Planning for Evil
February 26, 2006 § 39 Comments
The Human Act
An act is evil if any of the evil which occurs as a result of it is part of our plans: if any of the putatively good things we are trying to accomplish are caused by some evil effect of our act in the chain of cause and effect. Only if there is nothing evil in that chain of cause and effect are we in a position to ask whether or not we have a proportionate reason for choosing to act (that is, for actually performing the act’s object despite knowing that the bad effect will occur). And specifically, we cannot ever justify anything in the chain of cause-and-effect between our act itself (the object) and our desired good effect (the intent) by appealing to a proportionate reason. Everything in green above is intended, whether we want to admit that it is intended or not.
A scenario raised in a comment was as follows: a politician represents a district that is predominantly pro-abortion. He votes in favor of a law that funds abortions in order to garner support from this constituency. Clearly, his act of voting is an evil act: not necessarily because its object (the actual vote) is evil in itself, although I suppose it may be, but because the funding of actual abortions and the abortions themselves are part of his plans: the outcome he wants is constituent support, and the abortions which are part of his plans are a cause of that constituent support. He may claim that he doesn’t intend for the abortions to occur, but that is a specious claim: if something occuring as a result of your act is a part of your plans, and your plans would be thwarted if it did not occur, then you intend it to occur. And you can’t justify evil by appealing to a proportionate reason when you intend the evil to occur.
Dropping a bomb on a military target when it results in (or has a high probability of) collateral damage is not necessarily evil (though it may still be evil depending on circumstances, other intentions, etc). Our plan is to destroy the military target, and the collateral damage is not a part of those plans: in fact we would very much prefer that the collateral damage not occur at all. If the collateral damage does not occur, that does not mean that our plans have been thwarted: quite the contrary.
I swiped what I understand of this from various discussions at Disputations and from Proportionalism and the Natural Law Tradition by Christopher Kaczor (HT to Kevin Miller for telling me about the book some time ago.) Any errors, misunderstandings, or nonsequiters are my own.