November 18, 2006 § 4 Comments
This post is just a summary of my current understanding/position on intentionally inflicting suffering, to give me a single more or less concise statement to link to from other discussions.
It is possible for the competent authority (parent, judge, policeman) to intentionally inflict (some amount of) suffering licitly, as either discipline or punishment. The license to do so is limited to doing so without treating the person punished as nothing but a means to an end. Punishment is (or can be) morally licit, but (heuristically) if it is a waste of our resources to carry out a punishment when we aren’t getting a cash (or information, or an endorphin rush, or some other fungible thing) payoff – if we would be inclined to stop spending our resources punishing the perp in the particular way we are punishing him even though he hasn’t personally fulfilled what we are punishing him for – then what we are doing isn’t really punishment.
Notice what this means for an interrogation. It means that when we unequivocally know that a perp is guilty of witholding information that he has a duty to disclose**, we may send him off to be punished for it. We may bring him out of his punishment into an interrogation room and ask him questions, including offering him freedom or a cessation of punishment if he performs his duty. If he does not perform his duty, we may return him to his punishment.
The key heuristic question though is, what do we do when we get equivalently useful information (or money, if he is being punished because he owes money) from somewhere else? Do we stop punishing him at that point, or do we leave him to finish out his punishment?
If we stop “punishing” him at that point – that is, we stop doing to him today the same thing we were doing to him yesterday to save resources, to allocate those resources to other priorities, etc – if we stop “punishing” him then what we were doing wasn’t punishment. We were treating him as nothing but a means to getting the information, money, or other fungible commodity that we wanted or needed for some other purpose. And this is never licit, not even if that “other purpose” is to save the entire world from total destruction.
Now, it is entirely possible that my personal understanding/position is wrong. It does have the benefit of being compatible with what Pope John Paul II teaches in Veritatis Splendour about intrinsically evil acts in general and torture specifically. It also has the benefit of tying together and making coherent the development of doctrine on many other particular issues: treating persons as nothing but property (slavery), treating persons as nothing but an impediment to some political goal (arbitrary deportation), treating persons as nothing but an impediment to worry-free sexual pleasure (abortion and contraception), treating persons as nothing but objects to satisfy our lust for vengeance (torture as punishment), treating persons as nothing but machines to manufacure our products and maximize our profits (subhuman living conditions), treating persons as nothing but material for scientific experiments (ESCR), treating persons as nothing but an accessory we can add to our lifestyle whenever we choose (IVF). But it could be completely wrong nonetheless.
However, even if my own understanding is in error, the widely held notion that act X might be torture (equivalently “intrinsically evil”) if it is motivated by one goal (say to extract a confession), but not torture (equivalently “not intrinsically evil”) if motivated by some other goal (say to extract life-saving information), flatly contradicts Veritatis Splendour:
If acts are intrinsically evil, a good intention or particular circumstances can diminish their evil, but they cannot remove it. They remain “irremediably” evil acts; per se and in themselves they are not capable of being ordered to God and to the good of the person.
So it is fine for a Catholic to disagree with my personal understanding/position on the licit infliction of suffering as punishment or discipline. But the alternatives commonly proposed in the Catholic blogosphere stand in clear, direct contradiction to one of the most important papal encyclicals of the twentieth century. If you don’t like mine, then show me yours.
** [ I by no means intend to imply that these criteria ever actually obtain in fact in those situations where so many seem to be tempted to employ torture. ]
November 17, 2006 § 6 Comments
In the latest Against the Grain torture roundup, Tom McKenna is quoted as saying the following:
…the Catechism, by its plain language, it is directed at the motivation of the conduct, not the content of the conduct. Hence it rejects torture intended to produce confessions, punish the guilty, etc. But the methods we use against our enemies … are not engaged in to induce confessions. We use these methods to secure actionable intelligence about our enemies.
This is exactly correct. And it points to the fact that we know intuitively the difference between what the more precise jargon of moral theology calls the object of the act and the intent. The object of the act is what Tom McKenna calls the content of the conduct. The intent of the act is what Tom McKenna calls the motivation of the conduct.
Furthermore, we know that since torture is intrinsically evil (citing Veritatis Splendour) that it is evil in its object: it is evil because of the content of the conduct, independent of the motivation of the conduct.
I point this out not because there is anything new or profound in it. Rather I point it out because it is important to realize that, semantic differences aside, there is a difference between the object of an act and its intent; a difference in the kind of thing that the object of the act is, as opposed to the kind of thing that the intent is; a difference that we all, as acting moral agents, understand intuitively. They are different, clearly distinguishable things. And whatever language we use to talk about them as different things, we know that intrinsically evil acts cannot be defined as the kind of act they are by the motivation of the conduct. They are defined as the kind of act they are by the content of the conduct, and they are evil acts no matter what motivations obtain.
If the magisterium at some point said “abortion to control the population level is evil”, we know that that doesn’t mean that abortion for other purposes is licit. And just because the Magisterium has said “torture to extract confessions is evil”, that doesn’t mean that torture for any unlisted purpose is licit. We know that it isn’t. And furthermore, we know that torture is not the kind of act it is because of the motivations for which it is done. We know that because it is evil in its object: it is evil in the content of the conduct, not the motivation of the conduct.
November 16, 2006 § 3 Comments
TSO has an interesting suggestion: let Iraqis decide whether they want the US to stay or go by holding an election. It probably isn’t practical, but I love its “call everyone’s bluff” character.
(FWIW, like TSO I haven’t the first clue what to do about Iraq at this point. In fact I rather suspect that proclaiming to know would itself be a strong indicator of cluelessness).
November 16, 2006 § 9 Comments
Interesting discussion at CAEI about priestly celibacy. It is often brought up in these discussions that many Roman clergy were in fact married during the first millennium. But as Sandra Miesel observes in the comments:
Back in the first millennium, married Latin priests had to abstain permanently. Marital relations with one’s own wife after ordination were considered a sin worse than incest.
I’m no expert, but what many people don’t seem to realize is that celibacy is a relaxation of Roman discipline from what came before.
Compare: One man is unmarried by vow (celibate), and in general has the option to seek laicization and marry if the celibacy thing doesn’t work out. The other man is married, yet must never touch his bride again until death, though he still lives with her. The former is today’s celibate priest. The latter is the married cleric of the first millennium. Which is a tougher discipline? The answer seems obvious to me.