On the Logic of Morals

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The following “ends” of man seem at least thinkable: 1) A supernatural end. It calls him to what is beyond his nature. It is offered to him by the Creator as a gift; 2) A purely natural end that corresponds to and is limited by man’s own natural powers; 3) An inner-worldly natural end to establish a human city appropriate to man’s own knowledge and work, yet in harmony with a supernatural end. 4) An inner-worldly chosen city of human design explicitly geared to deny any natural or supernatural end in man.

“Natural law” means, roughly, that within each existing thing is found an implicit order through which, by its actions, it manifests what it is. Its order or form can be known by reason. Each being, including human beings, displays characteristic actions that are best for it. This “natural law” operates because beings exist. It is designed to be known. The “natural law” of human beings is to know what they are and then to act accordingly.

Any deviation from natural laws automatically puts into effect a “logic” of deviation from the good of its initial order. This deviation incites a natural “impetus” that gradually, relentlessly, unless identified and corrected, leads from one deviation to another until the opposite of what is the natural good is put into effect and enforced. This effect is then claimed to be “good,” not evil. The natural law is replaced by positive law that alone defines what man is.

Within nature, human beings differ from other beings. They are empowered to achieve or reject their own good. On this choice, they decide their ultimate status. This possibility was the necessary consequence of having a being in the universe that was created with freedom to accept or reject what it is. Aristotle’s principle that nothing in nature is “in vain” is key to understanding the order of declination. Each step becomes more meaningless.

The distinction of the sexes, for example, “male and female He created them,” has a purpose. It is to provide the best way to continue the human race. The proper context in which this continued existence occurs is the family, composed of one man married to one woman with the off-spring begotten of them.


In the fifth book of Plato’s Republic, a much-imitated alternative to the family was imagined. Those who beget were not to know each other or their specific children. Children were not to know their parents. Children were to be begotten with genetic consideration as in the case of thoroughbreds. All of this anonymity was to promote equality by genetic screening. The guidance of the state was to determine who is to be born and kept. Education is in the hands of a state that allows no children to know their own parents. The family was inimical to the state’s purposes.

The “logic” of Plato’s “shocking” proposal (as he realized) is everywhere present in our thinking about marriage. Sex, eros, and begetting are separated. Contraceptive acts and homosexual acts are equally “in vain,” since no natural results are possible. Acts that do result in conception are rendered “in vain” by abortions.

Once the principle of “in-vain” sexual relations is legally established, two new issues come into view. Children, that society needs, can be designed and fertilized in a laboratory. Surrogate mothers who have no relation to the genetic origin of the child can be hired. Artificially designing children becomes “feasible.” Children can be “ordered” and assigned by the state to any individual or group that wants them. Secondly, through genetic manipulation, the state can presumably produce the kind of children it wants. It mixes races, talents, sizes, and colors, as it desires, for the preferred state.

All of this manipulation is a result of a “logic” that impels the next step to be taken until we finally arrive at the opposite of what was intended by nature. Instead of having known children of known parents in stable families, we have unknown children of unknown parents placed in groupings with no relation to the child. All of this “rearrangement” of life is brought about in the name of independence, liberty, justice, and equality.

How does this “logic” relate to the possible “ends” of man? It is the conscious and deliberate replacement of what nature intended. This alternative way of life leaves no natural relationships between individuals. All are equally isolated, equally anonymous to each other. Human individuals are then free to do whatever they want except anything that has any natural consequences outside of themselves.

We, as a society, have not quite arrived yet at what is, in effect, a diabolical, wholly “in-vain,” order. But the principles are now logically in place. They are carried out in practice in our laws, customs, schools, and medicine. They, not nature, are coming to define what man is.


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James V. Schall, S.J.

James V. Schall, S.J.

James V. Schall, S.J., who served as a professor at Georgetown University for thirty-five years, is one of the most prolific Catholic writers in America. Among his recent books are The Mind That Is Catholic, The Modern Age, Political Philosophy and Revelation: A Catholic Reading, Reasonable Pleasures, Docilitas: On Teaching and Being Taught, and Catholicism and Intelligence.

  • 1ray1

    Thanks for a great essay, Father. It had me reminiscing logic and philosophy classes at a once great Jesuit University many years ago. The sermon I heard on Corpus Christi Sunday had some of your same lines of thinking in it. The priest even referred to “The Republic” in his sermon.

  • Richard A Imgrund

    A frightening prospect indeed.

    I wonder if instead of ‘Children can be “ordered” and assigned by the state to any individual or group that wants them’ it is more that likely that children will be ‘assigned by the state to any individual or group that it wants to have them’.

  • Michael Dowd

    Thanks Fr. Schall. Your hellish scenario is developing daily before our eyes. Who is going to stop this Orwellian world from reaching fruition? It should be the Catholic Church. But this is not the case in any meaningful way. Rather the Church, especially under Pope Francis, seems to have made peace with the enemy and is actually doing it’s bidding. We can only pray very hard that God helps Pope Francis and others to have the courage to speak out about the humanity’s death spiral that is now taking place.

    • kathleen

      Confusion, confusion… the only answer is prayer. I find Pope Francis confusing. I pray for him as I did for his predecessors; and the popes I prayed for before Francis were much easier to pray for and to follow – no confusion.
      Please, Holy Spirit guide our Holy Father in all that he says and does.

      • RainingAgain

        To be fair to the Pope, he has just this week condemned “genderism” and advised against computers in childrens’ bedrooms, but it doesn’t get reported in the mainstream. He and the Church faces a diabolical enemy who has gained control of most politicians, the courts, the media, the bureaucracies and the educational system, not to mention some in the Church itself, but I would not include Pope Francis amongst them. We must pray for the Pope in this battle, and for Outside Help.

        • kathleen

          The appointment of Archbishop Koch in Berlin has me baffled. I don’t get it. However, I will continue my prayers for our Holy Father and our beloved Church.

  • Joyfully

    Nature, left alone tends to disorder. One merely has to ignore their own garden for a year or two to see the evidence.

    Moderation and discipline – acts of the human will – in cooperation with the Creator of All will offset either extreme.

    The irony is completely lost on the pushers of “earth-friendly” consumerism who, while crunching granola and rejecting synthetic fibers, consume contraceptives as if it were their daily bread and rabidly insist other peopledo it so as well. These manipulators refuse to acknowledge the disconnect.

    Reclaiming the virtues – and calling on the the Holy Virtues – is necessary to counter the action of vice in our cultures.

  • Elizabeth Boyd

    Fr. Schall,

    Thank you for your article.
    I think the struggle between good and evil is more demonic than ever. I have been reading Jean-Pierre de Caussaude
    and he says that “the mystery of iniquity is the inversion of the Order of God;
    it is the Order or rather the Disorder of the Devil. This disorder is a mystery, for it conceals
    under beautiful appearances irremediable evils.
    All the evil men from Cain to those who desolate the universe today,
    have had the appearance of great and powerful princes who have produced a great
    effect in the world and whom men have worshipped….[I]n reality these princes
    are the Beasts who have come up out of the abyss, one after the other, to
    overturn God’s Order. This Order…has
    always opposed to them great and powerful men who have slain these monsters,
    and as hell vomits forth new ones, heaven has brought forth its heroes who have
    combated them. Ancient history, sacred and profane, is nothing but the history
    of this war. The Order of God has always
    remained victorious….” What awaits us is
    difficult to say. There is no doubt that
    we are fast overturning God’s Order on a scale never before dreamed. As you say, the principles for redefining ‘what
    man is’ are in place. Let us pray Heaven
    will send heroes to restore God’s Order.
    As de Caussade says, “A single soul with hell and the world against her
    can fear nothing if she be on the side of self-abandonment to God’s Order….All
    these monsters only come into the world to exercise the courage of the children
    of God.” Let us pray for such

  • Veritas

    Where did Plato realize that his support for abortion and state adoption of children, along with eugenics, was “shocking”? I ask simply because I would like to know.

    • Burton

      Plato asserted that only true philosophers, because they apprehended the forms, possessed knowledge and so only philosophers could rule according to what was best for the social order as a whole. I think this was shocking because philosophy was and is often thought of as useless.

      • Veritas

        Burton, was Plato, himself, shocked by his own stance on eugenics and state power over the family and reproductive decisions? This is how I read Schall. If he was shocked (or is it we who are shocked?), then where would Plato admit this?

        I am having difficulty with the text here.


  • Diane

    All so very disturbing! I have a friend who is/was Catholic. He says he can do whatever he wants because all of the laws of the Church are manmade and do not need to be adhered to. So you can say you are a Catholic, if you want to, and the rules and regulations don’t matter. Sadly, this is where we have come. The Pope and the Bishops are confusing all Catholics. If it feels good, do it, there are no consequences. Where do we go from here!

    • lwhite

      Educate your friend Diane in the true faith. Do not let him suffer in his ignorance and eventually, to his loss of eternal salvation. Pray for him. Ask our Mother, Mary to infuse in his heart a desire for Truth. Pray to our holy Saints for guidance on how to approach him and speak to him.

  • Tarzan

    I have a Catholic friend who is so afraid of the US becoming a totalitarian state that he joined the local Masonic Lodge because he says they are really for liberty and many of the Founders were members. I told him that the Church has condemned membership in this organization. His response was that this was no longer true (which is in itself not true, it is still condemned), and further that if it was he would leave the Church before leaving the Masons. So, he basically holds freemasonry as closer to the truth than Catholicism, and that has become his most important thing.
    This is the same type of thinking that progressives fall into.

  • Arden Abeille

    God help us, Father, you are wholly correct. Saint Michael the Archangel defend us in this battle, for it is without question engaged.

  • veritasetgratia

    That is such a powerful article because the push for ‘marriage equality’ or however it is marketed, is underwritten by what appears to be disinterested global money (aka the money thrown at promoting the ssm case in the Irish Referendum) despite often the wishes of many in the homosexual community itself who don’t personally want genderless ‘marriage’ legislated. Some gays complain that they have been hijacked by powerful lobbyists with an alien agenda and they don’t have indiividuals in the gay community’s welfare at heart at all. The very helpful way Fr. Schall has explained this subject, outlines for us all how technological reproduction can be ‘sold’ as dovetailing with ‘reproductive health’ and promoting 3rd world ‘industry’ such as surrogacy – a truly dehumanising experience for the women caught up in it through dire poverty, but technology can take us further than that in ‘designer babies’. Although Father does not mention the following point, it is important to consider – what self understanding will a ‘designer’ child have when denied access to biological parents? If Hitler could not achieve his own version of ‘designer’ babies because they failed to thrive in the motherless and fatherless environment he created and most lost the will to live, what is the future for a society that tries to repeat his failed experiment?