17 Responses to Prudential Judgement

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour says:

    The realm of conscience (properly understood) is coextensive with that of prudential judgment.

    As Newman says, “conscience is not a judgment upon any speculative truth, any abstract doctrine, but bears immediately on conduct, on something to be done or not done. ‘Conscience,’ says St. Thomas, ‘is the practical judgment or dictate of reason, by which we judge what hic et nunc is to be done as being good, or to be avoided as evil.’”

    He goes on to observe that “conscience cannot come into direct collision with the Church’s or the Pope’s infallibility; which is engaged in general propositions, and in the condemnation of particular and given errors.”

    All principles are general and all action is concrete and particular; it is prudential judgment that mediates between the two.

  • Stilbelieve says:

    Catholic Democrats use “caring for the poor” as their reason to remain Democrats even though the Democrat Party is solely responsible for the continued murder of unborn babies now at 52,000,000 dead. And to “care for the poor” they support sinning against the 10th Commandment; they support “coveting their neighbors’ goods.” And Catholic Democrat legislators like Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, and DickDurbin are in the lead promoting that morally warped thinking which enables them to sin even more by “slandering their opponents” claiming they don’t care about the poor and want to “do them harm.” And that position enables the lay and clergy Catholic Democrats to commit “the sin of pride thinking they are ‘better,” i.e., morally superior, than their political opponents.

    I’m so glad the Holy Spirit led me out of that sinful party a long time ago. I have never heard anyone in the party I eventually joined ever speak and act that way towards Democrats. In fact, it is said the main difference between the two major parties is that “Democrats think Republicans are evil; Republicans just think the Democrats are wrong.”

    The Democrat Party survives on the psychological illness of “projection;” which is “the attribution of one’s own ideas, feelings, or attitudes to other people, especially the externalization of blame, guilt or responsibility as a defense against anxiety.”

  • Melissa says:

    This article helped me pinpoint something that I’ve been noodling over for awhile.

    You say that abortion is an intrinsic evil and therefore not subject to prudential judgment. I agree with the intrinsic evil part, but not necessarily the prudential judgment part. Let me explain.

    Most Catholics will agree that abortion is morally wrong because it kills a baby. However, if you were to ask those same Catholics whether abotion should be criminalized, I think a fair number of them (myself included) will balk at the idea. Why the discrepancy? If abortion is homicide (and it is: when I’m in my snarky moods I use the term feticide in its place) then the perpetrators should be penalized, should they not?

    Except… we live in a world where the popular culture and mainstream media are openly hostile to our point of view. I don’t think it is too much of a stretch to anticipate that, if abortion were to be criminalized, there would be outright contempt of the law, and certain factions would be encouraging women to flaut the law in order to stick it to the man.

    So, if abortion is criminalized, we know that there will still be abortions taking place. But abortion, although much safer than it was at the turn of the last century, still has a complication rate. And, if abortion is criminalized, women who are suffering from post-abortion complications will hold off on seeking out medical attention for fear that they will be penalized. Infections will turn septic. It is hard to escape the conclusion that, if abortion is criminalized, women will needlessly die. Nobody wants to see that.

    So, is there not room in the Catholic Faith to say that how we deal with abortion is somewhat a prudential judgment?

  • Darwin says:

    Because abortion is an intrinsic evil, one cannot argue that it is good in some circumstances. So, for instance, although one might support efforts to ban abortion except in cases of rape and incest because one believed that was the best one could accomplish at the moment, one could not hold that abortion is okay in cases of rape and incest, because the principle of the dignity of human life holds regardless.

    Now, the argument I presented above was that because abortion is an intrinsic evil, one may never, though prudential judgement, come to hold as a Catholic that abortion is a “right”. From a Catholic understanding, one cannot have a right to do something which is always evil.

    One might (though I don’t) come to a conclusion that banning abortion in some particular time and place would cause more harm to the common good than not banning it. This would be analogous to Aquinas’ claim that banning prostitution (a commercial form of fornication, and thus also an intrinsic evil) caused more harm than good to society. However, I don’t tend to think that the argument that people would still get abortions and they would be less likely to seek treatment when there were complications is a good argument for not banning abortion. As the history of abortion rates in America shows us, abortion was far less common in America when abortion was illegal. The rate of women being injured in illegal abortions was also very low (contrary to exaggerated claims by abortion providing organizations such as Planned Parenthood.) I think it’s very hard to make the case that the small disincentive to seek treatment due to injuries suffered is worth failing to save the huge number of lives involved. Even by the most cautious estimates banning abortions would save hundreds of thousands of lives per year.

  • Paul Adams says:

    @melissa, you are right that the question of whether an intrinsically evil act should be criminalized is a matter of prudential judgment. Adultery is intrinsically evil but there are prudential reasons for not criminalizing it in today’s America. But in the case of abortion, at least two things should be considered. First, laws against abortion prior to Roe v. Wade did not criminalize mothers but abortionists. They closed down or prevented the opening of abortion mills. It would mean that Planned Parenthood would have to get licensed to and actually perform the mammograms with which the President and others erroneously credit them, instead of killing fetal babies.

    Second, current law makes it a right of mothers to have their babies ripped apart or poisoned while still in the womb, should they choose to do so. Repeal of the almost unlimited abortion license would leave it to the states to decide democratically what restrictions should be placed on such acts and what right such babies should have not to be killed. I would argue that law should recognize the same right not to be killed as it does for newborns or children or adults without discrimination. Even after repeal of Roe, I would still have to join with others to persuade fellow citizens of my state. Let the law be repealed and the debate begin!

  • I do not see how this can be said, “But abortion, although much safer than it was at the turn of the last century…”

    It is like saying, “But murder, although much safer than it was at the turn of the last century…”

    Furthermore, while a majority of women having abortions now survive the procedure while their offspring of course do not (that is the whole point), they are plagued with a variety of chronic physical and psychological problems that hardly make the procedure “safer”, the higher propensity towards breast cancer and depression being two of them.

    The wages of sin are always and everywhere death. There is no such thing as “safer” sin. The term is simply illogical.

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour says:

    Anyone who remembers France before the Veil Law of 1975 will know how criminalising abortion would work.

    Pretty well every village had its « faiseuse d’anges » or “angel maker.” Everybody knew it, nobody talked about it and the police considered it “women’s business” and ignored it. It was only when, occasionally, a woman died that the Parquet, like Captain Renault in “Casablanca,” declared themselves shocked, shocked to discover that such things went on and there was a brief flurry of prosecutions.

    Medical practitioners were never prosecuted; it was simply too easy for them to claim that they had simply performed a D & C to remove the placenta, after a spontaneous miscarriage.

    Finally, the offence was a mere « délit » tried before magistrates, as juries simply refused to convict

  • T. Shaw says:

    “We shall go before a higher tribunal – a tribunal where a Judge of infinite goodness, as well as infinite justice, will preside, and where many of the judgments of this world will be reversed.” Thomas Meagher

  • Mike Petrik says:

    Melissa raises a fair and important point. Just because something is intrinsically evil, even seriously so, does not necessarily mean that it should be criminalized. That question is generally one of prudence properly understood. Accordingly, I think that it is technically possible for a faithful Catholic to abhor abortion, concede its seriously evil nature, but nonetheless oppose its criminalization. That said, such a prudential conclusion would in my view require the prudential acceptance of certain factual assumptions that are probably pretty far-fetched.

    In addition, the prudential calculus to which Melissa refers rests with legislators informed by the will of the people, which will is in turn informed by their sense of moral gravity, life experience, practical culpabilty and appropriate punishment; not with federal courts discovering and announcing fabricated rights out of thin air.

    Finally, while Catholic teaching generally does not dictate how all governments should or must address intrinsic evils, it does emphasize that one of the first roles of any legitimate government is to protect the weak and innocent from violence and physical harm. No government can do this perfectly, no matter what laws it chooses to enact or enforce. But a pretty strong case can be made that criminalization of the intentional killing of unborn children, like born children, is not negotiable — at least as an aspirational goal.

  • The Catechism calls for the criminalization of abortion:

    “2273 The inalienable right to life of every innocent human individual is a constitutive element of a civil society and its legislation:

    “The inalienable rights of the person must be recognized and respected by civil society and the political authority. These human rights depend neither on single individuals nor on parents; nor do they represent a concession made by society and the state; they belong to human nature and are inherent in the person by virtue of the creative act from which the person took his origin. Among such fundamental rights one should mention in this regard every human being’s right to life and physical integrity from the moment of conception until death.”80

    “The moment a positive law deprives a category of human beings of the protection which civil legislation ought to accord them, the state is denying the equality of all before the law. When the state does not place its power at the service of the rights of each citizen, and in particular of the more vulnerable, the very foundations of a state based on law are undermined. . . . As a consequence of the respect and protection which must be ensured for the unborn child from the moment of conception, the law must provide appropriate penal sanctions for every deliberate violation of the child’s rights.”"

  • Mike Petrik says:

    Don,
    I do think that the Catechism leaves room for disagreement and uncertainty as to how best to bring civil law into conformity with its teachings. But without question supporting a contrived constitional right that disables legislatures from prudently pursuing that conformity is unconscienable for Catholics. This is why the professed Catholicity of Biden, Pelosi et al is a scandal.

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour says:

    Mike Petrik wrote, “In addition, the prudential calculus to which Melissa refers rests with legislators informed by the will of the people, which will is in turn informed by their sense of moral gravity, life experience, practical culpabilty and appropriate punishment; not with federal courts discovering and announcing fabricated rights out of thin air.”

    I absolutely agree. I should certainly like to see abortion criminalised, but, unless the law reflects public opinion, the best-crafted laws will remain a dead letter. Even the attempts of the Vichy government in 1943 to curb abortion by having cases tried by military tribunals and lopping off the head of Marie-Louise Giraud, a laundress who had performed 27 abortions and a typical “angel-maker,” were singularly ineffectual. The abortion rate shy-rocketed during the war years.

    Now Donald McClarey is right that the entire world isn’t France, but I fancy that the attitude to abortion that existed in France before 1975 has become much commoner throughout the West. It certainly has in my native Scotland, where, even amongst the poorest class there was an unreflective but powerful assumption that “Once you’re pregnant, that’s it – It’s your baby.”

  • Mike Petrik says:

    Thanks, Michael. I agree that laws that do not reflect social consensus are usually problematic, though perhaps not always. Federal civil rights laws were certainly enforced on parts of America where they did not reflect majority opinion. Nonetheless, public opinion eventually followed in part because the law has some teaching effect. That said, laws that are forced onto a community that disagrees with those laws often lead to backlash or other unintended consequences. It is precisely the unpredictable nature of social response to laws that generally make them an exercise in prudence.

    I take a back seat to no one in regard to my pro-life views. Yet, I am willing to acknowledge the possiblity of faithful Catholics disagreeing with questions pertaining to how far how fast. This does not mean that I accept at face value the assertions of those Catholics who dismiss the pro-life movement as imprudent while claiming “personally pro-life.” With rare exception this is lying nonnsense. In truth these people simply don’t care much about the murder of unborn children notwithstanding their protestations to the contrary.

  • sirlouis says:

    The quote from the catechism, that Don McClarey kindly pointed us to, teaches a most important principle which should, perhaps, be more clearly stated: it is deadly for the state to carve out a subset of society which is to be denied the most fundamental right to life, even if this is to avoid most serious inconvenience. That way lies gas chambers. The outcome of legalized abortion is this, that I, at 69 years of age, know how I will die. I will be murdered. There will come a time when it is seriously inconvenient for society to keep me alive. Making life a discretionary choice of another allows no defensible distinction between the fetus and the geezer. Even if a law against abortion is largely unenforceable, maintaining the principle that life is not subject to discretionary choice is the only protection that any of us have when we cause inconvenience.

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour says:

    Sirlouis

    The case of euthanasia is very instructive. In the Netherlands, the legalisation of euthanasia in 2002 was generally recognised as the legal recognition of what had been the practice of doctors and prosecutors for twenty years, going back to the Postma case in 1973. Indeed, the Postma case itself reflected what doctors had already been doing discreetly, with the support of patients’ families and of a large number of the leaders of public opinion.

    The law of 2002 was a (largely futile) attempt to regulate what was already happening on the ground.

    In other words, legislative changes tend to be symptoms not causes of changes in public attitudes.

    Michael Petrik

    The Fifteenth Amendment, which had rusted in idleness for nearly 90 years, proved a very useful weapon when public opinion in the country at large invigorated the Federal government to enforce it.

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