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.

Tagged:

§ 36 Responses to Bloggers can formally cooperate with murder

  • m.z. says:

    “allowed to die” isn’t just a euphemism. It is used in contexts other than euthanasia. It is in fact the most common phrase to use when one specifically wants to claim the act isn’t euthanasia. You haven’t established that a categorical error necessarily admits formal cooperation. You seem to deny the premise, declaring it an impossible condition.

  • zippy says:

    <>It is in fact the most common phrase to use when one specifically wants to claim the act isn’t euthanasia.<>Right. The formal cooperator’s protestations that the act which he wills be done is not morally wrong do not remake reality in such a way that the act which he wills be done is not morally wrong.Someone who wills that Terri’s feeding tube be withdrawn, and does something (like publishing a blog post) in support of that act, is formally cooperating with that act. Whether that act is or is not murder is an objective determination. Neither the person who does it himself nor all of those who formally cooperate with him are capable, in some interior act of the will, of making it into not-an-act-of-murder. They are all in the same categorical boat morally: intending what is objectively an act of murder.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    MZ, what’s your point in saying that “allowed to die isn’t just a euphemism”? Is it that there are in fact real cases where someone is being allowed to die and this is not wrong?Granting that, the controversial question is whether this is one of those cases.You can call an act anything you like. A gang member can call it “self-defense” when he premeditatedly stalks and kills the girlfriend of a rival gang member to deter further acts of aggression from that rival gang. That doesn’t mean that it is self-defense.

  • Anonymous says:

    I am not quite sure you have the evil correctly pegged here, Zippy. Yes, supporting the killing of Terri is evil, but which evil is the question. You say it <> does provide material support <>. But this is not really correct, as far as I can tell. He does not supply any of the material means – the knife, the gun, the pillow to smother, etc. He doesn’t give money which can be used to buy materials. What you seem to be implying is that “material support” can actually be immaterial (or rather) non-material) spiritual support, by helping to mold opinion. This may indeed be a form of cooperation in the evil act of murder, but it is not clear that it falls under material cooperation.

  • zippy says:

    I don’t think ‘material’ means ‘physical’ though. I think it means something on the order of ‘contributes to the causal efficacy of the act’. So someone who incites a riot materially cooperates with (say) the particular acts of vandalism of the rioters. Bloggers contribute in such a way to political outcomes, especially in a modern democracy, it seems to me.

  • M.Z. says:

    <>Is it that there are in fact real cases where someone is being allowed to die and this is not wrong?<>Yes. My position on Shiavo has been that she was euthanized. My argument with Zippy at this point is whether a person’s categorical error can be considered formal cooperation. Since he has offered a counter, I suppose I should address it.<>Neither the person who does it [it being the willing of the removal of the feeding tube] himself nor all of those who formally cooperate with him are capable, in some interior act of the will, of making it into not-an-act-of-murder. They are all in the same categorical boat morally: intending what is objectively an act of murder.<>This is unclear to me. A particular instance should be able to be resolved categorically. A lack of dilligence is the common explanation for a specific error when we speak of formal cooperation and remote material cooperation. It appears you are attempting to have the conclusion prove the antecedent. And since an intention is a movement of the will, it is necessary to prove the immediate actor and the formal cooperator indeed shared the intention. I’m not claiming this is an issue of ‘feeling’, since that sentiment repulses me as much as it does you. What I’m claiming is the immediate actor has knowledge that is not necessarily accessible to the remote actor and since the remote actor is acting on the knowledge he has, he cannot ordinarily be held culpable for making judgements rendered erroneous due to the special knowledge. This is different from the case of the guy who does support euthanasia or is pro-choice regarding euthanasia because the license he is offering is illicit with the knowledge he has.

  • JohnMcG says:

    What would be the culpability of someone who uttered any of the following during the heat of the Schiavo debate?“Tom DeLay is a big hypocrite!”“This is none of the federal government’s business!”“It’s absurd that Bill Frist thinks he can offer a diagnosis from 1000 miles away!”“Michael Schiavo has been subject to unfair attacks.”“It is very unlikely that Terri Schiavo will ever recover.”“These decisions should be up to the families.”None of these statements directly advocate for removing the tube. None of them. Except for the last one, they could all be true, and do not contradict Church teaching. But in the context of the Schiavo debate, these statements create cultural support for removing the tube, and it would require a stunning amount of charity to believe that wasn’t the speaker’s intention.I think that’s the position that we often find ourselves in the public discourse. We may not directly advocate for a moral evil, but we do provide aid and comfort and rhetorical shelter for those who do.

  • zippy says:

    A clarification:<>Neither the person who does it [it being the willing of the removal of the feeding tube]…<>“It” does not refer to <>willing<> the removal of the feeding tube. “It” refers to <>actually<> removing the feeding tube. “The person who does it” is the person who actually removed Terri’s feeding tube; those who formally cooperated include Michael Schiavo (presumably he didn’t physically remove the tube himself in his own act) and probably millions of people who explicitly took the position that her tube should be removed.We know that voting for a pro-abort politician <>because<> he will enact pro-abort legislation is formal cooperation with enacting pro-abortion legislation. Likewise, blogging in favor of pulling Terri’s tube <>because<> one thinks her tube ought to be pulled under the circumstances is formal cooperation with her murder.Again, just because Bob doesn’t <>agree<> that pulling Terri’s feeding tube is murder doesn’t mean that it <>isn’t murder<>; and if Bob published a blog post to the effect that her feeding tube ought to be pulled, he formally cooperated with her murder.John is of course right that there are all kinds of things people might have said which do not make formal cooperation with her murder <>manifest<>; though at the same time the fact that the formal cooperation isn’t manifest in an act of material cooperation doesn’t mean it isn’t there. If Bob blogged “Tom DeLay is a big hypocrite!” with the <>intention<> that Michael Schiavo be left alone and Terri’s tube be pulled, then Bob formally cooperated with her murder.

  • Anonymous says:

    Zippy,Your arguments seem very clear and compelling to me. I want to provide some specific examples for clarification. If someone takes the position that sodomy should be legal, not because of a so called “right to sodomy”, but because he feels that it would be a bureaucratic nightmare, this would certainly be material cooperation, but I sense it would not be formal cooperation. One could hold the position “I want it legal, but I also want nobody to practice sodomy.” If this is not the case, wouldn’t it be formal cooperation and thus intrinsically evil, to advocate that any immoral act should remain legal?Likewise, why is it not possible to believe that it was not the federal governments business to get involved with the Schiavo case (I do not hold this position by the way) while also believing that her feeding tube should not be pulled? This is certainly material cooperation, but I do not see how it is formal cooperation. This is my understanding of it, but I would like to hear your thoughts on the matter.

  • zippy says:

    <>This is my understanding of it, but I would like to hear your thoughts on the matter.<>I think your understanding is right. One might even say “I think Terri’s feeding tube should be pulled” and not mean it: one might say it as an ironic statement, or one might be lying in order to fit in, or whatever. I am trying to reinforce basically three points:1) It doesn’t become not-formal-cooperation-with-evil just because the formal cooperator doesn’t <>agree<> that the actual act in question – say pulling Terri’s tube and blocking her from receiving any food or water – is immoral. Willing support for pulling her tube and blocking food and water from being brought to her was (and still is, in similar cases) formal cooperation with a murder.2) Formal cooperation with grave evil is <>always gravely wrong<> no matter how <>materially remote<> it is. Blogging may seem like a trivial act, but it can put one’s soul in danger of Hell as surely as actually killing someone. (As an aside, people seem to understand this better when it comes to voting. Ironically, as a material matter I expect voting has substantially less of an effect than blogging).3) Formal cooperation with grave evil is probably uncomfortably commonplace among bloggers and blog commenters, even those who take their faith and morals very seriously. I expect part of the reason is because in general we don’t tend to fully appreciate and absorb the implications of #’s 1 and 2 above.

  • Anonymous says:

    Zippy,Thanks for the response. All three points appear sound to me.

  • Zippy,Not that you need it, but I thought I would comment with support to the effect that the lack of understanding of the evil committed might mitigate the culpability of the person committing it, but it in no way mitigates the fact that formal cooperation has occurred. The way I see formal cooperation (and it could be the incorrect way; however, it is a way that serves as an over-strict guardian and helps to keep me safe) is that cooperation in the evil occurs whether or not it is recognized as evil. If it is, then the cooperation is culpable. If not, then perhaps not, but unless I’m the one doing it, I can’t speak to the state of conscience or soul of the perpetrator. In short, it is better to set Argus at the door than to rely upon the door being closed. An over-strict guardian isn’t a guarantee, but it is at least a hedge. Posts like these help to alert said guardian, so that while I struggle with some of the truths revealed by the Catholic Church, I, in no way, cooperate with those who would deny them.shalom,Steven

  • zippy says:

    <>…to the effect that the lack of understanding of the evil committed might mitigate the culpability of the person committing it, but it in no way mitigates the fact that formal cooperation has occurred.<>Precisely. The moral quiddity, if you will, of the epistemic claim “I didn’t know it was wrong” is precisely the same whether I am the person who actually committed the act or someone who formally cooperated. If someone fornicates but genuinely doesn’t know that it is wrong, it isn’t accurate to say that he didn’t fornicate. Rather, he <>did<> fornicate, but his guilt may (to an extent that is between him and God) be mitigated by ignorance. If someone formally cooperated in the murder of Terri Schiavo by writing a blog post, it isn’t accurate to say that he didn’t formally cooperate in a murder. Rather, he <>did<> formally cooperate in a murder, but his guilt may (to an extent that is between him and God) be mitigated by ignorance.Now, if someone has committed what is objectively mortal sin (whether directly or through formal cooperation) in a state of ignorance and later comes to realize that one has done so – that is, the state of one’s knowledge of the matter becomes clearer – then the best thing to do (it seems to me) is to confess the sin to a priest, publicly repudiate it if possible and prudent, and sin no more. Remaining in a state of public ‘defiance’ on the matter seems … extraordinarily imprudent, is the best I can say of it.I expect that part of what drives some of the resistance is that modern people like to think of their intentions as a purely private matter over which they are king. But in point of fact in a great many cases – particularly cases of <>speech<> – if our intentions remain purely private the immediate implication is that we are not being honest. Honest speech about intentions reveals intentions, and thus makes formal cooperation manifest.And that includes omissions: if one argued consistently against proposed particular means of intervention in the Schiavo case without also arguing that even so Michael ought not be permitted to kill her, one is either revealing one’s intention or is being deceptively one-sided in one’s speech. This is, I would say, a less <>manifest<> case than one where a blogger explicitly said “Michael ought to be permitted to pull her feeding tube”; but it is still pretty clear to outside observers what is going on in terms of the intentions of the speaker. The Pontifical Academy for Life document speaks to “passive formal cooperation”: in the case where one disagrees with a particular <>means<> to stopping a gravely evil act one incurs an obligation to make it clear in one’s speech-act that one is objecting only to the particular means.

  • M.Z. Forrest says:

    The problem is that there often is not an obligation in the case of remote material cooperation to ascertain the facts of the particular instance. We are not speaking of immediate or mediate cooperation with evil. To speak of formal cooperation and not include the condition that would make it moot 90% of time is reckless. The definiton of formal cooperation with evil is to share in the intention of the immediate actor. The definition is not to have an intention resulting in a coincident outcome. What you are doing is analagous to calling someone who shot a man he thought to be an attacker, but turned out otherwise, a murderer. The man may have committed any number of crimes or sins, but murder was not one of them. Similarly the man who declares that removing the feeding tube is not an act of murder in the instance he believes to have been held to be extraordinary means may be guilty of many things but formally cooperating with the person who committed the act intending to euthanize.

  • M.Z. Forrest says:

    From New Advent regarding ignorance:<>Ignorance is lack of knowledge about a thing in a being capable of knowing. Fundamentally speaking and with regard to a given object ignorance is the outcome of the limitations of our intellect or of the obscurity of the matter itself. In this article it is the ethical aspect and consequences of ignorance that are directly under consideration. From this point of view, since only voluntary and free acts are imputable, ignorance which either destroys or lessens the first-named characteristic is a factor to be reckoned with. It is customary then to narrow somewhat the definition already given of it. It will, therefore, be taken to mean the <>absence of information which one is required to have<>. The mere want of knowledge without connoting any requirement on the part of a person to possess it may be called nescience. <>

  • JohnMcG says:

    I think this example may be somewhat confusing, since the legal definition of murder connotes intent. But it’s not just murder that is intrinsically evil; all killing of innocents is.When I shoot the milkman thinking he is an intruder, I have killed an innocent; and intrinsically eveil act. My legal and moral culpability may be mitigated by my ignorance, but I am guilty of at best a terrible mistake, for which I should repent.—What I think zippy is getting at is that our words matter. It mattered that public opinion swayed toward removing Terri Schiavo’s tube. It matters that there was a wave of bullying public support for the invasion of Iraq. It matters that when a study comes out revealing that 25% of teenage girls have STD’s, the first thing the reporter does is interview the Planned Parenthood spokesperson. It matters that 24 is a highly rated show.These things support evil actions. For those who have supported them to now say, “How was I supposed to know?” won’t do.

  • zippy says:

    <>It will, therefore, be taken to mean the absence of information which one is required to have.<>Ignorance (and nescience for that matter) is – again – simply a different issue. If a person can <>actually<> fornicate without agreeing that it is wrong, then one can surely <>formally cooperate with evil<> without agreeing that it is wrong. (Setting aside the fact that if one is going to opine to the entire world on a blog that a particular person ought to be killed, in a public context in which that person’s life in fact hangs in the balance, one probably has a grave obligation to know what one is talking about).

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    Surely there’s a _huge_ difference between being ignorant of the empirical facts and being wrong about the moral facts. To liken dehydrating Terri to death (or supporting it) while believing it not to be wrong to shooting the milkman thinking–let’s assume with some good reason–he’s an intruder seems to me just…nuts. In the latter case it’s the state of affairs in the world you are mistaken about. In the other case you are ignoring the natural-light-available moral facts. The person who thinks dehydrating someone to death is morally okay does not lack access to anything relevant. He has access to the moral facts, too. He just doesn’t accept them.The relevant analogue would be more like shooting the milkman because he is black and you “sincerely believe” that black humans are not persons and that it isn’t murder to kill them.

  • William Luse says:

    <>What you are doing is analagous to calling someone who shot a man he thought to be an attacker, but turned out otherwise, a murderer.<>The man who mistakenly shot the attacker was operating in “the absence of information which one is required to have.”The people who pulled Terri’s tube were not. All the information was right in front of them. In front of the whole world.In short, what Lydia said.

  • zippy says:

    <>The relevant analogue would be more like shooting the milkman because he is black and you “sincerely believe” that black humans are not persons and that it isn’t murder to kill them.<>Exactly. Excellent clarifying comment. Writing a blog post to the effect that Terri’s tube should be pulled is analogous to writing a blog post to the effect that when a black milkman comes to the door he should be shot on sight. Disagreement about moral facts is not at all the same as ignorance of empirical facts.

  • JohnMcG says:

    I agree the comparisons are not apt; what I think is interesting is that we see in the blogosphere is people giving <>less<> weight to their advocacy for evil than they would to mistakenly shooting the milkman.If I were to mistakenly shoot the milkman, I might not be blameworthy for murder, but I would have made a terrible mistake resulting in an evil act. I would still feel the need to go to confession, and I would still reconsider what assumptions I acted from. We don’t see that much from people who have advocated evil, perhaps because they are still operating under the delusion that what they advocated wasn’t really evil. Or maybe it’s just that the Internet is not a medium much suited for introspection.To summarize, mistakenly shooting the milkman is a <>baseline<> for cuplability in advocating evil, and should require at least that much consideration and repentance. And we’re not seeing much of that.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    Yeah, I probably just shouldn’t have put ‘sincerely believe’ in scare quotes, though. We’re supposed to grant at least so much benefit of the doubt as to imagine that the people in question _do_ believe the completely and obviously wrong moral proposition in question. I let sarcasm get away from me just to that extent.

  • M.Z. says:

    Why don’t we just throw out the definition for an act while we’re at it? Look, I have no issue claiming that many people are not honest about what they actually intend. This doesn’t mean that someone 2000 miles from the act in question couldn’t intend something different than the guy performing the act. I’m astounded that this is considered beyond the realm of possibility. Bishops submitted a dubium on the matter. I don’t think they were evil for doing so. I don’t think the inescapable conclusion is they wanted Shiavo killed because they did that.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    It may be true that it is easier for people far away from the person in question to confuse themselves about the moral facts. In the case of abortion, it may be easier for a person who has never seen an ultrasound to convince himself that the unborn child is “not a person.” And the abortionist who actually tears the child apart with forceps is being faced most directly of all with the fact that he is committing murder.But the fact remains that both a relative writing an e-mail from 2000 miles away, a relative who has never seen an ultrasound, never seen pictures of unborn children, etc., who says, “I think abortion would be the best choice for Jody to make in this difficult situation” and the abortionist who goes in with the forceps are _intending_ that Jody’s child should be aborted.Now, in the same way, the many people who said, “Why don’t they let that woman die?” about Terri Schiavo from miles away may have had an easier time convincing themselves that removing her food and water was not murder than the people who stood by her day by day and watched her literally dry up before their very eyes. But both groups _intend_ that she be dehydrated to death. I don’t see that the intention is different in the case of the person far away just because he, nicely insulated from Terri’s actual presence and also from the grim details of her death, finds it easier to believe what he wants to believe.The difference between the two may well be relevant vis a vis punishment. I’ve toyed with the idea that the law might give a lighter punishment to a woman who seeks an abortion than to the abortionist because the abortionist cannot possibly fool himself about what he’s doing.But that distinction is not based on the idea that they intend different things. Both intend abortion (unless the woman has actually been coerced, which does happen). Similarly, both the blogger and Michael Schiavo intended that Terri should have no fluids for as long as it took for her to die. You just can’t get around that, it seems to me.

  • zippy says:

    <>Why don’t we just throw out the definition for an act while we’re at it?<>I have no idea what that is supposed to mean or imply. The subject matter of the moment is not the object of the act, but what constitutes formal cooperation with an act. Naturally the focus is on <>intentions<>, since formal cooperation with evil <>just is<> having the intention that some evil act be committed, even though one is not committing it onesself.Someone who said “is it wrong to pull her tube?” – and even submitted that question in a dubium – is in a very different position from someone who said “her tube ought to be pulled”. The former expresses a question, not an intention. The latter expresses an intention; and in this case, an intention which involves formal cooperation with a murder.Of course it is entirely possible for one to ask that question while intending the murder of Terri Schaivo, and I don’t doubt that many people formally cooperated with her murder in that manner also. But the formal cooperation in that act – the act of asking that question – isn’t <>manifest<> in the same way that it is when expressing the definite opinion that her tube ought to be pulled.

  • zippy says:

    <>We don’t see that much from people who have advocated evil, perhaps because they are still operating under the delusion that what they advocated wasn’t really evil. Or maybe it’s just that the Internet is not a medium much suited for introspection.<>Indeed. Nor have I once – not once – seen a Terrikiller, upon the issuance of the dubium response from the CDF, say “I was wrong, mea maxima culpa, the people who tried to save her were right.” One would expect at least that much from those who mistakenly shot the milkman; yet sackcloth and ashes are simply nowhere to be seen.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    Does anyone have a link to the text of that dubium response? A quick googling didn’t turn it up for me.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    I understand this better now. M.Z. was asking whether someone taking Zippy’s position must say it was evil for the bishops to _ask_ the CDF for their opinion on the subject.Frankly, I don’t think the fact that they asked should be taken to indicate that this was genuinely a “hard case.” Even bishops can be confused. Some (I don’t know if any of the ones I’m thinking of were involved in submitting the question) undoubtedly were _badly_ wrong on Terri’s case, and their leadership was, I have no doubt, a cause of grave scandal (I think I have that technical word correct).

  • zippy says:

    <>Even bishops can be confused.<>Well, and asking doesn’t imply confusion on the part of the questioner either. A dubium is a theological question put to a higher authority in order to settle a controversy. I might submit a dubium fully expecting a certain outcome: submitting a dubium is as much a juridical act as anything else.Mind you, I’m pretty sure some bishops called this one really badly, though I haven’t kept score; and it wouldn’t surprise me in the least to find that some bishops had, in the Schiavo case, formally cooperated with the murder of an innocent person. Just ask St. John Chrysostom about construction materials.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    Certainly. Some could have been asking the question in order to settle the issue on the right side. I just meant that even if some of the bishops who asked did in fact think it a “hard call,” that didn’t mean they were right, and the conclusion that it was a hard case shouldn’t be inferred from their asking.

  • William Luse says:

    <>a cause of grave scandal (I think I have that technical word correct).<>You crack me up sometimes.

  • Freder1ck says:

    I didn’t remove no danged tube. It must’ve slipped out on its own.

  • Freder1ck says:

    besides, I would never have taken Bob’s advice. Two reasons: 1. he’s a blogger and 2. that bastard tortured me.

  • […] those specific terms.  If the enforcer of the contract intends the terms of the contract he is formally cooperating with that […]

  • […] a moment, many of us no doubt recall the spectacle of police troopers surrounding the hospice where Terri Schaivo was being, uh, “allowed to die”.  The reason those troopers were there was to actively prevent Schaivo’s family members and […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

What’s this?

You are currently reading Bloggers can formally cooperate with murder at Zippy Catholic.

meta

%d bloggers like this: