Bloggers can formally cooperate with murder

March 10, 2008 § 36 Comments

From the Pontifical Academy for Life:

The principle of licit cooperation in evil

The first fundamental distinction to be made is that between formal and material cooperation. Formal cooperation is carried out when the moral agent cooperates with the immoral action of another person, sharing in the latter’s evil intention. On the other hand, when a moral agent cooperates with the immoral action of another person, without sharing his/her evil intention, it is a case of material cooperation.

Material cooperation can be further divided into categories of immediate (direct) and mediate (indirect), depending on whether the cooperation is in the execution of the sinful action per se, or whether the agent acts by fulfilling the conditions – either by providing instruments or products – which make it possible to commit the immoral act. Furthermore, forms of proximate cooperation and remote cooperation can be distinguished, in relation to the “distance” (be it in terms of temporal space or material connection) between the act of cooperation and the sinful act committed by someone else. Immediate material cooperation is always proximate, while mediate material cooperation can be either proximate or remote.

Formal cooperation is always morally illicit because it represents a form of direct and intentional participation in the sinful action of another person. Material cooperation can sometimes be illicit (depending on the conditions of the “double effect” or “indirect voluntary” action), but when immediate material cooperation concerns grave attacks on human life, it is always to be considered illicit, given the precious nature of the value in question.

A further distinction made in classical morality is that between active (or positive) cooperation in evil and passive (or negative) cooperation in evil, the former referring to the performance of an act of cooperation in a sinful action that is carried out by another person, while the latter refers to the omission of an act of denunciation or impediment of a sinful action carried out by another person, insomuch as there was a moral duty to do that which was omitted.

Passive cooperation can also be formal or material, immediate or mediate, proximate or remote. Obviously, every type of formal passive cooperation is to be considered illicit, but even passive material cooperation should generally be avoided, although it is admitted (by many authors) that there is not a rigorous obligation to avoid it in a case in which it would be greatly difficult to do so.

Suppose Bob wrote a blog post while the Terri Schiavo controvesy was raging. Suppose in his post he said something supporting that Terri’s feeding tube ought to be removed, that she should be ‘allowed’ to die. Assume for the sake of argument that he meant it: that he was honestly expressing his real intention.

Obviously his act of blogging has minimal effect: it contributes to the overall atmosphere of support for killing Terri, but only in a small way. Nevertheless his act of blogging does provide material support to the ‘ultimate’ act of pulling Terri’s tube and killing her. Importantly, the intention of the one who pulls her tube is shared by Bob the Blogger.

This is formal cooperation with Terri’s murder, not merely material cooperation. Suppose Fred is the person who actually removes the tube. Bob’s act of blogging not only materially cooperates with Fred’s act. Bob’s act of blogging also – assuming its veracity – formally cooperates with Terri’s murder.

Understandings of ‘Intention’ Found Wanting

March 6, 2008 § 22 Comments

I get the sense that there is significant confusion out there over the relation between what a person intends and what a person wants. Desire or wanting may be what drives us to form intentions in the first place, and then act on those intentions; but just because I don’t desire something that doesn’t mean I don’t intend it. If I choose something that I wish I didn’t have to choose, that doesn’t mean that my choice was unintended. ‘Unintended choice’ is a contradiction in terms.

Immediately of course the straw man will be raised that this rules out the possibility that there are foreseen effects from our acts which are unintended, and therefore rules out the possibility of double-effect applying to any real-world act. But that objection is obviously specious. If I choose to send my men into the breach knowing with moral certainty that some of them will be killed by someone else, I am not (necessarily – see David/Uriah) choosing to kill them, even though their deaths are a forseen-with-moral-certainty effect of my act. So this objection doesn’t truly rest on on the notion that double-effect is ruled out of school in general. What the objection truly rests on is that double-effect’s applicability to certain kinds of acts that people want it to apply to is ruled out of school.

Just a Formality

March 4, 2008 § 24 Comments

Suppose that Bob is married and devoted, and has no personal interest in sodomy. He has never himself committed an act of sodomy and has no intention of ever doing so. Suppose however that Bob does not think that sodomy is immoral. He writes a blog post saying that sodomy is not immoral and that homosexuals should engage in sodomy in order to emotionally cement their relationships.

On one theory of formal cooperation Bob is not formally cooperating with evil, because he doesn’t agree that what he is willing – acts of sodomy – are evil. He knows what they are, and he is in fact willing them, but he disagrees about their moral status as acts. On this view Bob is not formally cooperating with evil unless his fundamental option, understood as an interior disposition disconnected from any particular objective moral reality pertaining to behaviors, involves a direct and explicit rejection of God independent of particular categories of acts.

Needless to say, I don’t find this theory of formal cooperation convincing. I think Bob is formally cooperating with evil.

Where there is a will…

March 4, 2008 § 24 Comments

Formal cooperation with evil is when we will something that is in fact evil.

Full stop.

Attempting to convince ourselves that the thing we are willing isn’t evil doesn’t change that, and neither does drawing metaphors to things that are not evil. If we will X, and X is evil, then we are formally cooperating with evil.

An Inconvenient Truth

March 3, 2008 § 7 Comments

There is a genuine, man-made, existential threat to the environment and our very survival as a species arising out of modern global capitalism. Truly.

Murder in the Age of Hypermedia

March 2, 2008 § 56 Comments

Everyone who knowingly took the side of starving Terri Schiavo to death is, himself, guilty of murder. This is true for everyone who ever so much as said a word on the subject: no material ‘distance’ between onesself and the actual act can exonerate formal cooperation with evil. Formal cooperation with the murder of a particular person is every bit as wicked as actually committing the murder onesself. They are all murderers, to the last man, everyone who formally cooperated in Terri’s murder.

Isn’t it wonderful how the age of hypermedia empowers us to formally cooperate with so many grave sins?

Reading this post is what motivated me to reinforce this obvious point; this point that we should all already know. Formally cooperate with the murder of a particular person and you are a murderer.

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