Double Non-Effect

September 17, 2008 § 22 Comments

A difficulty in recent discussions is that many folks are treating human acts as if they were an analog radio signal of effects and only effects which can be gradually attenuated down to nothing. They aren’t. An act either categorically is deliberate remote material cooperation with grave evil, or it is not. It takes a certain minimum movement of the will to act at all.

If an act is deliberate remote material cooperation with grave evil at all, it can only be justified in the presence of a proportionate reason. And if the act is causally negligible with respect to the very outcomes which the person is analyzing under double effect in order to justify it, then a proportionate reason does not exist.

The contemplated act might be justifiable under some other understanding, of course. But it cannot be justified by appealing to double-effect with respect to outcomes upon which it has causally negligible effect.

(Cross-posted)

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§ 22 Responses to Double Non-Effect

  • decker2003 says:

    Isn’t the degree of cooperation just as attenuated as the causal impact on the purported positive outcomes? After all, both depend on the degree to which my vote influences the outcome of the election. If my vote has no such influence, then it enables the evil-doer in a neglible way and my cooperation in his evil act is just as remote as my contribution to whatever good outcomes I hope to achieve.

  • zippy says:

    <>Isn’t the degree of cooperation just as attenuated as the causal impact on the purported positive outcomes?<>Yes. But the <>category<> of the act remains remote material cooperation with evil.One way to look at it is that in my understanding, there is never a proportionate reason to engage in a <>futile<> act of material cooperation with evil. We can see this in one of the most worked-out versions of applied double-effect in our tradition, the just war doctrine. In the just war doctrine, even if all the other criteria are met, it is not morally licit to go to war without a reasonable chance of success. The evil-and-good may both attenuate at the same rate — an assault on a munitions dump by an army of five may only get a few people killed instead of thousands – but that doesn’t justify the decision. Futile acts of material cooperation with evil are illicit.

  • e. says:

    Zippy,” In the just war doctrine, even if all the other criteria are met, it is not morally licit to go to war without a reasonable chance of success. “Attending to this one point specifically, how about the Revolutionary War?13 Colonies against The Great British Empire?Wouldn't that fail such a criteria?If so, based on this alone (and putting aside other equally weighty & even controversial aspects that would give it more comprehensive & justified treatment), would the Revolutionary War be considered Un-Just?

  • Somebody else says:

    Zippy, the degree of effectuality in my vote for John C. is non-zero, but very small in terms of how much my one vote is responsible for his winning (if he wins). But the proportion that must exist is not between the degree of my effectuality in bringing about his win, versus the degree of evil I expect to see if my vote is successful. The proportions to look at are between the effectiveness of my vote in causing a good versus the effectiveness of my vote in (materially) causing evil, or:The good I hope will come about, versus the evil I anticipate, But most precisely: the degree to which my vote can be anticipated to contribute to bringing about a good considered together with the amount of good it constitutes, versus the degree to which my vote can be anticipated to materially assist the evil considered together with the amount of evil it constitutes.

  • Anonymous says:

    msb,Are You Somebody Else???

  • decker2003 says:

    Somebody else’s formulation seems correct. And I would add, that the degree to which my vote can be anticipated to contribute to bringing about a good equals the degree to which my vote can be anticipated to materially assist the evil, since both depend entirely on the degree to which my vote determines the outcome of the election. So, these two cancel out (mathematically speaking) and I am left comparing the good that is anticipated to result from the election of the candidate versus the evil that is is anticipated to result from the election of the candidate.

  • zippy says:

    Assuming, of course, that a vote as an act is <>nothing but<> its effects on the outcome of the election.

  • love the girls says:

    zippy writes : “Assuming, of course, that a vote as an act is nothing but its effects on the outcome of the election”Somebody Else took into account the act of the will as well as the act of voting as “its effects on the outcome of the election”

  • msb says:

    I am not somebody else, but it’s a natural point to make. My comments will be over at WWWTW.

  • zippy says:

    <>Somebody Else took into account the act of the will as well as the act of voting as “its effects on the outcome of the election”<>I don’t know what you mean, but if you are saying that SE took into account everything that the act is, including but not limited to its effects on things other than the outcome of this particular election, I don’t see where.

  • love the girls says:

    Zippy writes : “I don’t know what you mean”I meant it as a counter to your comment “nothing but its effect on the outcome of the election.” because more was taken into account than exclusively looking at the outcome of the election. _______________ Zippy writes : “but if you are saying that SE took into account everything that the act is, including but not limited to its effects on things other than the outcome of this particular election, I don’t see where.”I suppose that depends on what “everything that the act is” includes. But it certainly included more than “nothing but its effect on the outcome of the election”.Further, what I think it did include was the more important aspects of proportionate reasoning where a vote is looked at as part of an accumulative whole. While a single raindrop does not a flood make, a flood does consist of raindrops.A flood which shall elect one branch of the plutocracy or the other, as it always does.

  • zippy says:

    <>I suppose that depends on what “everything that the act is” includes.<>Even if we are just looking at effects, in the case of voting the act has some effects which proceed from its influence on the outcome and some effects which do not. As far as I can tell, the latter are simply being ignored. Yet as the scale of the election rises, their moral significance becomes the dominant factor in any double-effect analysis.

  • love the girls says:

    Zippy writes : “as the scale of the election rises, their moral significance becomes the dominant factor in any double-effect analysis.”By ‘scale of the election rises’ I assume you mean as a vote becomes negligible.But most people vote as if their vote did decide the election, otherwise, why would someone agonize over his vote as some do as I have read? ___________________ Zippy writes : “Even if we are just looking at effects, in the case of voting the act has some effects which proceed from its influence on the outcome and some effects which do not.”The act of voting has some effects which do not proceed from its influence on the outcome? Well those certainly haven’t been discussed what ever they are. What are these effects?

  • brandon field says:

    Off topic, but Happy Feast Day, Z!If I’m ever in your neck of the woods, I’m still planning on taking you and St. Joe up on the offer for an aerial tour of the Potomac.

  • zippy says:

    LTG:<>Well those certainly haven’t been discussed what ever they are. What are these effects?<>They have. See < HREF="https://zippycatholic.wordpress.com/2008/09/murder-perfection-and-telling-white.html" REL="nofollow">here<> and < HREF="https://zippycatholic.wordpress.com/2008/08/line-dancing.html" REL="nofollow">here<>, for example.Brandon:It is a standing invitation – though I can’t guarantee what <>kind<> of aircraft will be involved :-).

  • love the girls says:

    Zippy writes : “They have. See here and here, for example.”Those have been discussed. What you are looking at in the first is why Aristotle rightly holds democracy as a corrupt form of government. ( may not want to be ruled by the 2000 members of Harvard’s faculty, but I’m none too keen on being ruled by the first 2000 names in the Boston directory either) What you are looking at in the second is an absence of proportionate reasoning. An absence which is caused by failing to understand the particulars even while holding a proper understanding of the universals. It is also why all the voter’s guides are virtually worthless even when they are read._________________________Zippy writes : “our affirmation of the legitimacy of the governance which emerges from the election . . .What my vote or abstention will affect is me: . . . “It can have that effect, and I think it often does have that effect if watching the Catholics turn into cheerleaders for their candidates and parties is any indication.And while democracy may have the common effect of people seeing the tyranny as their own, the effect is in the nature of the act, but a result of unthinking reflex.___________________Zippy writes : “And if one isn’t willing to draw a line there, then how could one possibly concede the validity of drawing lines at all?”It depends on what the lines signify. They as a rule signify a lack of understanding of the enemy and his objectives. They are not unlike the French and their maginot line, they see the enemies final end but fail to see the enemies means of obtaining that end.

  • love the girls says:

    Correction :And while democracy may have the common effect of people seeing the tyranny as their own, the effect is NOT in the nature of the act, but a result of unthinking reflex.

  • zippy says:

    <>It is also why all the voter’s guides are virtually worthless even when they are read.<>No argument from me on that.<>…the effect is NOT in the nature of the act, but a result of unthinking reflex.<>The implication I suppose is that one can banish it entirely by thinking: by becoming self-conscious of it. I’m doubtful. At bottom that is an empirical question of human nature and the nature of the particular kind of act.

  • cg says:

    I fail to understand the problem here, Zippy, so color me a simpleton: if your conscience is steering you away from both candidates, don’t vote for either one of them.To hell with all of this–conscience trumps intellectual argument.

  • love the girls says:

    Zippy writes : “At bottom that is an empirical question of human nature and the nature of the particular kind of act.”What it appeals to is man’s natural appetite as political animal, but as corrupted response to that appetite. The empirical evidence that most men respond similarly signifies a cultural influence.

  • Somebody else says:

    Zippy, the nature of the act you choose, whenever you know that that the act is one in material cooperation with evil, is not principally defined by that evil (or it would be intrinsically evil, and then your choice would be not material but formal cooperation), but principally defined by the good you are aiming for, or a neutral reality. It is ALWAYS the case that it is possible to mis-use the will in this case, and will the evil even in part, or, to will the good defectively. These potential dangers are intrinsic to the happenstance of a fallen world (as a general description) and in particular a case where remote material cooperation with evil will bring more good than evil. (EVERY POSSIBLE good we will in this world – other than simply the good of God Himself, can be mis-used in this way – even acts which are of themselves wholly good, like going to mass on Sunday.) As such, it is not due to the <> potential <> for falling into sin that this scenario presents that causes one man to sin – since another does not in the same situation. (Or, to use Jesus’ phrase – it is not what you put into your mouth that makes you unclean, it is what comes out from your mouth.) Therefore, whatever evil (i.e. sin) MAY come – if I make this choice (in cooperating with evil) with bad will, is due not to the reality of the choice being in cooperation with evil, but from my bad will. In reality, I believe you are using a logic of moral consequence that contains a false self-generating feed-back system: <> If an act of remote material cooperation with evil makes you more willing to choose evil in the future, then it is itself an added temptation to sin. And then the good that is intended must overcome (in proportion) not only the evil expected, but also your added inclination to sin. And if it is thus a still greater evil that must be outweighed, then all the more is it a danger to the soul to consider the act….<> But this assumes that the act of cooperating with evil makes one incline more readily to future sin, which is not valid – at least not in principle. <> In someone who already does the act out of moral indifference (and therefore with bad will), <> it may make him more ready to do yet another sin worse still – but that assumption already includes defect in the will. If one chooses to act in remote cooperation with evil with good will (and therefore with attention to the moral reality that one is choosing not the evil effect but the good, etc…) then the choice by no means weakens the will toward further sin. Indeed it can STRENGTHEN the will. This can be seen most especially in the saints, who at times act in cooperation with evil men, but in that very act gain great merit because they act in conformity with God’s will, and their choice is made <> precisely <> as being God’s will. You cannot suppose that the very same act is at one and the same time meritorious, praiseworthy, in conformity with God’s will, and yet damaging to their moral fiber. If you want to say that every act of remote cooperation with evil damages us morally, then you would have to say also that every such act is contrary to God’s will, who wills us to be “perfect even as your heavenly Father is perfect.” No, what God wills is that at times we take on acts which, though they require considerable moral care and forethought, and are challenging to our souls, are also good acts which strengthen us if done in adherence to His will. The Church has always explained that this is why God puts us in the way of having to make difficult moral choices – to test us, and thereby improve us – to forge the gold He intends us to be.

  • zippy says:

    SE:Another way to look at it, and perhaps a better way to express it upon reflection, is just to point out that it makes no sense to justify an act under double-effect unless the effects in question are actually caused by the act. In the case of voting, which is at the root of the controversy here, my individual act is not going to <>cause<> McCain to win over Obama. McCain is either going to win or lose, and my individual vote is going to alter the tally by which he wins or loses by one. So the effects <>with respect to the election outcome<> that are valid to compare are “McCain’s mandate increased by one vote” versus “McCain’s mandate not increased by one vote”; not “McCain wins versus Obama wins”.In general, then, where my act is negligible with respect to actually changing the outcome of a discrete process but it does have the effect of adding to a tally, I cannot justify choosing a lesser evil; because in fact I am not choosing a lesser evil over the greater, I am just adding one vote to the mandate of the lesser evil.

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