Definition of "Pacifist"

February 20, 2008 § 4 Comments

pacifist (n): someone who believes in stricter rules of engagment than I do.

"Double-effect" doesn’t mean "licensed circular reasoning"

February 17, 2008 § 150 Comments

The first criteria of the principle of double-effect is that the principle of double-effect only applies when an act is not intrinsically immoral. As the Catechism puts it,

The object of the choice can by itself vitiate an act in its entirety. There are some concrete acts – such as fornication – that it is always wrong to choose, because choosing them entails a disorder of the will, that is, a moral evil.

Isn’t it odd, then, that so many Catholics, including a number of well respected theologians in their non-magisterial texts, appeal to the principle of double-effect in order to demonstrate that a proposed act is not intrinsically immoral? This is exactly backward. The principle of double effect doesn’t determine whether or not an act is intrinsically immoral: rather, the PDE applies only to acts which are not intrinsically immoral.

In order to apply the principle of double-effect, it must first be established that the act is not intrinsically immoral in itself as a specific kind of chosen behavior or concrete act. Appealing to the structures of double-effect – intended effects versus unintended, an intended end caused or not caused by the evil effect, etc – is something which takes place only after it is first established that the act is not intrinsically immoral. The cart comes after the horse.

(UPDATE: The original post which is the discussion context for this one is here.)

Feelings… Nothing More Than Feelings…

February 6, 2008 § 14 Comments

Suppose we start with an actual act we all stipulate to be intrinsically immoral. Not a category or species of acts, mind you, but an actual act. Lets say Bob tortures Fred, and whatever particulars obtain we all agree that it is unequivocally torture and unequivocally intrinsically immoral.

Now suppose we change the scenario by changing nothing but Bob’s interior disposition. Absolutely nothing else changes: Bob does exactly the same thing to exactly the same deontological persons and objects in exactly the same way. But on the inside he now has a feeling of regret, where before he had had a feeling of triumph.

Can this strictly interior feeling of regret change an intrinsically immoral act into a good act?

The Cross is Possible

February 5, 2008 § 3 Comments

“God does not oblige people to do the impossible. But God obliges married people to abstain, if their union cannot be fulfilled according to the laws of nature. Therefore, in this case abstinence is possible.” – Pope Pius XII, Apostolate of the Midwife, 1951

Contra Accusations of Physicalism

February 4, 2008 § 64 Comments

Believing that we must as a moral matter live with the choices we have made is not physicalist. Mindless physical objects don’t make choices, and mindless physical laws cannot tell the difference between things we’ve brought about on purpose and things that have happened on accident or against our will.

I’m just sayin’.

It is really a very odd accusation, the more I think about it. Those who think that sex after an intentional contraceptive vasectomy is definitely morally licit because it is physically identical to an act by a man who was sterilized against his will seem to be making exactly the kind of error I am told that I am making: that is, reducing the deontology of the act to nothing but third-party observable physical facts. It isn’t strictly physicalist, because my interlocutors believe that the morality of the act depends on interior intentions. Rather it is a kind of dualism, reducing the act to its strictly physical dimension on the one hand and strictly interior dispositions on the other.

But as JPII says in Veritatis Splendour, “In order to be able to grasp the object of an act which specifies that act morally, it is therefore necessary to place oneself in the perspective of the acting person”, and “[a] doctrine which dissociates the moral act from the bodily dimensions of its exercise is contrary to the teaching of Scripture and Tradition”. Dualism won’t work here: correct moral theology will encompass both of these truths, neither giving a pass to wicked behavior based on interior dispositions nor reducing the act to a set of facts about atoms and physical forces.

Vasectomies Are History

February 3, 2008 § 80 Comments

I’ve done some additional research into the sex-after-vasectomy issue, which we most recently discussed here. (I was going to wait until I had some Latin translation done before posting, but then I figured what the heck, this is just a blog). The most pertinent factual material in a nutshell:

In 1587 Pope Sixtus V (saying “Pope Sixtus Five” out loud is kind of fun) issued the brief Cum Frequenter in response to a question arising out of Spain. In summary, the brief prohibited marriage on the part of “eunechi et spadoni” (without distinguishing between intentional and unintentional sterilization), saying that it was “manifest” that the “humor semini similis” of sterilized men, contrasted to the “verum semen” of the unsterilized, renders them incapable of contracting marriage. It was a very, uh, brief document (YOW!) and did not define those terms.

For centuries – up until 1977 – the tribunals routinely annulled the marriages of, and prohibited marriage of, men who had had vasectomies (an operation apparently known and practiced in a way at least similar to the modern form during and before the pontificate of Sixtus), or any other (accidental or intentional) impediment ruling out the production of semen which includes the products of at least one testicle.

In the 20th century the marriages of a significant number of men many of whom had been sterilized against their will by tyrannical governments were being routinely denied/annulled, as had been the juridical practice since Cum Frequenter. Then in 1977 the CDF issued a decree which was verbally approved by the Pope (Paul VI) in an audience. That decree answered two very specific questions:

“1. Whether the impotence which invalidates marriage consists in the incapacity, both antecedent and perpetual, whether absolute or relative, of completing conjugal intercourse.

2. If affirmative, whether the ejaculation of semen produced in the testicles is necessarily required for conjugal intercourse.

To the first question, the answer is affirmative; to the second, negative”

This is the only Magisterial statement (of which I am presently aware) which backs up the contention that sex after a vasectomy is morally licit as long as the person regrets the vasectomy. This strikes me as odd, because it doesn’t really address the question at all, issued as it was in the context of the annulment of marriages where the man had been sterilized against his will, and not addressing the issue of morally licit sexual acts at all. Presumably a marital act when the woman has an IUD in place or is on the Pill does consummate the marriage; but that doesn’t make it morally licit. In general liciety and consummation of marriage seem to be different considerations.

I haven’t found an English translation of Cum Frequenter yet (though I have access to a number of partial paraphrases), and I don’t speak Latin. But it seems to me that a great deal has to be assumed to get from the 1977 decree to the result “repentance is sufficient to render intentionally-vasectomized sexual acts morally licit as chosen behaviors.” Certainly the 1977 CDF decree does not directly say this or even directly imply it: we are left to reason our way to the right answer in the context of the many Magisterial statements which indirectly touch on the subject matter.

UPDATE: I corrected “Germany” to “Spain” in the post above, and I’ve posted the full Latin text of Cum Frequenter in the comments.

Definitions Can Be Murder

February 1, 2008 § 20 Comments

Inspired by this discussion, I propose the following understanding of a category of acts which are always murder. This understanding is not intended to encompass all possible kinds of murder, but merely to define a category of acts which are definitely always murder. (This is just a proposal for the sake of discussion, though I wouldn’t propose it if I didn’t think it had legs).

If it is the case that:

(1) I am choosing a particular behavior B, an act I carry out myself with my body[*], which

(2) Knowingly kills a particular person P whom I can specifically identify, where

(3) P is not engaged in or preparing to engage in some kind of willful attacking or harmful behavior, and

(4) P has not ever in his entire existence engaged in or prepared to engage in some kind of willful attacking behavior, and

(5) I am morally certain that in the ordinary course of events P will not die if I do not do B, that is, P is not in the process of dying unless I do B,

THEN my act is definitely an act of murder.

[*] Note that if someone else performs the act and I formally cooperate with that act – that is, I will that it be done and perhaps charter another person to do it – then I am still formally guilty of murder, much as if I had hired a hit man.

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