What Isn’t Self-Defense

December 30, 2007 § 18 Comments

I suggest another little rule of thumb along similar lines to this one, where I proposed that if X is something that is done by someone else it isn’t the object of your act.

Lets call the outcome we are trying to avoid “BOOM”.

Self-defense[*] is when we perform violent act V against perpetrator P in order to stop him from carrying out an act resulting in BOOM.

Suppose that just prior to our performance of act V, perpetrator P ceases to exist: P is completely annihilated, entirely dead and gone from the physical universe, thus frustrating our intention to perform act V against him.

If BOOM would still occur even though the putative perpetrator doesn’t even physically exist, then proposed act V against that perpetrator is not an act of self-defense. It is some other kind of act.

[*] I am using the term “self-defense” in lieu of the more unwieldy term “self-defense or defense of another”.

Hatred, Steroids, and Materialism

December 22, 2007 § 22 Comments

Writer Jim Kalb has apparently finished editing a book and is back to blogging again. Bursts of activity at Turnabout tend to absorb a significant portion of the space of available interesting things to say and leave me with fewer interesting things to say myself. Here is a piece on attempts to divide truth into self-contained mutually exclusive complete-in-principle domains, a tendency of thought I call positivism. Here is one about how our inability to say what we don’t like about steroid use in athletics is related to rejection of an authoritative understanding of human nature. Here is one about the vice of hatefulness and how modern ironic views of “hatred” turn it on its head because we have “lost a serious and intelligent understanding of sin.” Interesting stuff.

Acts in (Reeses) Pieces

December 12, 2007 § 104 Comments

One of the consistent objections to the understanding I’ve articulated in the series of posts here, here, here, and most recently here is that the earlier act of getting a vasectomy, as preparation for a contracepted act of intercourse, is seen as utterly distinct from the actual sexual behavior which is later chosen. The idea seems to be that if you prepare for a wicked act and later wish that you hadn’t, actually performing the wicked act isn’t wicked — because you really, truly, genuinely wish it wasn’t.

I don’t think that works. Suppose I prepare to have someone murdered. I set the whole thing up with nanomachines in my victim’s body and corresponding nanomachines in mine. At any time in the future when I eat chocolate, my victim will be killed by the nanos in his body. The implantation of the nanos is irreversible.

Now suppose I go to Confession and repent. Am I now morally licensed to go eat a chocolate bar? After all, I genuinely regret and repent of what I did. Eating a chocolate bar is not in itself immoral, and the implanting of the nanos was something I did in the past, prior to Confession, and for which I have repented: I genuinely do regret it.

Nevertheless it is obvious that consummating the wicked act for which I prepared is immoral: it is impossible for me to choose that behavior without acting wickedly with a disordered will.

As a general matter, acts and preparations for acts take place over a period of time. Consummating an act of murder is (I hope) clearly morally wrong independent of whether one wishes one had not prepared for it and really likes chocolate: a person may claim that his interior “fundamental option” is oriented toward God in the act which consummates the murder, but in fact it is literally impossible for this to obtain. In reality the choice of behavior is intrinsically incompatible with a fundamental option oriented toward God.

And at least in principle the same thing may obtain in the case of consummating a vasectomy with a sterile act of intercourse. In fact if contracepted sex acts are intrinscially immoral, then it must obtain.

Contraception Is So Gay

December 12, 2007 § 14 Comments

The Vademicum for Confessors defines contraception this way:

The Church has always taught the intrinsic evil of contraception, that is, of every marital act intentionally rendered unfruitful. This teaching is to be held as definitive and irreformable.

As with pretty much any string of letters that says anything interesting, there are multiple possible interpretations of this definition, at least in principle.

In what follows, the context is an understanding of contraception as intrinsically immoral. That is, contraception as an intrinsically immoral act must be immoral as a chosen behavior independent of intentions (other than the intention in the “chosen” part of “chosen behavior”: that is, the behavior must be freely chosen); and also independent of consequences or circumstances. This context is set by the moral theology of the papal encyclical Veritatis Splendour, which says of itself that it is the first Magisterial document in the history of the Church to explicate in detail what it means for an act to be intrinsically immoral.

One possible interpretation is that contraception is an act utterly distinct from a sexual act. (I’m not entirely convinced that this is even coherent, but it is one line that gets taken). The idea here seems to be that contraception is something utterly distinct, and intrinsically immoral as a distinct act, but with no connection to the sex act itself: the contracepted sex act itself is not immoral.

Another interpretation is that contraception is a sex act: a sex act which the person has deliberately modified in a way which renders it pleasurable to the person but infertile.

It won’t surprise anyone who has followed recent discussions that I think the latter understanding is the right one. Undoubtedly that is in part because that understanding lines up best with my moral intuitions. The Church after all tells us that as something falling under the natural law sexual morality is accessible, at least in principle, to our reason. But it also makes the rest of Catholic teaching on sexual morality coherent rather than ad hoc. Immoral sexual acts in general then become of a piece: sodomy is wrong because it is a modified/unnatural sexual act; masturbation is wrong because it is a modified/unnatural sexual act; contraception is wrong because it is a modified/unnatural sexual act; intercourse with a transgendered person is wrong because it is a modified/unnatural sexual act; bestiality is wrong because it is a modified/unnatural sexual act; etc. etc.

There are other consequences of this view that make it more coherent than alternative views, in my understanding.

In some circles it is controversial whether a rape victim is doing wrong in attempting to get the rapist to use a condom, for example. But on this understanding that isn’t an issue: a rape victim is not choosing a sexual act at all, so it isn’t possible for the rape victim to choose a disordered sexual act. She is just defending herself, if only partially, from an attack and violation.

The contrary view also makes a hash out of the use of hormonal medicines for non-contraceptive purposes by women who are not sexually active. Indeed, the use of any medicine which might impair fertility as a side-effect would be immoral, even when used by a celibate priest, because contraception is intrinsically immoral: immoral as a chosen behavior independent of the reason why that behavior is chosen.

So while it is always possible to interpret documents and statements in more than one way, I think the latter understanding – of contraception as a disordered sexual act rather than as an utterly distinct act standing on its own – is more orthodox, more rationally coherent, and more consistent with moral theology as taught by the Magisterium.

Phenomenal Attack Ad

December 11, 2007 § 2 Comments

(HT: Mark Shea)

Can they make a tongue stud out of my dead cat?

December 11, 2007 § Leave a comment

Bill Luse has the scoop on a new form of human taxidermy for your dear departed. It’s OK though because the results are pretty.


December 10, 2007 § Leave a comment

UPDATE: Apparently the video was taken offline. I wonder if some lawyer came to the conclusion that using the music to a Billy Joel song wasn’t “fair use”.

"Fruit" Fly Genetics

December 10, 2007 § Leave a comment

Maybe this is what happened to Dumbledore.

Airline Love

December 8, 2007 § 4 Comments

A little Brian Regan for Mark Shea:

Confession and the Fundamental Option

December 7, 2007 § 56 Comments

The discussion below has taken a number of interesting turns. One of the central points of contention seems to be whether “openness to life” is a kind of fundamental option which is entirely interior to the person with no connection to the specific behavior in which he chooses to engage. I thought we might be able to zoom in on a few issues by talking about what specifically a man who has had a vasectomy must confess.

Suppose a man had himself sterilized in a way known to be completely irreversible for the specific purpose of being able to engage in sexual intercourse with his wife without having children.

Suppose he has repented, and regrets his self-mutilation and the sterile sexual acts he performed after self-mutilation, but he has not yet gotten to Confession: he plans to go at the next opportunity. Suppose he then, still prior to Confession, engages in intercourse with his wife: we’ll call this specific act A.

When he goes to Confession he will need to confess two distinct sins: the self-mutilation of having himself sterilized, and the acts of intentionally sterilized sexual intercourse he engaged in with his wife after sterilization.

This raises a couple of questions:

(1) Is act A included in the sins he must confess?

(2) If act A is included in the sins he must confess, then how is it morally licit for him to go do precisely the same thing an hour after Confession, with exactly the same interior regrets, interior “openness to life”, etc as the sin he just confessed?

(3) If act A is not included in the sins he must confess, then what precisely is it that he is confessing to having done? For what specific behavior is he asking forgiveness?

I’ll leave the questions with this thought:

“To separate the fundamental option from concrete kinds of behaviour means to contradict the substantial integrity or personal unity of the moral agent in his body and in his soul.” – Pope John Paul II, Veritatis Splendour

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