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Catholic Dictionary




The factors in human conduct that determine whether it is good or bad. There are three such determinants of morality, namely the object, the end, and the circumstances.

By object is meant what the free will chooses to do--in thought, word, or deed-or chooses not to do. Be end is meant the purpose for which the act is willed, which may be the act itself (as one of loving God) or some other purpose for which a person acts (as reading to learn). In either case, the end is the motive or the reason why an action is performed. By circumstances are meant all the elements that surround a human action and affect its morality without belonging to its essence. A convenient listing of these circumstances is to ask: who? where? how? how much? by what means? how often?

Some circumstances so affect the morality of an action as to change its species, as stealing a consecrated object becomes sacrilege and lying under oath is perjury. Other circumstances change the degree of goodness or badness of an act. In bad acts they are called aggravating circumstances, as the amount of money a person steals.

To be morally good, a human act must agree with the norm of morality on all three counts: in its nature, its motive, and its circumstances. Departure from any of these makes the action morally wrong.