On ‘Illegal Combatants’ and Target Practice at our Shoes

July 31, 2008 § 8 Comments

It occurred to me while reading this thread that if this person had been treated as a POW, rather than as a carefully non-categorized non-person, he would still be – perfectly legitimately – in custody, rather than wherever he is after having successfully perpetrated a suicide attack in Iraq. The nice thing about POW status (at least in my layman’s understanding) is that you don’t have to prove that the detainee committed a crime in order to continue to detain him until the hostilities in which he was involved cease. We can’t torture him, of course, which is a bummer to some; but we can keep him in custody until hostilities are definitively over.

If it turns out that he is a criminal, at least as I understand it he can be turned over to the proper authorities when that comes to light. And his treatment as a POW, unlike extra-legal treatment as an ‘illegal combatant’, will not interfere with prosecution or lead to premature release.

It further occurred to me that that – his status as an indefinitely yet legally and morally imprisoned POW, had it been the case – would probably represent an intolerable outrage to both the anti-war Left and the pro-war Right.


Going AWOL

July 14, 2008 § 9 Comments

… for a bit. Thanks to readers for some stimulating recent discussions. Y’all try to stay out of trouble, OK?

Legislating and Formal Cooperation

July 14, 2008 § 6 Comments

I thought a point-by-point summary might give folks the opportunity to say what specifically they do or do not agree with in the argument; so here it is:

1) Authoring or advocating for a particular provision in a bill is a distinct kind of act from voting to pass a fully composed bill consisting of many provisions. The morality of each of these distinct kinds of acts stands or falls on its own merits.

2) It is never morally licit to intend that the murder of a particular class of unborn children be permitted in law. If an act necessarily entails intending that the murder of a particular class of unborn children be permitted in law, either as a means or an end, the act is morally illicit.

3) Composing and promoting a particular provision in a particular bill, as a means or an end, necessarily entails intending that specific provision in law. One formally cooperates with making a specific provision into law when one composes and promotes that particular provision.

4) Voting for a composite bill consisting of many provisions does not necessarily entail intending every provision in it. One does not necessarily formally cooperate with making every provision in a composite bill into law when one votes for a bill composed of many provisions. It is possible, in general, to intend some of the provisions in a bill for which one votes while objecting to or merely tolerating others.

5) Any specific provision in law authorizing the murder of particular innocent persons as a means or an end, either through an explicit exception or by deliberate omission, is intrinsically unjust.

6) To formally cooperate with making an intrinsically unjust provision into law is always morally wrong.


Conclusion 1: Specifically advocating – for any reason whatsoever, including the reason “because it is the only way I think I can get the bill to pass” – rape/incest/life of the mother exceptions in a bill prohibiting abortion is always morally wrong.

Conclusion 2: Supporting a composite bill which contains rape/incest/life of the mother exceptions inserted by others is not necessarily morally wrong. Since it is not necessarily wrong it is possible for it to be a grave obligation, depending on the circumstances.

Line Item Lies

July 12, 2008 § 32 Comments

Another argument for the position that a legislator may materially cooperate with evil by voting for a bill with the three exceptions, if no better alternative is available, but may not himself author provisions authorizing abortion in the case of rape, incest, or saving the life of the mother:

Laws which authorize and promote abortion and euthanasia are therefore radically opposed not only to the good of the individual but also to the common good; as such they are completely lacking in authentic juridical validity. Disregard for the right to life, precisely because it leads to the killing of the person whom society exists to serve, is what most directly conflicts with the possibility of achieving the common good. Consequently, a civil law authorizing abortion or euthanasia ceases by that very fact to be a true, morally binding civil law.

If this is true of law in general, surely it is true of individual provisions in law. Now the person who writes and proposes an individual provision permitting abortion in the case of incest, for example, is writing in a provision which “ceases by that very fact to be a true, morally binding civil law.” In other words, in proposing that provision in law he is proposing a lie.

A Corollary Practical Recommendation

July 11, 2008 § 3 Comments

Because of the grave danger of falling into formal cooperation with evil (which is another way of saying ‘failing to meet the means-end integrity required by double effect’, which is another way of saying ‘failing to exhibit the minimal virtues required of Christians’) when voting for a pro-choice politician, I have a practical recommendation for those who are considering it.

That practical recommendation is simply to be as loud and uncompromising as possible on the specific point that abortion absolutely must be made illegal. We all have a grave duty to conscientiously object to the abortion legal regime. The temptation for a supporter of a pro-choice politician to ‘tone down’ on the absolute necessity to make abortion illegal, with that toning down as a means to the end of collaborating with pro-choicers (that is, people who, against Catholic doctrine, believe that abortion should be legal), is doubtless very strong. But doing so, in my understanding, fails double-effect, and is unqualifiedly evil.

"Brights" Pledge to Desecrate the Eucharist

July 11, 2008 § 6 Comments

See here and here.

I don’t want to ever hear again about what a reasonable guy PZ Meyers can be.

How Material Cooperation Becomes Formal Cooperation, Book VII

July 10, 2008 § 57 Comments

Formal cooperation with evil, as we know, is always morally impermissible. Formal cooperation with evil simply means to intend evil, as either a means or an end, and it is never licit to intend evil for any reason whatsoever.

Now we know that it is possible for a legislator to materially cooperate with evil in a non-culpable way by voting for a less-than-ideal law. Suppose the law presently says that abortion is a ‘right’ from conception until birth, and a law is proposed which outlaws abortion except in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother. The proposed law is less than ideal, but it is more restrictive than the present law. Specifically the three exceptions, as a juridical matter in positive law, authorize the murder of the innocent in particular kinds of cases. A legislator may vote for this law, indeed has a grave duty to vote for this law, so long as he does not intend the three exceptions. In this case it is merely the best he can do, and while he materially cooperates with the three exceptions he presumably does not intend them.

Suppose though that our legislator is the one proposing the law. He has concluded that a law without the three exceptions will not pass, so he deliberately includes the three exceptions in his proposed law as a means of making his law likely to pass. He has concluded that it is impossible to pass a law without the three exceptions, so he decides to propose a law with the three exceptions.

Is this morally licit material cooperation with evil? Clearly not. In this case, our legislator intends the three exceptions as a means. And it is never morally licit to intend evil as either a means or an end.

Double-Effect and Positive Duties, Again

July 9, 2008 § 12 Comments

Suppose there was a group of anarchists, and we wanted to collaborate with the anarchists on something good.

Suppose though that in order to have ‘street cred’ with those anarchists it was necessary to refuse to pay our taxes and debts.

In this case, the proposal is made that we don’t pay our taxes or debts, and use that not-paying as a specific means to gaining street cred with the anarchists: that maybe they won’t even work with us at all unless we refuse to pay our taxes and debts.

Is this justifiable under double-effect? Absolutely not, because refusing to pay our taxes and debts is specifically a means to the end of getting the anarchists to collaborate with us. Deliberately shirking a specific, positive duty is what specifically causes the good effect we are seeking.

Similarly, Catholics have a grave positive duty to work against the legality of abortion: a positive duty every bit as real and required as paying taxes and debts. One may indeed in certain circumstances talk to and work with pro-choice persons and groups. I’ve never seen anyone assert the contrary. But one may not refuse the grave duty to conscientiously object to the legality of abortion, with that refusal as a means of making collaboration with pro-choicers work better (or work at all). Doing so fails double-effect, just as refusing to pay taxes and debts as a means to making collaboration with anarchists work better fails double-effect.

Semantic Self-Immolation

July 9, 2008 § 39 Comments

Apparently, someone who willingly takes up arms in a war in order to ingratiate himself to war-supporters is a ‘conscientious objector’ to that war. Oh, and ‘torture’ is a Randian anti-concept. And since a decision to wage war is a prudential judgement, there is always room for legitimate disagreement and only the President can say whether the Iraq invasion was just.

Have I missed any important ones?

Hat tip to Bill Luse, for predicting where this discussion had to go.

How to Fail the Double-Effect Test

July 9, 2008 § 20 Comments

Catholics have a grave duty to conscientiously object[*] to the abortion legal regime, according to the Magisterium of the Church.

Some Catholics propose that we set that grave duty aside in order to work with pro-choice people on other issues, issues which (putatively) have an impact on the rate of abortions. It is necessary to set aside our duty to object to pro-choice laws, the theory goes, in order to achieve solidarity with others and thereby accomplish a reduction in the number of abortions through extra-legal means.

In this proposal, setting aside our grave duty as Catholics is a cause of our ability to make common cause with pro-choicers. But under double-effect, it is not permissable for the good effect we seek to be caused by a bad effect of our act or by an evil act or omission.

So the theory clearly fails double-effect, even if we grant its rather dubious factual premeses. It is precisely an evil omission – ignoring our grave duty to conscientiously object to the abortion legal regime – which causes solidarity with pro-choicers, a solidarity which those who propose this approach would employ in the pursuit of fewer abortions.

This is rather like skipping Mass in order to gain solidarity with non-Catholics in the pursuit of some good end. It is never licit to do evil in order that good may come of it; and deliberately setting aside a grave duty in order to cause a good effect – where deliberately ignoring the positive duty is in itself what actually causes the good effect – is doing evil in order that good may come of it.

[*] A grave duty to conscientiously object may mean any number of things. But “go along quietly and don’t make any trouble” isn’t one of them.

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