The object, the intention, and the circumstances make up
the “sources,” or constitutive elements, of the morality of human
chosen is a good toward which the will deliber-
ately directs itself. It is the matter of a human act. The object chosen
morally specifies the act of the will, insofar as reason recognizes
and judges it to be or not to be in conformity with the true good.
Objective norms of morality express the rational order of good and
evil, attested to by conscience.
In contrast to the object, the
resides in the acting
subject. Because it lies at the voluntary source of an action and
determines it by its end, intention is an element essential to the
moral evaluation of an action. The end is the first goal of the
intention and indicates the purpose pursued in the action. The
intention is a movement of the will toward the end: it is concerned
with the goal of the activity. It aims at the good anticipated from
the action undertaken. Intention is not limited to directing individ
ual actions, but can guide several actions toward one and the same
purpose; it can orient one’s whole life toward its ultimate end. For
example, a service done with the end of helping one’s neighbor can
at the same time be inspired by the love of God as the ultimate end
of all our actions. One and the same action can also be inspired by
several intentions, such as performing a service in order to obtain
a favor or to boast about it.
Agood intention (for example, that of helping one’s neigh-
bor) does not make behavior that is intrinsically disordered, such
as lying and calumny, good or just. The end does not justify the
means. Thus the condemnation of an innocent person cannot be
justified as a legitimate means of saving the nation. On the other
hand, an added bad intention (such as vainglory) makes an act evil
that, in and of itself, can be good (such as almsgiving).
including the consequences, are secon
dary elements of a moral act. They contribute to increasing or
diminishing the moral goodness or evil of human acts (for exam-
ple, the amount of a theft). They can also diminish or increase the
agent’s responsibility (such as acting out of a fear of death). Cir-
cumstances of themselves cannot change the moral quality of acts
themselves; they can make neither good nor right an action that is
in itself evil.