Tearing Apart Our Intentions

January 7, 2009 § 34 Comments

Proposition 1: You cannot deliberately tear the body of an unborn child to pieces using surgical instruments without intending to kill her.

Proposition 2: You cannot deliberately blow the body of an innocent civilian to pieces with a bomb without intending to kill her.

Catholics who think that it is – in any circumstances whatsoever – morally licit to blow up civilians with a bomb, as long as the end goal is to get the bad guys, have to explain why Proposition 1 is true and at the same time Proposition 2 is false.

We know that Proposition 1 is true, because there is no “life of the mother” exception to the moral prohibition of abortion; and more specifically that procedures like salpingotomy, which crushes the body of the unborn child in the fallopian tube as a method of resolving ectopic pregnancy, are never morally acceptable procedures.

So those who think it is morally licit to drop a bomb on a known mix of innocent civilians and terrorists in order to get the terrorists need to explain why it is never morally acceptable to tear the body of a living unborn child to bits, but it is sometimes morally acceptable to tear the body of a living born child to bits.

This raises the further interesting questions:

If there are any pregnant women in the crowd does the bombing become illicit?

If we could construct a tiny bomb, insert it into the fallopian tube, and use it to blow the embryo to bits, would that be a morally licit method of treating ectopic pregnancy?

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§ 34 Responses to Tearing Apart Our Intentions

  • Steve says:

    Great question. Begin rationalization process in 3…2…1…

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    Heck, if I were in charge, they’d be involved in a bloody ground battle over there in Gaza. House to house if necessary. More people would die, probably including innocents, but it would be easier to make credible attempts to target only adults, at a minimum and even plausibly complicit adults and outright bad guys, at a maximum, so that the deaths of innocents could be seen to be accidental in the fullest sense of the term.And once the area was re-taken, if I were in charge, they would never leave, so that these problems couldn’t arise again. Thus saving many, many innocent lives on both sides, but especially on the bad guys’ side.I don’t accuse you, Zippy, of being a dove, but I hardly think such a course of action would be praised as the height of moral rectitude by the doves blogging on the actual little war that has prompted this post.

  • zippy says:

    Lydia,I’m going to continue to refuse to touch the third rail of the present particular conflict, but in the abstract I think it is true that in many terrorists-among-the-civilians cases probably the only licit and effective method is to use boots on the ground. As you suggest, this probably results in far more deaths all the way around; but of course “results in statistical tally X” is not at all morally dispositive. There are a lot of moral advantages to putting boots on the ground in certain kinds of conflicts, especially conflicts with terrorists, and frankly it isn’t clear that it isn’t better tactically/strategically.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    I thought you would probably say something like that. Which is consistent, and which I do appreciate.

  • Rodak says:

    I’m a little confused over exactly what is meant by the use of the word “terrorist” in this context. If we are talking about the kind of terrorists who pulled off 9/11, the way to combat them is with intelligence work, followed by police action. It is never licit, it would seem to me, for fully armed and uniformed combat troops to go house to house looking for criminals. If, however, we are talking about militias composed of irregular troops that can be mustered to counter an offensive launched against turf that they are trying to protect, then I suppose that the boots on the ground, door to door tactic is the best available–if protecting innocents is a consideration.(As demonstrated above, many believe in the policy “Kill them all and let God sort them out.”) I don’t know that the word “terrorist” is probably applied to that type of group, however. There is a distinction to be made between an insurgent and a terrorist. We make that distinction when we are talking about the heroes of our national revolution; but we are often slow to make it when talking about folks we don’t much like.

  • Rodak says:

    Let me clarify that word “all” in the slogan I quoted in my previous comment need not refer to a genocide. By “all” it can be understood that I meant all those who “get in the way,” as Zippy phrased it on another thread.

  • Kyle R. Cupp says:

    <>So those who think it is morally licit to drop a bomb on a known mix of innocent civilians and terrorists in order to get the terrorists need to explain why it is never morally acceptable to tear the body of a living unborn child to bits, but it is sometimes morally acceptable to tear the body of a living born child to bits.<>Well, double-effect won’t work. The effect is single. We can distinguish between those we want and don’t want to kill, but the fact is that all killed in this case are killed by the one intentional act. (If I may paraphrase the words of Spock, what one wants in this case is irrelevant; what one has chosen is at hand).

  • Irenaeus says:

    “If there are any pregnant women in the crowd does the bombing become illicit?”Brilliant. Bingo. A thousand times bingo.

  • Rodak says:

    <>“If there are any pregnant women in the crowd does the bombing become illicit?”<>It is ironic in this context that expressing that exact obvious truth was the trigger to my banishment from a certain other blog that shall remain nameless.You can try to rule the world, or you can try to love your brother. You can’t simulataneously try to do both.

  • I too have been confused for a long time how so-called pro-lifer can support strong military budgets that include weapons of mass destruction

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    Robert Duncan, I suspect that the best of the pro-lifers support bluff in that area. And indeed there is a lot of bluff involved in the possession of true w.m.d.’s. It’s probably a separate question, however, whether it is wrong to bluff regarding doing something immoral and whether it is wrong actually to do something immoral.

  • JohnMcG says:

    I wonder if there’s some tension with subsidiarity.“Boots on the ground” are not automotons. As we found out with Abu Ghraib, if you put a large number of soldiers into enemy territory with orders to kill, chances are some of them are going to do some things they shouldn’t. Some of them will probably kill pregnant women and children who are non-combatants.Now, someone can order infantry into a city without *intending* this outcome, but it would be very naive to assume that no atrocities would occur as a result of such an operation. Each individual soldier is morally accountable for his own actions, but I would think one giving the order would have some accountability over what is a very likely outcome.

  • zippy says:

    Obviously that falls to prudence though, John, if the commanding officer does not intend any immoral acts on the part of those under his command. That it falls to prudence doesn’t make it morally acceptable in a particular case, of course.One thing that is interesting about your suggestion though is that most people assume that having a morally upright military which refuses to perform intrinsically immoral acts reduces the space of tactical and strategic options available from where we stand right now. And in fact it does: indeed this happens < HREF="https://zippycatholic.wordpress.com/2007/09/material-prosperity-is-immoral.html" REL="nofollow">in areas other than war, as well<>. But having a <>morally upright<> military actually <>increases<> our <>morally licit<> options, since we can do far more things prudently with a morally upright military than with a morally decadent military.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    “Some of them will probably kill pregnant women and children who are non-combatants.”On purpose? Directly? Knowing she was pregnant and not engaging in combatant behavior *at all*? Just because? As in, “Take that, you pregnant woman! That’ll show you!” Bang!?I mean, that’s a pretty strong statement. I make no apologies for Abu Ghraib and was one of the people making the biggest fuss about it at the time, but they didn’t kill any pregnant women.

  • Tom says:

    I’m not sure intention is the best way to get at this.My intent in blowing up a building with both combatants and non-combatants in it is to kill the combatants. If all the combatants are killed, but the non-combatants all happen to be from Krypton and survive, then I will still accomplish what I intend.I think looking at the circumstances gives a better handle on the moral issues. If the circumstances are such that you cannot kill combatants without killing non-combatants, then you cannot kill combatants.Alternatively, you could say that the object of your act is to blow up a building with both combatants and non-combatants in it, and that that object is evil, but that’s just adding the circumstance of “and non-combatants” to the object “to blow up a building with combatants in it.”

  • JohnMcG says:

    <>On purpose? Directly? Knowing she was pregnant and not engaging in combatant behavior *at all*? Just because? As in, “Take that, you pregnant woman! That’ll show you!” Bang!?<>Given the history of warfare, yes.Now, maybe “knowing she was pregnant and not engaging in combatant behavior” is a stretch, but if you put someone in a territory among enemies trying to kill him, with orders to kill him, there is an extraordinary temptation to see non-combatants as combatants.Maybe it’s possible to train a military that would not do these things, but this is in tension with the goal of creating an efficient killing machine.

  • brendon says:

    <>Alternatively, you could say that the object of your act is to blow up a building with both combatants and non-combatants in it, and that that object is evil, but that’s just adding the circumstance of “and non-combatants” to the object “to blow up a building with combatants in it.”<>I don't think that's sound Tom. It seems too much like saying that whether or not someone a person has sex with is married or not, and to whom they are married, is a circumstance. And thus adultery, fornication &c. are not objectively evil human acts but are rather circumstantially evil acts of sex. And if they are only circumstantially evil, then other circumstances could modify them to make them good in certain situations.This particular act is using this particular weapon on this particular place. This particular weapon destroys everything in a certain area. Within this area are non-combatants. Using this weapon in this way at this place, by its very nature, involves intending to destroy, i.e. kill, non-combatants.In war one cannot intend to kill non-combatants either as a means – i.e. the object of an act cannot be to kill non-combatants – or as an end. But in this scenario the very act that is the means to our end of dead combatants – the using of this weapon in this way at this place – involves killing non-combatants. Thus the act would seem to be evil in its object.

  • Tom says:

    Brendon:I’m happy to say that the act of blowing up a building with non-combatants in it is evil in its object, if you’ll grant me that there is such an act as “blowing up a building with non-combatants in it.”But I don’t see that that’s practically different from granting that there is such an act as “blowing up a building,” which is not evil in its object, but is evil in the circumstances “with non-combatants in it.”And I don’t think it would follow, if we parsed things the second way, that there could be additional circumstances that would make the act licit. If an immoral object makes an act licit regardless of circumstances or intent, can’t there be circumstances that make an act licit regardless of additional circumstances?Either way, though, we aren’t talking about an act whose moral character is determined by intent.

  • zippy says:

    Tom:One of the things I’ve encountered in these kinds of discussions is that people who try to speak precisely on the subject tend to use one of two different languages or jargons. (Well, probably more than two, but there are two that I have the audacity to think I understand fairly well myself). For the sake of discussion I’ll call one “JPII-speak” and the other “Anscombe-speak”, after the contemporary writers best known for using that jargon. I think the two jargons are equivalent, but mixing them tends to cause confusion; in this post I am using Anscombe-speak as opposed to JPII-speak, though I am always borrowing from JPII at least where I think doing so clarifies rather than confusing issues. The jargons are not fully incommensurate, but again mixing them can be a dicey business.In JPII-speak we never use the word “intention” with reference to the object of the act. An “intention” in JPII-speak is just as you’ve stated by example above, when you wrote “My intent in blowing up a building with both combatants and non-combatants in it is to kill the combatants.” in JPII-speak the object of the act is the specific behavior chosen, that is, roughly, “using a bomb to blow this building with those people in it to bits”. JPII is careful never to refer to the choosing of that behavior as an “intention”; the closest he ever comes is to call <>that behavior<> which the person is choosing, that is, the object of the act, the “proximate end of a deliberate decision”.In Anscombe-speak the term “intention” is multivocal: it refers both to the kind of further intention you use and also to the “intention” implied simply in choosing <>that behavior<>. The idea here is that there is a necessary connection between a behavior and an intention: that is, given the nature of man and reality it is impossible to choose <>that behavior<> without having <>that intention<>. So for example it is impossible to choose to fornicate (as a behavior) without an evil intention, no matter what further intentions obtain.Both domain-specific languages tend to appeal to different people and even the same person at different times. I’ve found both helpful in understanding these matters (to the extent I can claim to understand them) myself. Mixing them tends to cause confusion, but each has its place in communicating the underlying truth of the matter, it seems to me.So anyway, that is a very long winded way of saying that you may be right that intention is not the best language in this case to describe the underlying moral reality; but I think each jargon may be more or less understandable to a particular person at a particular time. So I wrote this post using Anscombe-speak knowing that it might not be the ideal medium to communicate the truth (as I understand it) to some readers but would be better than JPII-speak for others; that is all.

  • Anonymous says:

    I was wondering why it is that most people seem to believe that the end justifies the means and I think it’s because it is hard to tell someone that they can’t do bad that good will result and at the same time support one of our soldiers killing an enemy soldier. Killing anyone is objectively evil even if it can be excused because of self-defense, which, not surprisingly, is the same excuse used by supporters of torture. (And I don’t understand why there is a big distinction between civilians and soldiers since soldiers don’t lose their humanity once they don a uniform.)Looking at it from Joe Sixpack perspective and not an intellectual one, it seems we <>always<> do evil things so that good can result: for example, we deny a convicted murderer their freedom for decades for the good of society, so it’s no wonder that many shrug their shoulders with regard to the torture of jihadists.

  • zippy says:

    <>(And I don’t understand why there is a big distinction between civilians and soldiers since soldiers don’t lose their humanity once they don a uniform.)<>The distinction between combatants and noncombatants is that combatants are choosing to engage in attacking behaviors, whereas noncombatants are not choosing to engage in attacking behaviors. Even a conscripted soldier is choosing his behavior, albiet perhaps under duress.I’m not sure due credit is being given to Joe Sixpack. I think that even in this late stage of moral decadence Joe Sixpack understands the difference between a kindergartner playing hopscotch with her friends and a soldier launching mortars at our position. Postmodern Joe’s moral sensibilities may be too damaged to see the manifest distinctions between torture and punishment, and even between conjugal love and fornication or sodomy; but that is the reason I try to speak to very clear cases. Discussing subtle and difficult cases is pointless if we cannot reach agreement on glaringly obvious cases. (Though folks often drag in subtle and difficult cases as a means to the end of not having to face the conclusion of clear cases which do not come out the way they would like them to come out).

  • Anonymous says:

    Here’s a question. Let’s assume that a war is not just, and that the soldiers fighting in the war are non-conscripted (volunteer army). Is any kind of killing permissible? If not, should we still “support the troops”?

  • Rodak says:

    We should support them by doing whatever is in our power to bring them home.

  • William Luse says:

    <>Killing anyone is objectively evil…<>No it isn’t.<>…even if it can be excused because of self-defense<>…Self-defense doesn’t need to be excused, because it’s not objectively evil.

  • zippy says:

    <>Let’s assume that a war is not just, and that the soldiers fighting in the war are non-conscripted (volunteer army). Is any kind of killing permissible? If not, should we still “support the troops”?<>I think those are very interesting questions, and certainly very practical ones. They also seem to me to be two very different and almost (but not quite) unrelated questions.On the first, there will definitely be cases where we have an unjust war, that is, where neither side had a valid case for war under the just war doctrine. I am reluctant to conclude though that there can be no individually justified defensive acts of killing in such a war — in part because there are many possible situations which could arise outside the context of a declared war where there can nevertheless at least in principle be justified acts of killing. In each of our acts we have to deal with the world as we find it, including history (incorporating even the history of the last ten minutes) with all of its injustices. The fact that neither side in a war had just cause to enter into that war does not necessarily imply that the moral duty of each is to stand down immediately with no consideration for the consequences of standing down immediately. It is a topic I’ve been mulling over for some time, and at some point I may post on it if I think I have something coherent and interesting to say.On the second, a whole lot hinges on what is meant by “support the troops”, in addition to following from considerations in answering the first question. But to the extent that supporting the troops is or can be independent from supporting the specific war it seems to me that there is probably a significant duty to do so.

  • Rodak says:

    It would seem to me that the question is not “shall we support the troops?” but rather <>“how<> shall we support the troops?”

  • I think we’d do better to stick with the gospel teaching against killing, the command Jesus gave to St Peter to put back his sword, to resist evil non-violently by turning the other check.There’s nothing in the gospel authorising violence or killing for any reason whatsoever.God Bless

  • Rodak says:

    That’s true, and the basis of my personal pacificism. Moreover, in the incident with the woman taken in adultery, Jesus actually stops a perfectly legal killing from taking place.

  • BenYachov says:

    >Proposition 3: You cannot deliberately remove a cancer ridden pregnant womb without intending to kill the unborn baby occupant.I reply: Which we know from the ordinary teaching of the Bishops is not true.Your whole argument is a straw man dude.

  • BenYachov says:

    >So those who think it is morally licit to drop a bomb on a known mix of innocent civilians and terrorists in order to get the terrorists…I reply: No it is not moral to do that at all times but only under certain conditions. If the terrorists are taking hostages or merely using it as a base fro which they don't launch physical attacks or a safe house then bombing it would be immoral. However if they are in the act of launching missiles at enemy targets while using the civilians as shields then it is not immoral to respond with the sufficient amount of force needed to stop them. The double effect applies here.It seems to me Zippy you either ignore the actual problem or you argue to get rid of the double effect(which you can't do anymore than a Radtrad can declare all forms of NFP contraception).

  • zippy says:

    B-Y: If P1 and P2 are true, it does not necessarily follow that your proposed P3 is true. Tearing a person’s living body to pieces is <>necessarily and intrinsically<> a killing behavior, whereas it is at least plausibly arguable that removing a diseased womb with a child in it is not <>necessarily and intrinsically<> a killing behavior. This can be seen from the fact that it might be possible, with appropriate medical technology, to save the life of a baby in a womb which has been removed. It is not possible even in principle to save the life of a baby whose body has been torn to bits.So while I do think that people are too comfortable with medical procedures that modern theologians think rather cavalierly are morally licit independent of further efforts to save the baby (for example, I think in this day and age there may be some duty within reason to flash-freeze the tube-and-embryo in a salpingectomy as a way of possible saving the child), nevertheless there are pretty clear differences in the kind of behavior we are discussing.

  • Tom says:

    <>However if they are in the act of launching missiles at enemy targets while using the civilians as shields then it is not immoral to respond with the sufficient amount of force needed to stop them. The double effect applies here.<>If we apply the principle of double effect here, we find that the act is immoral twice over.First, because blowing up a building with innocents in it is the means to the good effect.Second, because it is not proportionate to choose to kill some of <>their<> innocents in order to save the lives of some of <>your<> innocents.

  • Rodak says:

    <>it is not proportionate to choose to kill some of their innocents in order to save the lives of some of your innocents.<>And that’s exactly where the going gets tough.

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