In my last post, I discussed the nature of intention in regards to speech. Since intent is not the only factor in bad speech, content is a second factor. We all know that it is possible to unintentionally harm someone, and that means that intention is not the only factor. This second factor is content.
Content is simply what the act is. Unlike intention, content does not describe the reason why the act was done. So an act may be an act of stealing, an act of speaking, or an act of speaking the truth. This act may itself be evaluated to determine if it is good, bad or conditionally good. But in any case, what the act is may be described in more than one way.
An act may be described by features accidental to that act. When you are speaking, you may be wearing a red shirt. But the red shirt has nothing at all to do with the speaking. The act would still be the same act even if you were not wearing that red shirt. Therefore, although the act could be described as speaking while wearing a red shirt, such a description does not describe what the content of the act really is.
An act may be described by what kind of act it is. It might be an act of harm, an act of stealing, of painting or of reading. This may offer only a general description though. Although any acts of harming and stealing are automatically wrong, acts of painting and reading are good. Further description may change this. So we might further describe an act as painting over my sister’s painting. Now this act is conditionally good. The painting is good, but deciding to paint in that particular way may not be good. Similarly with reading. While reading is good, reading a book stolen in order to read it is bad. So although this does describe an act, it does not necessarily describe it enough.
Since all rational acts are done for a reason, one act may be distinguished from another by the reason that it was done. Therefore, any two acts done for exactly the same intentions are the same act. By ‘same’ this does not mean that the two acts are individually identical. What it means is that the two acts are of the same species. There is no further kind of act that will serve to distinguish those two acts. Since the reason for an act is the final cause of that act it is also the highest cause of that act. Since any difference between two species will also involve a difference in the final causes of those things, this is how to distinguish various acts.
This means that the content of an act is determined by the description of the lowest level of intention that the act has. If someone has stolen a bag from a store for personal pleasure, then simply remove the reason and the content of that act is given. So the content of that act is “stealing a bag from a store”. It would also be given in most simple answers to the question “what did you do”.
Next, I will discuss what it means to say that a particular content is bad, good or conditionally good.