Proportionalism and the Natural Law Tradition [Book Review]

Review of Metaphysics 56 (4):885-885 (2003)

Modern versions of utilitarianism have been called consequentialism: in order to evaluate the goodness or badness of human actions one must consider—in one way or in another—their consequences. This consequentialism appears to be opposed on many counts to traditional natural law ethics: norms such as one should never kill innocent persons and never commit adultery stand in conflict with a view which holds that in some cases good results may outweigh the bad consequences of such and other actions. In the years of the Second Vatican Council and the following period, several moralists began to use a somewhat weakened form of consequentialism called proportionalism, which came to be accepted by a good number of authors. It aims at determining the moral rightness or wrongness of actions not by their “material character” but by considering circumstances, intentions, and results, presenting itself as a revolutionary revision of natural law ethics since, in situations of conflict, it wants to free us from “the tyranny” of the “material object” of our actions. Proportionalism distinguishes between premoral disvalues or evil and moral values. The former are the things we want to do for our well-being or convenience and, as proportionalists assert, have no absolute character, while the latter are the ends we pursue in given circumstances. If there is a proportion between the premoral disvalues of our acts and the ends or consequences achieved, the acts are good.
Keywords Catholic Tradition  Contemporary Philosophy  General Interest
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ISBN(s) 0034-6632
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