Object Lesson II

July 31, 2006 § 38 Comments

The Church teaches us that certain acts are intrinsically evil: they are evil by the nature of their object.

The Church also teaches the principle of double-effect: that an act can have an evil effect which is unintended, and that such an act may (if it meets other criteria) be licit. Sometimes the known-but-unintended effect is called an indirect voluntary effect.

One way of simplifying an aspect of the issue is to observe that, in the case of acts known to be intrinsically evil, double-effect simply does not apply. So in the case of an intrinsically evil act — direct abortion, contracepted sex, direct killing of the innocent, torture, etc — there isn’t any point in saying that a certain effect is known but unintended. There isn’t any point to it because it would only be relevant if the act we were talking about was not an intrinsically evil act. The fact that we are talking about an intrinsically evil act means that double-effect is off the table. A plea of “known but unintended” before the Judge doesn’t make an intrinsically evil act morally defensible, because “known but unintended” is only a valid defense in the case of acts which are not intrinsically evil.

Object Lesson

July 31, 2006 § 6 Comments

To “deliberately frustrate the conjugal act” is to:

A) Modify the conjugal act in a way intended to prevent conception
B) Intentionally modify the conjugal act in a way which knowingly prevents conception
C) Either A or B

To “deliberately kill noncombatants” is to:

A) Modify the targeting in a way intended to kill noncombatants
B) Intentionally modify the targeting in a way which knowingly kills noncombatants
C) Either A or B

To “deliberately throw the baseball through the window” is to:

A) Modify the throw in a way intended to make the ball go through the window
B) Intentionally modify the throw in a way which knowingly makes the ball go through the window
C) Either A or B

Correct answer: C

In the technical moral theology sense of object, intent, and circumstances, we can understand the object of an act (roughly) by asking what we chose to do. We can understand the intent of an act (roughly) by asking what we hoped to accomplish by doing it. (Or at least for me those questions help to identify object and intent as distinct components of an act. Your mileage may vary).

This can be pretty confusing, because sometimes the thing we choose to do is also referred to as intended. And indeed it is intended, because it is, after all, the thing we chose to do. But nevertheless the intent in what we choose to do is different from the intent in what we hope to accomplish, and the latter is the “intent” in the triune model of the human act as object, intent, and circumstances.

With answers ‘A’ I attempt to address the intent of the act, whereas with answers ‘B’ I attempt to address the object of the act. If the object of the act is evil, the act is evil. If the intent of the act is evil (even as a prerequisite to a good effect), the act is evil. It follows therefore that if either of the intents (from answers A or B) obtain for an intrinsically evil act, the act is evil.

All of this, of course and as usual, assuming that Zippy has the faintest idea of what he is talking about.

Hollywood to Christians: F*** You

July 30, 2006 § 25 Comments

But Judge Matsch zeroed in on the real issue. “[T]he Studios do not compete in this alternative market,” he wrote, referring to the world of conservative and religious families that patronized CleanFlicks and the other family-video editors. “[T]he infringing parties are exploiting a market for movies that is different from what the Studios have released into and for an audience the Studios have not sought to reach,” he continued. “[I]t is a question of what audience the copyright owner wants to reach.”

And so it is. It’s one thing to show a cleaned-up version of Wedding Crashers for the enjoyment of passengers on a flight from Los Angeles to Paris; but for a family in Provo to be able to watch it together is another matter entirely. One of the conservative complaints about Hollywood has always been that it’s a town where people will exploit anything for a dollar. But it seems that there are still limits: Catering to a religious audience is something the studios just won’t do.

(HT: William Luse (via email))

Statuesque Superstition Redux

July 29, 2006 § Leave a comment

It seems to me that there is a difference between a particular practice being categorically superstitious and that practice being historically superstitious. Thanks to The Fifth Column for a useful distinction, and to Dan Jasmin for asking exactly the right question in the first comment of my old post.

Nukes don’t kill people…

July 29, 2006 § 8 Comments

…people kill people.

This has got to be one of the dumbest arguments I have ever seen in favor of the moral liciety of the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. If possession of a gun for deterrence is licit then clearly every actual time a gun has been fired in anger it was necessarily licit.

You Can’t Fool Mother Nature

July 29, 2006 § Leave a comment

It turns out that when a man fails to provide for and defend his wife and children, divorce is much more likely. It turns out that when a woman refuses to place herself and her children at the mercy of what her husband can provide and make a home for him, divorce is much more likely.

What a shocking development.

Calvin and Hobbes

July 29, 2006 § 1 Comment

Sometimes the more flagrant and obvious a lie, the more passionately people believe it.

Take the Hobbesian statement “war is the natural state of man”.

I would be hard pressed to invent a more obvious and obnoxious lie about the human condition. If we added up or approximated all of the man-hours ever spent living, and all the man-hours ever spent engaged in actual combat and related operations, it is obvious on its face that orders of magnitude lie between.

Imagine if I told doctors that “sickness is the natural state of man”. In addition to being an obvious falsehood, what I would be encouraging them to conclude is that curing disease is a foolish enterprise. We should set our sights lower: we should accept, not merely that sickness occurs, but that this person is sick because it is his natural state to be sick. In every case of sickness we encounter we should not try to cure the sickness itself, we should just try to make the best of alleviating the symptoms. Because after all, being sick is man’s “natural state”: if we can’t universally eliminate all sickness everywhere, we might as well just accept this sickness and not try to cure it.

This is what all-or-nothing Calvinism gets us, whether we are dealing with diseased persons, diseased art, or diseased politics.

If war is man’s natural state then being on the moon is man’s natural state. After all, it is absolutely true that the ratio between man-hours spent on the moon and man-hours spent living is greater than zero.

Moral Teleportation

July 29, 2006 § Leave a comment

Disclaimer: I personally have no idea if what the Israelis are doing right now is or is not morally right. I don’t have enough information to make that judgement. It is possible that the reason I don’t have enough information is simply because I have not done the due diligence required to reach a conclusion: that is, I don’t even claim that the information isn’t there in the public domain. I just state for the record that I don’t have it and haven’t analysed it.

But what I don’t understand is why proportionality is taking on such a central role in discussions of Israel’s war with Hezbollah in Lebanon. That makes no sense to me. If Israel is intentionally killing noncombatants, or refusing to discriminate between combatant and noncombatant, for example, that isn’t a violation of proportionality. It is just plain intrinsically evil, full stop. If Israel is not operating under immoral rules of engagement, then charges that there is a lack of proportionality seem out of place: the requirement to avoid acts which are evil in themselves is constraining enough that it isn’t at all obvious how one could, in Israel’s position, meet all of them and then go on to fail on proportionality.

“Proportionate response” is the last stop on the morality train. It is the thing we consider after we’ve cleared all the other moral hurdles of jus ad bellum and jus in bello: if what we are doing isn’t evil, if it is legitimate to respond with war, if this is a last resort to address a lasting, grave, and certain threat, if there is nothing intrinsically evil in our rules of engagement; if all of those things are true, then and only then do we worry about whether we are responding proportionately or with more firepower and destruction than is necessary to address the threat, and whether by our actions we will create evils greater than those we seek to address by the means of war.

It seems to me that the public discussion has mentally teleported immediately to the last stop in the route, ignoring all the previous stops. I can’t make sense of why that would have occurred to our public discussion unless the public consensus already presupposes proportionalist morals. Proportionalism is essentially (and heretically) a moral theory which truncates moral reasoning to the last step and the last step only. Rather than worrying about proportionality only as the last step in the process of moral evaluation, after we have determined that the contemplated act is not evil in itself, proportionalism concerns itself only with proportionality: with the question of whether we have a proportionate reason to do what we are contemplating doing, and with the question of whether the contemplated act is a proportionate response to the circumstances which constitute our reason for contemplating the act in the first place.

If in fact the major argument with what Israel is doing is about proportionality then that is a strong indication that what is being done is probably morally licit: it means that all the other hurdles have been passed, and it seems implausible at first glance that Israel could pass all the other hurdles and then go on to fail on proportionality.

But I suspect that all of the other criteria being clearly met as prerequisites isn’t why the public discussion is so dominated at present by proportionality. I suspect that the public discussion is so dominated by proportionality because most of the public doesn’t understand anything other than proportionality when it comes to making moral judgements. I suspect that most people are, unreflectively, moral proportionalists.

But there is no teleportation in real life. If we want to get to the last stop on the line we have to pass all the other stops first.

Ignorant Nonsense

July 28, 2006 § 51 Comments

They simply cannot openly say that artificial contraception and marital chastity can be mutually compatible, for this, to some, would be tantamount to saying that mortal sin is good for the soul.

News Flash: artificial contraception and marital chastity are not compatible. To use artificial contraception is to act unchastely.

If these three criteria were taken alone, then missing Mass on Sunday to care for a sick child would always be a mortal sin.

No, it wouldn’t.

So would killing another person in self-defense, …

Intentionally killing another person in self-defense is a sin, in both the Augustinian and Scholastic traditions.

… or in war.


That is why the issues of circumstance and intentionality are also considered: one would gladly go to Mass, but circumstances require that one remain home with the child. For some strange reason, however, no such consideration is officially accorded to couples who decide that they would practice NFP if they could, but circumstances (very irregular cycle, economic hardship, sexual frustration, dangerous to health to bear a child, etc.) mitigate against it being for the good of the marriage and family. Such couples are frequently told that they are only deluding themselves, or that they should just “try harder.” Some are even encouraged to consider celibacy (very bad sacramental theology, here).

Using artificial contraception is an intrinsic evil. Intrinsic evils (such as adultery, contracepted sex, and intentional killing of the innocent) can never be made licit by intentions or circumstances. Not ever. Period. You can find the “strange reason” why this consequentialism is a bunch of errant nonsense here.

And by the way, it is continence, not celibacy.

“It will be objected that such an abstention is impossible, that such a heroism is asking too much. You will hear this objection raised; you will read it everywhere. Even those who should be in a position to judge very differently, either by reason of their duties or qualifications, are ever ready to bring forward the following argument: “No one is obliged to do what is impossible, and it may be presumed that no reasonable legislator can will his law to oblige to the point of impossibility. But for husbands and wives long periods of abstention are impossible. Therefore they are not obliged to abstain; divine law cannot have this meaning.”

In such a manner, from partially true premises, one arrives at a false conclusion. To convince oneself of this it suffices to invert the terms of the argument: “God does not oblige anyone to do what is impossible. But God obliges husband and wife to abstinence if their union cannot be completed according to the laws of nature. Therefore in this case abstinence is possible.” To confirm this argument, there can be brought forward the doctrine of the Council of Trent, which, in the chapter on the observance necessary and possible of referring to a passage of St. Augustine, teaches: “God does not command the impossible but while He commands, He warns you to do what you can and to ask for the grace for what you cannot do and He helps you so that you may be able”.

Censorship Respects Art

July 27, 2006 § 20 Comments

If art is truly like the children of the artist, then it necessarily follows that censorship, in the form of unilateral modification of artwork, is necessarily sometimes good and is more respectful of art than failing to censor it.

Let me explain.

If you sent your children to Mass naked, you might expect one of two reactions. On the one hand, some people might say “get those kids the Hell out of here” and throw them out into the street. Others would put clothes on them. It seems obvious to me which one is more respectful of both the parent and the child. (I suppose a third option is to simply ignore it, and let the children attend Mass naked. That also seems to me obviously less respectful of the children than clothing them).

It is true that the parent sending the child to Mass naked says something about the parent, especially if the parent is clearly capable of clothing them. But that statement, that “what this says about the parent”, doesn’t change whether the children are treated as garbage or if they are treated with respect and given clothing.

Where Am I?

You are currently viewing the archives for July, 2006 at Zippy Catholic.