Monday, December 10, 2007

The morality of causing suffering, part 2

Upon reflection, I don't want any readers to think that I am making a case for corporeal punishment or for physical self-mortification. That is not my purpose. Rather, I simply observe that these things are, for better or for worse, traditionally sanctioned actions, and so it would behoove a tradition-minded Catholic not to uphold contradictory moral principles. Either these things are allowed or they are not (whether they are wise in a given case is a distinct issue). On the surface, it would seem odd that a religious tradition which defends and upholds natural law as a standard of moral truth would permit actions that, by all appearances, directly will damage to that which God has made, or that directly intend suffering, which was not part of God's creation.

The theory I am exploring is that the principle of totality--according to which the parts of the body exist for the good of the whole and thus, in grave need, may be compromised to preserve the whole--forms the basis for understanding suffering as directly willed yet not morally unjust. The key element is that the "whole" now includes the state of one's immortal soul. Thus, if corporeal punishment or mortification are to be permitted at all, they would be so under the same conditions as surgery or amputation would be permitted for the good of the body. Once again, those conditions are (loosely, from memory):
  • The whole is in imminent danger of death.
  • The only effective treatment for the threat involves directly intended harm to a part of the whole...
need to continue this later... I'm nodding off...

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