Spooky Intentions at a Distance

April 10, 2008 § 30 Comments

The discussion referenced in the previous post brings to mind the following:

Proposition: There is no such thing as remote formal cooperation with evil.

I disagree with that proposition, and I think the Magisterium does too. That proposition though appears to be an implication of the post where Mike says:

Let’s assume what I’ve already conceded: that what brought about Terri Schaivo’s death was an act of murder. Let’s even assume, for argument’s sake, that writers who influenced others to disagree with that judgment thereby “cooperated” in some remote fashion with Terri’s death. Does this mean that any such person is actually guilty of murder by “formal cooperation?” Clearly not.

Note: I agree that the stated criteria are not sufficient in themselves. Continuing:

It depends on the influence they intended to have, the influence they actually had, the degree of their own culpability for their rejecting the moral truth in this matter, and the degree of others’ culpability in sharing that error without having themselves done the actual deed.

Whether the cooperation was formal or not depends on none of those things, as far as I know. It depends only on whether the cooperator intended that the act of pulling Terri’s tube be carried out by someone.

Now if someone wants to quibble and say that formal cooperation with murder isn’t murder by formal cooperation, I’m fine with that. But what we are talking about is formal cooperation with a murder.

Of course Mike’s passage might mean multiple things. But if I take it to be an assertion that remote formal cooperation in a murder is impossible, or to be premised on such an assertion, then I disagree. Formal cooperation is when I (the acting subject) intend for an objectively evil act to be done, and I cooperate with it in any way — however remote. That my cooperation is remote, or that I disagree that the act in question is immoral, does not take the ‘formal’ out of my cooperation. And – the bit that generates the controversy – it is always wrong to formally cooperate with evil, period. Appeals to subjective culpability are a sidetrack from the subject of the nature of formal cooperation. As Pope John Paul II wrote,

It is never acceptable to confuse a “subjective” error about moral good with the “objective” truth rationally proposed to man in virtue of his end, or to make the moral value of an act performed with a true and correct conscience equivalent to the moral value of an act performed by following the judgment of an erroneous conscience. It is possible that the evil done as the result of invincible ignorance or a non-culpable error of judgment may not be imputable to the agent; but even in this case it does not cease to be an evil, a disorder in relation to the truth about the good.

Mike’s post taking my own post to task is potentially multivocal. I can interpret it in such a way that I agree with its criticisms, though in that case the position which it criticizes is not my position. Specifically, it is not formal cooperation (and we went into this in the discussion attached to my post) unless the person actually supported that Terri’s tube actually be pulled.

But of course a lot of people, including bloggers, did will that Michael Schiavo be “left alone” and that Terri’s tube in fact get pulled. All of these formally cooperated with her murder. Some made this willing more explicit than others, of course, but what is morally pertinent is whether the blogger in question in fact supported the act of pulling Terri’s tube, not the details of how that blogger advocated on behalf of that act.

The point to the post under criticism is merely that an appeal to the remoteness of the cooperation in question does not take the cooperation out of the ‘formal’ genus; and an appeal to disagreement about whether killing Terri was or was not understood to be immoral does not take the cooperation out of the ‘formal’ genus. Someone who supported the removal of Terri’s tube and did anything whatsoever, however remote, to cooperate with that removal, formally cooperated with her murder.

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§ 30 Responses to Spooky Intentions at a Distance

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    Query: Suppose that a person wrote after Terri was already dead saying, “They did the right thing to let that poor woman die,” etc., a blog post entirely about Terri’s case with no mention of any other specific case and no sly references to any other specific case. Just a blog post about Terri. The post contributes to the climate in which other people–maybe quite a number of them–are also dehydrated to death. But would it be correct to say that that post is not an act of remote formal cooperation in any murder, because the only specific murderous act it expresses approval of is one that is already over by the time it appears?

  • zippy says:

    <>But would it be correct to say that [creating] that post is not an act of remote formal cooperation in any murder, because the only specific murderous act it expresses approval of is one that is already over by the time it appears?<>Interesting question. I think offhand that the answer you proposed is right. And I don’t think retroactive formal cooperation with evil is possible, strictly speaking (?), but that doesn’t make it permissible to form an intention to approve of one followed by speaking favorably of it.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    I don’t think I followed the last bit, from “but that doesn’t make it permissible” onward.The type of post I have in mind would be wrong for plenty of reasons other than cooperation in murder, of course. Promoting evil behavior even in general terms is objectively wrong in itself.I suppose what strikes me as mildly interesting is that the person might have roughly the same sort of “express my opinion” intention in the post after her death as he would have had before. Or not? I’m not sure. But it seems at least plausible that the blogosphere encourages people to express their opinion on any and every subject without intending to cooperate with the actual behavior of specific people whose actions they are endorsing. In fact, both the person writing before Terri’s death and after might be _more_ concerned with their effect upon the culture in the long run than with cooperating or not cooperating with Terri’s death, specifically.

  • zippy says:

    Yeah, I was writing two sentences at once, failed to properly distinguish them before commiting them to the dreaded ‘publish’ button, and blogger doesn’t permit comment editing after the fact.I think there is a basic difference between forming an intention ‘X ought to be done’ and forming the judgement after the fact ‘it was good that X was done’. Though as you say, rather more literately than my last comment, “<>Promoting evil behavior even in general terms is objectively wrong in itself.”<>

  • zippy says:

    I should address this specific point:<>In fact, both the person writing before Terri’s death and after might be _more_ concerned with their effect upon the culture in the long run than with cooperating or not cooperating with Terri’s death, specifically.<>I don’t think that matters. Put it in means-end terms: it doesn’t matter <>why<> the person willed that Terri be killed (the end), it only matters <>that<> the person willed that Terri be killed. In general it is perfectly reasonable to suppose that the euthenist’s <>end<>, e.g. to alleviate suffering, is good. But that doesn’t matter: it doesn’t turn an evil act into a good act, and the <>motivations behind<> formal cooperation with evil cannot render formal cooperation with evil morally licit.Now the criticism some will render is the usual thing: that this is legalistic, pharisaical, etc. But that misses the point entirely. The reason that formal cooperation with evil is always wrong is because it is impossible to formally cooperate with evil <>with a good will<>. At best one is exercising a disordered or ignorant will, even in the case where one’s culpability is mitigated by ignorance, etc. It is literally impossible to choose to engage in sodomy with a good will, it is literally impossible to <>will that someone else<> (formally cooperate) engage in sodomy with a good will, etc. The ‘rules’ are not pharisaism, they are an expression of the underlying reality of what it is to exercise a good will with a correct and informed conscience in a particular case.

  • discalcedyooper says:

    While I agree we should avoid discussing remote participation with formal cooperation, the problem is arising because we are attempting to define the outer limits of what formally cooperating with a particular act is. At some point and time, an act even if evil in itself has no material bearing on another act, and, if it has no material bearing, then discerning the formalness or informalness of the non-cooperation is worthless.If Little Danny mentions to Little Jimmy that the President of Zulu should be shot and the President of Zulu is shot at future point by someone unknowing of Little Danny’s endorsement of the proposition, we would I hope agree that there is not basis to claim formal cooperation. Yes, there are issues with Little Danny’s act, but formal cooperation is not one of them. Analogously I do not think it is enough to claim that advocacy in a forum of the liciety of an act and the act being performed is enough to establish cooperation. One could argue that such is offering political support, but are we to claim political support is causal and then are to argue that particular act of political support is causal?

  • JohnMcG says:

    Question: What culpability would those who opposed the invasion have had if Saddam had remained in power and continued committing atrocities?Yes, anti-war people didn’t intend for Saddam to continue committing atrocities, no matter what the pro-war people said, but I don’t think must who supported removing the tube were doing so out of a bloodthirsty desire to kill Terri Schiavo.That’s why, as happy as I would be to conclude that those who argued for removing Schiavo’s tube formally cooperated with murder, I don’t know if I can quite get there.I think a lot of what motivated those in favor of removing the tube was resistance to government interference in what they thought should be a family decision. And, if they were honest, the fact that those darn pro-lifers were the ones arguing for keeping the tube in.Discussions like this help by bringing clarity to what exactly these fols were advocating, but it may be lost on them.

  • zippy says:

    MZ:<>At some point and time, an act even if evil in itself has no material bearing on another act, and, if it has no material bearing, then discerning the formalness or informalness of the non-cooperation is worthless.<>That is not true. Having it in the <>will<> (as distinguished from conscupiscient desires which have not resolved into an intention) to commit an atrocity is immoral whether or not one has the power to carry out the atrocity. “Adultery in the heart” and all that.John:<>What culpability would those who opposed the invasion have had if Saddam had remained in power and continued committing atrocities?<>That depends on whether those who opposed the invasion <>intended Saddam’s atrocities<>, as many bloggers <>intended for Terri’s tube to be pulled<>. IOW, I think it is an entirely different quesion. We discussed the subtleties in the other thread, I believe. If someone was dead set against pulling Terri’s tube but disagreed with a particular means of saving her then he didn’t formally cooperate with pulling her tube (that is, murdering her).“I supported pulling her tube but I didn’t think that doing so was murder” does not mean that such a person didn’t formally cooperate with murder. Such a person <>did<> formally cooperate with murder. It would be like saying “I supported Saddam’s use of the wood-chipper on prisoners, but I didn’t think it was torture”.

  • discalcedyooper says:

    <>That is not true. Having it in the will (as distinguished from conscupiscient desires which have not resolved into an intention) to commit an atrocity is immoral whether or not one has the power to carry out the atrocity.<>It is immoral. It is not however formal cooperation.

  • zippy says:

    <>It is not however formal cooperation.<>If (1) an actual carried-out act (of another) is evil, and (2) it is willed by me, and (3) I cooperate with it <>in any way whatsoever, however remote<>, I am formally cooperating with evil. That is what “formal cooperation with evil” <>means<>.

  • discalcedyooper says:

    I agree in principle with your three part test. We need to be careful when intuiting part 2. With part 3, the act still must materially further the underlying act in question. If we are to argue political furtherance, it would seem imperative to establish authority. A father claiming euthanasia is the right choice is different from a politician claiming it is a right choice is different from Camper Joe in the woods with his friends claiming it is the right choice.

  • zippy says:

    <>A father claiming euthanasia is the right choice [in a particular case which is in part being tried in the public square/media] is different from a politician claiming it is a right choice is different from Camper Joe in the woods with his friends claiming it is the right choice.<>They may each be different in terms of gravity, degrees of culpability, etc. But given the qualifier I put in brackets, they are all formal cooperation with evil.

  • discalcedyooper says:

    <>But given the qualifier I put in brackets, they are all formal cooperation with evil.<>You do not claim how the act of euthanasia is materially furthered. That the particular case is entertainment fodder does not imply to me at least the material quality of Camper Joe’s endorsement is changed.

  • zippy says:

    Speech is efficacious, to however small a degree, when <>a particular case … is in part being tried in the public square/media<>(Actually it doesn’t really matter if it doesn’t ‘work’ at all, as a matter of analyzing material causes and effects. All that matters is that some potentially causal cooperating act was intentionally done).

  • discalcedyooper says:

    <>Speech is efficacious, to however small a degree, when a particular case … is in part being tried in the public square/media.<>You appear to be arguing that there are no instances where speech isn’t efficacious. I’ll give one such example: a seven-year-old child claiming Newton’s 2nd theorem is bunk. If you prefer a contested question, a seven-year-old child claims it is better to enter the workforce rather than go to college.

  • discalcedyooper says:

    As to whether it need be effective, I would agree that it doesn’t. If successful, it should effect the primary actor’s behavior though. We can’t both have a single grain of sand won’t knock over a building and claim that since the pile of sand did collapse the person who placed the first grain and the person who placed the last grain therfore intended to knock over the building.

  • zippy says:

    Why is it that every time I carefully construct a very clear case, deliberately in such a way as to make the particular point — in this case a blogger formally cooperating with the murder of Terri Schaivo by posting support of pulling her feeding tube on the public Internet during the media frenzy — someone introduces a less obvious case as if the existence of less obvious cases undermines the clear case?Look: the objection is a ludicrous straw man. Nowhere have I claimed anything about seven years olds saying things about Newton’s laws. I’ve tried to take the objections seriously, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to do so. What I’ve done is point out that whomever publicly spoke in favor of pulling Terri’s feeding tube during the media frenzy manifestly formally cooperated in her murder – despite the apparent <>remoteness<> of that cooperation, and despite the fact that those who did so don’t (or didn’t) <>agree<> that what they were cooperating with was in fact a murder. The criteria for formal cooperation were met: a cooperating act of public speech sharing the intention of the actual act of pulling her feeding tube.It seems terribly important to you to make this seem less clear than it is. I can’t imagine why.

  • discalcedyooper says:

    I confess my intention was not to draw your ire. I’m arguing because the implications are great. Formal cooperation means one is equally culpable to the moral actor. It is spiritual death. I’m not going to condemn MM to hell for formal cooperation when I don’t think that is what he did.I introduced the case I introduced because you made an absolute statement. Until you were willing to concede a seven-year-old’s opinions are inconsequential on matters outside his competence or authority, there was no point in me arguing that some blogger offering his opinion to 500 people randomly distributed across the nation had no material influence and was never going to have material influence over Schiavo being euthanized.

  • zippy says:

    <>Formal cooperation means one is equally culpable to the moral actor.<>I am curious: what is your Magisterial citation for that principle? As far as I know culpability can be mitigated or increased for all sorts of reasons. Formal cooperation is always categorically wrong, but that doesn’t mean that all formal cooperations and acts which fall into a category are equally culpable. Indeed, the notion seems to be refuted by the JPII citation in the post.<>I introduced the case I introduced because you made an absolute statement.<> What absolute statement did I make with reference to the spoken opinions of seven year olds about the laws of physics? (I think that whole line of argument is a ludicrous straw man).

  • discalcedyooper says:

    <>2272 Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense. The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against human life. (CCC)<><>Indeed, from the moral standpoint, it is never licit to cooperate formally in evil. Such cooperation occurs when an action, either by its very nature or by the form it takes in a concrete situation, can be defined as a direct participation in an act against innocent human life or a sharing in the immoral intention of the person committing it. (EV 74)<>The absolute statement:“Speech is efficacious, to however small a degree…”

  • zippy says:

    I don’t see where in the citation it says that everyone involved automatically has equal culpability. It does say <>it is never licit to cooperate formally in evil<> and that <> a sharing in the immoral intention of the person committing it<> is formal cooperation with evil, both of which reiterate what I’ve claimed.

  • zippy says:

    Note the phrasing: formal cooperation with evil is <>either<> “<>direct participation…<>or<> a sharing in the immoral intention…<>“This is precisely because direct participation implies sharing in the evil intention (whether the subject attempts to disclaim the intention or not). Formal cooperation is sharing in the evil intention, and is always morally wrong.

  • discalcedyooper says:

    Nowhere is it implied that it isn’t automatically. Those who formally cooperate are guilty of grave sin. Those who perform the actual act are guilty of grave sin. If the nature of cooperation were to mitigate, it would be logical to find it here. <>Such cooperation occurs when an action, either by its very nature or by the form it takes in a concrete situation, can be defined as a direct participation in an act against innocent human life or a sharing in the immoral intention of the person committing it.<>The nature and form of the cooperation are the question. We would agree submitting a dubium is not sharing in the immoral intention of the euthanizing act. Writing a blog post I wouldn’t think would qualify as participation in the euthanizing act. Additionally we should look at the word sharing. In Spanish the bolded section is rendered “como participación en la intención inmoral del agente principal”. The Latin: “aut veluti immorale propositum cum agenti principe communicantem.” As I was setting up above, I think we agree personal counsel(father giving assent) would always be considered formal cooperation. I think we can agree that more strictly defined political actions definately are formal cooperation, introducting abortion legislation for example. Petitioning the government I think could have a case made that it is formal cooperation.

  • zippy says:

    <>The nature and form of the cooperation are the question..<>Once again, you seem to be ignoring and/or obfuscating the plain meaning of your own citation: “<>…<>or<> a sharing in the immoral intention of the person committing it.<>“Any sharing of the immoral intention of a person committing an evil act is formal cooperation with that evil act.

  • Anonymous says:

    Zippy:<>Once again, you seem to be ignoring and/or obfuscating the plain meaning of your own citation: “…or a sharing in the immoral intention of the person committing it.”Any sharing of the immoral intention of a person committing an evil act is formal cooperation with that evil act.<>But it wouldn’t necessarily be “*sharing* of the immoral intention of a person committing an evil act” if that person doesn’t necessarily have the *same* intention as the one committing the act, no?God bless,e.

  • zippy says:

    e: I’ve tried to be clear — I’ve said it many times – that (to quote myself) <>someone who supported the removal of Terri’s tube and did anything whatsoever, however remote, [including writing a blog post] to cooperate with that removal, formally cooperated with her murder.<>I’ve specifically been making the point that the most common appeals to the contrary – to the <>remoteness<> of the cooperation and/or to <>disagreement<> that the act was an act of murder – do not alter things in such a way as to make it not-formal-cooperation.I don’t understand what part of that you object to.

  • Bob says:

    I don’t know if this will help anyone, but I found this article in the < HREF="" REL="nofollow">Catholic Encyclopia on Accomplice<>.<>For example, to persuade another to absent himself without reason from Mass on Sunday would be an instance of formal cooperation. To sell a person in an ordinary business transaction a revolver which he presently uses to kill himself is a case of material cooperation.<>So, my question is this: were the bloggers involved in persuasion so that Michael Schiavo could carry out the murder of Terri Schiavo?

  • JohnMcG says:

    Well, it ultimately wasn’t Michael Schiavo who carried out the murders, it was agents of the state who removed the tube and prevented others from feeding her.In essence there were two moral decisions made:a.) Michael’s decision to remove the tube.b.) The state’s decision to enforce that decision.The first decision was murderous. Whether commenters are guilty of formal cooperation rests on the jugement of whether the second decision amounts to murder. It may still be, but I don’t think it’s a slam dunk that it was.

  • zippy says:

    If agents of the state had cut her throat at Michael’s behest, would that have been an act of murder?

  • William Luse says:

    <>Whether commenters are guilty of formal cooperation rests on the jugement of whether the second decision amounts to murder.<>I don’t think so. All they had to do was share Michael’s intention. b.) was also formal cooperation with Michael’s intention, which led to c.) material cooperation in which “agents of the state… removed the tube and prevented others from feeding her.”One big happy family.

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