Killing them with Kindness
July 3, 2006 § 35 Comments
I am no expert on interrogation, and I don’t want to become one. But according to The One Percent Doctrine by Ron Suskind, which I am about half way through reading, there was an internal conflict between the CIA and the FBI over how prisoners would be treated and interrogated in the early days after 9-11. Captured Moslem terrorists in general expect to be tortured and killed. The FBI had a track record of turning Moslem terrorists with kindnesses in the period since the first WTC bombing, and Suskind gives several examples. In one case the FBI arranged for a captive’s wife to have an operation that she needed. Terrorists turned this way, against their expectations, provide very useful intelligence.
According to Suskind there was a policy battle between the CIA, which wanted to torture captives, and the FBI, which had a track record of turning captives into productive informants. The CIA won.
I expect that on average we don’t get much of use from any particular captive. But the ones turned with kindness are infinitely more valuable as sources of intelligence than the ones who scream out a name under torture.
Now, I am sure that it busts many peoples’ chops to even think about being nice to captured terrorists, including, I will admit, my own. But if we really want to win we will do what it takes.
Would that make those opposed to such a policy preening moralistic Pharisees who are more concerned with ivory tower concepts of morality than in preventing our children from getting killed by a terrorist attack on a major city?
“Preening moralistic Pharisees?”>>No, I’d say, demonic, blood quaffing fascist hyenas–it’s so much more visual. And the animal imagery is particularly effective, I think.
Is it permissible to do good that good might result?
<>Is it permissible to do good that good might result?<>>>A baffling moral conundrum, isn’t it John?
Is it possible to do good that evil might result?
<>Is it possible to do good that evil might result?<>>>No.
<>Is it possible to do good that evil might result? <>>>A lot of marketing is based on giving people “gifts” so they feel indebted to you and then buy something they otherwise wouldn’t. I suppose it’s possible to define this as not really “evil” — perhaps the salesperson really believes the customers he uses such a tactic on need the product, but sure.>>I guess another way would be if the US were to pay for the operation, etc., not to change the terrorist’s heart, but to give the terrorist a sense on indebtedness to the US such that he would violate his conscience and reveal information he otherwise wouldn’t. If we were to demand reciprocity that than trigger it, we probably could.
So if, for instance, I nursed back to health a man who had been severely wounded in an attempt to murder my enemy, with the intent that upon recovering his health, he would go forth and finish the job, my act of healing would not be good-in-itself because of my evil intent?
<>…my act of healing would not be good-in-itself because of my evil intent?<>>>Exactly right. That would fall under the evil effect being a part of your < HREF="https://zippycatholic.wordpress.com/2006/05/individual-moral-decision-making-for.html" REL="nofollow">plans<>. In order to be good all of the elements of the act – object, intent, and circumstances – must be good. Healing a man so that he can go commit a mortal sin that you want him to commit is not a good act. You aren’t choosing the good for him, you are choosing his damnation, as well as your own.
So, in the event that only I am around to be able to apply the tourniquet that would save his life, I should, knowing that he will murder if he lives, just let him bleed out as I watch and do nothing?
And, is it possible for another moral agent’s potential evil act to be part of *my* plans? >Grandma always said “If wishes were horses we all could ride.”
No, you should heal him, but not with the intent that he would go kill your enemy.>>Begging the question… if you are morally certain that if he makes a full recovery, he will make another attempy to kill your enemy, and would be successful.>>Then I would say you would still apply the tourniquet.>>The point isn’t to bring us to moral paralysis where we don’t know for certain that our intentions are pure — it’s so we don’t kid ourselves that we’re doing a good thing when we’re not.
In my hypothetical, I don’t claim that by applying the tourniquet I think that I’m doing a good thing. I know that I’m doing it in hopes of getting somebody murdered as a result.>What I’m asking is whether or not the healing *in itself* is not a good thing–so that a good thing is, in fact, being done so that evil might result. Can my act of healing be separated from my evil scheming?
Note that my healing is a sure thing. But the murder is contingent upon another man’s willingness to do evil of his own volition.
<>>“Can my act of healing be separated from my evil scheming?”><>>>No.>><>But<>, I suppose there is the possibility that performing this objectively virtuous act would make you a better person, and turn your heart such that you no longer desired that your enemy be murdered, in a road-to-Damascus sort of way. >>If you put any act under the microscope enough, you can get them small enough such that none are objectively immoral. Kicking a detainee in the teeth may be immoral, but swinging one’s leg isn’t. And kicking someone’s OK, if I’m kicking him out of the path of a steaming locomotive.>>But that’s not really an honest way of looking at it.
Rob: I understand your question, and the answer is “no”. An act which is evil because of its object, intent, or circumstances is an evil act. A putatively good object doesn’t make an act with evil intent into a good act.
Let me clarify something…>>It would be a sin to let the man die.>>It would be a sin to heal him if my sole reason for healing him is so that he could commit murder.>>IOW, I am not saying that the proper act is this situation would be to let the man die so as not to commit the sin of formal cooperation with his murderous intentions.>>I think we sometimes think that sins of commission are always more sever than sins of ommission, and it would be better to commit a sin of ommission than risk a sin of commission. That’s not what I’m saying.>>My father used to get into arguments with the monks at his college over whether it was a sin to be distracted at weekday Mass, since if it were, then he could avoid this occasion of sin by not attending.>>I know we talk a lot about avoiding evil acts, but that’s the starting point, not the ending point.
Zippy–>Then is watching the man bleed to death while doing nothing, in order to resist the temptation of helping him live to commit an evil act that I would like to see done, a good act?>Or is it impossible to do good within the context of these circumstances?
JohnMcG–>My last question should have been addressed to you as well, since it seems similar to your issue of not attending mass in order to avoid the sin of being distracted.
It is never impossible to do good.
Zippy–>So, how would you bring about good, given the set of circumstances I have posited in this hypothetical?
It is impossible for a morally good act to be borne of evil intentions.>>What is possible is for those intentions to be turned to good.>>In your example, we have an actor who intends evil. He cannot do good while intending evil.>>But let’s relax things a little bit. Let’s say that in saving him I do intend to save him because of the sacredness of the gift of life given to hom, but it would bring about an occasion of sin for me — maybe it’s an attractive woman I would be tempted to commit adultery with, maybe I’m a glory hound with a disordered desire to be lauded as a hero. And maybe things are mixed up a bit, in that I’m somewhat motivated by these disordered desires.>>It would still be the right thing to do to save the person under these circumstances.
“It would still be the right thing to do to save the person under these circumstances.”>>JohnMcG–>I think so too. >But, if I am understanding correctly, it is not possible to separate the physical act of healing from the moral intent that a murder *might* result. So that, in the instant after the life has been saved, but no intent for murder to occur has reached fruition, there is still more sin in the world than there was before the healing was done, while the healing has not added to the measure of good. Is this correct?
Yeah, just as if I punched someone in the arm intending to hurt him, but ended up re-setting his dislocated shoulder — I still would have sinned,
Can anyone do a meritorious work whose acts from evil intent? >>Jesus said, “Apart from Me, you can do nothing.” By this, does He not tell us that any good we might do, the cause is God alone. >>No one who <>desires<> to do evil can <>do<> what is good. >>Yet, in spite of ourselves, God can work all things – even our deeds that spring from evil intentions – together for the good.
<>So, how would you bring about good, given the set of circumstances I have posited in this hypothetical?<>>>Well, first of all, the proper question isn’t how you “bring about” good, because that is question-begging consequentialism. The proper question is, how do you perform a good act. The answer is rather straightforward, it seems to me: you heal the man without intending him to commit murder after being healed, and you do whatever else is in your power – inform the police, inform the intended victim, etc. – to prevent the murder. If the murder takes place anyway as a matter of double-effect, then (assuming you have not been negligent and do not intend the murder) your act was still good.>>Furthermore, if you are morally certain that the murder will take place if you in fact heal the man, you could licitly refrain from doing so as an act of defense of another. In that act you are neither intending nor causing the man’s death, you are making the prudential judgement not to empower him to commit murder. So depending on circumstances it seems to me that you have several options which do not require you to commit an evil act (either of ommission or comission).
Zippy–>So, in either case, the “good” is not something that exists objectively in the world (i.e. “a healing”), but the existence of good is contingent upon the intentions of human moral agents. >Why does it not then follow that, if a healing is good only if done for a good purpose, that an act of torture is bad only if done for a bad purpose? If the “good” in connection with a given act has no objective reality outside of my moral state, why does evil have such objective reality, rather than deriving its definition from the moral quality of a particular human action?
Dear Rob:>>Two instances of humans inflicting severe pain on other humans:>>An infant in the act of being born may inflict severe pain and suffering upon the mother? Is this torture?>>A passenger jet crashes on a remote island. No means of help or rescue. Cockpit and crew destroyed. A physician among the survivors performs as best she can emergency first aid on grievously wounded fellow passengers. Pain meds unavailable. Her aid causes severe suffering. Is this torture?>>Are all instances of humans inflicting pain on fellow humans torture?>>Are all instances of purposeful action by humans resulting in the infliction of pain on fellow humans torture?
Marion–>Thank you, but I am not asking about what is torture and what is not torture. Nor am I suggesting that torture is ever moral. To my way of thinking it never is.>What I am asking is how an act of healing, as a real physical event in the world, can have a quality (either “good” or “bad”) that pertains not to the physical act itself, but to the actor’s moral state as expressed in his intent.>It seems that, as Zippy would have it, a rose is not red if its viewer is color-blind.
<>So, in either case, the “good” is not something that exists objectively in the world (i.e. “a healing”), but the existence of good is contingent upon the intentions of human moral agents.<>>>If you said “good act” instead of “good” this would be an accurate statement.>><>It seems that, as Zippy would have it, a rose is not red if its viewer is color-blind.<>>>Nonsense. Your original question was whether it is possible to “do good that evil may come of it”. To do good is to perform a good act, so the answer to your original question is a straightforward “no”. Another way of asking your orignal question is whether it is possible to choose good in the service of an evil end. And the answer again is that no, it isn’t, because what you are choosing isn’t good. It isn’t that I deny that some things are good in themselves, it is that I deny that it is possible to choose evil without choosing evil.
And torture, by the way, is intrinsically evil: that is, it is evil because of the nature of its object, independent of intent or circumstances. Healing a man is not intrinsically evil: in your scenario it is evil because of intent and circumstances, not object. Just because an act is not <>intrinsically<> evil that doesn’t mean that the act is not evil.
Zippy–>Okay, thanks. I guess that I must concede at this point. I knew that my proposition was wrong, but I thought that something like it must be behind the reasoning of all the torture apologists we’ve been encountering lately.
Well, in a mirror-image sort of way it is. If torture apologists are arguing from consequentialism (good consequences = good act) you were proposing a kind of inconsequentialism: that the act could be good <>solely<> by the nature of its object (good object = good act). Possibly the idea of an intrinsically good act isn’t nutty – I would have to think about it some more – but the particular example wasn’t one.
<>Furthermore, if you are morally certain that the murder will take place if you in fact heal the man, you could licitly refrain <>>>What if there’s a 1% chance? (:-)
What if there’s a 1% chance he could kill my enemy? (:-)