Pro Multis

November 19, 2006 § 20 Comments

Seems as though the days of “for all” may be numbered.

Voting is Like a Box of Chocolates

November 18, 2006 § 2 Comments

Choosing that another person will suffer

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. ]

Content=Object, Motivation=Intent

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.

(Emphasis mine)

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.

Cut the Baby in Half

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).

Celibacy as a Relaxation of Roman Discipline

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.

Outsourcing Torture

November 14, 2006 § Leave a comment

Outsourcing torture definitions, that is. Rather than cross-posting a bunch of stuff, I’ll just point out to my friends here at ZC that Maximos and I (and others) continued our discussion at Enchiridion Militis here.

The Definition of "Definition"

November 13, 2006 § 45 Comments

It is all the positivists’ fault.

Let me explain.

A definition is a formal statement about what something means.

Well, OK, but what does it mean for something to be a formal statement about what something means?

If we were positivists we would expect a definition to tell us everything pertinent that there is to say about the word or concept it defines. That is, the definition is really the same thing as the word it defines and can be substituted for it in other formal statements of things without changing any meaning. The word itself is just a shorthand way of referring to the definition.

But we aren’t positivists, because we know that positivism at bottom is a dead-end philosophy of meaning for arrogant adolescents.

Since we aren’t positivists, we understand that there is a difference between a formal statement and meaning. The formal statement doesn’t capture, contain, and completely specify all pertinent meaning; it merely points to meaning. A definition, then, is an inherently incomplete pointer to some meaning: it gives us enough of an idea to be able to understand the concept referred to, assuming that we have the intellectual capacity to do so, but it is not a complete formal representation of the concept. (We aren’t positivists, remember: so no sufficiently interesting concept has a complete formal representation at all. They aren’t even possible in principle).

Another way of putting this is that there is a difference between what someone is saying and how he is saying it. And when talking about various current events with Catholic uberblogger Mark Shea, quite a few commenters don’t seem to know whether they are disagreeing with the former or the latter.

In more general terms, people are expecting more of the formalities of language than it can deliver.


November 13, 2006 § Leave a comment

Can you dig it?

A Waste is a Terrible Thing to Mind

November 10, 2006 § 2 Comments

I’m not getting through on this “who wasted their vote” subject.

Here is the thing: I’m not deeply attached to the idea of evaluating votes as a form of currency, which we can measure under utilitarian criteria in order to determine which ones were wasted and which ones weren’t. I think the moral dimension is far more interesting, in general.

But when I stipulate that votes can be evaluated as a form of currency using utilitarian criteria, the claims people are making about which votes were wasted and which ones weren’t are very, very odd.

When I make an investment I don’t evaluate its performance based on what might have happened, I evaluate it based on what actually did happen. If I invested in something the value of which went to zero, that investment was a waste of capital. If I invest in something and it performs as expected, it is not a waste.

So stipulating that votes can be evaluated in terms of whether or not they were wasted, the votes which were actually wasted – the investments of vote-currency which in fact returned the least amount to the common good, independent of their moral dimension and of what they did to the voter himself – were the “hold your nose and vote, then the guy loses anyway” ones. The third-party and abstention votes are not a total waste: they have had precisely the intended effect on the common good, in fact. But “hold your nose and lose anyway” votes are total losses: as gambles with the currency of voting, they are a complete waste.

Whether they were smart or dumb investments at the time is an independent and really quite irrelevant question. If you want to know which votes were in fact wasted, we know which ones they were. They were the ones which returned the least amount of utility to the common good: and those ones were not the third-party votes or abstentions, but the “hold your nose and vote, then go on to lose anyway” ones.

Where Am I?

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