Sympathy for the Devil

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.


§ 2 Responses to Sympathy for the Devil

  • zippy says:

    Thanks for the link. As far as I can tell, the article is a lengthy and defensive attempt to square the H and N bombings with Catholic moral teaching by claiming that the intent was to attack a military target and not civilians. I respect that position as a matter of moral theology, but I find it extremely implausible as a matter of fact. I doubt very much that we would have considered it a greater success if Fat Man and Little Boy had failed to explode, but miraculously earthquakes had destroyed the legitimate military targets in those two cities. The latter scenario would have been unlikely to produce the surrender that was our ultimate end in dropping the bombs. If we had not slaughtered civilians and terrorized the Japanese into surrender we would not have considered the missions successful. Therefore slaughtering civilians and terrorizing the Japanese into surrender was the moral object of dropping the Bombs, as a matter of fact.

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