A Parable of Lesser Evil and Charity

September 19, 2008 § 19 Comments

Suppose there are two non-profit organizations. Lets call them M and O. The M organization is dedicated to funding embryo-destructive research. The O organization is dedicated to funding embryo-destructive research, abortion, and infanticide.

There is a tradition in the community of having a competition every four years for a large grant of money. These two organizations are the only organizations with any chance to win the grant this year, largely because pro-lifers have for decades been willingly participating in similar Faustian competitions. The grant competition is rather simple: citizens are permitted to give either one or the other of these organizations a dollar (no more or less), or to refrain from giving them anything. The tradition is such that eighty million or so citizens are expected to give a dollar in the competition. The organization which receives the most will be granted a few billion dollars to pursue its mission.

Now, some people might think that I ought to give a dollar to the M organization as a way of attempting to stop the O organization from getting the big grant, under double effect. Others may think that it is a difficult choice that can go either way.

Not me. I think the choice is easy.

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§ 19 Responses to A Parable of Lesser Evil and Charity

  • love the girls says:

    So a dollar buys billions of dollar not to be dedicated towards abortion, and infanticide?Sounds like a well spent dollar.

  • JohnMcG says:

    I think that oversimplifies — the candidates may espouse the policties you mention, but they also favor other things. I think we were closer when we talked about a charity that brought food and condoms to underdeveloped nations. Would such a charity be worth supporting? I think that’s a tougher call.Now, ESCR and the abortion license are both worse than condoms, so maybe that does make everything else fall by the wayside. But I don’t think you can just assume everything else away.

  • love the girls says:

    Let’s add something which actually does touch our lives. Albeit not too much since the number of retail chain stores which don’t fund abortion and the like are non existent.Suppose there are two retail chain stores. Lets call them M and O. The M store funds embryo-destructive research. The O retail store funds embryo-destructive research, abortion, and infanticide.Is a man required to shop at M versus O? __________Let’s add in a local retail store which doesn’t fund embryo-destructive research, abortion, and infanticide, is rather higher priced for the exact same goods.Is a man precluded from shopping at M or O?

  • love the girls says:

    or why not go back to a living wage. Am I precluded from purchasing goods manufactured at below a living wage? Where does one draw the line so to speak?

  • Anon says:

    Zippy, while a person MAY get involved in “charitable” (if that’s the word for murderers) organizations, morally speaking, he is OBLIGATED to be involved in the overall development of society, and if he lives in a democracy, he has a <> general <> obligation to participate in it (always respecting particular occasions where the general obligation is over-ridden by specific circumstances). In facing that general obligation, it is insufficient to say that both of the only 2 particular choices available under which I can express my involvement are less than adequate, and therefore I choose not to express any involvement in my own governance. Such a choice does not do justice to the obligation. You must go much further to justify non-participation in the act of governing: that every choice available more certainly than not constitutes an immoral act. You agree that voting for one candidate may be characterized as remote material cooperation with evil. Then of its very essence, the problem boils down to a judgment of prudence: is the good to be achieved if the candidate wins proportionate to the evil also anticipated but in no way intended? Your prudential judgment about this may be different from mine – I can accept that. But what you are trying to do is to re-arrange the terms of the argument so that the prudential judgment you have concluded is no longer a matter of prudence, but one of principle about which there is one objective answer that all must adhere to. Sorry, it doesn’t work that way. Once it gets into prudential judgment, you get into forecasts of future events, outcomes, and probabilities that no-one can claim certainty about, unlike with matters of principle. For example, you suggest that if all Catholics stopped voting for weasels like McCain, and only voted for 100% pro-life candidates, we would get more such candidates, and effect a much more positive result than by our current practice of going along with the least pro-death guy around. Sounds like a good theory, and you may be right. But you may also be wrong – there are other factors, that you are not attempting to weigh into the forecast of the future of this hypothetical. Other intelligent and good people can conclude differently about such factors and this hypothetical. Therefore, they can come to a different conclusion about the prudence of not voting THIS time. No construct about what “WOULD happen if” can take the judgment out of the prudential area into one of principle.

  • zippy says:

    We have a general obligation to give to charity too.

  • zippy says:

    Oh, and if there is no way to formulate general principles which apply to specific classes of prudential judgments then what the heck is the Just War Doctrine?

  • Anon says:

    The just war doctrine, as a matter of principle, says that the objective should be something that has a reasonable chance of coming to pass. There is no way to take the judgments about what MAY come to pass and arrive at a conclusion that is certain in the way principles are certain. That is what I meant by saying you can’t turn prudential judgments into principles. Is that what you mean by asking if there is <> no way to formulate general principles which apply to specific classes of prudential judgments <> ? Of course it is possible to arrive at conclusions about specific acts, which fall into a class that is by its nature intrinsically wrong. I am not suggesting that a prudential judgment about the circumstances of a future abortion might render it not evil. Nor is it a <> prudential <> judgment as to what class the act falls into. That is a different matter, one of recognizing the nature in a specific instance. Prudential matters do not fall into easy categorizations of one “kind” of act, unless into kinds which are neutral by category, so identifying the nature of the act does not tell you anything about whether it is good in this case or not.

  • zippy says:

    <>Prudential matters do not fall into easy categorizations of one “kind” of act, …<>Leaving aside “easy”, since nobody is pretending that recent discussions about voting have been easy, is ‘starting an unjust war’ not a categorization of a kind of act?

  • Anon says:

    <> Leaving aside “easy”, since nobody is pretending that recent discussions about voting have been easy, is ‘starting an unjust war’ not a categorization of a kind of act? <> Sorry, I thought you were familiar with the Thomistic development of the concept of <> prudence <> out of Aristotelian ethics. There are many kinds of mental acts which we might term judgments in casual use. Some of them are involved in recognizing a particular instance of a general class, by seeing its nature. This is what we must use in order to apply principles to actual events. Others are more in the manner of estimations, educated guesses, extrapolations and interpretations from given information (about a particular), and from holes in information, that leads one to probable conclusions about results of possible avenues of choice. This kind is special to the acts of the virtue of prudence, which regulates choice as regards particulars where there is no principle which demands exactly one course of action. The recognition THAT a proposed war is not just (to be more specific: has not a just cause, no just purpose) is a distinct mental act from a recognition that achieving its end is unlikely. The latter can be valid of wars having either just or unjust cause. “Just War” standards say that in order to enter into war morally, it is necessary BOTH that the cause be just, AND that the war have a reasonable chance of success – 2 separate principles. While it may be an immoral act to enter into a war that hasn’t a reasonable chance of success, such a conclusion does NOT imply that the purpose is an unjust purpose. “Start an unjust war” is generally used to refer to a war with no just purpose, but informally and by extension it may be used to refer also to starting a war immorally. Such a usage would be an equivocation if your logic needs the “unjust war” to refer specifically to the ONE element of just war theory that requires just cause. (By the way, since it is so often ignored or forgotten” “reasonable” chance of success is defined in terms of the goods to be achieved or evils avoided. In typical warfare between somewhat civilized nations, it is unreasonable to wage war if it is necessary to use up 1/4 of the population to achieve victory. But if the opponent is set on your total annihilation, then using up 1/4 of your population is no longer an unreasonable choice. Then, “reasonable” chance of success is more accessible, because you have a wider field of acceptable meanings for “success”, to include avoiding total annihilation.)

  • zippy says:

    So does this show that it is invalid to talk in general terms about unjust wars and describe categories of wars which are unjust, with all deference to the fact that some situations are more ambiguous than others? Or is it just a long winded way of saying “shut up”?

  • max says:

    One or the other will win the election, Zippy. There is no third choice. Either McCain or Obama will win the White House.Of the two, and you must choose one or the other in this instance (not to mean you must vote), which would be worse?

  • zippy says:

    Max:<>Of the two, and you must choose one or the other in this instance (not to mean you must vote), which would be worse?<>I’ve said before that if one actually had the power to choose the winner, there may be a proportionate reason to choose McCain. However, a game where I get to choose the winner is not the kind of game we are actually in. (If it were that kind of game, in all likelihood I would have more influence over who was on the ballot, who was allowed to vote, how voted were tallied, if we chose leadership by voting at all, etc; but I suppose we can make up any hypothetical we like).Obama is definitely worse than McCain on just about everything, looked at in isolation. OTOH I don’t trust either of them with the title Commander in Chief. I tend to agree with Lawrence Auster that a McCain win will definitely kill conservatism; an Obama win is likely to kill America. Whoever wins, we lose.Still, if you put me in a room with a nuclear switch, and I had to either allow a world-destroying bomb to go off or throw the switch for McCain or Obama to stop the bomb, I would throw the switch for McCain.

  • Anon says:

    <> Or is it just a long winded way of saying “shut up”?<>I wouldn’t knowingly stoop to saying that obscurely and indirectly. I might say it directly, but then you would know for sure. I am perfectly willing for you to continue debate on the subject. Just as I have recognized a thing or two more clearly with your arguments, I hope that you can also come to more complete understanding of truth with comments of others. But if someone is using a term in a philosophically precise manner, it would make sense to try to tailor your language to be precise enough to actually deal with their points, rather than using the term they propose in a manner inconsistent with the precise meaning they meant to express. It is perfectly valid to speak of wars that are unjust by category. It is not equally so to speak of wars that fail to be moral on account of failing to be adequately or reasonably likely of success, and then to state that this conclusion is entirely rooted in principle rather than in prudential judgment. Is it that you are unfamiliar with this notion of what the subject matter of the cardinal virtue of prudence consists in, or maybe you simply don’t feel it is an appropriate way to describe moral activity?

  • max says:

    I’m not trying to debate with you Zippy. Your arguments are excellent and I agree with every one of them. I’m well aware of both candidates but, in this election, I would choose the lesser evil–not in anyway condoning the evil of the lesser.I also believe McCain knows he has gained as much momentum with Catholics and Conservatives as he has only on account of his Gov Palin pick, and for no other reason.You say that McCain will kill conservativism. I doubt that honestly. If a true conservative candidate were to run against McCain, McCain would lose by a landslide and I believe he knows that. I know I do.

  • zippy says:

    <>I wouldn’t knowingly stoop to saying that obscurely and indirectly. I might say it directly, but then you would know for sure.<>That’s as may be, but when anonymous posters without a consistent handle make comments there is no way for me to form a consistent picture of a given commenter, or even to keep track of which anonymous commenter has said what. I don’t mind, but you pays your money and you takes your chances.<>It is not equally so to speak of wars that fail to be moral on account of failing to be adequately or reasonably likely of success, and then to state that this conclusion is entirely rooted in principle rather than in prudential judgment.<>I don’t see where I’ve said that.I’ve said that in circumstances like ours, there is in my understanding no proportionate reason to vote for a national candidate who supports murdering the innocent. That’s like saying that in circumstances like Grenada’s, there is no proportionate reason to invade Russia. If saying that violates some core principle of moral theology, then indeed I am not aware of it.

  • zippy says:

    Fair enough, Max.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    Question, Zippy: If you were in a room with a switch and had to either vote for Obama or X, where X is somebody worse than Obama, or else the bomb goes off, would you vote for Obama?

  • zippy says:

    Lydia:Yes. In that case, my non-intrinsically-evil act is effective at achieving its end, which is stopping the bomb from going off, and I clearly have a proportionate reason to do it.

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