What the Object Isn’t

December 10, 2006 § 53 Comments

A little rule of thumb may be helpful.

If the thing we are talking about is actually done by someone else, it isn’t the object of your act.

Recent discussions have led me to conclude that the difference between the moral object of an act and formal cooperation with the acts of others has become confused in the minds of many.

Suppose I order Lieutenant Shaeffer to slaughter those civilians lined up over there. The object of my act is not to slaughter the civilians, and my act is not intrinsically evil: that is, my act is not evil because of the inherent nature of its object.

This is, I think, fairly straightforward to demonstrate.

Suppose for example that the Lieutenant and I have prearranged a code. When I tell him to slaughter civilians, what I am really preparing him to do is take down the wicked colonal who is telling me to give the order. Because of intentions and circumstances it is not evil for me to use my body to utter “Go slaughter those civilians”.

Demonstrably, then, there isn’t anything intrinsically evil in my act.

Now, if I intend for Lt. Shaeffer to actually slaughter those civilians and he does so, I have still done something terribly evil: evil because of my intentions, which include formal cooperation in Lt. Shaeffer’s intrinsically evil act. My act isn’t any less evil for not being intrinsically evil. But my specific choice to utter that specific order is not intrinsically evil.

Well, OK smart guy, but what about certain acts where it takes two to tango? What about adultery, for example?

The answer seems to me to be equally straightforward. I can’t commit adultery without choosing to perform the act of adultery – my necessary part in it – myself. If I order Lieutenant Shaeffer to commit adultery, intend for him to actually do so, and he does, my own act is not intrinsically evil. It is still evil – formal cooperation with evil, in fact – and may even be more gravely so than the Lieutentant’s act. But it isn’t intrinsically evil, and if the circumstances or my intentions were different it might not be evil at all.

If the thing being specified is not something you actually did, then the thing being specified is not the object of your act. It is probably the object of someone else’s act, and it may well be that your act is an act of formal cooperation with that other person’s act. But somebody else’s act isn’t your act, and the object of somebody else’s act isn’t the object of your act.

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§ 53 Responses to What the Object Isn’t

  • Anonymous says:

    If this is the case, then almost nothing an elected official or body would do could be described as intrinsically evil since they either order others to do things or legally permit/prohibit actions of others. And thus, the whole Catholic Answers approach of starting with non-negotiable issues which are tied to intrinsically evil acts vanishes.

  • Anonymous says:

    I think the object of public acts is one of two things:1) The corruption of those in one’s charge.2) The corruption of the body politic.In the case of the commander, I think the object would be #1.How would you address the following?A person confesses to a priest. The priest informs the person that he does not believe the act is a sin. The priest knows the act is sinful, but does not believe the church should teach that the act is a sin.Now some would say that the priest assumes culpability for the man’s acts from here out and leave it at that. It would seem that the priest’s act however would be sinful in and of itself.

  • Anonymous says:

    First, I apologize for the multiple posts.MZ,First, acording to this analysis, what the priest did was not intrinsically eveil.Second, so what? It doesn’t make it any more or less a sin.One of my major issues with the CA approach has been how it has focussed our attention on instrinsic vs. non-intrinsic evils. IMO, this is an interesting academic excercise, but not that helpful in guiding our moral decisions. It seems like in our conversations, intrinsic and non-intrinsic evils are serving as substitutes for mortal and venial sins, when these terms describe completely different aspects of an act. Intrinsically evil acts can be just venial sins, and non-intrinsically evil acts can certainly be mortal sins.Lord, hasten the day when choosing elected officials in this country will not be a matter of weighing evils!

  • Tom says:

    <>But my specific choice to utter that specific order is not intrinsically evil.<>Uh huh. And my son didn’t kick his brother, he was just swinging his leg.I think you’re trying to parse “the proximate end of a deliberate decision” a bit too finely here. My object in saying, “Go slaughter those civilians,” is not to cause a certain sequence of longitudinal waves to propagate through the medium of air that surrounds my head. It’s to communicate with Lt. Shaeffer.

  • M.Z. Forrest says:

    To continue Tom’s thoughts, the deaths of the civilians could be and probably is the object of the act. A proxy is just another means to the same end. I don’t think the example provides the abstraction necessary to say that the commander is not directly willing the civilians’ deaths. This could be distinguished from a ROE order. For example, a commander could order that if a unit is under fire, they should order air strikes regardless of collateral damage. The commander would be allowing evil based on circumstance, but he would not be willing a specific instance of it.

  • Anonymous says:

    Zippy is not saying that someone who gives an order to commit an evil act has not committed evil, or that he is not repsonsible for the results of that act; he is saying that the act of uttering the order is not <>instrinsically immoral<>.The problem is that it seems a lot of people seem to be pronouncing “not intrinsically evil” as “morally permissible,” which is not an aleternative pronunciation.

  • M.Z. Forrest says:

    John,I understand the difference between intrinsic and objective. The object of a moral act is what we choose. If I tell a random person to murder someone, I am commiting an intrinsically evil act. Granted, telling a total stranger to do so probably is insufficient to accomplishing the act, but I have willed it. There is no competency test in determining whether an intrinsic evil has occured. If I try to kill a man by stabbing him with a toothpick, the only consideration in evaluating whether I was commiting the intrinsic evil of murder is if I believed stabbing him with a toothpick would kill him. As a prosecutor, you may not be able to objectively determine by my weapon the object of my act, but that doesn’t change what the object of the act was. Similarly, in dealing with a commander from the actor’s perspective, the only determination is whether the commander believed that using troops under his command would be sufficient to achieve the object of killing the villagers.

  • Step2 says:

    Zippy,I have two problems with this. How can formal cooperation be more grave than commiting an intrinsic evil? Secondly, if we assume the normal chain of command is in place, the Lieutenant may have no recourse but to follow your order, especially in the confusions of war. In that case, it seems to me like your intent is really the intrinsic evil that is being actualized, since the Lieutenant does not have your awareness of the situation. You would then have to say that the Lieutenant was misled into evil, while you were formally cooperating with evil. It seems like if either party knows it is evil, the intrinsic nature of it should remain in play.

  • zippy says:

    <>And my son didn’t kick his brother, he was just swinging his leg.<>Who is the other person who actually did the kicking in that scenario?

  • zippy says:

    <>How can formal cooperation be more grave than commiting an intrinsic evil?<>Trivially. I gave a few examples, and your “second” is one too, as far as I can tell.According to Pope John Paul II, the object of an act is the acting subject’s specific choice of behavior as a corporeal being, independent of his intentions and the circumstances. Which makes a great deal more sense to me than all the alternatives I’ve read in the literature.

  • zippy says:

    John: I think you understand me perfectly. This idea in the air that all acts which are evil because of intentions or circumstances are automatically less grave than all intrinsically evil acts is hooey, as far as I can tell. And once you’ve realized that the moral theology of <>Veritatis Splendour<> all falls neatly into place.

  • I accept your and Decker’s correction with regard to voting, Since, according to magisterial statements, voting for a candidate precisely for the purpose of further that candidate’s evil policies is formal cooperation with evil, it is not intrinsically evil. It is <>inherently<> and <>necessarily<> evil by its intent, but not intrinsically so. That’s probably true for the case you cited as well. I think you’re being a bit too restrictive in your definition of object: the utterance is not the behavior in question; the behavior in question is directing an utterance at another human being who will understand the utterance. But because corruption and the like appears to involve a decision by another moral agent, I think you are right to say it is likewise not intrinsically evil, only evil by intent.But barring that terminological clarification, I have no idea what this buys you. Yes (and rather obviously, I would have thought), prudential judgment alone does not mean that an imprudent decision can be as bad or worse than an intrinsically evil one. However, that would seem to suggest that the presence of prudential judgments in voting doesn’t mean that one or the other choice can’t be clearly bad. And I just can’t see what sort of prudential judgment would permit giving a candidate authority to make the state a formal accomplice in the murder of 1.5 million innocents a year or the assault against tens of millions of marriages. Maybe, as formal cooperation, it isn’t intrinsically evil, but so what?

  • Oops. I put a “can” in place of a “cannot” in the above post. I meant to say that imprudent decisions CAN be just as seriously evil as intrinsically evil ones.

  • zippy says:

    <>I think you’re being a bit too restrictive in your definition of object …<>The main point of the post isn’t to say what <>is<> the object of the act as much as it is to say what <>isn’t<>. (Thus the title of the post). If we are given some thingy that somebody did and it is proposed that this thingy is the object of Bob’s act, we can ask if it is something that Bob actually did personally or if it is something that somebody else did with (or without) Bob’s approval. If the latter, it is not the object of Bob’s act.More abstractly, if we look at a behavior and other effects following from a chain of causes and Bob’s choice isn’t the last and final act of willing by a human being in that chain, then the behavior in question isn’t the object of Bob’s act. It is the object of someone else’s act. Bob may or may not have made that act possible, may or may not have formally cooperated in it, etc; but it isn’t <>his<> act if somebody else did it. When Tom’s son kicked his brother there was no other human will standing between him and the kick: so my post isn’t claiming that kicking his brother wasn’t in the act’s (<>his<> act’s) object. If Billy tells Mikey to kick Charlie, and Mikey does so, then “kick Charlie” is Mikey’s act not Billy’s.Which is no exoneration of Billy for his part in it. In fact, pace Step2, this sort of formal cooperation in evil appears on its face to be <>worse<> than merely performing the evil act onesself, because one is willing not only the act done by another but is also willing the corruption of the person who actually performs the act. Formal cooperation with evil seems to be, if anything, worse by a measure of at least one additional (literally) damned soul than simply performing an intrinsically evil act directly.<>But barring that terminological clarification, I have no idea what this buys you.<>It buys me an understanding of what is <>true<> about the moral theology of a human act.<>And I just can’t see what sort of prudential judgment would permit giving a candidate authority to make the state a formal accomplice in the murder of 1.5 million innocents a year or the assault against tens of millions of marriages. Maybe, as formal cooperation, it isn’t intrinsically evil, but so what?<>Here you have assumed that voting for a pro-abortion candidate is formal cooperation with one or more actual abortions. In other words you have assumed that the voter <>intends<> for actual abortions to occur as a result of his vote. That clearly doesn’t work as a categorical claim. It is entirely possible to vote for a pro-abortion candidate without intending any actual abortions to result from that act of voting. If you are interested in framing non-negotiables in voting – describing categories where certain acts of voting would be always evil <>independent<> of intentions – the <>only<> place where you can construct such a category is in the circumstances.

  • <>Here you have assumed that voting for a pro-abortion candidate is formal cooperation with one or more actual abortions.<>No, I’m assuming that the <>candidate’s<> action is formal cooperation with abortion in his capacity as a public official, which it is. The question for the voter is whether the remote material cooperation with this act (which as you rightly point out may be even more culpable than the act of the person actually performing the abortion) is justified. Circumstances don’t allow avoidance of the consequence, and remote material cooperation must be objectively justified by proportionate reasons in all instances, regardless of intent. We know that “prudential judgment” is not code for “it’s your discretion,” so the question is what objectively proportionate reasons there are to justify remote material cooperation with the candidate’s act of formal cooperation. That act is not formal cooperation with one or two abortions, but with all of them. I find it difficult to understand how any proximity/gravity calculus can justify remotely materially cooperating with that. What good effect can possibly offset the evil worked in formal cooperation with all of that death?

  • zippy says:

    <>The question for the voter is whether the remote material cooperation with this act (which as you rightly point out may be even more culpable than the act of the person actually performing the abortion) is justified.<>Right, with a clarification.The personal culpability of others isn’t something we ever have any kind of direct access to, so I am basically ignoring it.What I said was that the <>gravity<> of (e.g.) the superior officer’s act (of formal cooperation) could be greater than the <>gravity<> of the act itself. Indeed it prima facie is more grave by (at least) one additional damned soul. He necessarily intends the damnable thing <>and<> he intends for another to commit the damnable thing, whereas the person who commits the damnable thing only <>necessarily<> intends the damnable thing itself.<>We know that “prudential judgment” is not code for “it’s your discretion,” so the question is what objectively proportionate reasons there are to justify remote material cooperation with the candidate’s act of formal cooperation.<>Right. What objectively proportionate reasons do or do not exist <>under the circumstances<> is exactly (and only) what is morally pertinent, and that is where where people who are interested in constructing categorical non-negotiables need to focus their efforts.Non-negotiables in voting cannot be constructed based on principles alone. I am, as I’ve said any number of times, sympathetic to the notion that there are non-negotiables. But since an act of voting is not non-negotiable <>in general<> it can only be non-negotiable (which is to say wrong independent of intentions, thus independent of whether or not the cooperation is formal or material) under specified factual conditions.Also, the remote material cooperation is with some putative specific future act which may or may not even occur, and which the voter may or may not expect to occur. It is one thing to know that a politician isn’t going to be any help turning back the present abortion regime and another thing entirely to expect him to make it worse in some specific act.<>That act is not formal cooperation with one or two abortions, but with all of them.<>I don’t know what you mean by “that act”, and it still isn’t clear to me that you are using the term “formal cooperation” the way I use it. I do agree that a rabidly pro-abort politician who succeeds in liberalizing abortion laws has more blood on his hands than a woman who procured a single abortion. But as someone else in the thread said earlier, I don’t see what that gets you. Absent the particular circumstances which define the category it doesn’t get you a categorical prohibition of voting for that politician.

  • Anonymous says:

    I think this is where we are:There indeed may be non-negotiable issues when voting, and with the issues currently in play in elections in the US, there is not better candidate for such a non-negotiable issue than abortion.But it is a good candidate because of the current circumstances we are in, not because passing laws allowing abortion are intrinsically immoral.One more thought, though — the evil of the current culture isn’t just the number of abortions themselves (though that’s bad enough), but the injustice of the unborn being denied rights. They are denied rights by laws passed by elected officals. This injustice is present even if noactual abortions occue. This is why things like the 95-10 initiatives are nice, but insufficient in addressing this evil. So, it would seem that an elected official who passes a law permitting abortion, or authorizing embryonic research has committed an intrinsically evil act, by denying justice to the unborn.Am I wrong?<>One note — a bill must be signed by the executive in order to become law, so it could be argued that merely passing the bill is not intrinsically evil. To simplify things, we can consider the decision of the executive to sign or veto the bill, or a vote to override the executive veto.<>

  • M.Z. Forrest says:

    This seems to regulate the idea of corporate sin to the ash heap of history. The presense of other actors cannot be what distinguishes what is sin and what is not sin. Adultery does not necessitate thate cooperation of another person, at least in the sin sense.Our jurisprudence also suggests that there are corporate actions. If I and two buddies rob a bank and my body shoots a guard, we are all guilty of murder. Similarly, if I merely guard the door while my body takes the loot, I am still guilty of robbery. As far as legislation goes, I think there are sins to the common good, even if CC appears to have abandoned this idea. Even if we posit that no abortions would happen, I think we would still consider legalizing abortion would be a grave offense against the common good.If we go into this tunnel vision, properly understood the woman seeking the abortion is formally cooperating in the evil act of the doctor rather than commiting an intrinsic evil herself. For if the object cannot imply the use of another free actor, how can we say the object of the woman’s act is to kill an innocent child in her womb? We are left to say that the woman’s sin is seeking the doctor.

  • zippy says:

    <>Am I wrong?<>I don’t think so, if indeed he is choosing in his behavior to deny justice to the unborn. But the issue in play when discussing non-negotiables is the <>voter’s<> act, not the <>legislator’s<> acts or expected acts.Another thing that may still be confusing is that “choosing to formally cooperate with evil” may well be part (the moral quality, to be consistent with how I have used terms before) of the object of an act of voting. That is OK – in the sense that it doesn’t fall to my criteria for ruling out something from being in the object. My excluding criteria is that if <>someone else<> actually does it then it isn’t part of the object of <>your<> act. If you are formally cooperating with evil, it is <>you<> who are doing it – the formal cooperation – not someone else. Formal cooperation with evil may well be a species of intrinsically evil act: intrinsically evil because in its object is the choice to formally cooperate with some other evil act. (Mind you, I don’t have everything all worked out in my head. I have a number of things I am very sure <>cannot<> be the case, but as to what positively <>is<> the case that remains somewhat mysterious. This doesn’t bother me because any talk about Being and qualia, consciousness, free will, etc is fraught with mystery).Now in voting non-negotiables we are specifically <>not<> talking about formal cooperation, because we are looking for criteria which would allow us to rule out certain acts of voting <>independent of the intentions of the voter<>. What “non-negotiable” means – the only sensible thing it <>can<> mean – is “independent of the intentions of the voter”, since it is already a given that <>formal<> cooperation with evil is non-negotiable.

  • <>What I said was that the gravity of (e.g.) the superior officer’s act (of formal cooperation) could be greater than the gravity of the act itself. Indeed it prima facie is more grave by (at least) one additional damned soul.<>That was actually what I intended. Thanks for clarifying our common belief.<>What objectively proportionate reasons do or do not exist under the circumstances is exactly (and only) what is morally pertinent, and that is where where people who are interested in constructing categorical non-negotiables need to focus their efforts.<>Agreed. Indeed, I think that is precisely what CAA has implicitly done; I just don’t think they have explained their reasons well. They got the right answer, but they skipped crucial details in the logic, and more or less lucked into it.<>But since an act of voting is not non-negotiable in general it can only be non-negotiable (which is to say wrong independent of intentions, thus independent of whether or not the cooperation is formal or material) under specified factual conditions.<>That is certainly not what CAA had in mind by “non-negotiable.” They specifically said that one’s intention to support someone who is wrong on non-negotiables must be to limit the harm, which implicitly includes intentions. Their argument seems to be that circumstances never actually permit a licit intention in voting for someone in error on life issues or same-sex marriage except in the case of the other candidate committing an error of relatively greater gravity. This is because, objectively, there are no proportionate reasons for voting for the candidate, so one’s remote material cooperation can never be justified.<>Also, the remote material cooperation is with some putative specific future act which may or may not even occur, and which the voter may or may not expect to occur. It is one thing to know that a politician isn’t going to be any help turning back the present abortion regime and another thing entirely to expect him to make it worse in some specific act.<>On the contrary, his support for abortion is ongoing; he effectively campaigns for abortion the entire time he is in office. That position is formal cooperation with every act of abortion that takes place on his watch. If the candidate took a specific and rigorous position on allowing only a certain class of abortions (perhaps only in cases of rape/incest, health of the mother, or the like), it might diminish the extent of formal cooperation to only those abortions, but that would sitll (on estimates of these exceptional cases being only about 1-2% of all abortions) be on the order of 10^5 innocent deaths a year, and unlike the case of civilian casualties in war, they are all intended.<>I don’t know what you mean by “that act”, and it still isn’t clear to me that you are using the term “formal cooperation” the way I use it.<>“That act” = campaigning for permissive abortion laws, i.e., taking a public stand on these issues. The use of the term “formal cooperation” comes from the < HREF="http://www.priestsforlife.org/magisterium/bishops/04-07ratzingerommunion.htm" REL="nofollow">Holy Father’s opinion<> when he was head of the CDF:<>Christians have a “grave obligation of conscience not to cooperate formally in practices which, even if permitted by civil legislation, are contrary to God’s law. Indeed, from the moral standpoint, it is never licit to cooperate formally in evil. […] This cooperation can never be justified either by invoking respect for the freedom of others or by appealing to the fact that civil law permits it or requires it” (no. 74).…Regarding the grave sin of abortion or euthanasia, when a person’s <>formal cooperation<> becomes manifest (<>understood, in the case of a Catholic politician, as his consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws<>), his Pastor should meet with him, instructing him about the Church’s teaching, informing him that he is not to present himself for Holy Communion until he brings to an end the objective situation of sin, and warning him that he will otherwise be denied the Eucharist.<>Finally, you said:<>Absent the particular circumstances which define the category it doesn’t get you a categorical prohibition of voting for that politician. <>Analysis of proportionate reasons can give you a categorical prohibition for candidates doing a certain class of act, like campaigning for permissive abortion laws or same-sex “marriage.” It is reasonable to identify a collection of acts the candidate can perform in office that are of vastly greater proximity/gravity than others to the point of there never really being proportionate reasons to vote for the candidate in a certain class of cases (specifically, when the other candidate is not in relative error on these issues), even if the candidate’s evil action is an unintended consequence.

  • zippy says:

    <>This seems to regulate the idea of corporate sin to the ash heap of history.<>Ah, that is a very interesting point, and is what I was getting at with my brief reference to adultery in the post. It remains the case that no other person commits adultery <>for me<>: in order for adultery to be the obejct of my act, it has to actually be me who commits it. The adulterous behavior is <>my behavior<>, it isn’t someone else’s behavior in which I am merely cooperating.

  • zippy says:

    <>On the contrary, his support for abortion is ongoing; he effectively campaigns for abortion the entire time he is in office.<>An act is some particular behavior we choose as a human being in a specific movement of the will. “Effectively campaigns” isn’t an <>act<>. (I think you may be confusing human acts with what JPII referred to as “structures of sin”.) If the candidate campaigns it can only be because he actually performs specific acts of campaigning.

  • Gotta go for the moment, but I want to clarify one thing:<>As far as legislation goes, I think there are sins to the common good, even if CC appears to have abandoned this idea.<>I want to be very clear that I am NOT abandoning this idea. I accept the correction from Decker and Zippy that acts of formal cooperation are not intrinsically evil, and repudiating the state’s responsibility by taking public stands in favor of permissive abortion laws is formal cooperation. But that is strictly a question of terminology, not effect. An act of formal cooperation with abortion can still be a harm against the common good; indeed, it can be precisely <>because<> it makes the state complicit in an action that betrays a fundamental duty. I don’t in the least mean to say that this is not a sin against the common good simply because it bears the label “formal cooperation” and not “intrinsically evil.”

  • <>An act is some particular behavior we choose as a human being in a specific movement of the will.<>If you know to a moral certainty that the candidate will fail to retract his public stance after taking office, then he commits a new act of sin by taking office without repudiating his previous stand (effectively taking authority illicitly), and this sin has persistent consequences (he effectively continues to campaign his entire duration in office). I’m not buying the distinction. You don’t have to have a specific act of campaigning in mind beyond the bare fact of the candidate taking office having not explicitly repudiated his previous stance for my reasoning to hold.

  • zippy says:

    <>That is certainly not what CAA had in mind by “non-negotiable.”<>Since it (that is, the proposition that voting for X in the upcoming election is wrong irrespective of your intentions in voting for him) is the only thing that they possibly could have in mind if they are making a categorical claim, then one of two things obtains:1) They aren’t actually making a categorical claim and should jettison the term “non-negotiable” as inherently deceptive; or2) They <>are<> making a categorical claim: an incoherent one.

  • zippy says:

    <>I want to be very clear that I am NOT abandoning this idea.<>Ditto.

  • zippy says:

    Also I have a further clarification:<> I accept the correction from Decker and Zippy that acts of formal cooperation are not intrinsically evil, …<>It isn’t that an act of formal cooperation isn’t intrinsically evil. (And acts of formal cooperation with evil are always wrong anyway, so the point is somewhat moot). It is that the <>object<> of an act which formally cooperates with someone else’s intrinsically evil act X is not the <>object<> of intrinsically evil act X.

  • zippy says:

    <>…and this sin has persistent consequences…<>Every sin has persistent consequences.<>I’m not buying the distinction.<>Which one specifically? The distinction between a specific act and its persistent consequences?

  • M.Z. Forrest says:

    I’m not sure if I’m being clear about sins against the common good. The common good is a tangible good in and of itself. It is harmed not only by the product of the consequent acts resulting from the initial act, but it is harmed by the initial act itself. It is not merely the abortions that take place due to legalization, but the harm is proclaiming true that which is false. For example, a government that professes there is no God has commited a grave sin. That subsequently people may not believe in God due to this proclamation does not change the fact the government has commited grave sin.

  • M.Z. Forrest says:

    <>It remains the case that no other person commits adultery for me: in order for adultery to be the obejct of my act, it has to actually be me who commits it. The adulterous behavior is my behavior, it isn’t someone else’s behavior in which I am merely cooperating.<>I believe you are getting hung up on how the act is fullfilled. Adultery is the violation of marital bond. If I go to a strip club, the object of my act can be adultery. If I watch pornography, the object of my act can be adultery. How I violate my marital bond is not the important consideration.This is where I think your Lt. analogy is deficient. The fact that I use another person to accomplish my evil desire does not change the object of my act. Cooperation with evil I have always understood – my understanding most certainly can be deficient – to mean that your act facilited the act. For example, I would formally cooperate in evil if I sold a gun to a killer knowing what he was going to do, but being disinterested in the same.

  • Zippy:<>Since it (that is, the proposition that voting for X in the upcoming election is wrong irrespective of your intentions in voting for him) is the only thing that they possibly could have in mind if they are making a categorical claim…<>That would be entirely inconsistent with the fact that they specifically said that if you intended by your vote to limit the harm worked by one candidate or the other, then it would be licit. The categorization is based on the <>harm done<> by the act, which is a perfectly reasonable thing to do. I don’t think they actually evaluated the harm done correctly, as they measured harm solely by the end activity, and not the harm of the act of public support itself. But if they had, then they would have come to the correct conclusion that the harm done by public advocacy on these issues outweighs any reasonable degree of good obtained by the candidate’s support on any issues outside this class, or even all such issues combined.<>It isn’t that an act of formal cooperation isn’t intrinsically evil.<>OK, then I think I accept Decker’s position rather than yours, but I agree this is moot for present purposes, so I’ll drop that discussion and get to the point.<>It is that the object of an act which formally cooperates with someone else’s intrinsically evil act X is not the object of intrinsically evil act X.<>I agree. Of course, the metric of the harm done by an act of formal cooperation IS the harm inflicted by the acts that one intends to support by formal cooperation. As you pointed out, formal cooperation simply expands the number of people implicated, which can be even worse. In the case of the state, the harm to the common good is based on the state being formally implicated as well. There is also an additional subjective harm for individuals from the candidate’s actions. Any voter who <>formally<> cooperates with that candidate is implicated in every abortion that takes place for the next four years (or whatever). Without a candidate out there, the only acts of abortion with which they can formally cooperate are those with which they have some immediate contact. But once the threshold is crossed for objective formal cooperation, the situation changes radically, because it gives the possibility of an action specifically intended to formally cooperate with abortion in addition to the harm to the common good. So the candidate is not only a collaborator implicating the state, but a corruptor as well.<>Which [distinction aren’t you buying] specifically? The distinction between a specific act and its persistent consequences?<>Yes, for purposes of harm evaluation. The question of harm from formal cooperation is one of all the effects of the act with which you are formally cooperating, not merely those results of the causal contribution of your act. It is therefore possible to “effectively campaign” based on a single, discrete act of campaigning, since you are objectively responsible for all the effects resulting from your formal cooperation. If you formally cooperate with a faulty legal regime or immoral policy, then all of the effects of that unjust legal regime or policy relative to a just legal regime objectively fall on your head. This is the difference between the objective character of acts that count as formal cooperation and acts that count as material cooperation. In the latter case, the only effects for which you are objectively culpable are the ones your action itself produced; in the latter case, you are responsible for all foreseeable effects. This is particularly serious where the state is implicated, because the harm to the common good through state implication is aggravated by the policy’s negative effects.M.Z. Forrest:<>It is harmed not only by the product of the consequent acts resulting from the initial act, but it is harmed by the initial act itself.<>I agree with that, but I think there has to be an act that objectively qualifies as evil (whether intrinsically or through formal cooperation or obvious disproportion) for this to be the case. That act certainly harms the common good in and of itself; the foreseeable consequences only make that harm worse.

  • <>The fact that I use another person to accomplish my evil desire does not change the object of my act.<>I’m not sure. The object of the seller’s act is “selling a gun that I know will be used to kill people,” and the object of killer’s act is “firing a gun for the purpose of killing people.” I think what is important is that both acts give complete responsibility for all consequences of the complex of acts; the killer’s later act effectively becomes your act for purposes of the harm done. So while as a finer point of moral theology, it may be true that the acts have different objects, the moral <>guilt<> attaching to both acts includes at least the results of the killer’s acts.In the case of the state, the state cannot have an “intent,” but there is still harm to the common good when the state is made formally complicit in acts by public officials. And ISTM that it works the same way: if the candidate would be responsible for all the harm inflicted by the regime on account of his formal cooperation, then so would the state.

  • m.z. forrest says:

    In the case of abortion, I think the offense to the common good would be the State claiming that certain humans by their state of being are not worthy of life. (The same offense as euthanasia.) We know this to be contrary to the common good, because God has taught that all men are created in the image of God. (I know folks here know this. I’m just composing the argument.) IIRC, the three segregationists excommunicated in Louisiana were excommunicated on grounds of seeking to deny equal humanity between the races, not for necessarily targeting any particular, specific person.In voting for a person, I think the object is less easy to discern. As far as particular legislation, I think the object is easier to distinguish. I think that legislating or public advocacy is best expressed as the effects on common good rather than effects on individual acts consequent to the legislation/advocacy. We could certainly evaluate it hierarchially. I think CA’s use of the term non-negotiable means not allowing alternative views, which is why they wouldn’t place the minimum wage or death penalty on the guide, for example.It would take a blog post for me to get into voting. Anyhow, pinning the sin down on legislation is necessary before moving onto voting.

  • m.z. forrest says:

    Crimson Catholic,In the case of gun seller, I think the object of the act is to sell the gun. That is morally neutral. The circumstance makes it evil. It necessarily in this case makes him culpable for the murder.As I’ve understood it, the State can be a moral actor. For example it can declare war and punish the guilty. Individuals obviously act in the state’s name. For an evil act, an official action will necessarily be notorious because it carries the imprimatur of the State.

  • <>I think that legislating or public advocacy is best expressed as the effects on common good rather than effects on individual acts consequent to the legislation/advocacy.<>Where I differ is that I don’t think there is any conflict so that it needs to be “best expressed” as one of the other. Both harms are results for which the act is responsible; both contribute to the gravity of the act. I agree with you that people have been focusing too much on the effects, so that it is helpful to remember that this would be an evil act even if there were no effects. But people are also getting the gravity of the harm wrong as well, because they are using a standard appropriate for remote material cooperation (in which case you look solely at your particular effect in the causal chain) rather than formal cooperation (in which case everyone involved bears full responsibility for any intended consequence).The reason I’m harping on this is that I think two separate errors are being committed. The first is to say that the harm ONLY pertains to consequences. The second is to say that the harm only pertains to <>direct causal<> consequences. Both unduly minimize the harm that is done by the candidate’s action.

  • m.z. forrest says:

    In regards to using free individuals to achieve our object, a man hires a hitman to kill his wife. The object of the man’s act can be nothing other than the murder of his wife.

  • <>As I’ve understood it, the State can be a moral actor. For example it can declare war and punish the guilty.<>I agree. My point was simply that it can’t have “intent” because it doesn’t have a will. Formal cooperation therefore has to be defined differently for the state; it cannot appeal to subjective intent, but rather, to the objective actions of agents acting in the state’s name.

  • zippy says:

    <>OK, then I think I accept Decker’s position rather than yours, …<>Mine isn’t incompatible with his. All I’ve said is that the object of an act (call it Y) of formal cooperation with intrinsically evil act X is different from the object of intrinsically evil act X, independent of whether or not Y is itself an intrinsically evil act. In short, an act of formal cooperation is distinct from the act with which it formally cooperates.I hope everyone realizes how specific the point I am making in the post is. The point of the post is that if someone else does it, then “it” isn’t the object of your act. The object of a human act is, according to JPII, a specific behavior chosen by the acting person as a corporeal being.Also, if all that CA is saying in the Voter’s Guide is that formal cooperation with evil is always itself evil, they sure made it look like they were saying something else entirely.

  • zippy says:

    On the question of acts performed by the competent authority on behalf of the common good it is still the case that these acts are performed by actual persons. There are additional elements involved: a legitimate representative of the common good has legitimate authority that someone acting on his own behalf does not have, for example. But “it” (say the issuance of an order to start a war) is still something done by actual human beings: it doesn’t just “happen”.

  • m.z. forrest says:

    <>I hope everyone realizes how specific the point I am making in the post is. The point of the post is that if someone else does it, then “it” isn’t the object of your act. The object of a human act is, according to JPII, a specific behavior chosen by the acting person as a corporeal being.<>To be honest Zippy, I am missing the fine point. (This has happened before. 🙂 ) The hitman scenario seems the easiest to argue. Maybe you can show me my leap of logic there.<>Also, if all that CA is saying in the Voter’s Guide is that formal cooperation with evil is always itself evil, they sure made it look like they were saying something else entirely.<>I think that is the cliff notes version. Going from memory on Mr. Akin’s public defenses of the voting guide – he eventually was the only spokesman for the matter due to IRS concerns – he emphasized:1) Life issues are to be given greater weight.2) War, min wage, and such were not added, because they are issues of prudence.3) One could licitly support the candidate that supported fewer non-negotiables.

  • I understand your point about different objects, and all I am saying is that I would also follow Decker’s reasoning and say that an act of formal cooperation cannot be intrinsically evil based on the fact that it is formal cooperation by definition, because it depends on the circumstance of someone else’s act and the intent to further that act. An act of formal cooperation can be also be intrinsically evil (e.g., masturbation to produce semen for the creation of embryos for stem cell research), but it is not intrinsically evil <>because<> it is formal cooperation with an evil act. Like you said, though, it’s irrelevant to the main point.<>The point of the post is that if someone else does it, then “it” isn’t the object of your act. The object of a human act is, according to JPII, a specific behavior chosen by the acting person as a corporeal being.<>Agreed.<>Also, if all that CA is saying in the Voter’s Guide is that formal cooperation with evil is always itself evil, they sure made it look like they were saying something else entirely.<>The problem is that they didn’t close the logical chain; they didn’t explain <>why<> a public official supporting permissive abortion laws ties that person to every abortion committed on his watch. They treated only the causal responsibility of the candidate and not the moral responsibility. Also, they never made clear what made <>voting<> evil, except implicitly, which made it even more unclear what the candidate’s evil was.<>On the question of acts performed by the competent authority on behalf of the common good it is still the case that these acts are performed by actual persons.<>True. It’s like formal cooperation. It takes another person going out and doing the evil thing to make the act evil. So if you support permissive abortion laws in your capacity as a public official (formal cooperation with abortion), then you (and the state as moral agent) are on the hook for every abortion performed that would have been prevented by just laws against abortion for as long as that stance is not repudiated. The point is that you can be on the hook for acts that another person later performs, if you formally cooperate with those acts.

  • <>The hitman scenario seems the easiest to argue. Maybe you can show me my leap of logic there.<>You’re thinking in terms of guilt, rather than specification of actions. An act of formal cooperation transfers guilt from the results of someone else’s action by definition. There have to be two actions (you can’t cooperate with yourself), meaning that there have to be two objects. But you are both just as guilty from the results of the one action. Someone who hires a hitman is guilty of murder, and so is the hitman.<>Going from memory on Mr. Akin’s public defenses of the voting guide – he eventually was the only spokesman for the matter due to IRS concerns – he emphasized:1) Life issues are to be given greater weight.2) War, min wage, and such were not added, because they are issues of prudence.3) One could licitly support the candidate that supported fewer non-negotiables. <>(1) was not tied explicitly to the harm inflicted by the candidate’s actions; (2) should have been irrelevant; (3) was incorrect (fewer is not the test; more harm is). The whole thing should have been about the degree of harm, which was addressed only obliquely.

  • zippy says:

    <>The point is that you can be on the hook for acts that another person later performs, if you formally cooperate with those acts.<>Now Jonathan, when you go saying things like that it spoils all the fun that goes on when we disagree.(You can also be on the hook morally if you materially cooperate. And if there really is such a thing as a voting non-negotiable it has got to be one of those).

  • M.Z. Forrest says:

    Thank you CC for the clarification. So the hitman scenario would necessarily be evil by intention.I’m not sure ‘formal cooperation’ with abortion can be established outside the obvious case of funding it in the case of the State. (I use the State, because it is really not important if we are dealing with a king or legislature.) If we were to argue such, we would be compelled to argue that the State is formally cooperating in evil when it does not outlaw prostitution. This is not to say that the State is not obligated to outlaw abortion. The reason it is obligated however has to do with the offense to the common good, specifically society’s obligation to protect the innocent, that necessitates the prohibition.

  • <>If we were to argue such, we would be compelled to argue that the State is formally cooperating in evil when it does not outlaw prostitution. This is not to say that the State is not obligated to outlaw abortion. The reason it is obligated however has to do with the offense to the common good, specifically society’s obligation to protect the innocent, that necessitates the prohibition.<>We can separate the cases when permissive laws cannot <>possibly<> be in line with the common good, in which the state has an absolute positive obligation to ban certain conduct, from those that can be allowed for proportionate reasons. Prostitution is a classic example where the common good can be served by not banning the conduct, since the enforcement could seriously disrupt public order. But the protection of innocent life and marriage are absolute obligations. The state permitting the murder of innocents is always wrong and makes the state formally complicit in the end acts, as deliberately “intending” the consequences in forgoing the objective responsibility.

  • M.Z. Forrest says:

    We are largely in agreement with some minor semantic differences.I would stick with the latter part of your argument, namely the obligations of the state. The state is not obligated to keep men from sinning, hence they are not obligated to regulate prostitution. The state is obligated to protect the innocent. The state is obligated to support and not act contrary to lesser institutions such as marriage. I think I’ll explore the larger question of how this affects voting in a post at my blog tonight.

  • zippy says:

    I am not sure the subtleties are particularly pertinent in a country where the positive law asserts a positive <>right<> for some citizens to murder others. Failure to explicitly outlaw something is one kind of thing; asserting a positive right to something heinous is something else.

  • zippy says:

    <>The state is not obligated to keep men from sinning, hence they are not obligated to regulate prostitution. The state is obligated to protect the innocent.<>There are no sins which do not harm the innocent.

  • <>The state is obligated to protect the innocent.<>I’d agree with Zippy that all sin hurts innocents. The state might not be obligated to prevent men from sinning, but plenty of wives and children are hurt by prostitution, for example. The line needs to be drawn more clearly, although I believe you are right to construct it in terms of state obligations.I think all of us have attained some agreement on critical concepts. I’m looking forward to see how it gets developed. I definitely have some revisions of my earlier explanation in mind after this discussion.

  • Anna says:

    You could say that the state is obliged to protect the innocent from physical harm, rather than spiritual harm. And, generally speaking, people don’t hold the state completely responsible for preventing self-inflicted harm of either the spiritual or physical type.

  • zippy says:

    <>You could say that the state is obliged to protect the innocent from physical harm, rather than spiritual harm.<>I’m not sure that this is what is true in the natural law, but it is probably true at least of modern liberal perceptions of the proper role of government; perceptions which though rooted in error are not completely without merit. I don’t think the spiritual and the incarnate can be fully segregated into separate realms which never meet.But I think it is somewhat beside the point. In the case of abortion we have something more than a failure to protect: we have the assertion of a positive right to murder certain people. In the case of torture we also have something more than a failure to protect: we have the State actually perpetrating the act directly. In both cases it isn’t just a matter of the State failing to protect the common good: it is a case of the State turning malevolently against the common good in its positive actions.

  • Some guy on the street says:

    It seems to me (as in the case of “swinging legs”, “pre-emptive war”, etc) that in addition to intentions one ought to account for reasonably expected outcomes; it is unreasonable to expect that swinging legs <>won’t<> have kick-like effects, and it is unreasonable to expect that suddenly disrupting chain-of-government anywhere won’t lead to anarchic behaviour within the ensuing anarchy.And at the same time, assuming the Lt and Sgt have pre-arranged their ‘code’, it <>may be<> reasonable for the Lt to expect that the Sgt will follow code protocol instead of plain-speach protocol, and in this case not to slaughter civilians. Reasonable, that is, modulo the trust Lt has in Sgt, and Sgt’s characteristic trust-worthiness.If you have a <>reasonable expectation<> (and enjoy moderately sound reason) that evil will result from an unnecessary act, which would reasonably not result otherwise, then I think you ought still to bear some responsibility for the resultant evil.That’s my thought for the day.—–I seem to have another thought; a priest who knows X is sinful, but thinks the Church ought to keep quiet about X has funny thoughts about what the Church ought to teach; a priest who thinks X is NOT sinful in <>spite<> of Church teaching has less funny— but no less heretical— thoughts on the <>nature<> of Church teaching.

  • Anna says:

    <>I don’t think the spiritual and the incarnate can be fully segregated into separate realms which never meet.<>Granted. Murder certainly involves spiritual harm as well as physical harm. But most often we consider the primary duty of the state to be the physical protection of the citizens from others. Spiritual well-being is ancillary to the state. (Whereas, spiritual well-being is primary for the church, and physical well-being is ancillary for it).<>In both cases it isn’t just a matter of the State failing to protect the common good: it is a case of the State turning malevolently against the common good in its positive actions.<> Agreed. I think I’d go further, though. The State promoting a right to prostitution would be less evil than the State promoting a right to abortion, because the latter violates the primary purpose of the State more drastically.

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