Justification by Appeal to a "Possible" Miracle

June 10, 2008 § 92 Comments

I propose the following limit on licit material cooperation with evil: if my reasoning requires me to stipulate a miracle occurring in the causal chain from my act to my intended end, then deliberate premeditated material cooperation with evil is not justified.

Suppose I plan to cast a vote for one of two cannibals. Clearly this is an act of material cooperation with evil; but it may be justified if in fact my vote carries my candidate into office and the rest of the double-effect criteria are satisfied. Of course, it would be a literal miracle for my individual vote to carry my candidate into office.

I want to note that I am not proposing here a new or novel kind of moral reasoning about acts. What I am doing is attempting to tease out in detail the requirements of “proportionate reason” in double-effect. If my act is incapable (barring a miracle) of achieving the very end which proposes to justify my material cooperation with evil, it is not proportionate, and does not justify material cooperation with evil.

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§ 92 Responses to Justification by Appeal to a "Possible" Miracle

  • Anonymous says:

    Dear Zippy,Probably a stupid point, but if your vote is incapable of accomplishing an action either way is it in any meaningful sense “cooperation.” Isn’t the cooperation not in the voting but in the intent? So the vote itself is meaningless in this discussion.Or am I missing your point?shalom,Steven

  • JohnMcG says:

    Implicit in the tone of these posts is the assumption that the system is purposely rigged so as to dupe us into making ourselves complicit in savagery.Is your model dependent on malevolence? In other words, from our perspective, does it matter whether voting is an elaborate liturgy to get our buy-in, or is considered by all to be a way for the public to effect the type of government, but in reality has mostly this ill effect?

  • zippy says:

    <>Implicit in the tone of these posts is the assumption that the system is purposely rigged so as to dupe us into making ourselves complicit in savagery.<>Let me be explicit: I don’t see any purposeful conspiracy theory (at least of the earthly variety). Do you think it is a priori impossible that democratic voting has built into it systematic negative moral affects on the average voter?

  • William Luse says:

    I think it’s a good question, Steven. I look forward to his answer.You may have already answered it: “Isn’t the cooperation not in the voting but in the intent?” In other words, if you knew it was futile, why did you cast it? What were you trying to say? The vote is not meaningless, for if you had refused to cast it, you would have been saying something else.

  • zippy says:

    <>In other words, if you knew it was futile, why did you cast it? What were you trying to say? The vote is not meaningless, for if you had refused to cast it, you would have been saying something else.<>Say rather, on a forward looking basis, since I know it is futile <>in terms of deciding the outcome<>, why ought I cast that particular vote? What <>is<> doing so good for, if anything at all? <>Given<> that it makes no difference in the outcome, what ought I do? Ought I do something different?I was looking forward to coming up with a response to Steven’s query, but I think Bill’s is more concise than whatever I might have said.

  • Tom says:

    <>Of course, it would be a literal miracle for my individual vote to carry my candidate into office.<>There are a couple of things wrong with this statement.First, it implies that I vote with the intention of my individual vote carrying my candidate into office. But there are other possible intentions.Second, it hardly requires a <>literal<> miracle for an election to turn out a certain way — even if a miracle would be the most probable means. And if it doesn’t <>require<> a miracle, then the proposed principle isn’t applicable to the vote-for-the-lesser-cannibal scenario.

  • zippy says:

    <>First, it implies that I vote with the intention of my individual vote carrying my candidate into office.<>Rather, I would say that it <>applies when<> one votes with the intention of electing a candidate to office. I am more than willing to stipulate that one might vote for other reasons. One might have the hots for the gal at the polling place, for example.<>…it hardly requires a literal miracle for an election to turn out a certain way…<>If the word “miracle” has any meaning at all, it will be a miracle if your vote determines the outcome of a national election. (In which case it would be sensible to attribute the outcome to the miracle as opposed to the act of voting).

  • zippy says:

    I could rephrase the statement, if some folks find the term ‘miracle’ a barrier:If my reasoning requires me to stipulate my winning the lottery in the causal chain from my act to my intended end, then deliberate premeditated material cooperation with evil is not justified.

  • Anonymous says:

    I have a simple question, Zippy. Since my vote is basically useless, double effect never applies, so why not play it safe and never vote? It looks like I have nothing to gain, but a lot to possibly lose.

  • zippy says:

    <>Since my vote is basically useless, double effect never applies, so why not play it safe and never vote?<>I would modify the premise somewhat: since my vote is useless <>as an act selecting who wins a national election<>, double effect never applies under that intention. A number of folks have raised the issue of acceptable third-party and write-in votes as a form of protest speech unconnected to any expectation of influencing who will actually win. That complicates things significantly, and I think there are good arguments on both sides of that question, though I haven’t made those arguments (or my present understanding of them) fully explicit. (It is difficult enough working our way through the simpler case).What I don’t think there is ever any double-effect justification for is voting for a ‘mainstream’ cannibal candidate <>because<> he is mainstream and therefore I think my vote will <>matter<> in selecting him or blocking his ‘mainstream’ opponent. But if you listen to Christians explain their votes for mainstream candidates who hold morally abominable positions, that is virtually always the putative justification given.<>It looks like I have nothing to gain, but a lot to possibly lose.<>Well, another thing to realize is that a vote as an act is far more <>trivial<> than most people believe it to be. This is precisely because it is the liturgy in our civic religion: not-voting is viewed by orthodox liberals as skipping Mass is viewed by orthodox Catholics.In a sense then you only have a lot to lose as long as you <>believe<> you have a lot to lose: it is precisely the significance attached to the act when it comes to you yourself where the risk lies (though there is also the issue of what the example we set and the things we say do to the people who know us well enough to know those things).So again I think the issue of third-party/write-in is more complex. In a sense voting TP/WI is an act of affirmation of the civic liturgy itself, which some may find morally problemmatic. On the other hand there is nothing <>intrinsically<> wrong with eating meat which has been offered to idols.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    If I understand the notion of material cooperation correctly, it seems to me entirely possible that an act could be both material cooperation with evil _and_ something else and wrong for some rather different reason. Now, what I mean is this. (Not very coherent with only one cup of coffee.) I think Zippy’s argument is that since one’s own single vote is ineffective in influencing an election, it can’t be defended under double effect on the grounds that one is promoting some good end. I _think_ Zippy is implying that _if_ voting is causally effective, then one _could_ defend voting for a cannibal on grounds of double effect, since the cooperation involved is only material and not formal.But suppose that voting for a cannibal is wrong for reasons other than that it is material cooperation with evil. Suppose, for example, that the argument I have given about symbolically standing with or saying yes to the cannibal has independent force. Then in that case the double effect response would not be sufficient.

  • JohnMcG says:

    I think there’s also the difference between a promised miracle and a possible miracle.The only logically predictable effect of Moses holding up his arms during the battle was that his arms would get tired. But God had promised him that if he did that, God would deliver victory for the Israelites. The Sciptures are full of people doing things that only make sense because they would lead to miracles.If we take someone like Kmiec at his word (though I think it’s likely that his support for Obama is tied to disappointment/bitterness at the defeat of his candidate Romney, who was not particularly better than McCain on the issue Kmiec sites as reasons to support Obama), he’s hoping that Obama will soften his abortion-friendly views if he is elected.It’s also possible that having someone like Kmiec publically support Obama, and catching hell for it along the way, could lead to a softening.Now, I’m not convinced that counting on it is prudent, but I’m not sure “don’t count on a miracle” is the best heuristic. Our lives as Christians are based on the assumption that God can act miraculously.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    A “softening” of Obama’s position on abortion? Oh, goody. Maybe he’ll say it _is_ constitutional to protect babies who survive an abortion, and then he’ll _just_ support sucking the brains out of the ones whose heads are still inside. Or maybe he’ll “soften” and oppose PBA while still supporting dimemberment abortion. Or maybe he’ll “soften” and not hurry up in his first 100 days to do everything he can to make sure federal funds are provided to all the poor women for murdering their babies. Maybe he’ll wait until the second or third year of his term to urge Congress to send him that legislation. Or…Really, I’m almost tempted to say something strongly worded. Obama is an absolute moral monster on life issues. There is layer upon layer upon layer to his total and complete support for evil here. Someone who could support him based on (let’s face it) a moral equivalency between warfare and abortion plus an extremely vague and entirely unsupported hope for an entirely unspecified softening in his *complete commitment* to every manner of evil action against the unborn child is someone who is lying to himself or who has not been truly pro-life and has not truly understood the evil of the murder of the unborn for a long time.

  • JohnMcG says:

    To add to it, if Christianity accepted this prinicple, the “Lives of the saints” books would be mighty slim, since many acts of Christian heroism involve accepting the risk of an immediate bad effect of personal risk to self and hoping that God will cooperate to help produce what seems to be an unlikely good effect.—I don’t think the problem we have is so much that people are exaggerating the likelihood or magnitude of the good effect, but that people are denying or much too deeply discounting the immediate bad effect.

  • JohnMcG says:

    Lydia,I’m aware of your distaste for Obama’s position on abortion.

  • Anonymous says:

    <>Our lives as Christians are based on the assumption that God can act miraculously.<>This is so terribly wrong because although we should place our Hope and Faith in God, there is such a thing as an act of will.This is like thinking in the manner, “I don’t have to do a thing about abortion since I leave the whole abortion thing to the Hands of God, who alone can work the miraculous!”However, this neglects the fact that God expects us not simply to rely on Him in the matters we face in life, but also to perform acts ourselves to cause good in our lives.We just don’t leave things up to God.I believe that most, if not, all the lives of the saints herald such a virtue.

  • Anonymous says:

    The above is me – e.Sorry, Zippy.

  • JohnMcG says:

    I’m not saying we just do what we want and hope God will take care of the rest.I am saying that there is much support in our history as Christians for committing an act that has immediate negative consequences for oneself in the hope that it will cooperate with God’s work to create some positive effect that would seem completely unlikely. < HREF="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_of_Assissi#Childhood_and_early_adulthood" REL="nofollow">One example<>Now, I am not saying that someone holding his nose and voting for a candidate who supports evil neccesarily fits into that category, but zippy proposed that as a general rule, and I think many counterexamples in our history demonstrate it would not be useful for that purpose.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    “I’m aware of your distaste for Obama’s position on abortion.”Yeah, right, that’s what it’s about: My distaste. Gotta love it. No, John, it’s not all about me. It’s all about right and wrong and deep, deep evil.

  • zippy says:

    <>… an act that has immediate negative consequences for oneself …<>I do think there is a great deal more lattitude in taking risks upon onesself, precisely because one is facing the consequences onesself. The notion though that pulling the lever for Obama or McCain is an act of self-sacrifice based on hope for a miracle and acceptance of the consequences to onesself in the probable event that there is no miracle is, well, in the interest of politeness I won’t say what immediately came to mind. In addition, the sacrifices of the martyrs and saints are not the sort of acts which are pointless <>unless a miracle happens<>. I think that acts of material cooperation with evil which are pointless unless a miracle happens are indeed always wrong.

  • Anonymous says:

    JohnMcG,I appreciate that clarification.But because of the rising popularity of this attitude amongst many in the immediate population I am involved with, I become instantly sensitive to any remarks that might even endorse it.They often resort to the fallacious “Don’t you have Faith in God?” variety type argument when spurred to action, not acknowledging that action is indeed required on our part — that is, our cooperating with God’s grace.

  • JohnMcG says:

    But the “only a miracle” cuts both ways. If the assertion is that the the odds of my vote helping to bring about the desired positive effect are sufficiently small so as to be negligible, then it follows that the same is true for bringing about the desired negative effect. The direction of this discussion was the the effect of voting was primarily on the person doing the voting rather than on the external world, which is why I thought the examples of martyrdom and self-sacrifice were applicable, though not completely analagous.<>I am reminded and may be perilously close to the argument for torture that said that a president or soldier should be willing to sacrifice or risk his immortal soul in order to stop the “ticking time bomb.”<>It does seem to me that martyrdom <>does<> require a miracle in order to bring about its ultimate desired effect, which would be the saving of souls. It assumes that God will keep His promise to save those souls, though I suppose we could limit ourselves to <>earthly<> miracles.

  • JohnMcG says:

    In the above — the first paragraph should read “undesired negative effect.”Those inclined to believe that I am deceiving myself in not wishing for the negative effect now have their ammunition.

  • zippy says:

    <>Yeah, right, that’s what it’s about: My distaste.<>I don’t want to pick on John. But any civic liturgy which is capable of reducing a good man like John – and I assure you, Lydia, that John is a very good man – to treating despicable evil rhetorically as “distaste” — any civic liturgy capable of doing that to good men has something deeply wrong with it, beyond merely the issue of what options happen to be on the ballot. It is for that reason (and others) that I am suspicious of whether even third party or write-in voting represents a strong enough “no!”. It is one thing to shout “no!” specifically at Obama and McCain and other cannibals. But what about the civic religion which gave rise to all this in the first place?

  • zippy says:

    <>It does seem to me that martyrdom does require a miracle in order to bring about its ultimate desired effect, …<>Existence itself requires a miracle, and we can become as expansive with the term as we like. But we can’t do that without missing the point.

  • JohnMcG says:

    I apologize for the distaste comment. It was much too dismissive for something as substantial as abortion, and suggested that revulsion at Obama’s positions was a subjective response rather than a natural reaction to its objective depravity.

  • Anonymous says:

    <>…suggested that revulsion at Obama’s positions was a subjective response rather than a natural reaction to its objective depravity.<>And yet the ‘objective depravity’ of a possible Obama win (and the pro-death policy he will more likely than not advance) doesn’t warrant any action on our part; why, we even welcome it to the extent of dismissing any proactive measure to deter it!e.

  • JohnMcG says:

    Let me bare my soul for a minute here.It continues to pain is me that conversations about our civil involvement revolve around avoiding (formal and material) cooperation with moral evils rather than accomplishing good, to the point where the conclusion of a number of people whose moral opinion I respect is that it would be best just to sit out. I’m not saying it’s wrong, but it is depressing.It is also depressing how ineffective we have been in witnessing against moral evils, and that the direction of our society seems to be moving toward opening up new avenues of evil and expanding the scale of those that already exist. Perhaps this is life in a fallen world, but I don’t like it.The reason I participate in discussions like this is that I am working to find out how to best respond to it by talking about these ideas with fellow Christians who share my concerns.

  • zippy says:

    <>And yet the ‘objective depravity’ of a possible Obama win (and the pro-death policy he will more likely than not advance) doesn’t warrant any action on our part; …<>I can’t speak for anyone else, but one of the ways in which I am trying to do something – to little effect, no doubt, yet still to greater effect than playing pick-the-cannibal on a voteo game machine – is through explicit speech.John: I agree it is depressing. But the focus on avoiding evil isn’t an accident. Avoiding evil is the foundation upon which doing good is built. When the foundations are crumbling, that is what we work on. <>< HREF="" REL="nofollow">“[T]he commandment of love of God and neighbour<> does not have in its dynamic any higher limit, but it does have a lower limit, beneath which the commandment is broken.”<>

  • zippy says:

    Sorry, forgot the < HREF="http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_06081993_veritatis-splendor_en.html" REL="nofollow">hyperlink<>.

  • JohnMcG says:

    One reason for my unhappiness is that if we Catholics would act in unity against one of these evils (whichever one), that would probably be sufficient to at least greatly curtail it.But we don’t do that, because that would require us to work with those awful people over there. It would require < HREF="http://www.commonwealmagazine.org/blog/?p=2045" REL="nofollow">liberals to admit Archbishop Chaput may be right about some things<>, and we can’t have that. It would require conservatives to admit there may be some wisdom in the Seamless Garment type of thinking, when we all know that that’s just an excuse for not doing anything about abortion.It gets to me. And that’s why I had the brusque reply to Lydia’s post about how awful Obama’s position on abortion is, with the suggestion that anyone who would even consider voting for Obama is a moral cretin who doesn’t really care about abortion.On the contrary I do care. We have spent the last 30 years talking about how awful and terrible those “pro-abort” politicians are. And what has it gotten us? Not a damn thing. We spent 2004 pressuring priests and bishops to deny John Kerry communion instead of working and praying that he would change his position. How many unborn children did that save?Of course, liberal Catholics are no better. dotCommonweal is a steady stream of tweaks from Kaveny and Daniel Gibson against Catholics who actually think that a necessary step to stopping abortion is making it illegal, and castigating those who take the Church’s teaching seriously as “divisive.”For the purposes of these discussions, can we assume that all parties agree on the gravity of the offenses against human life that are present in our culture, and that we a working through finding the best way to respond, rather than trying to find a back-door way of implementing our hidden agenda of continuing the culture of death?Sure, let’s check each other to make sure we’re not deluding ourselves, but let’s assume we’re all on the same team here.

  • JohnMcG says:

    It’s not you, zippy, it’s society.I don’t mean to criticize you for focusing on avoiding evil. I just hoped that 2000 years after Jesus seemed to think we were ready to move past avoiding the negative to accomplishing the positive, it’s apparent we’re not there yet.

  • zippy says:

    <>For the purposes of these discussions, can we assume that all parties agree on the gravity of the offenses against human life that are present in our culture, and that we a working through finding the best way to respond, rather than trying to find a back-door way of implementing our hidden agenda of continuing the culture of death?<>I assuredly hope so.

  • Anonymous says:

    <>It continues to pain is me that conversations about our civil involvement revolve around avoiding (formal and material) cooperation with moral evils rather than accomplishing good, to the point where the conclusion of a number of people whose moral opinion I respect is that it would be best just to sit out. I’m not saying it’s wrong, but it is depressing.<>Allowing an evil to occur is just as bad as endorsing it, since it, in all actuality (however indirectly), does do so by virtue of the inaction; that is, not proactively taking measures of preventing the evil.Zippy,Four years from now when Obama has successfully advanced the pro-death movement to its very pinnacle, would you still continue to be proud of not having taken any action whatsoever in preventing all this?Moreover, when Obama wins a second term in office, let’s just see what actual good has been done in your inaction in what you proclaim is on behalf of righteousness.I do not deny that your purpose on behalf of good moral principles; however, what you fail to realize that the sum of your actions may very well bring about an evil that you’re supposed to prevent in the first place, which is, coincidentally, also an act on behalf of good moral principles.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    “…with the suggestion that anyone who would even consider voting for Obama is a moral cretin who doesn’t really care about abortion.”I think anyone who says he is pro-life and would even consider voting for Obama is very seriously morally confused. Part of what I do (contra e.) to try to change society and to oppose the election of people like Obama and to make sure that more and more good people don’t go that direction (thus insuring that people like Obama will be in power more or less forever) is to try to wake people up to real moral differences and to the total unacceptability of someone like Obama. To me it is a symptom of our times that people who consider themselves pro-life would even think of such a thing. Twenty years ago it would have been unimaginable. The pro-life movement was still concerned at that time with whether a candidate believed in a rape exception. (And so they should have been. I bring it up to show how far we’ve gone.) I don’t know all the explanations. They almost certainly vary from one person to another. But one of them I can bring forward is battle fatigue. People come to feel there is no point in holding the political line against endorsing someone with such evil ideas if it doesn’t “get results”–clear, tangible, results. But that’s actually not true.

  • zippy says:

    <>…would you still continue to be proud of not having taken any action whatsoever in preventing all this?<>The issue of pride hadn’t occurred to me, and I don’t consider it pertinent. But I do firmly believe that the more good men refuse to vote for cannibals, starting sooner rather than later, the better off the future of the Republic looks. And in terms of counterfactuals I think the Republic would be better off today had there been less compromise with evil in the past.I should probably do a post some time on how I view the political left-right dynamic in modern liberal polities. Basically, it is a quasi-Hegelian process in which today’s radical liberal becomes tomorrow’s “conservative”: by engaging in rear-guard actions predicated on liberalism’s own political ontology, without actually rejecting liberalism’s own core premises, conservatism actually guarantees the survival and continued advancement of the Revolution. Without a conservative rear-guard the modernist Revolution would collapse of its own internal contradictions. (You know, the Revolution which brought us both 40 million abortions <>and<> war on everyone everywhere to bring democracy to everyone everywhere).The voting liturgy involves an affirmation of and assent to liberal political ontology. In the long run this mass support on both sides of the aisle for liberal political ontology is far more critical for sustaining the Revolution than the specifics of whether one supports this particular right-liberal or that particular left-liberal in this particular liturgy.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    “And in terms of counterfactuals I think the Republic would be better off today had there been less compromise with evil in the past.”Amen. Even in terms of consequences, the strategy of gradual compromise among pro-lifers of the last fifteen to twenty years has been disastrous. In honesty, and though I don’t want to demonize GW Bush, I think the Bush election of 2000 was a watershed. I won’t go into details, but I was very disturbed by the approach taken in that election by the National Right to Life Committee. They whipped their members into supporting him despite his shaky position on a couple of subjects (e.g., IIRC, government funding for abortions in the case of rape and incest) and despite his almost resolute refusal to talk about the abortion issue in his campaign (or pretty much at any time since then). The whipping began *before the primaries*, which was very notable. Then he became president and did a number of things that flew in the face even of what they had expected of him. For example, they had been fighting McCain-Feingold fervently and at great length and expense for years, he had campaigned on opposition to it, and then he signed it, and eventually became an ardent supporter. They couldn’t even bring themselves to criticize this, and scarcely to report it. His NIH began funding research using aborted fetal tissue and they refused at first to report it and then, when Family Research Council turned up the data, NRLC expressly said that they had shifted their focus away from worrying about that issue, though it used to be a biggie for them, because they were so much more worried about ESCR and embryo farms.(Okay, so that was some nitty-gritty details.) Basically, it was a tale of year after year of resignation, not saying anything about very real disappointments, not criticizing, out of fear. (I have other examples.) The Clinton years set us up for it, because of all the worry about going “back to that again.”Yet I think they could have influenced the Republican party, and Bush, and American politics, if they had stood up sooner and yelled louder. I think even in consequential terms James Dobson’s open refusal to vote for McCain is not only principled but smart.Did y’all know that a coalition of religious conservative leaders met with some Republican leaders in Congress (I can try to dig up a link on this) years back and said they were unhappy about, for example, the Republicans’ rapprochment with the homosexual rights agenda. They were explicitly told, “What are the people you represent going to do? We know they won’t vote Democrat.” In other words, the religious right had come to be taken entirely for granted.

  • TomBomBadil says:

    Apparently I missed something. I’m new in this thread, but did someone earlier show how a vote is meaningless in terms of the election? I mean, what in the world are we voting for if not to try to make someone president? And what in the world is the outcome of the election but that someone becomes president? You mean that somehow we cast votes because we want to elect someone, and someone becomes president, but that our voting had no effect at all? Are you aware just how silly that sounds?

  • William Luse says:

    Sounds like John’s getting worn down by the lack of success. But I thought we’d been instructed to “never lose heart.” Voting for Obama would not signal an energetic new tactic for achieving our ends, but the triumph of despair.<>Jesus seemed to think we were ready to move past avoiding the negative to accomplishing the positive, it’s apparent we’re not there yet.<>This implies we ought to be moving toward some earthly paradise of faith and charity, for the arrival of which I imagine the wait will be unbearably long.<>can we assume that all parties agree on the gravity of the offenses against human life that are present in our culture?<>Zippy’s a big-hearted guy. Speaking only for myself (and only in general of others), I’d say no. Voting for Obama is a very vivid way of obscuring that gravity.

  • William Luse says:

    <>but that our voting had no effect at all? Are you aware just how silly that sounds?<>It especially sounds silly to someone who is new to the thread.

  • JohnMcG says:

    Thanks for reading me out of the pro-life movement. I’m sure the unborn appreciate your efforts on their behalf to ensure that someone < HREF="http://manbitesblog.quiblit.com/index.php/category/burke/" REL="nofollow">like me<> doesn’t get away with walking around thinking he’s pro-life.Hey, maybe instead of lecturing me about how bad and wrong I am to lose hope, maybe you could give me some reasons to hope in this particular strategy of yelling about how evil the other side is and voting Republican no matter what. Yeah, I now it’s not as fun as challenging people like me to prove how much I hate the Romans, and it wouldn’t allow you to tell yourself how much more you care about the unborn because you would <>never<> consider voting for someone as bad as Obama.And I haven’t even reached a definite conclusion, yet. Many others have, and they may be mistaken, but they are not bad people. And we are going to need their help if we are really going to end the scourge of abortion in this country. Yes, I am tired. Advocating on behalf of the unborn means enduring and dodging all sorts of accusations of sexism, misogyny, scientific ignorance and backwardness, and more. Then, I come somewhere like here to regroup, dare to question the wisdom of a strategy that has produced zero results in 35 years, and get told I don’t really care about the unborn and I’m not really pro-life.If you think your advocacy for the unborn will be more successful without wishy-washy squishes like me who lose heart, have at it.

  • zippy says:

    <>…maybe you could give me some reasons to hope in this particular strategy of yelling about how evil the other side is and voting Republican no matter what.<>I’m pretty sure Bill falls into the category of critics of that strategy, not supporters, though he can speak for himself.<>Many others have, and they may be mistaken, but they are not bad people. And we are going to need their help if we are really going to end the scourge of abortion in this country.<>Here is the thing, John: in my view of things, anyone who can convince himself that he can vote for Obama is indeed completely useless as an ally to the pro-life cause. Worse than useless. That doesn’t make them “bad people” in some generic sense: but it means that my responsibility toward them is to try to convince them not to do the terrible damage to their souls that voting for that man will do, not to ‘work with them’ as committed supporters of a moral monster, whatever it is that resulted in their commitment. That responsibility is twofold: for their own sakes, and for the sake of the good of the Republic and the protection of the unborn.People write themselves off. I would never vote for McCain; indeed I would never (and did never) vote for Bush. A lukewarm friend can do (and in Bush’s case has done) far more damage than a sworn enemy. Nobody has harmed the pro-life cause more deeply than its lukewarm supporters.There are some things with which we simply cannot have ‘solidarity’: medical cannibalization, preventative war, torture, and infanticide are examples. Leaders and potential leaders who support such things are inherently unsuitable – even for the role of dogcatcher – and we should never given them our personal endorsement in the form of a vote. If that means we do a lot of sitting out and/or writing in, and spend time in front of the Sacrament, then that is what it means.The corruption from within has to stop. Making common cause with a moral monster like Obama or a slightly less monstrous but in some ways more dangerous moral monster like McCain is the path of despair, not the path of hope.<>If you think your advocacy for the unborn will be more successful without wishy-washy squishes like me who lose heart, have at it.<>I can sympathize with the emotional response, because we are indeed fighting a lost cause; but in my lost causes give me 100 men who are firm in their commitments over 10000 who would willingly endorse a cannibal any day; I might surprise you and prevail.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    John McG, if you are reconsidering what sounded pretty definite as of February of this year, before the Republican primary was even over, that’s all the better. But it seems only legitimate to point out that you have written at some length and in some detail defending the so-called “pro-Obama, pro-life” position.http://tinyurl.com/ysmao6Also herehttp://tinyurl.com/5ocx38Again, if you are reconsidering, that’s great. But it is not the case that you have never come out rather clearly and in public as an Obama supporter much of Kmiec’s mind, and indeed, as far as I know, before Kmiec had made his own argument on the subject.

  • Anonymous says:

    Dear Bill,The answer still bothers me a bit because it still comes back to intent. It seems to me that I may cast a vote out of the sense of obligation inculcated by the Catechism’s explicit adjuration to participate in the system of governance. If my vote really is futile (a point I don’t quite cede because it becomes a kind of Zeon’s paradox) it can still be made in accord with Catholic teaching with the intent being merely to fulfill the obligation of a citizen. So, I look at futility as a subpoint–intent must occupy the uppermost place in the argument.But I’ll leave it at this because I think I just miss some of the big things lurking our there behind this.shalom,Steven

  • Anonymous says:

    Zippy,<>I do firmly believe that the more good men refuse to vote for cannibals, starting sooner rather than later, the better off the future of the Republic looks. <>For goodness sakes, don’t make perfect the enemy of good!In our elections where the choice is between 2 candidates, one is bound to be the winner.In this case, the only way to prevent Obama’s win is by voting, unfortunately as though it may seem, for the other candidate.Do you really believe that if all the good folks of the republic refused to participate in these here elections, neither of the candidates will go on to win the office?Seriously, what will be achieved by heralding chants of “Don’t vote for either candidate”?Just what real good do you hope to achieve in this?It appears as if you and Lydia would rather welcome Obama as President than have folks taking positive action to prevent it.In the end, by not performing positive action to prevent the further advancement of pro-death policy, you won’t realize just what a mistake this was until it’s too late.I have my own issues with McCain and the policies he endorses.The guy is not perfect by any means; other than the heroic nature of his past for which I might admire in his case, the positions of his candidacy can be found very questionable.However, the guy is far from the evil cannibal that you make him out to be.And while, on the other hand, I may very well admire Obama for some of his other qualities, I do know that the pro-death agenda of which I know he positively endorses will not only hurt the pro-life campaign but, in all actuality, I have no doubt, bring about such irreparable damage that by that time, either in the first time or by his 2nd, good folks will only come to regret why they did not do anything to prevent such an evil.I guess so long as one takes pride in the righteousness of what he believes is right is all that matters, regardless of the holocausts s/he has helped to bring about.Edmund Burke said all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing. Indeed.e.

  • Anonymous says:

    “…either in the first term or by his 2nd…”

  • zippy says:

    Regarding <>“For goodness sakes, don’t make perfect the enemy of good!”<>and <>“Edmund Burke said all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”<>Like many rules of thumb this principle is abused as often as it is valid. In this case many seem to think that if I don’t give my (ineffectual in any case) personal endorsement to one of two men whom we are (in both cases) morally certain will use the executive power to create, finance, and promote human embryo farms to be cannibalized for medical research, I am somehow making the perfect into the enemy of the good. That this can even be considered a candidate case for ‘making the perfect the enemy of the good’ is an interesting commentary on our times — and on where our civic religion and its rituals have taken us.I don’t know why people seem to think that either in the case of the individual or the case of a bloc that a vocal refusal to vote for a cannibal is tantamount to “doing nothing” and somehow less effectual than choosing one cannibal as (theoretically) less harmful than another. I have to chalk it up to a lack of imagination, I suppose.

  • zippy says:

    Steven:<>I look at futility as a subpoint–intent must occupy the uppermost place in the argument.<>Here is how they are interconnected: the intent is to cooperate with grave evil (under double effect) in order to accomplish some good end. Both the means and the end are intended; if the intended means though is in fact futile in terms of achieving the intended end, then I do not have a <>proportionate reason<> to carry out the intended means, a means which involves – at least in my <>intention<> – cooperation with grave evil.

  • TomBomBadil says:

    But Zippy, aren’t you going in circles here? I mean, if our votes are useless for electing people, then they don’t mean what we think they mean. If they don’t mean what we think they mean, then they don’t carry the moral significance of votes, do they? You seem to say that they carry the moral significance of ummm, I don’t know, one of two things – either a public (though very small) voice of support for whoever, or a strictly personal testimony of support for whoever. But in either case the futility of actually helping to get someone elected, which is your assumption, undermines both of those, doesn’t it? for the first, my vote is done in private, not public – unless I tell others about it, in which case it is the telling others rather than the act of voting which acts on others. Or, secondarily, if my vote speaks publicly on account of being counted with all the others who voted for whoever with me, then it is significant as an effective public statement through <> exactly <> the mechanism you say a vote is insignificant in efficaciously electing a person. For the second, if I don’t think that my vote helps to get someone elected, then as a private act of testimonial support it is futile <> even to me <> in which case it isn’t really any kind of support for the guy even in my own mind. In which case the worst you say of me is that I am playing a silly game. Maybe I shouldn’t play a silly game with my time, but if I don’t think my vote matters in helping to elect someone, I don’t think of it as support in any way that matters a fig morally. Is it a sin to write on a piece of paper “I support bin Laden” knowing you are then going to throw the paper away? How the heck does a guy get into office without the voter’s actions, anyway?

  • Silly Interloper says:

    <>I can sympathize with the emotional response, because we are indeed fighting a lost cause; but in my lost causes give me 100 men who are firm in their commitments over 10000 who would willingly endorse a cannibal any day; I might surprise you and prevail.<>Here! Here!If one man of uncompromising faith can move mountains–how much stronger must 100 of them be compared to 10000 with compromised faith?I stand with the 100.

  • Anonymous says:

    Zippy,In the case of SALT II, there were those conservatives who argued quite seriously that strictly as a matter of moral principles, we should never negotiate with an evil communist power.Is it your contention then that the United States, by act of negotiating with an evil power such as the Soviet Union, compromised its moral principles and, in all actuality, endorsed the evil that Communism stood for?In fact, such a proud and adamant approach to such matters would more likely have escalated the Cold War rather than effectively killing it.Moreover, I can assure you that the United States negotiated with an evil power as the Soviet Union not because it endorsed it, but because in order to defeat it!Likewise, in voting for somebody other than Obama, one does not do so because he endorses the policy of his opponent but, rather, does so for the very purpose of preventing the even greater tragedy that would occur given the more ominous pro-death stance that Obama endorses.

  • zippy says:

    <>I mean, if our votes are useless for electing people, …<>That is really a very sloppy paraphrase of what I’ve actually said, or certainly of what I mean. I sometimes write sloppily and have to correct myself, but I’ve intentionally worded the premises in my argument rather carefully (or at least so I think).There are really two separate premeses about the effectiveness of a vote.The first is that it would take a literal miracle or act of God for my individual vote as my own act to change the outcome of a national election; in which case, even if it actually occurred, it should be attributed to the miracle/act of God not to my vote. If every person participating in this discussion was killed in a freak accident tomorrow, not a thing about the outcome of the election would change. The impact of my vote <>on the actual outcome of the election<> is so small that I am literally existentially irrelevant. (From this premise I conclude, or at least argue, additional things about whether or not it is even possible for me to have a <>proportionate reason<> under double-effect to cast my vote for a cannibal).The second is that when we look at a vote’s effects, its effect on the election (including when taken into consideration with other blocs of voters) is vastly smaller than its effects on the persons who actually vote: so much so that its effects on the election are both morally and politically negligible, and its effects on the persons doing it are morally and politically dispositive.There are doubtless times I’ve used less-than-precise phrasings, and there are even more times when folks have run with a paraphrase of their own which does not reflect what I’ve actually said, let alone what I mean by it.

  • zippy says:

    <>Is it your contention then that the United States, by act of negotiating with an evil power such as the Soviet Union, compromised its moral principles and, in all actuality, endorsed the evil that Communism stood for?<>No. I’m not endorsing everything everyone says on my blog by talking to them. Talking to someone and voting for him are not comparable acts.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    “Moreover, I can assure you that the United States negotiated with an evil power as the Soviet Union not because it endorsed it, but because in order to defeat it!Likewise, in voting for somebody other than Obama, one does not do so because he endorses the policy of his opponent but, rather, does so for the very purpose of preventing the even greater tragedy that would occur…”Wouldn’t the proper analogy be to voting for John McCain in order, in some Machiavellian way, to bring about John McCain’s downfall? 🙂Not that I know how that would work. I’m not that imaginative. I’m just pointing out that the moment we get to “likewise” in the above quotation, the analogy fails.

  • Anonymous says:

    Lydia:It was more in reference to what I said here, which I note you made a point to omit:“In the case of SALT II, there were those conservatives who argued quite seriously that strictly as a matter of moral principles, we should never negotiate with an evil communist power.Is it your contention then that the United States, by act of negotiating with an evil power such as the Soviet Union, compromised its moral principles and, in all actuality, endorsed the evil that Communism stood for?”

  • Anonymous says:

    If you like:“Moreover, I can assure you that the United States negotiated with an evil power as the Soviet Union not because it endorsed it, but in order <>to prevent the even greater tragedy<> of a nuclear holocaust!Likewise, in voting for somebody other than Obama, one does not do so because he endorses the policy of his opponent but, rather, does so for the very purpose of preventing the even greater tragedy that would occur…”>;P

  • TomBomBadil says:

    <> The first is that it would take a literal miracle or act of God for my individual vote as my own act to change the outcome of a national election; <> I am afraid you are still being sloppy here, or at least it looks like it. It not a miracle for the outcome of the election to be a one vote difference. I will certainly admit that it is highly improbable. By miracle we mean something else – that it simply cannot happen through the natural causes alone. You don’t mean that, do you? I know you have this thing about not basing moral decisions about 1 in a million chances, but that is a different aspect of the question. Let’s tighten up one thing at a time. What you mean is not a miracle in the proper sense, you mean miracle in some extended, broader sense that includes reference to one-in-a-million chances that can occur naturally. Please accept a small correction here and admit that calling this a miracle is a but sloppy, so we can go on to the other question in a better state.

  • zippy says:

    <>Please accept a small correction here and admit that calling this a miracle is a but sloppy, so we can go on to the other question in a better state.<>I don’t agree that my use of the terms “miracle” and “never” are problemmatic; but I already addressed this merely semantic objection a few days ago in a < HREF="https://zippycatholic.wordpress.com/2008/06/hitler-and-lottery.html" REL="nofollow">subsequent post<>. Maybe you missed that one.

  • zippy says:

    <>…does so for the very purpose of preventing the even greater tragedy that would occur…<>Talking with the Soviets was in itself a tragedy? You really need to find a better analogy.

  • TomBomBadil says:

    <> but I already addressed this merely semantic objection a few days ago in a subsequent post. Maybe you missed that one. <>Well, you were a bit sloppy there too, as one or two of the comments make clear. Let me attempt to state the point you seem to be making without the sloppiness: An election for nationwide office has never come down to a difference of one vote. Some person might base a decision to vote for a person on the grounds that if it did come down to my one vote, the resulting good that my candidate would do in office (together with the bad that we expect from him) outweighs the harm that would come if the other guy were in office. The error in this reasoning is bound up in the supposition “if it did come down to my one vote.” The possibility that this will happen in this vote before us is so remote as to be negligible. Therefore, the good expected from your vote here and now is so remote as to be negligible. But the evil to yourself that comes from willingly participating in casting a vote for a bad man is near and certain, not negligible at all. Therefore, the good expected from your vote cannot outweigh the evil expected. Does this come pretty close to the argument you are setting forth?

  • William Luse says:

    <>If you think your advocacy for the unborn will be more successful without wishy-washy squishes like me who lose heart, have at it.<>More despair? A threat to abandon advocacy for the unborn? For all I know you care more about the unborn than anyone alive. I’m just mystified how a vote for Obama demonstrates that. (And I never suggested you vote for McCain.)<>maybe you could give me some reasons to hope<>Since it’s not in my job description, I trust that’s not a serious suggestion. The only hope we have is that Christ will make it all right in the end, an end we might never see (on earth). But if voting for Obama will restore your sense of it, then “have at it.”

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    “[I]ts effect on the election (including when taken into consideration with other blocs of voters) is vastly smaller than its effects on the persons who actually vote:”I would be actually quite interested myself, Zippy, in hearing your idea about what it means to talk about the effect of a given vote _when taken into consideration with other blocs of voters_. Even from an analytic point of view, this is an interesting question. One of the reasons we think of voting as effective is precisely because we know that those who vote are doing so as members of blocs. That’s one reason why people scoff at the point of write-ins. It’s kind of interesting to contemplate what it means to think of oneself as causal where one’s causal efficacy arises as part of a group rather than as an individual working against large groups (as in voting for some otherwise unknown individual by write-in). Quite separately, I have a vrey short post herehttp://tinyurl.com/5vzv9murging against despair in the pro-life cause.

  • zippy says:

    <>I would be actually quite interested myself, Zippy, in hearing your idea about what it means to talk about the effect of a given vote _when taken into consideration with other blocs of voters_.<>People have this naive notion of <>ceteris paribus<>, of “all other things equal”, which they attempt to apply to reality all the time — usually fallaciously. In certain contexts it is a <>very<> useful tool: in engineering problems we often assume linearity, take partial deriviatives, etc, and it works well in carefully controlled circumstances — except when it doesn’t. (It is such an important assumption that we spend enormous amounts of capital and manpower on making our electronics behave linearly, so that we can use this tremendously simplifying assumption as much as possible in our designs, very much against the ordinary course of nature). As a result folks try to apply this linearized technocratic approach to their thinking on subjects like human leadership: but when it comes to human leadership, assumptions of linearity do not work at all, and politics is not carefully controlled circumstances.Suppose we postulate the present circumstances with one Zippy. The present state of things politically – including the present swath of candidates, the stuff on the ballot, the process of choosing leaders, the underlying metaphysic driving our politics, our civic religion — all of those things are an outcome of that state of things.Some folks seem to think – because it is analytically conceivable – that if we changed thing such that 1% of the population were Zippy’s, that is, instead of one Zippy we had three million Zippy’s, that that would result in precisely the same circumstances and precisely the same set of false choices, with which that 3 million Zippy’s would be faced.But that is not the case. If we go from one Zippy to three million Zippy’s, the assumption that all other things remain unchanged does not hold, particularly as more time elapses. The idea that “if everyone did it <>and all else remained the same<>, the bad guys would win” is simply false, because all else does not remain the same. At all. Not even if we are only talking about a 1% voting bloc (the vast majority of the effects of which would be felt in places other than the election booth, and indeed the very concept of what the election booth represents would start to change as the numbers in the bloc grow larger).

  • TomBomBadil says:

    But “if everyone else did it” is not the only rationale behind what we perceive as bloc effects in voting. Actually, it is rather incidental to the main effects. So your response, though nice on the “if everyone else did it” rationale, leaves us still in the dark about the main concepts involved in the effects of the bloc of votes.

  • zippy says:

    Well, I’m sorry that you are still confused, TBB. I don’t know what to say to dispell your confusion.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    I think you’re addressing the issue of what would happen if 1% of the populace thought as you do and hence refused to vote. I agree with you there. All else wouldn’t remain equal, by a long shot. And in fact the spin-off effects of blocs of people refusing to vote (and preferably making their reasons loudly known) are some of the most interesting effects around. Hence my point above about the practical intelligence of Dobson’s leadership re. McCain.I am actually though more curious about the analysis of the effects of large numbers of people _actually_ voting. Let’s put it this way: If somebody challenges the incumbent senator for my state from his own party, I know he has little chance. But I also know that if enough people would like to have the challenger instead of the incumbent, we can indeed–not just in theory, not just in the abstract, but in reality–reach critical mass, as it were, and tumble the incumbent. That’s happened before. So it’s by no means irrelevant for me to vote for the challenger (let’s say he’s a great guy, very conservative, and would be a huge improvement over the incumbent) and to try to get others to do so, too, in the hopes that we’ll actually accomplish that goal. This, despite the great unlikelihood that the election will come down to a single vote.That’s interesting. And it’s also true. I’m not sure how or whether it challenges anything you’re saying about causation, but that aggregate effect and the worthwhileness, for causal reasons, of participating in it sometimes, does seem to be something that you are not, well, talking about or even clearly acknowledging, which I find a little puzzling.

  • zippy says:

    <>That’s interesting. And it’s also true.<>It is interesting but not entirely true, at least without some elaboration. You certainly have incentive to make the hurricane happen — to get large numbers of people to vote a certain way, if you can — but your own individual vote in itself still remains materially neglegible, except in terms of its effect on you. In this case you would want to vote consistently with how you have asked everyone else to vote as a matter of personal consistency, perhaps, as long as doing so was not unduly burdensome. But it still wouldn’t affect the outcome in any sufficiently large election. At the end of the day what is morally dispositive about your <>personal<> vote again comes back to its effect on you, not on the election outcome.The power to create the hurricane is qualitatively different from the power to be an air molecule in the hurricane.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    But it certainly would be frustrating if one were out in a grassroots effort on a Saturday trying to stump up votes for Mr. S. (I’m thinking of a challenger in whose campaign I did work six years ago) to have the person at the door say, “I agree with you. S. is excellent. But I’m not going to vote for him on election day, because my own vote makes so little difference.” I mean, little or not, you _need_ those molecules. Without them, there wouldn’t be a hurricane. And as an election stumper, I’m grateful for every vote, as is the candidate. That’s only reasonable.

  • zippy says:

    Yes, but again the effect here is the effect of how you are marketing to get others to vote and your personal integrity – the effect on yourself and on others. Your own personal vote still does not in itself change the outcome, because elections are a discrete non-iterateive anonymous process with a threshold. (Game theoretic type processes are often very counterintuitive, as I am sure you know).Mind you, I don’t think any of this changes the moral evaluation when it comes to voting for a cannibal. In that case I would be out encouraging a lot of people to act in such a way that they do significant harm to themselves – each one – while having a negligible effect on the outcome. I would be encouraging a large number of acts of material cooperation with grave evil without <>in each case<> proportionate reason. And beyond even that, I think in doing so I would also be shooting myself in the foot politically, as I believe the pro-life movement has been shooting itself in the foot politically for many years. So even if someone doesn’t agree with my <>moral<> understanding or my <>analytic<> understanding the right thing to do just from the standpoint of political strategy is to refuse to vote for cannibals.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    “I would be encouraging a large number of acts of material cooperation with grave evil without in each case proportionate reason.”I’m with you on this. And I appreciate this as clarification. For some weird reason I had been at one point taking you to be questioning whether it really was subject to this sort of analysis on the grounds that the voter’s own individual effect was so negligible. Hence, the only relevant effect in question was on the individual, and the whole business of “material cooperation…now is the reason good enough?” was inapplicable. Obviously, I was just missing it.

  • TomBomBadil says:

    No, Zippy, the one molecule in a hurricane analogy is not useful here. If it were, you would have the same rationale for any single one man working on building a skyscraper, or any one person to help make the space center complex, the Great Wall of China, etc. One person’s specific goal in his immediate action is not the whole skyscraper, or the whole space center complex. It is that one small part of the effort that he can contribute to the whole construct. Likewise for a “widow’s mite” contributed say for the building of a cathedral that costs 200,000,000. In point of fact, no one person will contribute enough to build the cathedral, but each one person contributes a small portion, and that small portion is a positive part of the whole result. Would you say that a person who contributed 5, or 10, or 50 dollars is doing something that is in reality pointless externally? Nobody in charge of building or fund raising ever says so. The proximate goal in MY vote is to increase the vote in my candidate’s favor by 1/n th of the total vote. This proximate goal IS achieved directly and certainly, and does not depend on anyone else’s vote. When it is pooled with others, the sum total of these small effects are noticeable as a large effect. And the large intended effect is just the small intended effects accumulated as they were designed to be. Since it is impossible for the intended large effect to exist without the small ones being intended and acted on, it is logically impossible for the small ones to be categorically negligible. That is to say, it is not possible to ignore them by category, because by category they exist <> to be accumulated <> together. It is only possible to call them negligible by taking them out of their category as votes and think of them as stand-alone wholly independent actions that are not related to other actions. But that is just as unacceptable as thinking of the rivets put into the 28th floor beams by a riveter as irrelevant because they are so small a portion of the whole. If you un-relate the rivets to the beams and the beams to the floor etc, they are indeed irrelevant. But that is to destroy the nature of what is inherently a part of a larger whole. Lydia, you were right to say <> but that aggregate effect and the worthwhileness, for causal reasons, of participating in it sometimes, does seem to be something that you are not, well, talking about or even clearly acknowledging, which I find a little puzzling. <>

  • zippy says:

    <>If it were, you would have the same rationale for any single one man working on building a skyscraper, or any one person to help make the space center complex, the Great Wall of China, etc.<>Those are not discrete, threshold-based game-theoretic style decision processes. I can inspect a building and see the part of it made by <>that one<> carpenter. I can’t inspect an elected official and see the part of him elected by <>that one<> voter.The problem isn’t with the factual statements I’ve made about elections and votes. The problem is with the false linear, analog analogies of my interlocutors. The reality of an election doesn’t work like the reality of a building. At all.

  • TomBomBadil says:

    You are pointing out the difference between physical effects, which of course have physical parts which are discrete. This is true, but it is not critical to the point I was making: there are non-physical results that do not have discrete parts, and DO require participation by many. These conglomerate results are just as real, and the participation is just as real, as for riveters or masons building a wall. For example, a discussion in committee ends up with a resolution that all like and agree to. But the single resolution was the result of brainstorming by all together, and no single person is responsible for the final idea – they all are together. Or, involving far more people: a university turns out educated graduates (or at least it is intended to). No one professor, or department secretary, or bursar, or provost, or dean, or janitor, is “responsible” for the finished product in any single graduate – it is a joint effort by many altogether. And the education residing in the graduate is not some physical construct that you can point to parts and say: this part came from Prof Jones, that part came from… Often, the ideas are intermingled and fused so that no distinct prof was “the” source as such. But certainly the university education was the cause of his becoming educated. To borrow something I saw over on W4, the profit an insurance company expects is VERY MUCH like the accumulated result of a vote. Nobody knows <> which <> houses are going to burn out of the 100,000 insured by the company this year, but everyone is sure that a few will. The company lays odds that it can predict the outcome closely enough so that they can make a modest profit, even though the probabilities are so very small for any one single house. Come to think of it, the homeowner is doing something similar: he knows that the odds of his house burning down this year are very remote, but decides that the effect for his family – taking into account the probability of that happening – is a greater evil than the known and certain evil of the loss of an insurance premium today. Zippy, your reasoning would appear to require saying that such remote possibility of his loss cannot balance out the known certain loss of the premium. Or, worse yet, that the fact that the insurance company will almost certainly make a profit ensures that the homeowner is essentially taking a losing bet, which is irrational. <> Those are not discrete, threshold-based game-theoretic style decision processes. I can inspect a building and see the part of it made by that one carpenter. I can’t inspect an elected official and see the part of him elected by that one voter. <>Same with the insurance company in arranging matters so they can create a profit: They cannot inspect the policies and determine which policies are going to be profitable. But they know by mathematical principles that overall the sum total of the policies are virtually certain to be profitable. And these ARE <> threshold-based game-theoretic style decision processes <>. You just are uncomfortable working in a field which requires that kind of processing to understand the results.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    “The proximate goal in MY vote is to increase the vote in my candidate’s favor by 1/n th of the total vote.”_That_ certainly seems true enough as far as it goes. But look, I keep feeling this discussion slipping out of my grasp. I must be losing it in old age. 🙂Thought experiment: Zippy, suppose we change the scale radically, so that there are only some small number of votes determining the outcome. How does that change your moral conclusions? I mean, to me it makes it _worse_ for someone to say, “Hey, there were only five people voting, so I had a really important part to play in getting Hitler elected.” My reaction is to say, “Congratulations! You were important in getting a monster elected.” It’s not like a reduction of scale, making the individual vote more important to the outcome, makes it _better_ to vote for a cannibal, is it?Btw, your recent comments aren’t popping up for some reason on this site here. I thought it was because I changed my security settings, but I changed them back for this site, but that didn’t change it. FYI.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    Oops. It is still my security settings. I’m getting recent comments when I use firefox. Sorry. My problem. Must tinker more.

  • zippy says:

    Lydia:<>…suppose we change the scale radically, so that there are only some small number of votes determining the outcome. How does that change your moral conclusions?<>Then it becomes at least arguable that the vote has efficacy, so the outcome of the election might become significant compared to the effect of the vote on the voter himself. Recall that my argument is that the bad effect is immediate, certain, and on the voter himself; and that the intended good effect (which putatively justifies material cooperation with that bad effect) is something which follows from the actual outcome of the election.TBB: The insurance company analogy is especially poor. Insurance companies make actuarial records of things which actually occur, and have what amounts to an arbitrage business over those actual events. On the other hand, in the twenty times (say) a person gets to vote in a Presidential election, it will never occur that the election hinges on that person’s vote. It has never been the case that a presidential election has hinged on <>any<> single person’s vote, let alone <>mine<>.If an insurance company sells insurance against the possibility of my head spontantously turning into a miniature black hole, it is not engaged in actuarial arbitrage; it is engaged in fraud. There are no actuarial records of anyone’s head ever turning into a miniature black hole, even though it is technically ‘possible’ in the way that many of my interlocutors have used the term ‘possible’.But again (yet again), it matters not to my argument whether we say that your vote affecting the outcome of a national election would be a <>miracle<>, or that the chances are ludicrously small. Under neither formulation can it justify the grave damage to the voter himself involved in giving his personal endorsement to a cannibal.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    I suppose part of what’s making this hard for me to keep straight is the fact that the degree of material cooperation (does material cooperation have degrees?)–anyway, the extent to which you are actually assisting an evil result in coming to pass–itself scales with the importance of the vote. So if you are going to emphasize the negligible effect of the vote in order to tell the person arguing from double effect that he can’t do that, can he not also point out that, on _your_ argument, the extent to which he is materially cooperating with evil is negligible, too? See, it isn’t like the Hitler and a chance for the lottery case, really, because both the intended good effect (whatever silly thing the “pro-life Obama-ites” come up with–helping the poor through welfare which, they say, reduces the number of abortions, or something like that) is completely bound up with the evil effect–Obama’s having the power to, say, allow abortions on military bases. The two are joined at the hip. Both the “good” they hope to gain from his winning and the evil that they are cooperating in arise from his in fact winning and having the power to do anything at all as president. So I worry a bit that in downplaying the effectiveness of the vote in the way that you are doing you also downplay any point to talking about material cooperating with evil.

  • zippy says:

    <>…can he not also point out that, on _your_ argument, the extent to which he is materially cooperating with evil is negligible, too?<>People keep suggesting that because they think the bad effect I am considering has to do with the outcome of the election. It doesn’t (though there doubtless are bad effects associated with the outcome of the election). It has to do with the effect of voting for a cannibal <>on the voter himself<>. The putative good effect has to pass through the causal attenuation of the election in order to be realized; the bad effect is immediate, and doesn’t depend on the outcome of the election. If I voted for a cannibal, I voted for a cannibal whether or not he wins.lurker’s comments (in the other thread) have actually been quite interesting, because he did uncover and clarify a premise of mine that at least some others do not share, or perhaps in some cases have just not thought about. That premise is that voting for a cannibal does immediate and direct harm – however small in magnitude – to the voter himself, much as killing an enemy in combat does immediate and direct harm (again however small in magnitude) to the soldier himself. This is true even when the act is justified: material cooperation with evil always harms us, even when it is justified. I think this is true as a matter of human nature and I think there is plenty in the Christian tradition to support it, but it is indeed a factual premise upon which the argument rests.Another premise of mine is that – whatever else we might say analytically about elections and causes – the relative ‘strength’ of the effect on the voter himself vastly exceeds any effect he has on the election[*]. —[*] It is for this reason that while the analytic discussion about causes is <>interesting<>, it doesn’t change the substantive validity of the fundamental argument, as long as this basic premise is true: as long as it is true that an act of voting has a significantly greater effect on the voter himself than on the outcome of the election. Justifying a vote for a cannibal starts to look like chopping off your finger for a penny to give to the poor — under <>any<> reasonable causal account of votes –> elections.It is also for this reason that bloc voting effects are ‘entangled’ with the bad effect: suppose ten million people vote for the lesser cannibal and he wins. What we have accomplished is to (1) put the lesser cannibal in office, which is objectively better than having the worse cannibal in office, and (2) we’ve created ten million unreconstructed cannibal-voters. It is my judgment that the evil in #2 far, far outweighs any good which might obtain from #1. Thus my prior discussion on bloc voting, which is more holistic than simply looking at an idealized analytic partition of what is taking place -qua- election.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    Ah, I see now: The evil with which one is cooperating materially is not the evil the candidate is likely to do but the harm done to oneself. That’s very clarifying but raises a couple of other questions.First, isn’t the term ‘evil’ in the phrase ‘material cooperation with evil’ always supposed to refer to moral evil, not simply to harm? But if the harm done to the voter might in some conceivable circumstances, as you have said, not involve any morally evil act–if his vote were justified–then it would seem that in this case you are using the phrase ‘material cooperation with evil’ in order to mean something more minimal like ‘material cooperation with damage’. But that doesn’t seem like nearly such a big deal as what is usually meant by ‘material cooperation with evil’.Second, if we insist that we are talking about cooperation with evil, and if the evil involved is harming oneself, then is not this actually (I’m still getting used to these categories) _formal_ cooperation, since the voter presumably _wills_ to make himself the kind of person who votes for a cannibal, given that he directly chooses so to vote? Moreover, it is not remote cooperation, either, because he is immediately making himself into that sort of person. In fact, he doesn’t even seem merely to be “cooperating,” since he is doing that harm himself, and no one else can do it. He is committing that ‘evil’ directly by voting and thus all by himself making himself into that sort of person.But again, going back to question 1, how much are the teeth of #2 (which sounds pretty impressive in isolation) drawn if by ‘evil’ we mean here merely ‘self-harm’, where we say that that this sort of self-harm is not intrinsically wrong?

  • zippy says:

    <>First, isn’t the term ‘evil’ in the phrase ‘material cooperation with evil’ always supposed to refer to moral evil, not simply to harm?<>Not the way I understand it. Medical operations are justified under the same rubrick (and indeed the folks who believe salpingectomy to be [in some cases] morally licit for tubal pregnancies justify it under double effect). Mind you, material cooperation with what some call ‘natural’ evil is probably in some sense cooperation in the Fall. <>…then is not this actually (I’m still getting used to these categories) _formal_ cooperation, since the voter presumably _wills_ to make himself the kind of person who votes for a cannibal, given that he directly chooses so to vote?<>That is a possible viewpoint. I’ve tried to keep my arguments to what I view to be the least controversial path, though. One might argue that the harm doesn’t subsist in ‘becoming the kind of person who will vote for a cannibal’, rather in something distinct but related. I wouldn’t say that the harm a soldier does to himself by killing another man (even when justified) is ‘becoming the kind of person who will kill another’; but again it <>is<> closely related.At the end of the day I don’t think I support the ‘formal cooperation’ conclusion, though I don’t see it as a <>crazy<> conclusion.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    “…and indeed the folks who believe salpingectomy to be [in some cases] morally licit for tubal pregnancies justify it under double effect…”What do you want to bet they wouldn’t do that for, say, removing a diseased uterus that had no child in it? In other words, I think the only reason they use the reasoning for salpingectomy is because they are trying to justify causing the death of the innocent unborn child, not because the term ‘evil’ is meant to include purely natural evil.Just my guess.I have to admit that I find the notion of “cooperating with morally neutral harm” fairly unmoving. I mean, it might move me more if we were talking about cutting off a _healthy_ limb–say, to get somebody out who was trapped in a car or something.Just call me a committed Westerner, I guess. I don’t tend to agree that the policeman is harmed by killing the would-be-rapist or whatever. So I’m inclined to say that the reason it harms you to vote for a cannibal has to be in some sense connected to _moral_ wrong–e.g., the fact that you are endorsing, standing with, etc., someone very bad, and that this is a wrong thing to do–not just to some surd and otherwise unanalyzable notion of neutrally-describable harm-to-self that could equally well apply to an act of heroism–e.g., policeman who kills a bad guy.

  • zippy says:

    <>…the fact that you are endorsing, standing with, etc., someone very bad, and that this is a wrong thing to do…<>If you were to add “without a very good reason, and even then it has bad effects on the person”, I would say that the harm <>is<> connected to that. It really isn’t possible – as in it is against the nature of things, not that it is <>logically<> impossible – to disentangle these things. A policeman who regularly kills kidnappers is going to become morally calloused about killing, or suffer other personal harm, even when his specific killings are justified. The harm is there, whether people are moved by it or not.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    Do you really think that a surgeon who regularly removes only diseased parts of the body, thus helping to heal people, is going to suffer harm by means of doing this over the course of his life, much less in a single instance?I don’t. Not at all.

  • zippy says:

    Well, I admit that as a matter of intuition I am uncomfortable with that one, at least on its face. But I’m not even slightly uncomfortable with the premise that killing a man or voting for a cannibal does real damage to the person who does it, even when the act is justified, and even for that matter when it is unsuccessful. I don’t feel that it is necessary to be able to explain every conceivable kind of case in order to explain particular kinds of cases.

  • JohnMcG says:

    Well, I think the surgeon who spends 40 hours a week removing diseased limbs would be likely to develop a disordered sense of the value of those limbs, and may develop something of a Golden Hammer type of thinking after continuously observing the pattern remove a limb -> patient gets healthier. Not reason enough not to do it, but I don’t the effect is zero.—-Imagine an alternative reality in which pro-lifers say out the 2004 election. At a minimum, I don’t think Bush would have won Ohio, and thus we would have had President Kerry, for better or worse (I still think probably worse).Now, the key part is if the narrative emerged that the GOP lost because pro-lifers stayed home, I think this primary season would have been very different. I don’t think Rudy Giuliani would have been a serious candidate. Maybe the Democrats would have done more to court pro-life voters (probably not enough to justify a vote, but any move from their orthodoxy would be welcome).As it is now, it is in the interest of GOP candidates do the minimum in order that they can credibly check the “pro-life” box.Unless they are running for the purpose of changing abortion policy, which might have been true about someone like Huckabee or Brownback, but is not for Bush or McCain.

  • zippy says:

    <>… and may develop something of a Golden Hammer type of thinking after continuously observing the pattern remove a limb -> patient gets healthier.<>We always think we are immune to these kinds of things, especially when we are self-aware about them, as if mere awareness of a thing can banish its potency. Perhaps it is a conceit of mine to believe that I am at least slightly more self-aware than the average person when it comes to this kind of thing. But I know that in my case I am not immune to the evil effects of cooperating with evil, yea verily even when doing so is the right thing to do. And I think this is a universal part of human nature, not a particular weakness of mine.One thing is clear to me: many people operate under the assumption that doing a morally licit action can do me, the moral agent, no harm. If it is morally licit, so the thinking goes, it follows that there is no harm and only virtue in doing it. I think that is absolutely wrong as a general principle, particularly where material cooperation with evil is concerned. It isn’t without reason that clerics have in some times and places been prohibited from shedding blood in the Christian tradition, even where the shedding of blood is morally acceptable, indeed even where it is the case that somebody has to do it in order to prevent a terrible evil. “Ritual impurity” is often treated in the rationalist West as if it were arbitrary or merely symbolic. I suspect that the East has a lot to learn from the West about categorically avoiding moral wrongs, whatever the consequences; but I think the West has a lot to learn from the East about the nature of cooperation with evil in this fallen world.

  • Anonymous says:

    Zippy:<>Talking with the Soviets was in itself a tragedy? You really need to find a better analogy.<>That’s the whole point, Zippy — are you even paying attention?Here, again, is what I re-stated:“Moreover, I can assure you that the United States negotiated with an evil power as the Soviet Union not because it endorsed it, but in order to prevent the even greater tragedy of a nuclear holocaust!Likewise, in voting for somebody other than Obama, one does not do so because he endorses the policy of his opponent but, rather, does so for the very purpose of preventing the even greater tragedy that would occur…”In other words, there were conservatives then who believed that if the Senate were to ‘vote’ for SALT II, they were cooperating with evil since this was, after all, a treaty with the evil communist power. However, that is not why folks would ‘vote’ for such a treaty; they would do so for the sake of national security and preventing the greater tragedy of a nuclear holocaust.Likewise, you are similar to these conservatives since you keep attributing (quite wrongly) one intent when, in fact, folks would be voting for Obama’s opponent in order to prevent the greater tragedy that would occur if Obama succeeded in obtaining the presidency, since Obama is clearly PRO-DEATH and would use his presidential powers to promote it!I still can’t believe that all for the sake of the ego, you would actually allow the ravages of abortion to reach its very pinnacle with Obama on the helm as president, so long as you have maintained your pride in all this.It’s like somebody saying, “Well, my actions have resulted in the overwhelming irreversible tide of abortion policy but, at least, I have my pride!”

  • zippy says:

    e: Again, the nature of <>talking to<> someone or <>coming to an agreement with<> someone is in general entirely different from the nature of <>voting for<> someone for the highest office in the land.<>…I still can’t believe that all for the sake of the ego, …<>I like you, e, but one more like that and I will request that you withdraw your company from this blog.

  • Anonymous says:

    Zippy:Apologies for the last comment.Since the ominous prospect of an Obama win (i.e., the irrevocable repercussions thereof with respect to abortion and the heights to which I personally believe he’ll take abortion to) may very well prevent me from discussing the matter more rationally, I respectfully withdraw from this discussion less my passions get the better of me.

  • Anonymous says:

    For reflection:< HREF="http://www.lifesitenews.com/ldn/2008/jun/08061010.html" REL="nofollow">Obama’s Abortion Bombshell: Unrestricted Abortion Over Wishes of Individual States a Priority for Presidency<>EXCERPT:“<>The <>first<> thing I’d do as president is sign the Freedom of Choice Act<>,” Obama said in his July speech to abortion advocates worried about the increase of pro-life legislation at the state level. The Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) is legislation Obama has co-sponsored along with 18 other senators that would annihilate every single state law limiting or regulating abortion, including the federal ban on partial birth abortion.

  • TomBomBadil says:

    <> Well, I admit that as a matter of intuition I am uncomfortable with that one, at least on its face. But I’m not even slightly uncomfortable with the premise that killing a man or voting for a cannibal does real damage to the person who does it, even when the act is justified, and even for that matter when it is unsuccessful. I don’t feel that it is necessary to be able to explain every conceivable kind of case in order to explain particular kinds of cases. <> Perhaps, but in order to discuss it with others in a way that accomodates reason, you DO have to be able to explain the differences in cases actually proposed. <> many people operate under the assumption that doing a morally licit action can do me, the moral agent, no harm. If it is morally licit, so the thinking goes, it follows that there is no harm and only virtue in doing it. <> There are many things which are neutral in themselves morally speaking, which can be detrimental to the purity and wholesomeness of heart of the doer. The mere possession of riches is morally neutral, but it usually has the tendency to push a man toward worldliness, just to pick one temptation. So far as this, I agree with you. However, there is a difference between actions or conditions which are neutral as to the good and the specific choice which is the best one possible in the actual conditions present (not yet accounting for the internal effects). If under the conditions present it would be my God-given duty to do something, even though it present a temptation toward sin, the fact of a tempting condition along-side does not of itself cause damage to me morally. It is giving in to such temptation (even partially) which is where the damage comes from, not the temptation itself. Indeed, God generally allows us to be subject to temptation in order to strengthen us, which is to our moral benefit rather than detriment. But perhaps you are pointing to effects that are not temptations simply, but are conditions of degradation in one way or another, so that by being subject to the conditions, our sensibilities are degraded. I don’t think that it is possible to establish the mere presence of degrading conditions automatically brings the result that we become more degraded. If a person recognizes the degradation in the state of affairs and repudiates that condition, then it has the opposite effect – it strengthens his attachment to the good. Much like repudiation of the snares of Satan during temptation strengthens him. So any damage suffered in the soul is not merely from the presence of a condition that has a tendency toward degrading effects, but also from an inaction to attend to that condition with moral attention. A person who habitually asks God for direction, habitually accepts whatever God sends their way in submission of will, and habitually asks for the graces to find and reject sin and temptation will not readily suffer ANY damage from being subjected to degrading conditions. As Mary and Joseph did not suffer damage from being lodged in a stable, or from being turned into outcasts in Israel and aliens in Egypt. And the Apostles did not suffer moral damage from being cast in prison. I think that it is utterly foreign to the realm of grace and nature to say that a person can be morally damaged by doing what is their moral duty to do, presuming they do it with right intention. It is true that without grace a person might be forced to say that the dangers of damage from a situation exceed the expectation of the good – if the action is not one of duty. If it is one of duty, then the correct attitude is that WHATEVER the dangers, God makes grace available as needed to protect me from spiritual harm. Otherwise martyrdom would be morally impossible.

  • zippy says:

    <>… in order to discuss it with others in a way that accomodates reason, you DO have to be able to explain the differences in cases actually proposed.<>No I don’t. In order to explain one thing it is neither necessary nor possible to explain every other thing which is not that thing.<>I think that it is utterly foreign to the realm of grace and nature to say that a person can be morally damaged by doing what is their moral duty to do, presuming they do it with right intention.<>Folks keep inserting the word <>morally<> there, as if it were a qualifier in my argument. It isn’t. A person can be <>damaged<> by doing what it is his moral duty to do, straightforwardly. Voting for a cannibal — an act of personally endorsing a moral monster — always does damage directly and immediately to the person who does it, in my view. Folks may disagree with that (though I personally think that disagreement is untenable). Indeed folks may and do disagree with a great many things I say. But in this case you appear to be disagreeing with something I <>didn’t<> say, as if it were something I <>did<> say.

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