August 23, 2005 § 15 Comments
“1. If anyone says that: the one, true God, our creator and lord, cannot be known with certainty from the things that have been made, by the natural light of human reason: let him be anathema.” – Vatican Council I
Catholics who claim that you can’t prove the existence of God by observing nature and using reason have to do a lot of semantic dancing with the word “prove,” it seems to me. They have to argue (implausibly, I think) that “prove” means something other than “show with certainty to be true,” and that under that odd construction of “prove” the existence of God cannot be “proven”. Sort of like showing that the bandersnatch is not really so froomious.
August 11, 2005 § 2 Comments
I am often accused of refusing to provide an alternative course of action when discussing the morality of particular acts. I agree with that accusation: I do indeed refuse to discuss alternative courses of action when first evaluating the morality of a particular act, and the reason I do so is because I think it is misleading to do otherwise. Evil acts have to be taken off the table no matter what the consequences of taking them off the table may be. Only after evil acts have been eliminated can the remaining options even be considered. A moral reasoning process that has not acknowledged this at the very outset – that we may never choose evil for any reason, no matter how good a reason we may think we have – has already departed into the realm of moral falsity.
This is at the root of the accusation that pro-lifers don’t care about the plight of the woman. The perception that pro-lifers don’t care about the plight of the woman persists despite the fact that pro-lifers do more than anyone else to help women with plights.
The reason that perception persists is because there is in fact a moment and a sense in the moral evaluation where we really and truly don’t care about the plight of the woman. Here “don’t care” doesn’t mean we don’t care in general, but rather that the plight of the woman simply doesn’t enter into the moral evaluation at all. Getting an abortion is always wrong, and in making that judgement we “don’t care” – in the intellectual sense that we assign absolutely zero moral relevance to – what the consequences are of not getting an abortion. The consequences of not performing an evil act must always be accepted. No exceptions.
We also don’t care, in the same sense, when making every single moral evaluation that we make. If the act is evil in itself then a correct moral evaluation will completely disregard the consequences of not performing the act. Only if something is not evil can we choose it.
So in an initial evaluation of the moral liciety of targeting an atomic bomb at a city filled with civilians, there are all sorts of things we don’t care about. It doesn’t mean that we have no sympathy for Truman, any more than we have no sympathy for the pregnant woman’s plight. But as a moral matter those sympathies are not relevant until after we have ruled out – completely and categorically ruled out – all of the evil options we might choose.
August 11, 2005 § 23 Comments
A commenter named Ronny, in a lengthy thread about the Hiroshima bombing at Amy Welborn’s blog, makes the point that dogmatic pacifism and total-war advocacy result from the same misperception of the nature of war. Both presume that, because war always has evil consequences, in war one must do evil in the pursuit of a good end: that it is impossible ever to wage war as a good act. The pacifist concludes that therefore acts of war are never just: they cannot be just by definition, because some of their consequences are evil. The total-war advocate concludes that the evil is inevitable and we should choose whatever brings victory with the fewest bad consequences.
The dogmatic pacifist is more principled than the total-war advocate: at least he holds that one cannot do evil in the pursuit of the good. But he still holds incorrectly that the morality of an act is determined solely by its consequences. He still fails (along with his mirror the total-war advocate) to distinguish between intended/chosen consequences and unintended/foreseen consequences. In other words, he is still a consequentialist.
Now there is a form of functional pacifism that is not consequentialist. This form of pacifism is of a prudential nature, after a fashion. Prudential pacifism allows the in principle possibility of just war, but holds that in practice it never occurs. Just war is not in principle impossible to the prudential pacifist, but it never in actual fact occurs: it is a practical impossibility.
It seems to me that one cannot be a dogmatic pacifist (as described above) and remain consistent with Catholic moral teaching and the natural law; because dogmatic pacifism is a form of consequentialism. But one could (in principle) be a prudential pacifist without falling into moral heresy. The prudential pacifist doesn’t disagree with the Church on moral principles, he has just made a particular prudential evaluation of the facts. He might still be wrong, but he hasn’t set himself against the teaching of the Church.
August 4, 2005 § 1 Comment
An exchange over on Open Book:
First Commenter: “I wonder if a Catholic president could ever be elected who promised that as commander in chief he would sacrifice the lives of a million of his soldiers rather than repeating the moral error of Truman.”
Second Commenter: “He cannot (be elected that is). And the Know-Nothings are right.”
On the contrary, I say: If the American people are incapable of electing an orthodox Catholic president then that implies, as a moral matter, that the American people must change; and certainly putative orthodox Catholic presidential candidates must not change.
Adopting an evil policy in order to get elected, under the auspices of doing good once elected, is just another way of doing evil in the pursuit of the good. I have little doubt that many of the inhabitents of Hell believe quite sincerely that they were doing the evil things they did in the pursuit of a greater good.
Doing the right thing can no doubt often make one feel as though one’s hands were tied; or nailed to a tree, perhaps.
August 4, 2005 § 3 Comments
Isn’t this what we ought to expect from the next Clarence Thomas: giving free legal services to the gay lobby and helping them win their most important Supreme Court case ever?
Some fun and nutritious excerpts, if you don’t want to read the whole article:
- “Then a lawyer specializing in appellate work, the conservative Roberts helped represent the gay rights activists as part of his law firm’s pro bono work.”
- “Gay rights activists at the time described the court’s 6-3 ruling as the movement’s most important legal victory. The dissenting justices were those to whom Roberts is frequently likened for their conservative ideology: Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.”
- ‘The lawyer who asked for Roberts’ help on the case, Walter A. Smith Jr., then head of the pro bono department at Hogan & Hartson, said Roberts didn’t hesitate. “He said, ‘Let’s do it.’ And it’s illustrative of his open-mindedness, his fair-mindedness. He did a brilliant job.”‘
- “Roberts did not mention his work on the case in his 67-page response to a Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire, released Tuesday. The committee asked for “specific instances” in which he had performed pro bono work, how he had fulfilled those responsibilities, and the amount of time he had devoted to them.”