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Catholic Dictionary

Term

INDIFFERENT ACT

Definition

The theory that some human actions, though conscious and deliberate, are morally indifferent, that is, neither good nor bad. Defended by Duns Scotus (c. 1264-1308) and his followers, it is not commonly held by Catholic moralists. Following St. Thomas Aquinas, they admit that in the abstract a human act can be morally indifferent, but not when considered individually in the concrete. Consequently, every deliberate act performed by a definite individual is always either morally good or bad.

The controversy revolves around the question: must every human action be explicitly directed to a morally good purpose? St. Thomas answers that an implicit intention to do what is right is sufficient for a morally good action, provided it is done with some reflection and exercise of freedom.