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

Project Description

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

The starting point of the project that is situated in the field of Theological Ethics is a curious observation, namely that ‘intrinsic evil’, a normative term predominantly associated with Catholic sexual ethics, seems to be expanding in its usage so that it is now frequently invoked in other theological disciplines, Church practice, and even interventions of representatives of the Church in public discourse. Broadly described, the term ‘intrinsic evil’ refers to those acts that are always morally wrong, no matter the circumstances and intention of the agent. The aforementioned development in the usage of the term demands a thorough investigation of the concept behind the term in order to explore its origin(s) and meaning(s) within theological tradition by employing a historical-critical analysis, and to assess its contemporary relevance.

Since the project aims at a more thorough understanding of one of the most fundamental concepts used in contemporary theological ethics and the moral doctrine of the Catholic Church, the results of this study might have far reaching implications. At the very least, the study will question the legitimacy of this trend of expanding the usage of the notion of intrinsic evil by determining its methodological (ir)relevancy as a tool of ethical analysis. However, pending the results of the study and a possibility that the concept of intrinsic evil, as well as the theological structure that supports it, might prove obsolete (or in need of a serious re-interpretation), such an outcome will certainly re-ignite the Catholic debate on various issues in both fundamental theological ethics and applied ethics. Furthermore, having a clearer theological concept of intrinsic evil may also be of significant benefit for evaluating Catholic interventions in the political sphere, because this provides a necessary tool for assessing the motives and goals of those that use it. Since there is a good chance that the concept of intrinsic evil cannot survive a closer scrutiny, this project should be seen as a stepping stone in a larger project of finding a more adequate basis for contemporary Catholic sexual ethics and the related engagement of the Catholic Church on these issues in the political sphere.