Bloggers can formally cooperate with murder
March 10, 2008 § 36 Comments
From the Pontifical Academy for Life:
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.