The Origin(s), Meaning, and Relevance
of the Concept of Intrinsic Evil

Start Page 

Project Team

Project Description

Project Activities 


Workshop "The Concept of Intrinsic Evil in Catholic Theological Ethics" on January 30th-31st, 2018

On January 30th-31st, 2018, the Catholic Theological Faculty of the University of Vienna was hosting a workshop entitled "The Concept of Intrinsic Evil in Catholic Theological Ethics".

The workshop aimed at bringing together a number of prominent English and German speaking theological ethicists and philosophers in order to discuss the role of the concept of intrinsic evil in the tradition, its (ir)relevance for the contemporary ethical discourse, and, most importantly, a possibility of going beyond it by finding alternative ways of addressing the issue of moral evil.

During the 20th century the concept of intrinsic evil has acquired a foundational status within the official documents of the teaching office of the Catholic Church on moral issues. This development reached its peak with the promulgation of the encyclicals Humanae vitae and Veritatis splendor, where it is presented not only as an important part of the moral doctrine of the Church, but even as a Scriptural teaching (VS 81). There is no doubt that the concept and ideas associated with it have been a part of theological and philosophical discussions for centuries. However, this makes it likely that the concept has more than one meaning and that it can be interpreted in various ways.

Hence, the first set of issues that this workshop needed to address was – what do we mean when we use the concept of intrinsic evil in theology, where is (are) these meaning(s) coming from, and is it even possible to settle for one clear and coherent meaning of it? This will lead us to a further and more grounded exploration of the meaning and usage of the concept in the area of contemporary Catholic sexual ethics and the documents such as Veritatis splendor, while finally aiming at a reflection and discussion on its status within fundamental theological ethics as such. 

Towards the final two sessions of the workshop the question of going beyond the concept of intrinsic evil in Catholic theological ethics emerged. The pontificate of Pope Francis is not only providing an opportunity to raise this question, but might even be interpreted as already having cast doubt on the usefulness of the concept. If so, what does this mean for Catholic theological ethics and Church practice in general?