Philosophy and Theology

Volume 10, Issue 1, 1997

Benedict M. Ashley
Pages 113-141

Fundamental Option and/or Commitment to Ultimate End

The Post-Vatican revision of moral theology aimed to reduce legalism and take better account of the subjective factors in moral decision. Karl Rahner contributed to this effort by his “formal existential ethics” which featured a replacement of the classical “ultimate end” by the concept of the “fundamental ultimate option” as an exercise of transcendental freedom through concrete categorical acts. Diverse interpretations of this principle resulted in the system of “proportionalism” and the thesis of a category of “serious” sins intermediate between mortal and venial has been rejected in Veritatis splendor. Rahner himself seems to have held neither of these positions. The wide acceptance of the “fundamental option” (often with little acquaintance with its philosophical basis) is probably due to its supposed pastoral advantages. I argue that a proper application of the classical notions of ultimate end and the distinction between objective and subjective morality are pastorally more practical and avoids the many philosophical obscurities connected with the idealism of transcendental Thomism.