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Part Three

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.

39 Cf.