Fr. Kevin Flannery - December 2015 Meeting Topic

Cooperation in evil, circumstances, and Thomas Aquinas

The work I will present at the December 2015 meeting is part of a book I am writing on cooperation in evil. In the manuals of Catholic moral theology of the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries, the standard cases of such cooperation often involve a servant who is required to perform some act that helps his master to perform some other immoral act. Within this same tradition, it is sometimes stated that, if the cooperator (the servant) has the same intention as the malefactor (the master), the cooperation is formal; if not, the cooperation is material. Formal cooperation is always wrong; material cooperation is in some cases permitted, depending on its proximity (variously interpreted) to the action of the malefactor. There are a number of problems with this general approach. As Elizabeth Anscombe has suggested, the understanding of intention presupposed in this tradition is often vitiated by what she calls "Cartesian psychology," according to which "an intention was an interior act of the mind which could be produced at will." Moreover, and not unconnected with this Cartesian conception of intention, the manuals rarely speak of corporate cooperation in evil, that is, of cooperation involving multiple cooperators and/or multiple malefactors.

The principal argument of the book—tentatively entitled, "On cooperation in evil: A Thomistic approach“—is that we do better to analyze cases of possibly immoral cooperation from within Thomas Aquinas's moral theory. Thomas wrote no treatise on cooperation in evil, but that itself is indicative of how he thinks acts of cooperation ought to be treated, that is to say, as any human acts are treated: with respect to the way they are in accordance—or in tension—with reason and so with the moral virtues, especially justice. I am making available to the group a draft of the entire book as it now stands, although at the December meeting I will speak primarily about chapter 2, which has to do with Thomas's explanation of the way in which "circumstances" bear upon the moral character of human acts. Thomas's ideas in this regard are heavily influenced by Aristotle, but he also has useful and original things to say about the way in which circumstances connect individual acts to larger, societal concerns: that is, to law, reason, and justice. In the book's introduction, I have included chapter summaries, which participants in the workshop may find useful for understanding how the second chapter fits into the larger argument of the book itself. Of course, if any participant feels moved to comment on any part of the draft, such comments will be most welcome!

Kevin L. Flannery, S.J.