. No way of changing the body's appearance is of itself morally wrong; it would only be wrong if it involved a violation of some other aspect of our reality, such as the Chinese binding of girls' feet making them unable to walk as adults or the Ubangi women's enlarging of their lips to such an extent that they can't eat. Judging by what I have seen of women's feet in our culture, the extreme fashions involving high heels at least border on being morally wrong, because they cause bunions and various actual impairments in the function of the feet.

But of course, the following should be said also:

Conclusion 3a: Parts of the body may be removed, depriving a person of the ability to perform their acts, when the Double Effect applies.

For instance, a hand may be removed if it is gangrenous and the person will die if it is left on the body. This is pretty obvious; you don't want to be deprived of the ability to pick up things, but you have to put up with it if you want to stay alive--and morally speaking, you cannot want to die.

But all of the five rules must be fulfilled. The act of removing the organ must have nothing wrong about it but the effect of the deprivation of the ability to act. This in general will always be fulfilled, because, as I said, there is nothing wrong with removing parts of the body as such, as with hair and fingernails that have no function (I am supposing that we are talking about the part of the fingernail beyond the "quick").

Secondly, the removal must also have a good effect, and cannot be done capriciously, because it is going to deprive you of the ability to act.

Thirdly, the inability to act must not be what brings about the good effect. This needs discussion, but let me table it for the moment.

Fourthly, you must not want to be unable to do the act you are depriving yourself of the ability to perform. It is one thing not particularly to want to do the act in question; it is another thing to want to be unable to do it. If you want not to be able to do what you are able to do as human, you want a contradiction. This will form part of the discussion we are tabling.

Finally, the act that deprives you of the organ can be done only if not doing it is at least as damaging as the damage done by the inability to act. In the case of removing the gangrenous hand, this rule is obviously fulfilled. In the case of removing tonsils that seem to become infected rather often, it isn't necessarily obvious that the damage prevented is greater than the damage incurred. I am inclined to think that the purely routine removal of the male foreskin (which does have a function, albeit not much of a one) is not morally justifiable. To do it on the grounds that the person might not keep himself clean is invidious; who are you to predict his future habits of hygiene? You might just as well remove the external ears for the same reason.

Note that the organ in question can be a perfectly healthy organ at the moment, but one which might go bad later in circumstances where it couldn't be taken care of and would kill you--such as removing a healthy appendix from an astronaut who was going to be spending several months on a trip to Mars, on the grounds that it might become infected and kill him while on the trip.

Traditional moralists would be apt to say that it would be immoral to choose to do this, because the removal of any healthy part of the body is of itself immoral; you can only remove a part of the body which is diseased or malfunctioning. But this is not the case, or we couldn't shave our faces or pull out unwanted hairs. No, it isn't the act of removing a part of the body that is the problem, but the effect of it.

If you can do this for your own sake, you can also do it for someone else's:

Conclusion 3b: Parts of the body may be removed and donated to others when the Double Effect applies.

If you have two healthy kidneys, you can have one of them removed and transplanted in another person whose kidneys are malfunctioning, either to save him from death or to keep him off dialysis machines for the rest of his life and restore him to health. We only need one kidney to live a normal life; the other is a backup; and so the damage done to yourself is (apart from the operation) not great, and can easily, in general, be balanced against the damage to the other person if the organ transfer is not made.

But I hasten to reiterate here an application of Conclusion 30 of the preceding section:

Conclusion 3c: No one ever has a moral obligation to donate an organ to another person, even if the other person will die without it.

The reason, as I said in the preceding chapter, is that you have an obligation not to harm yourself, and you don't have an obligation in these circumstances to take positive steps to alleviate the damage to someone else. That is, you don't have to inflict damage on yourself (even if slight) in order to prevent (something else from inflicting) damage to someone else (even if great).

But now let us return to the discussion I tabled above, because it has serious repercussions dealing with things like sterilization. Let us say you want remove or damage the sex organ (by "tying the tubes") so that the ovum cannot get into a position to be fertilized, or that the sperm cannot get out of the testes to fertilize any ovum, because if the woman in question gets pregnant, her condition is such that she will die from it. Can you do this?

First, the act is in itself all right, as I said. Second, there is a good effect; her life is preserved. But third, how is the life preserved? By her not getting pregnant. That is, it is precisely because she is sterile that her life is out of danger; and you can see this, because if the operation was not successful, or if an ovum that happened to be in the fallopian tube was left there and it was fertilized by the next act of sex, she would get pregnant and die. So unless she is unable to conceive a child, she will not achieve the good effect to be achieved by this act.

And as far as the fourth rule is concerned, she would have to want to be sterile, or in other words want to be a person-who-can-conceive-a-child-who-cannot-conceive-a-child. She can't avoid the fact that she is a person who can conceive a child (because of the unifying energy she has); hence she cannot morally want to be something other than this.

Of course, the same applies if it is her husband who is sterilized for this reason. It is the fact that he is now a person-who-can-impregnate-who-cannot-impregnate that allows him to have sex with her without in effect killing her. But no man can morally choose to be such a person.

What! Are you condemning the poor woman to death? What are you, Blair, some kind of monster? No. I'm saying that sterilization is not morally any different from blinding yourself; the fact that you have a good and noble purpose for it does not mean that the end justifies the means.

Conclusion 3d: Sterilization, in which the inability to become pregnant (or the inability to impregnate) is the means toward the desired goal, is immoral no matter what the goal is.

This would apply, also to any analogous function, such as removing part of the intestine so that only some of the food taken in could be digested so that the person could keep from being dangerously overweight. In that case it is precisely the impairment of the ability to digest which achieves the good effect. The case of inserting a balloon into the stomach to give a full feeling so that the person eats less is different; there, the ability is not impaired; it is just that less food now gets into the system to be digested.

In actual practice, of course, sterilization is not the only means of avoiding getting pregnant. There is one infallible means, that is a hundred per cent sure and doesn't even involve the remote possibility that there might be sperm left in the duct or an ovum somewhere to be fertilized: refrain from sex.

But that's impossible! It's inhuman! Nonsense. You refrain from sex ninety-nine per cent of the time anyway; you certainly refrain from it in public. (I hope. Who knows what things have got to by the time you read this? As I write it, women reporters are indignant when coaches don't let them in to the locker room after a football game so that they can interview the naked players.) There is no law of your nature that says you have to have sex.

Further, since women have such a thing as menopause, this refraining from sex is not for a couple's whole life; and if it is a matter of life or death, then this would allow the Double Effect to apply in this case: First, the act of not having sex at any given moment is obviously not wrong. Second, it has a good effect: the woman's life is out of danger. Third, it isn't the deprivation of the pleasure that produces the good effect, because sometimes that pleasure isn't there even when you perform the act, or if you knew that at the moment it was not possible for the woman to get pregnant (it was the wrong time of the month), then the pleasure could still occur and the good effect also occur. Fourth, you don't want to deprive yourself or your spouse of the pleasure; and fifth, the damage of deprivation of this pleasure is not greater than dying. It's hard; but don't say that "there's no alternative to sterilization." There is; it's just that you don't want to consider it.

Now of course, it is possible, if the organ in question is diseased, to remove it to get rid of the disease; and if this results in sterility, one need not mourn over the fact that undesirable side-effects from pregnancy now cannot occur. That is, one would still like to be able to be sexually potent, other things being equal; but since they aren't equal, the good effects of this can be rejoiced in without rejoicing in the impotence itself. You just can't do this when you bring about the impotence in order to achieve those good effects.

I will talk about contraception later, in the section that follows.



1. Jesus is the "sole mediator" between God and human beings, as First Timothy says, in that he is (as I translated the word) the "link and liaison" between the two. That is, being one Person who is both divine and human, he is a "union" or a "middle" or a "bridge" between the creature and God in a unique, absolute sense. And, in fact, what I was talking of in the ability of the dead to "intercede" with God (because of their ambitions which God fulfills) comes about because they are literally in Jesus, as cells of his body, living his (God's) life, while still living their natural lives, as we saw in some of the notes to Section 4 of the third part.

So their "intercession" on our behalf (helping us to get what we ask for) is in itself something different from Jesus' "mediation," which actually makes us God by incorporating us into the Being who is (also) God; and further, this intercession only takes place within the mediation of Jesus, who is one body, where if one part hurts, the whole thing hurts, as First Corinthians says.

2. Of course, technically, a "religion" is a code of conduct "religiously" (that is, tenaciously) held to and practiced. Of itself, it does not suppose there is a God--and in fact, Confucianism and Buddhism do not demand that one believe in any god. Hence, when the "strict separationists" try to remove religious expression from the public domain, they are attempting to impose the religion of secularism on everyone. Just because they don't call themselves a church or even think they have an organization, it does not change the fact that they are practicing a religion and trying to impose its restriction on others who do not share their views.