Throw Them Back in the Frozen Hudson

January 31, 2009 § 2 Comments

That is my suggestion for what to do with Fred Berretta, Tess Sosa, and George Morgado. And toss in Antonio Sales and Gabrielle Glenn with them.

How pathetic. Any of these ingrates who actually sues the airline deserves to be permanently ejected from the society of civilized men. I especially can’t believe Sosa, the lives of whose husband and young children were also saved by the heroic professionalism of Captain Sullenberger, First Officer Skiles, and the consummate professionals at US Airways.

(Cross-posted and HT: Man Bites Blog)


January 30, 2009 § Leave a comment

I beseech thee, saith he, be not angry, Lord, if I speak yet once more: What if ten should be found there? And he said: I will not destroy it for the sake of ten. – Genesis 18:32

I guess this means we have nine to go.

(Cross-posted and HT: The Curt Jester)

A Non Physicalist/Causal Account of Theft

January 29, 2009 § 20 Comments

It has been suggested that it is not possible to understand stealing as intrinsically immoral without appealing to a physicalist/causal account of theft. (I think the reason people think this is because our modern conception of property is a distortion of reality, as I have argued before). To refute this suggestion, I offer the following non physicalist/causal account of theft as an intrinsically immoral act. In this account we will be able to qualify as morally evil the choice to steal independent of the intention for which that choice is made.

Property is something over which an owner has some legitimate authority.

Authority, when it is legitimate, is a capacity to juridically impose moral obligations on other people. So for example the owner of a widget can impose a limited moral obligation on others not to run off with the widget, through the exercise of his legitimate juridical authority as owner. He can also let you borrow his widget or give you his widget.

If you take the owner’s widget against his legitimate juridical authority, you have stolen his widget. It is always and intrinsically immoral, without exception, to steal his widget, independent of the reason why you steal it.

However, every juridical authority exercised by an individual or a government has due limits. Beyond those limits there is no authority: that is, an attempt to exercise a juridical authority beyond its due limits does not impose a legitimate moral obligation on others. For example, a positive law requiring doctors to perform abortions does not impose a genuine moral obligation on doctors to perform abortions.

Suppose we have a baker, and a man who is literally starving to death. For the baker to deprive the starving man of that loaf of bread is (let us propose) an attempt to exercise juridical authority beyond its due limit. When the starving man becomes prosperous, expecting payment for that loaf of bread however is within the due limits of the baker’s juridical authority. So a starving man eating a loaf of bread is not stealing, but incurs a postponed debt; that same man failing to repay the baker if and when he becomes able is stealing, unless the baker forgives the debt.

The so-called “exceptions” to the absolute prohibition against stealing, then, can be seen to be no exceptions at all. Neither do these “exceptions” genuinely represent an appeal to the intentions of the acting subject, though it is possible to speak of them in those terms. Rather, they are simply a matter of making explicit some of the due limits on the juridical authority an owner has to impose moral obligations on non-owners: they are an expression of some of the truths intrinsic to the nature of ownership, which by its nature is a juridical authority to impose moral obligations on others, and therefore by nature has due limits.

Real Life Overtakes Parody

January 28, 2009 § 2 Comments

The Speaker of the House, a Catholic, justifies funding Planned Parenthood through a fiscal stimulus package based on cost reductions in social programs proceeding from the eugenic effects of contraception and abortion.

She is forced to leave this provision out of the bill by the most NARAL-friendly pro-abortion president in history.

What would be astonishing, if we weren’t in the “real life overtakes parody” phase of history, is that someone of Pelosi’s political tone-deafness actually managed to become, and remain, Speaker of the House.

All You Need …

January 26, 2009 § 3 Comments

“To estimate climate sensitivity, all you need is an accurate model of Earth’s atmosphere. Likewise, to get to Alpha Centauri, all you have to do is jump very high.” – Mencius Moldbug

Supporting Abortion Rights is Worse than Holocaust Denial

January 26, 2009 § 11 Comments

So the Pope has lifted the excommunications of the four illicitly consecrated Bishops of the Society of St. Pius X. For those who don’t follow Catholic inside baseball, the SSPX considers itself an ultra-traditionalist group with the goal of attempting to preserve the pre-Vatican II patrimony of the Catholic Church in the face of Vatican II reforms. Assuming I have it right, which I might not because I don’t have an intense interest in the matter, these four Bishops were consecrated – validly, that is to say, they really did sacramentally become bishops – but illicitly, that is, without the juridical permission of Rome. As a result they were excommunicated by Pope John Paul II. It is that excommunication which has been lifted by Pope Benedict XVI.

That is just background for what interests me in particular here, which is the hubbub over the fact that one of the four Bishops is apparently a Holocaust denier. (Note: I haven’t been able to view the video at dotCommonweal as of this writing, but we can stipulate all of this for my purposes here).

Now Bishop Williamson was not excommunicated for being a Holocaust denier: he was excommunicated for his deliberate illicit consecration as a Bishop. The one really has nothing to do with the other. Nevertheless, and understandably, lifting his excommunication has created a bit of a storm. Many people feel that Holocaust denial is so gravely immoral – not to mention loopy – that it warrants excommunication in itself; and I am sympathetic to this view.

However, that directly raises the general question of what moral wrongs are so gravely wicked that they warrant excommunication. Keep in mind that even a serial killer is not excommunicated on account of being a serial killer: he may be damned, if he does not repent, but he is not excommunicated.

Holocaust denial is inexcusably crazy and wicked, but it does not involve advocacy and support of an existing legal right to murder Jews. Furthermore, it is not Catholic doctrine that some historical event such as the American Revolution, the Civil War, the moon landing, or the Holocaust actually occurred. On the other hand, opposition to a legal right to abortion is Catholic doctrine. So if the time has come to start excommunicating the wicked – a proposition about which I reserve judgment – they had better get in line behind the heretics.


Coalition for Fog, Redux

January 24, 2009 § 3 Comments

Those who supported President Bush had a special obligation to publicly oppose his immoral policies: for example, Bush supporters had a special obligation to publicly oppose his policy of torturing prisoners for “actionable information”.

For the most part they didn’t, of course; indeed many did just the opposite, engaging in a lengthy propaganda campaign of excuse-making, misdirection, and general intransigence. Tom called the phenomenon “making the case for fog”; Mark adopted the term “Coalition for Fog” to describe the armies of folks who, while they often did not defend torture directly, did everything they could to, well, blanket the issue in a fog of misdirection. Mark’s colorful rhetoric earned him the subconscious admiration of his ideological enemies.

But now we have a new president, and, unlike his predecessor’s torture policies, his despicable policies on abortion are quite overt. Even if we completely failed to distinguish the gravity of the two issues, the fact that these policies are explicit and unapologetic takes things to a whole new level. So, naturally, it is out with the old Coalition for Fog, and in with the new. New, improved, and ten times more despicable than the competing brand! Plus ca change, and all that.

On Assumed Transitivity and Proof By Counterexample

January 22, 2009 § 125 Comments

There is a whole way of thinking about the morality of human acts which, while very popular, and certainly seductive to the modern mind, is in my view fundamentally flawed. I alluded to it, citing the Magisterium, in this post; but I hope in the present post to make my objection to this way of thinking at least somewhat more explicit.

Suppose I claim that blowing up an infant-and-terrorist with a bomb is an instance of intrinsically immoral murder, that is, deliberate killing of the innocent. I claim this because of two properties pertaining to the particular chosen behavior: first, that an infant is unquestionably innocent in the morally pertinent sense; second, that deliberately choosing to blow that infant to bits with a bomb is intrinsically a killing behavior. So choosing that kind of behavior always is, in its species, an instance of intentionally killing the innocent. Therefore it is always and without exception morally wrong to choose that specific kind of behavior: to deliberately blow up an innocent with a bomb. It is always immoral independent of who else we are also choosing to blow up with our bomb.

The response I very typically get, in addition to question-begging application of the principle of double-effect, is for folks to start peppering me with different scenarios, where different concrete facts obtain. The view seems to be that if different scenarios are more difficult or puzzling that that somehow casts doubt on the moral species of this scenario; that doubt or confusion about other scenarios, or even a definite conclusion that some other act is licit, constitutes a proof by counterexample against the particular case I am discussing.

But I think this entire method is flawed, because it assumes that human acts are a kind of abstraction to which we can apply the property of transitivity, and in particular it assumes that transitivity applies in precisely the manner in which the critic is attempting to apply it. But there is no reason to think that. Shooting that hostage in that leg when precisely those facts obtain may or may not be intrinsically a killing or maiming behavior; but that in no sense casts any doubt whatsoever upon the fact that blowing an infant to bits with a bomb is intrinsically an innocent-killing behavior, and thus always impermissible. If the behavior is intrinsically an innocent-killing behavior, then choosing it is to choose an act which is intrinsically immoral:

[T]he negative moral precepts, those prohibiting certain concrete actions or kinds of behaviour as intrinsically evil, do not allow for any legitimate exception. They do not leave room, in any morally acceptable way, for the “creativity” of any contrary determination whatsoever. Once the moral species of an action prohibited by a universal rule is concretely recognized, the only morally good act is that of obeying the moral law and of refraining from the action which it forbids.

The shuffling around of scenarios under an assumed abstract transitivity applied to acts where the concrete facts are fundamentally different may have some rhetorical appeal to the modern scientific mindset — after all, the scientific approach is all about making very general abstract laws and repeating experiments consistent with those laws. But I don’t think abstract transitivity applies to moral questions, at least not in the way so many people attempt to apply it. And while I can’t claim that the Magisterium has condemned this particular approach explicitly, there are many strong hints that it misses the point: that a correct understanding of morality involves grasping what is intrinsic to choosing particular concrete actions or behaviors, not applying transitivity to verbal abstractions.

Rejecting the Physicalist/Causal Account of Intrinsic Evil

January 20, 2009 § 45 Comments

There is a particular approach to judging the morality of acts which is quite popular among contemporary moral theologians, including moral theologians who have studied Veritatis Splendour – an encyclical self-described as the only detailed Magisterial statement on these matters in the history of the Church – which simply cannot be right and must be rejected. That doesn’t imply that my own approach and understanding is right or even coherent; but, independent of what one thinks of my particular approach to and conclusions about particular matters, this alternate popular theory and approach is definitely, absolutely, and without question wrong.

The approach we must reject goes something like the following: We take the decision a person makes to act, figure out the intended end for which he makes it, and construct a physical account from what he does to the achievement of that end. Everything which is a physical cause leading up to his desired result, then, is considered to be intended; anything which is not causally prerequisite to achieving his end, on a physicalist account, is considered to be unintended[*]. His act is intrinsically evil if and only if any of the things he intends (on this account of intention) is evil.

Basically, this account of intrinsic evil takes the principle of double-effect to apply to all acts, and elevates the double-effect requirement “the bad effect must not cause the good effect” to the status of a rule which determines whether or not an act is intrinsically immoral.

Even without doing further work we can see that this approach is fundamentally question-begging. Rather than applying the principle of double-effect to an act which is not intrinsically immoral, this approach applies the “bad effect must not cause the good effect” rule – which in reality only applies to acts which are not intrinsically immoral – in order to conclude that the act is not intrinsically immoral.

Furthermore, this account of intrinsic evil renders the requirement “the act must not be evil in its object” nonsensical. If the rule “the bad effect must not cause the good effect” is the very thing which tells us whether the act is evil in its object, then the inclusion of the additional requirement that the act must not be evil in its object is superfluous nonsense.

But beyond that, Veritatis Splendour tells us that we must reject any moral theory which makes it impossible to qualify as morally evil the choice of certain concrete actions or kinds of behavior apart from any consideration of the intention for which the behavior was chosen. Because this popular physicalist/causal[**] account of intrinsic evil requires us to make reference to the intention for which the behavior was chosen in order to qualify any concrete choice of behavior as intrinsically immoral – we cannot construct a physicalist causal account from the behavior chosen to the intended end without making reference to the intended end – we know that it must be rejected.

Again, that doesn’t prove that any other particular approach, including my own, is right. But we know that the physicalist/causal account of intrinsic evil must be rejected, both because it is question-begging with respect to the application of the principle of double-effect and because it meets the criteria set out in Veritatis Splendour for moral theories which we must reject.

[*] Other language is sometimes used to label what I have labeled intended and unintended. One traditional way is to refer to the intended and the indirect voluntary; another is to say directly intended and indirectly intended. But these are merely semantic choices about how to label things, and do not as far as I can tell change the substance of what we are discussing.

[**] I don’t know if “physicalist/causal” is the best label for the approach I am criticizing, but it is what I have at the moment. Suggestions for a better descriptive name are welcome.

Yes, He Can Whine (or, the Tale of the Sore Winner)

January 17, 2009 § 58 Comments

Doug Kmeic, who was so prominent a pro-life activist before he endorsed Barack Obama for President that I had never heard of him, has once again provided aficionados of the non sequitur with what can only be described as a target-rich environment. The bulk of the article is dedicated to the theme “some people on the Internet were mean to me, therefore I’m right”; a wonderful polemical position, since as anyone with any Internet experience of note knows, just about any sentiment which can be expressed will be expressed.

But that isn’t what interests me about the article. I feel rather bad for Professor Kmeic, actually, and in truth, because there is simply no question that at some point in the future he is going to find his own words deeply embarrassing; and another thing about the Internet Age is that it preserves every half-baked thought for eternity, or at least for as long as hard drives or their equivalent continue to spin on this Earth.

No, what interests me about the article for the moment is this statement:

I remain unabashedly prolife and I have never consciously misstated the doctrine of the church; indeed, I’ve publicly said that were the Holy Father to tell me I had contradicted the magisterium on any given page of my Obama book, I would tear out that page.

Setting aside the bizarre combination of aggrieved self-aggrandizement and unwillingness to construct a sound argument that accompanies so much of what I have read from Kmeic since I first became aware of his existence a few months ago, this strikes me as a fundamentally Protestant understanding of Catholic ecclesiology. Asserting “I’ll believe and say what I want, unless the Pope addresses me personally and tells me otherwise” is, I would suggest, to place onesself merely one additional public tantrum away from Martin Luther.

In the unlikely event that Kmeic, so important a fellow that he considers himself subject only to personal correction by the Pope, were to ask for my advice on what to do now, I would point out the advice and offer of assistance I’ve already given.

Indeed, not merely Kmeic but the magazine in which his article is published, and every liberal Catholic of a similar mind, will show their true colors in how they behave from here on. Nothing reveals the true character of a man as much as his actions when he stands on the field of battle victorious. It is time to stop whining about having won, Doug, and show your quality. Indeed, you will show and are now showing your quality, whether self-consciously or not.

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