The modes of responsibility are the primary specifications of the basic moral criterion or first principle. One way of expressing the most general moral principle is: Love God and love neighbor. Also: One ought to choose (and otherwise will) in such a way as to respect all basic human goods, both in oneself and in others. From this moral principle one can derive very specific moral norms, such as: One ought never intentionally kill innocent human persons; or: One ought (in general) to fulfill one’s promises. The modes of responsibility are implications of the first moral principle that are not as specific as these norms, but are still more specific than the first principle.

Emotions can deflect us from respect for all human goods in oneself and others. The modes of responsibility specify the various ways this can occur and prescribe against its happening. Thus, one should not be deterred from pursuing real human goods by mere felt inertia or laziness (first mode), or by individualism (second mode), or by desire for pleasure (third mode). Likewise, one should not let mere fear or aversion (as opposed to a reasonable concern for a real harm to a good) deflect one from pursuing real human goods (fourth mode).

One should not let the mere emotional attachment to oneself or other people close to one (as opposed to a real duty to oneself or others close to one) determine how one chooses, for this is to act out of partiality (fifth mode). One should not pursue the mere experience or appearance of a good, in a way that interferes with sharing in the real good – that is, one should not prefer appearances to reality (sixth mode).

One should not, out of hostility, choose to destroy, damage, or impede any intrinsic human good (seventh mode.) And, finally, one should not choose to destroy, damage, or impede one instance of an intrinsic good for the sake of another instance of an intrinsic good. That is, as St. Paul points out (cf. Rom 3:8), one should not do evil that good may come from it (eighth mode).


See: Absolute Moral Norms; Conscience; Human Goods; Natural Law; Practical Reason.

Russell Shaw. Our Sunday Visitor's Encyclopedia of Catholic Doctrine. Copyright © 1997, Our Sunday Visitor.



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Last Updated: Sunday, April 01, 2001 01:25:11 PM