Double-Back Effect

July 29, 2007 § 30 Comments

William Luse has a couple of interesting posts up at WWWtW which deal with double-effect. Of particular interest is the second post in which Professor Luse quotes Anscombe at length. I found the following excerpt of particular interest:

The distinction between the intended, and the merely foreseen, effects of a voluntary action is indeed absolutely essential to Christian ethics. For Christianity forbids a number of things as being bad in themselves. But if I am answerable for the foreseen consequences of an action or refusal, as much as for the action itself, then these prohibitions will break down. If someone innocent will die unless I do a wicked thing, then on this view I am his murderer in refusing: so all that is left to me is to weigh up evils. Here the theologian steps in with the priniciple of double-effect and says: “No, you are no murderer, if the man’s death was neither your aim nor your chosen means, and if you had to act in the way that led to it or else do something absolutely forbidden.” Without understanding of this principle, anything can be – and is wont to be- justified, and the Christian teaching that in no circumstances may one commit murder, adultery, apostasy (to give a few examples) goes by the board.

On this understanding, double-effect serves virtually the opposite purpose to which so many modern people attempt to put it in order to justify atrocities like the Tokyo, Dresden, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki bombings: double-effect justifies refusing to do evil when that refusal has unintended evil consequences.

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§ 30 Responses to Double-Back Effect

  • Rodak says:

    I’m not sure that I understand. We begin with: “The distinction between the intended, and the merely foreseen, effects of a voluntary action is indeed absolutely essential to Christian ethics.” So here we are talking about doing something–e.g. A-bombing Nagasaki to prevent the necessity of an invasion of the Japanese homeland. But we end up validating double-effect only as a decision NOT to act, which unfortunately results in something bad happening. By this reasoning, the U.S. should withdraw from Iraq, even if it results in genocide, since the presence of U.S. troops there is demonstrably resulting in the deaths of thousands of innocents.I surely agree with this point of view, but I have heard double-effect used specifically to refute it. Double-effect seems to be a gate which swings whichever way he who deploys it needs it to swing in order to justify whatever evil it is he wants to do, or when he doesn’t care that what he does not want to do allows evil to happen.

  • zippy says:

    <>By this reasoning, the U.S. should withdraw from Iraq, even if it results in genocide, since the presence of U.S. troops there is demonstrably resulting in the deaths of thousands of innocents.<>I don’t see how that follows. The whole point to double effect is that the fact that an act or failure to act <>results in<> X does not necessarily (though it <>may<>) imply that the acting subject is <>responsible for<> X.Let A = “withdraw from Iraq” or “stay in Iraq” in the following discussion. Interestingly, it makes no difference.What I see this showing is not the definite conclusion that the US should A. What I see it showing is that the fact that bad things will happen if the US does A doesn’t imply that the US must necessarily not do A: especially if not-A involves a direct choice to do evil.It is true that double-effect is much abused by various partisans, but that a concept is much abused doesn’t really tell us much about the concept itself. What is unique about the Anscombe quote is her contention that <>without<> double-effect the possibility of exceptionless norms disappears. I am not entirely sure that that is true, but it does put double-effect in a different light.

  • Rodak says:

    This, it would seem, is what constitutes the capital “T” Truth:“…and if the choice lies between our total destruction and the commission of sin, then we must choose to be destroyed.”This would seem to limit Just War, or the small-scale use of violence “justly,” to that undertaken in order to rescue a defenseless victim from a superior aggressor, and then only if this could be accomplished without harming any innocents that would *necessarily* be harmed. Not much wiggle room there.

  • William Luse says:

    I had a feeling that part would interest you.Anywyay, over at that other place you’ve been doing most of the heavy lifting, and I want you to know I appreciate it. I wear out easily.

  • Anonymous says:

    Dear Zippy,So apply this same thing to divorce and to living with your lover as brother and sister, when you consider the evil that divorce is PROVEN to bring and the injustice that refusing reconciliation with your valid spouse brings (to both them and the children of the valid marriage)and tell me how the equation results in each case. Karl

  • zippy says:

    Karl:You have been persistent, and I am becoming convinced, though I doubt I will ever reach the point where I can produce the kind of categorical result you seek. And all the moral casuistry aside, on the human level I’m sorely tempted by the conscupiscient desire to see the heads of soul-destroying adulterers and their enablers on pikes about the castle walls. So hear me out on this one.Paint the following scenario:1) Christine has divorced her valid spouse and “remarried” outside the Church, or had some other adulterous relationship.2) Christine has children with both her true husband and her more recent adulterous partner.3) Christine has repented, confessed, and is now in communion with the Church. She is (at the moment) living as brother and sister with her former adulterous partner, putatively for the sake of the children of the adulterous partnership.4) Christine’s true husband desires reconciliation: that is, reconciliation is a matter of Christine choosing it and is not impeded by her valid spouse’s unwillingness to reconcile or anything else: from his standpoint it is just a matter of her choosing to do it, and he is willing do the work of reconciliation.5) There has been no decree of nullity: the marriage to her first and only husband is definitely valid.In this case Christine does (in my view) have an obligation to reconcile. She <>also<> has natural obligations to all of her children. It still isn’t completley clear to me how those different obligations play out in particular acts, and specifics are crucial: but you are right to point out that “because it would be harmful to the children of the adulterous relationship” is not something which trumps her obligations to her true husband <>simpliciter<>. Certainly “it would be bad for the children” isn’t an all-purpose excuse which removes those obligations, <>even if it is true<>. (In fact <>nothing<> can simply remove her obligations and clear her conscience on a forward-going basis: until she or her true spouse dies she will always have the obligation to seek reconciliation.)But like all positive obligations to act this cannot be plenary. Positive obligations to act, unlike negative obligations to refrain from performing evil acts, are <>always<> conditioned by circumstances.So here is where I come out. Christine may (I know you don’t like this part) be doing right to maintain the “brother and sister” relationship as a temporary thing until the children are older. But – and this is where I am moving in your direction because you’ve made me think more on the particular class of cases – even if she is right to do that, she is obligated to communicate that that is what she is doing to her true spouse. In other words, living arrangements are one thing; but the obligation to begin reconciliation, which absolutely will (down the road) lead to different living arrangements, starts NOW. She has no excuse for not planning for that future day when she and her true husband move back together; possibly not until after the present children are grown, but inevitably nonetheless.So to the extent the “living as brother and sister with the adulterous partner” thing is treated as permanent, that is wicked and inexcusable. To the extent that the willingness to reconcile is not communicated to the true spouse, that is wicked and inexcusable. To the extent that she is not makikng plans for when (not if) reconciliation is to take place, and when the less critical issue of living arrangements is to be resolved, that is wicked and inexcusable.Not perhaps as categorical as you would like, but again I think I’ve moved in your direction significantly.

  • Anonymous says:

    Dear Zippy,The problem is that a spouse, just as they are entitled to sexual monogomy are also entitled to “personalist monogomy” according to the teachings coming from vatican II. It is called personalism. Read Cormac Burkes stuff. Marriages are being called null, and you know this as well as I do, because catholic canonist judges are concluding that these personalist elements are lacking.If these judgement are authentic and have been made under Rotal judgement(meaning they are made in union with the Holy See and therefore are to be held by every catholic and acted upon as such) then they are ESSENTIAL to a marriage and to “postpone them” is illicit at best(particularly if the innocent spouse does not agree) and (to me this is an obvious no brainer) likely are very gravely immoral because to deny what is essential to marriage is evil because it DOES NOT SUPPORT the end of marriage called “the good of the spouses”, which is the first among equals the other equal being the good of the children(which I remind you means the good of the children of the valid marriage and these are still children even if they are adults!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!). AND BY THE TEACHING OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH THESE “CHILDREN OF A VALID MARRIAGE” HAVE A RIGHT TO THEIR PARENTS AS A UNIT NOT AS “FREE AGENTS”. We are not talking here about killing the children of adultery, we are talking about their existance “justifying” the violation of a myriad of pre-existing people’s rights to keep them in a relationship that of itself was born from adultery and exists to support the fruits of adultery. One, when you strip away all the distractions is using children to punish (by deprivation of what one is entitled to through the marital vows) an innocent victim.This is so patently absurd as to be comical, in the most vile and disgusting manner to an objective soul.Since the beggining of sytematic legal studies and logical studies it has been establiseh that it is, in and of itself wrong, to be able to profit from ones own crimes. This “construct” does just that, the criminals get to “profit”, they deny what they owe to their victims as well as, be parents(which they have no right to at all in spite of their biological connection to these children since the conception was a criminal, immoral act), watch their victims suffer continuously…..You will find the more you look objectively at this abomination of “brother and sister” that it becomes more and more transparent that it falls apart morally.The “personalist rights” are as essential as oxygen to an aerobic organism, or essential does not mean essential, the result of lack of oxygen(forget the adaptations mr. scientist) is death of the organism, which in the case of a human is ALWAYS WRONG. To deny what is essential is ALWAYS WRONG, PERIOD.It is not my opinion it is logic.Karl

  • zippy says:

    Karl: it seems to me (though I may be reading you incorrectly) that you are trying to turn a positive obligation to act in a certain way into a universal norm independent of intentions and circumstances. That literally isn’t possible. The only possible universal norms with respect to human acts are <>negative<> norms: obligations to <>not<> do the thing in question (commit adultery, kill the innocent, commit apostasy, etc). So while it is quite possible that we would agree what is and is not morally obligatory in every single actual particular case when looking at all of the facts, it simply isn’t the case that this gives rise to (what would be the first and only) universal norm requiring positive action independent of circumstances.In fact under some conceivable circumstances it is clear that the legitimate spouse would be very wicked to insist on instant gratification independent of the cost to other innocents: and make no mistake about it, the children of adultery are innocents. I have absolutely no sympathy for those who even hint otherwise: they damn themselves in the accusation. (In fact it is clear to me that the legitimate spouse could in some conceivable circumstances be wicked to insist on instant gratification independent of the cost to the <>guilty<>).Also I think it is simply wrong – absurd even – to suggest that every act which results in a perpetrator profiting (in some conceivable understanding of the term) from his crime necessarily is, inter alia, an evil act.So we are still quite a ways from complete agreement. But I have come closer to your views in the details, as my last post hopefully makes clear.

  • Rodak says:

    “…you are trying to turn a positive obligation to act in a certain way into a universal norm independent of intentions and circumstances.”Let me try: “Love thy neighbor as thyself.”

  • zippy says:

    “Love they neighbor as thyself” is not a positive obligation to carry out a specific act independent of intentions and circumstances. It is a universal moral norm in a sense, but it isn’t a universal moral norm to <>perform a specific act<> independent of circumstances.As the Magisterium points out in <>Veritatis Splendour<>, universal norms covering human acts can only forbid; positive obligations to act are always dependent on circumstances (circumstances have to be such that the act is possible and that performing it is not evil, for starters). So while it is true that the negative obligations (w.r.t. human acts) are merely the bedrock of the moral law and do not begin to cover its full scope, only the negative obligations bind universally in all circumstances. “Love thy neighbor” is a precondition or disposition; and while it <>is<> obligatory it isn’t a specific act.

  • Rodak says:

    “…while it is obligatory it isn’t a specific act.”Every time I am confronted by my neighbor, isn’t the commandment made specific? Don’t I have to decide either to obey the commandment, or to disobey it, with regard to, *this* neighbor, on *this* occasion, under *these* circumstances?

  • zippy says:

    Sure. Charity is the <>reason why<> we engage in many acts: the animating force of many acts, and it isn’t optional. But charity isn’t a specific behavior like (e.g.) adultery, so it isn’t subject as a specific behavior to a universal norm. (This is all in VS, at least if I am paraphrasing it correctly).

  • zippy says:

    To wit:<>Every choice always implies a reference by the deliberate will to the goods and evils indicated by the natural law as goods to be pursued and evils to be avoided. In the case of the positive moral precepts, prudence always has the task of verifying that they apply in a specific situation, for example, in view of other duties which may be more important or urgent. But the negative moral precepts, those prohibiting certain concrete actions or kinds of behaviour as intrinsically evil, do not allow for any legitimate exception. They do not leave room, in any morally acceptable way, for the “creativity” of any contrary determination whatsoever. Once the moral species of an action prohibited by a universal rule is concretely recognized, the only morally good act is that of obeying the moral law and of refraining from the action which it forbids.<>

  • Rodak says:

    Okay. But isn’t performing an act of charity a *secondary* choice? Isn’t the primary choice that of saying either “Yes, I will obey” or “No, MY will be done”? And isn’t such obedience both a voluntary action and a universal obligation? Is not “to obey” as specific an act as “to lie” or “to kill”?

  • Anonymous says:

    Dear Zippy,It is simply absurd to believe that the “obligation to do a good” supercedes an obligation to function as a spouse in a valid marriage, unless it is agreed to by both valid spouses.If this is so then any “greater good” can be used as an excuse to simply abandon your obligations to a valid spouse.How does one determine what a greater good is than the good of the spouses of a valid marriage? Or their children? I guess this is why the Catholic Church supports the civil enslavement of spouses, they do not like, by even going along with kidnapping the children of an innocent spouse by the adulterous spouse and their lover because the state says so.It is a joke beyond comprehension, Zippy, and an evil of incredible proportions that is full throttle pushed by Rome!!Why must the adulterers remain together? Cannot the valid married couple raise these children?So, if I feel the sudden urge to go to be a missionary in africa, for children younger than our seven children, I can do this even though my wife is absolutely opposed to it BECAUSE IT IS A FACT THAT THERE ARE UNTOLD NUMBERS OF POOR, DYING CHILDREN IN AFRICA AND MY HELPING THEM WOULD BE A GREAT GOOD?If you say the answer to that is no. why? What is the difference?These are both sets of children that need care more than mine do. So I guess, the only difference is the adultery!!! Which is REWARDED with the ability to further punish an innocent spouse.You are missing the point that todeny a promise or more importantly a vow, in fact, is an evil in and of itself, so you are doing an evil for the sake of a good, which is forbidden under moral theology.

  • zippy says:

    <>But isn’t performing an act of charity a *secondary* choice?<>Strictly speaking, the phrase “act of charity” describes a whole (and hopefully large) category of acts, it doesn’t name a specific act.<>Is not “to obey” as specific an act as “to lie” or “to kill”?<>The same thing applies. In a sense the cart is before the horse here: the act in question (the <>object<>) is the specific behavior that the acting subject chose. When I say that a policeman is a man, I am explicating a relation between categories. When I say “Bob is a policeman” (assuming that Bob refers to an actual person) I am naming a species under which the actual person Bob falls. An act is a particular like Bob, not a category like policeman.The object of an act is the acting subject’s actual chosen behavior. If a choice to do evil (e.g. kill the innocent) is intrinsic to that particular choice of behavior, then the act is evil in its object and is never permissable. But non-action cannot be evil in its object: it <>has no<> object. So the moral status of non-action or refraining from some possible act always depends on intentions and circumstances.That doesn’t mean that there is always a free pass available for failing to act. Far from it! But it isn’t possible for there to be a universal norm which prohibits failing-to-act under all possible intentions and circumstances.

  • zippy says:

    <>If you say the answer to that is no. why? What is the difference?<>The difference is that you did not bring those African children into the world, and do not have the natural obligation to provide them with a whole (or as whole as possible) home led by both their natural mother and their natural father.<>You are missing the point that to deny a promise or more importantly a vow, in fact, is an evil in and of itself…<>Again, that simply isn’t true <>in all circumstances<> of <>any<> positive obligation to act, <>ever<>. A spouse who is in prison has the same incapacity; a spouse who is in prison because of her own wrongdoing no less so because of her role in arriving there. It would not be licit for the spouse to (for example) kill the innocent in order to escape and go reunite with her husband. Postponing the reconciliation and reunion to a time when it is possible to do so <>without doing evil<> is morally obligatory. (And frankly, the other spouse [or anyone to whom any promise was made which literally cannot now be fulfilled without doing evil], even though wronged by this spouse’s actions and entitled to ultimate justice, is wrong to expect the other to do evil in order to fulfill a vow).Whether the sort of hypothetical we are discussing actually exists in reality, ever, is another matter. But it simply isn’t true that failure to fulfill a positive obligation <>right now<> is always to do evil; often the opposite is the case.

  • Anonymous says:

    So then every marriage should be broken when there are children born out of wedlock and the guilty party should be rewarded with a pass to go and live with their adulerous partner. All of this due to the “natural obligation” to raise the fruit of adultery as a family.And all of this does not make it an “evil” to force the innocent spouse to subsidize this crime with their money and the loss of their marital partner.I will never see it as an evil to deny any children of adultery, the “right” to two parents who conceived them in a criminal act.I agree these children have the “right” to as mitigated an abnormal life as possible, but not the “right” to parents who are so only immorally.There is no evil at all with the two spouses of the valid marriage raising the bastard children of adultery. What is evil is to reward sin, which is what “living as brother and sister” does. It is evil to “loan” a wife to another man, as his “sister” in reward for his adultery.The more I understand this, the more comfortable I am as a former Catholic and perhaps I may even become a former Christian if such an analysis seems to be objectively so. Very interesting, this is, indeed.It makes very tempting/abberrant situations twistedly,feasible that cause great harm and introduce great disorder and still allow one to get away with it. Ain’t confession and forgiveness great. It allows you to rejoice in the freedom it gives you to torture another at your whim!!

  • Anonymous says:

    Does the same logic not give rise to a situation like this:The “right” of a child born of rape of a spouse to its “natural parents” should then compel the innocent husband to insist that for the good of this child his wife is “morally obliged” to set up a “brother and sister” household with her rapist(lets presume he is not in jail and wants to) and the innocent spouse will pay for it.If this is not so, why?

  • Rodak says:

    Zippy–I still don’t see how you’ve answered my objection.“The object of an act is the acting subject’s actual chosen behavior.” Right. And the verb for that behavior in my hypothetical is–“to obey”: a particular like Bob. Obedience is a category like policeman. It would seem to me that, so far as God is concerned, we’ve already passed the crucial point when we’ve decided whether to obey or to disobey–each of which is a chosen act *in itself*. By committing a good act (feeding the hungry) or an evil act (committing adultery), we only demonstrate that we have previously acted to obey, or to disobey, the will of God.

  • Rodak says:

    Or, are you saying that a mental movement from question to answer is not an “act” and that the only real actions are mechanical ones?

  • zippy says:

    <>So then every marriage should be broken …<>Look, I’m not saying any of those things. And especially I’m not saying anything about anyone’s actual situation. I am certain beyond any doubt that in a great many particular cases the morally right right thing to do would be immediate reconciliation; in fact I am skeptical that any actual case exists where the abstract scenario I described holds in all of its criteria. I may not be in a position to categorically dismiss “living as brother and sister” arrangements (because I don’t think such a categorical dismissal is <>true<>); but that doesn’t mean that any actual existing one – any at all – would pass muster with me if I were given the horrifying task of evaluating it and rendering my considered opinion.I am also absolutely certain that the secular and RC juridical processes have rendered a great many unjust judgements. And I am sure that this kind of discussion of the particular structure of the moral law drives a person who has been violated in this way batty: after all, the moral law is merely a servant of virtue, and virtue herself is merely a servant of charity. It probably isn’t the best idea for someone who has been violated in this way to engage it on the level of moral casuistry: doing so doesn’t bring justice, it doesn’t bring the hope of resolution, it doesn’t bring the friendship of Christ. And those things are all more important, because the moral law serves them not vice versa.So I’ll answer your questions as honestly as I can. I’ve been praying for you since the first time we spoke, and I’ll continue to do that. I won’t lie to you, ever. But I’m not convinced that this discussion is what you are looking for.<>The “right” of a child born of rape of a spouse to its “natural parents” should then compel the innocent husband to insist that for the good of this child his wife is “morally obliged” to set up a “brother and sister” household with her rapist(lets presume he is not in jail and wants to) and the innocent spouse will pay for it.If this is not so, why?<>It isn’t so because we aren’t talking about taking positive action to set up a new household, we are talking about preserving a child’s existing household, into which he was born and in which he has lived since. That is at least how I understand the scenario. I can’t imagine a situation where there would be an obligation for adulterers to go <>set up a new<> household (brother-sister or not) which does not presently exist. We are talking about whether we are going to make soul-killing changes to existing arrangements, not about tabula rasa justice. I agree that if the child’s household is already broken then the right thing to do is clearly to reconcile with the true spouse without delay.There are a lot of other reasons why this isn’t a good idea; a lot of them. But I’ll try to keep the rest of this short.The situation we are speaking of involves a conflict of positive obligations. It isn’t possible to resolve genuine conflicts in positive obligations without making judgements about the particulars. I am not <>asserting<> a one-size-fits-all rule to choose a particular behavior; on the contrary I am suggesting that such a one-size-fits-all rule doesn’t work.

  • zippy says:

    <>Or, are you saying that a mental movement from question to answer is not an “act” and that the only real actions are mechanical ones?<>I’ll let JPII/Veritatis Splendour answer that one too:<>49. A doctrine which dissociates the moral act from the bodily dimensions of its exercise is contrary to the teaching of Scripture and Tradition. Such a doctrine revives, in new forms, certain ancient errors which have always been opposed by the Church, inasmuch as they reduce the human person to a “spiritual” and purely formal freedom. This reduction misunderstands the moral meaning of the body and of kinds of behaviour involving it.<>

  • Rodak says:

    How do we reconcile that with Jimmy Carter’s lusting after women in his heart, which, according to Jesus, was already to have committed adultery with her?

  • Anonymous says:

    Dear Zippy,I am not trying to argue with you. I just want to see the general principals in action and see where they go.So, I thank you for your efforts, sincerely. On the related matter, I just see my drift away from Catholicism, even away from Christianity and perhaps from a loving, just concept of God as an ever more likely scenario. What replaces it or what will replace it, if anything, I do not know.The problem is without an objective reality, what does it matter anyhow, except to move towards a tolerable(for a former cvatholic conservative)hedonism. I am just thinking on electronic paper.

  • zippy says:

    rodak:It is possible to commit evil through intentions, in addition to or as an adjunct to acting. Planning for or assenting to an intrinsically evil act – even one which is not realized – is formal cooperation with evil, and thus immoral. Formal cooperation with putative or actual intrinsically evil acts is <>also<> always immmoral; but it isn’t the <>immoral act itself<> unless you <>do something<>, and the formal cooperation derives its moral properties through its relation to an (actual or proposed) act which cannot be separated from its bodily aspect.If you find all that too puzzling you can always just restrict the scope of inquiry to things which involve some actual volitional motion of the body. That might even – I expect that it does, since I am no Cartesian dualist – encompass all thinking, since as embodied beings we seem to require our brains to think.

  • zippy says:

    Karl:<>I am just thinking on electronic paper.<>You are welcome to, and obviously I hope not to lose you as a Christian brother, but I am not without empathy. People have left Christianity under the pressure of far, far lesser trials. It may not look like Horatio on the bridge from the outside, to the wimps and whiners who have faced only much more benign attacks by pathetic physical objects such as sword, bullet, and artillary. But I do know better. I don’t know why this is your trial, other than that the wicked and the ambivalent have done this to you. It has been allowed, and I wish it hadn’t. God bless you, and you are welcome here any time.

  • Anonymous says:

    Dear Zippy,Don’t give me the credit of much courage. I am not Thomas More. I think I would have signed the Oath and been heartbroken at it. If I could have been along his final path I would have asked him to forgive my cowardice.

  • It sounds like everyone needs to move in together–with a spousal relationship only between the sacramentally validly married spouses, yet with the natural adulterous father present (living in as brother) to help raise his children.There, problem solved.*ducking*

  • Anonymous says:

    Hey Zipster,What about this one for a great potential “brother and sister relationships OK with the catholic Church”:Italian priest ignites celibacy debate with profession of love Rome, Aug. 29, 2007 (CWNews.com) – A Catholic priest in Monterosso, Italy, has given new impetus to public debate on clerical celibacy by announcing that he is in love with a local woman. Father Sante Squotti claims to be “engaged” to the woman, who is separated from her husband. But in a confused series of remarks he insisted that he would continue to adhere to his vow of celibacy. “Canon law does not forbid a priest from falling in love, or from becoming engaged in a celibate manner,” he said. Father Squotti said that his public statements were intended to stimulate discussion on the value of priestly celibacy. He argued that priests and religious can serve the Church more effectively if they have had the experience of being in love. Karl

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