The Splendour of Self-Contradiction

January 13, 2009 § 36 Comments

I think it is intrinsically immoral to deliberately blow up an indiscriminately mixed group of innocents and combatants with a bomb. Note the term ‘deliberately’: an accident is an accident, and when things do not go according to plans sometimes innocent people are hurt accidentally. It is possible for an accidental death to be the result of culpable negligence, of course, but even then it is quite a different matter from deliberate murder.

Furthermore, it is possible to act morally even knowing that the deaths of innocents will result from your act. I’ve given the example of attacking a group of terrorists knowing with moral certainty that the terrorists are going to kill some hostages: it may nevertheless, under the principle of double effect, be morally licit to attack. (It also may not be morally licit: but the moral liciety of the act falls to a double-effect analysis when the chosen behavior is not evil in itself).

Many people do not agree with me that it is intrinsically wrong to blow up an indiscriminately mixed group of combatants and innocents with a bomb, apart from a consideration of the reason why the choice to do so is made. I summarize their objections, as I understand them, as follows:

“It is impossible to qualify as morally evil the deliberate choice to blow a mixed group of combatants and noncombatants to bits with a bomb apart from a consideration of the intention for which the choice is made.”

This objection is problemmatic. Veritatis Splendour tells us:

One must therefore reject the thesis … which holds that it is impossible to qualify as morally evil according to its species — its “object” — the deliberate choice of certain kinds of behaviour or specific acts, apart from a consideration of the intention for which the choice is made … .

My interlocutors insist that we can only figure out what the object of the act is by making reference to the intended end for which the choice is made; in this example the removal of the threat posed by the combatants in the mixed group.

But that can’t be right, because it would turn Veritatis Splendour into a self-refuting hash of circular reasoning. (If the position of my interlocutors was “Veritatis Splendour is bunk” then the objection would at least be consistent, if still wrong; but that is not generally the claim). If we cannot determine the object of the act without considering the intention for which the choice was made, then Veritatis Splendour is self-contradictory, with all that that implies — basically the encyclical is a meaningless jumble of words with enough apparent meaning that people can make it appear to say whatever they want it to say.

None of this conclusively establishes that I am right about the specific kind of case in question. That it is possible in some cases to qualify the choice of a specific behavior as morally evil apart from a consideration of the intention for which the choice was made doesn’t mean that in this case I have proven beyond doubt that the act is an intrinsically immoral act of murder. But what is true is that none of the objections raised so far by any interlocutor, assuming I’ve understood them, is internally consistent.

I leave you with this thought from VS:

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.

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§ 36 Responses to The Splendour of Self-Contradiction

  • I don’t think we should apply double effect to war because the Gospel and the Torah teach us a better way : that of non-violent resistance to evil, that of loving the enemy rather than looking for ways to justify killing him.In ectopic pregnancies, what’s needed is a way to save the life of the mother without unintentionally killing the baby. I expect that advances in medical technology will probably one day give us the means of doing this by re-implanting the foetus in the womb. The surgical removal of ectopic tissue and the baby within it is not what kills the baby. What kills is our current inability to sucessfully reimplant the baby. One isn’t morally culpable for the lack of technology to do this any more than those doctors trying to get into Gaza are cuplable for their inability to save life because they can’t enter Gaza.God Bless

  • zippy says:

    <>What kills is our current inability to sucessfully reimplant the baby.<>I believe there have been successful reimplantations, though only very few. Right now though it is not on mainstream medicine’s radar to even try; and that is a severe indictment of the practices of mainstream medicine.

  • JPII said in Veritatis Splendor that in determining the moral object of an act, one does need to do so from the perspective of the acting person ie according to what his intent was. Proximate intent is an essential component of the the moral object chosen.<>78. The morality of the human act depends primarily and fundamentally on the “object” rationally chosen by the deliberate will, as is borne out by the insightful analysis, still valid today, made by Saint Thomas.(126) In order to be able to grasp the object of an act which specifies that act morally, it is therefore necessary to place oneself in the perspective of the acting person.<>God Bless

  • zippy says:

    <>…one does need to do so from the perspective of the acting person ie according to what his intent was. <>The “i.e.” is your invention. We can’t know what behavior a person is choosing unless we view it from his perspective – he might be sleepwalking and he only knows what he knows, sees what he sees, etc – the pilot in the bomber might not see or be aware of the noncombatants who are present. But VS expressly condemns the notion that choosing a specific behavior cannot be judged to be evil apart from consideration of the intention for which it is chosen.

  • Zippy,I should have written “proximate intent” instead of just “intent”.<>VS expressly condemns the notion that choosing a specific behavior cannot be judged to be evil apart from consideration of the <>intention<> for which it is chosen.<>That <>intention<> is the remote intention (the goal the act is trying to attain).The proximate intention is the one that specifies the moral object chosen.Much of the confusion here vanishes by a careful distinction between proximate and remote intent.It’s the distinction between what one chooses to do and the long term goal which motivates that moral choice.God Bless

  • zippy says:

    Chris:If by “proximate intention” (JPII doesn’t use that term to describe the object BTW) you mean the “choice” involved in choosing the behavior, then I agree. When we engage in a behavior we are choosing that behavior, and the behavior we are choosing is the object of the act. If moral evil is intrinsic to that behavior then we cannot justify choosing it, no matter why we are choosing it.So we can make it work by being multivocal with the term “intent”: there are often many different ‘jargons’ or domain-specific languages we could build to discuss a given subject. But that is in the end just a labeling exercise. Some acts – condomistic sex, blowing to bits a mixed group of innocents and combatants with a bomb, etc – can be judged morally wrong simply because <>that kind<> of behavior was chosen, independent of the intention for which that kind of behavior was chosen.

  • Anonymous says:

    Zippy,If pamphlets are dropped warning civilians to leave the blast area and ample amount of time is given for evacuation, what are the requirements for checking whether or not civilians are still present? Is it possible that someone willingly using himself as a human shield is a valid military target?(this is not an argument, nor a rhetorical question, but a genuine one)Thanks,Kurt

  • zippy says:

    Kurt,Taking the two questions separately:Yes, I think if someone deliberately makes himself a “human shield” that is a deliberately chosen attacking behavior and clearly upgrades that person’s status to combatant.No, I don’t think dropping pamphlets, or noncompliance with pamphlets, is sufficient. Consider the case of a noncombatant acting negligently: does that “upgrade” his status to combatant and turn him into a licit target? No.Right now I am dealing with the background assumption of moral certainty on our part for the sake of clarity in the discussion. As we get into scenarios where we legitimately do and do not know things, where we have a duty to find things out, etc, it gets more complex. That is a long winded way of ignoring your question about the duty to check after dropping pamphlets, I guess, because the epistemic can of worms is a whole ‘nother discussion.

  • Rodak says:

    <>I think if someone deliberately makes himself a “human shield” that is a deliberately chosen attacking behavior and clearly upgrades that person’s status to combatant.<>I certainly don’t that that is unequivocally the case. Making of one’s self a human shield can be a strictly defensive maneuver. Even if, for instance, we blame Hamas rockets, and only Hamas rockets (I don’t, btw) for the Israeli invasion of Gaza, if a group of women and/or the elderly and/or children chose to place themselves between their homes, their schools, their mosques, their hospitals, etc., in an attempt to save them from destruction, or descration, I would not characterize such action as “attacking behavior,” nor would it “upgrade” the status of such individuals, or groups, to “combatant”.

  • Rodak says:

    [Ooops. I left out “think” in the first sentence of my previous comment]And, I should have added that this, imo, would be the case even if the Israeli military had reason to believe that “terrorists” had sequestered themselves in such homes, schools, hospitals, or mosques. I agree with Tom that it is not licit to kill your innocents in order to save my innocents. This is especially true where the killing of your innocents is certain, while the killing of mine is actually quite unlikely.

  • zippy says:

    <>I certainly don’t that that is unequivocally the case.<>Good point Rodak, you are quite right that we should qualify it. Being a human shield for one’s <>home<>, even when entirely deliberate, is quite a different matter from intentionally being a human shield for a terrorist weapons cache.

  • JohnMcG says:

    I guess my problem with this type of thinking is it lets Pilate off the hook — all he did was turn Jesus over to the crowd — he washed his hands of his fate, he didn’t *intend* for them to crucify him.But we all know this is rubbish. Pilate knew damn well what would happen in this case.Which is why I brought up the subsidiarity argument below — is it better that these life/death decisions be made by an officer of elected official once and for all or by individual soldiers on a cas-by-case basis? Shouldn’t a leader accept as much moral responsibility as possible, rather than generate near occasions of mortal sin for thousands of soldiers?Yes, but not at the expense of doing evil, is the obvious answer. And I suppose I am offering a false choice between bombing civilians and sending in ground troops. It could be that the only moral choice is to do neither. But one conclusion that could be drawn from this commentary is that sending in troops is always a morally superior choice to dropping bombs, and I’m not sure of that.

  • Rodak says:

    <>quite a different matter from intentionally being a human shield for a terrorist weapons cache.<>The propaganda–true or false–is that the weapons cache is inevitably in the home. When we are talking about asymmetrical warfare against an insurgency, I suppose that this is going to frequently be the case. I still can’t see it as licit to shoot through a “shield” comprised of unarmed women, etc., to capture those weapons. Again, you would be making absolutely certain killings of non-combatants in order to prevent only potential killings of invading combatants (if we are limiting the point to small arms caches.

  • zippy says:

    <>But one conclusion that could be drawn from this commentary is that sending in troops is always a morally superior choice to dropping bombs, and I’m not sure of that.<>I think that which is a superior choice, and whether either choice is morally acceptable at all, will depend on the particulars. So I definitely reject the “always”.I don’t see how you take the soldiers ‘out of the loop’ morally though. They are the ones who actually carry out the killing acts. Commanders can be guilty – even more gravely guilty than an individual soldier – through formal and material cooperation, of course. (That a particular cooperation is material does not in any way mean that it is non-culpable, for that matter). But there isn’t anything magic which can ‘transfer’ the nature of a human act, of actually deliberately carrying out an act with one’s living body, from one person to another. The object of the act is the behavior chosen by the acting subject himself; if someone else did it, “it” is not your act.

  • There comes a point when one has to ask whether one can properly follow Jesus/Yaweh/Allah and also be a soldier ?You can’t always follow both Jesus and Caesar.And the Catholic tradition is quite clear on the obligation to avoid professions which necessarily involve being put constantly and unncessarily into near occasions of sin.God Bless

  • Rodak says:

    Certainly you can follow Yahweh or Allah and be a soldier. Jesus is another question.

  • Anonymous says:

    What about this BOMB?By Guillermo BustamanteAs a foreigner, former resident in DC, I can assure of these: 1) The Obaminator will have no trouble to enlist friendly black priests-bishops-parishes in DC. to go. That strategy worked in the elections to win the Christian vote.2) But there is a funny joke: all of them will be terminally guilty of Prophet Malachi:“2:8 But you have turned aside from the way; you have caused many to stumble by your instruction…says the LORD of hosts,9 and so I make you despised and abased before all the people, inasmuch as you have not kept my ways but have shown partiality in your instruction.”What is the VERY BIG joke? When the press WILL ask the chosen culprit, how THAT practicing-proud-homosexual token bishop, will give the official much taunted speech and respond to press multimedia:Some just quoting MULTIPLE Biblical curses… to that depravation.The dumb Obaminator advisers confuse the La-la-land Globe-Revolutionary Road awards (of course: to the “martyr” baby butcherer, searching for “Paris”), oblivious that the great majority of USA voters are not gay neither pro-baby murder.If some smart humour spreads, we can promote a feast of blunders.Cordially

  • Paul says:

    Take the following example:A terrorist (who escaped) has left behind a bomb hidden in a crowded schoolroom, which will explode once it is triggered. Some distance away I come across his timer, rigged to a radio. In a short while, the timer will finish counting down, and the radio will then broadcast a signal to the bomb, causing it to explode. I have just enough time to prevent the bomb exploding, by simply turning off the radio,Should I turn off the radio?Clearly I should, since it will save the lives of those in the schoolroom. If (fully understanding the situation) I chose not to turn off the radio I would (as, for example, Veritatis Splendor explains) by my choice commit a definite moral evil, regardless of what goal I was trying to achieve.Assuming we are in agreement so far, change the situation a little. Everything is the same as described above (with the schoolroom bomb ready to explode when the timer counts down), except that the terrorist has arranged things so that the act of turning off the radio will cause a second bomb, attached to an innocent hostage, to explode.Should I turn off the radio?If I don’t, then that choice will cause the death of those in the schoolroom.If I do, then that choice will cause the death of the innocent hostage.Well?

  • Rodak says:

    <>Should I turn off the radio?<>The law of proportionality would suggest that, yes, you should turn off the radio. This would, however, only hold in the event that you are unable to contact Macgyver to come and defuse the second bomb.

  • zippy says:

    <>If (fully understanding the situation) I chose not to turn off the radio I would (as, for example, Veritatis Splendor explains) by my choice commit a definite moral evil, regardless of what goal I was trying to achieve.<>It is possible to commit moral evil by omission, through disproportion or intention, but it is not possible to commit <>intrinsic<> moral evil by omission. Positive duties (like the duty to turn off the radio in this case) always fall to prudence.Veritatis Splendour:<>In the case of the positive moral precepts, prudence always has the task of verifying that they apply in a specific situation, for example, in view of other duties which may be more important or urgent. But the 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. <>As for the other scenario, well, naturally you take on all 27 ninjas and get the girl.

  • Paul says:

    Zippy: <>It is possible to commit moral evil by omission, through disproportion or intention, but it is not possible to commit intrinsic moral evil by omission.<>So shooting a child in the head is committing an intrinsic evil, but standing by while one starves to death is not? I do not believe such a thing — perhaps you could demonstrate the basis for your statement?Going against your statement, the Church defines the intrinsic evil of euthanasia as “an action <><>or an omission<><> which of itself or by intention causes death, in order that all suffering may in this way be eliminated. Euthanasia’s terms of reference, therefore, are to be found in the intention of the will and in the methods used.” So it is quite clear that intrinsic evils can occur by omission as well as action.Zippy: <>As for the other scenario, well, naturally you take on all 27 ninjas and get the girl.<>You may well be seeing such scenarios in the future, so you probably want to come up with a response that better explains your position — the principle of double effect, as understood now for at least 500 years, has no trouble at all in analyzing the scenario.

  • zippy says:

    Paul:<>Intending<> the child’s death by starvation is intrinsically evil, of course — it is an intrinsically evil intention, which is to say it is formal cooperation with evil, not a specific act. If you read what you quoted to me carefully you can see that this is consistent with it.But when it comes to <>human acts<>, there is a fundamental difference between omission and commission, in that omission always falls to prudence, as <>Veritatis Splendour<> tells us in very clear language, because it is not always even possible, let alone prudent, to act in a particular manner.Again:<>In the case of the positive moral precepts, prudence always has the task of verifying that they apply in a specific situation, for example, in view of other duties which may be more important or urgent.<>Furthermore, this is not some invention of JPII’s. The distinction between acting and refraining from acting, the basic differences between them, has always been critical to understanding the moral law. This by no means provides a moral license to starve a child to death on purpose, which would indeed be intrinsically immoral euthanasia <>by intention<>. In Anscombe-speak, the reason killing-the-innocent behaviors qua killing-the-innocent behaviors are always and everywhere immoral, independent of any further intention for which the behavior is chosen, is because choosing a killing behavior necessarily entails an intention to kill.Your continued efforts to paint my understanding here as a personal novelty are simply wrong. Choosing as a behavior to indiscriminately blow the living bodies of a group of people to bits necessarily entails an intention to kill each and every one of those people, independent of the reasons why we choose to do it. People who think they can appeal to further intentions in order to justify such concrete behaviors under double-effect are wrong; that they are wrong is not an idiosyncratic opinion of mine but is consistent with the Magisterium (<>Veritatis Splendour<> in particular, but everything else as well), with Anscombe, and with Acquinas. Furthermore, counter-understandings which would justify such behaviors based on question-begging appeals to a double-effect analysis which does not apply to intrinsically immoral behaviors are <>not<> consistent with VS, etc.

  • Paul says:

    Zippy: <>Intending the child’s death by starvation is intrinsically evil, of course — it is an intrinsically evil intention…<>Yes, indeed.<>…which is to say it is formal cooperation with evil, not a specific act.<>That’s much less clear. Doing nothing, while not an act, <><>is<><> a behavior. And as VS explains: “..the negative moral precepts, those prohibiting certain concrete actions or kinds of <>behaviour<> as intrinsically evil, do not allow for any legitimate exception.” So that it is not just acts, but also behaviors which can be intrinsically evil. So that knowingly standing by and watching while someone starves to death is a behavior that is committing an intrinsic evil — just as EV defines.Zippy: <>This by no means provides a moral license to starve a child to death on purpose, which would indeed be intrinsically immoral euthanasia by <>intention<>.<>Let me point out again the Church’s definition of euthanasia, an intrinsic evil: “an action or an omission which <><>of itself or<><> by intention causes death, in order that all suffering may in this way be eliminated. Euthanasia’s terms of reference, therefore, are to be found in the intention of the will <><>and in the methods used<><>.”So, entirely apart from issues of intention, an omitted act can indeed be an intrinsic evil, just as a positive act can be.(Hence, my previous scenario still stands — would you see it as permissible to turn off the radio or not? And why?)Zippy: <>Choosing as a behavior to indiscriminately blow the living bodies of a group of people to bits necessarily entails an intention to kill each and every one of those people, independent of the reasons why we choose to do it.<>You dropped in the word indiscriminately there, which is sufficient variation on what you usually say that I might (depending on the precise details of a scenario) agree with you. Say there was a city with a terrorist in it who, given sufficient time, was going to blow up the entire city. Suppose all that was known about him was that he was over 6 feet tall. It would be an indiscriminate act (and an intrinsic evil) to kill everyone in the city over six feet tall, even in order to save the city.And merely claiming that Anscombe and Aquinas agree with you is no help: I’ve read them (along with many others from the past 500 years). You will have to provide the exact quotes from what they say, along with your interpretation.

  • zippy says:

    Paul:<>Doing nothing, while not an act, is a behavior.<>If “it” is completely independent of my existence, “it” is not my behavior. You are just digging in on an obviously irrational position. Positive obligations to act in a certain context are fundamentally different in nature from negative prohibitions which forbid certain concrete acts or kinds of behavior. This is very clear in <>Veritatis Splendour<>, is a long established understanding in the tradition of moral reasoning, and in any case is a manifest truth of reason.<>…an omitted act can indeed be an intrinsic evil, just as a positive act can be.<>Yes, it can be: by <>intention<>. If I omit feeding a person with the intention of killing her, that is intrinsically evil.<>You dropped in the word indiscriminately there, which is sufficient variation on what you usually say that I might (depending on the precise details of a scenario) agree with you.<>I think if you review the record you will find that “what I usually say” is not consistent with your characterization. It is the nature of a bomb for its use to be indiscriminate within the blast radius.

  • Paul says:

    Zippy: <>If “it” is completely independent of my existence, “it” is not my behavior.<>The word ‘behaviour’ is used in VS in an ordinary sense. E.g. if someone goes to a party but stands motionless in one spot, does not talk to anyone, and does not respond to questions, we would say: “What strange behaviour!”. The fact that the person is doing nothing specific does not stop it being accurately described as a behaviour. (One might additionally note that failing to act actually changes the relationship between that person and those around him — that relationship is positively changed by the lack of action.)Zippy: <>Positive obligations to act in a certain context are fundamentally different in nature from negative prohibitions<>I haven’t been talking about the positive precepts (e.g. “feed the hungry” or “bury the dead”), but about the negative precepts. A negative precept can be stated as (e.g.) “if you see your action will kill an innocent person, don’t do it”, but also as “if you see your inaction will kill an innocent person, don’t do that”.Zippy: <>If I omit feeding a person with the intention of killing her, that is intrinsically evil.<>Yes. <><>And<><> as I have pointed out twice previously, the Church explicitly defines the intrinsic evil of euthanasia in terms that go beyond intention, and also include omitted acts. So, entirely apart from issues of what the intention was, an omitted act can indeed be an intrinsic evil, just as a positive act can be.

  • William Luse says:

    <>Should I turn off the radio?<>No. Does that answer the question?

  • zippy says:

    Sorry, Paul, but repeating that the absence of behavior is behavior doesn’t make the absence of behavior into behavior.

  • Josh Miller says:

    Good post and conversation here, Zippy.It seems to me that what <>VS<> is saying here is that certain things are just plain intrinsically evil, as you point out, regardless of intention. That your quoted section comes as a direct indictment of Proportionalism is telling in this regard. If you’ll notice, the heading you quote is: ‘”Intrinsic evil”: it is not licit to do evil that good may come of it,'” which is basically a summary of the first rule for the application of double-effect: It must not be in itself an intrinsically evil action [bombing in general, in this case].But where I start to lose you is in the connection between <>VS<> and your objectors, who take it for granted that the above regarding the always-wrong is true. The principle of double-effect employed by your correspondents presupposes that some evil will most certainly result from the action: in fact, if some evil-in-itself (as referenced by <>VS<>) wasn’t taking place, we obviously couldn’t employ double-effect (which hinges upon intention) to begin with.I hope yours is a blessed Sunday.

  • zippy says:

    Thanks, Josh, and yours too.The validity of principle of double-effect hinges on the notion that it is possible to knowingly cause something to happen without intending it. It also hinges on the fact that there are certain behaviors the choice of which necessarily entails certain intentions; therefore choosing those behaviors is always wrong, since it is never morally licit to intend evil. That description is kind of a mixture of JPII-speak and Anscombe-speak, with emphasis on Anscombe. There are other ways to say it, but it is important to bear in mind that there is an underlying moral reality here – a deontology – and that the language used to describe that reality has its limits.Anyway, these are very difficult distinctions for modern people steeped in a materialist technological world (including myself) to grasp; so often I resort to concrete examples to illustrate them, rather than or in addition to trying to describe them abstractly. So for example I give an example of acts which knowingly cause the death of innocents without intending their deaths in the second paragraph of the post.<>Veritatis Splendour<> was issued precisely for the purpose of correcting the tendency toward over-use of double-effect to supposedly justify engaging in intrinsically immoral acts. Proportionalism, after all, is simply the principle of double-effect with the prerequisite requirement that the act mustn’t be evil in its object – that the chosen behavior must not be evil in itself – removed from the picture.

  • Paul says:

    Zippy: Veritatis Splendour<> was issued precisely for the purpose of correcting the tendency toward over-use of double-effect to supposedly justify engaging in intrinsically immoral acts. Proportionalism, after all, is simply the principle of double-effect with the prerequisite requirement that the act mustn’t be evil in its object – that the chosen behavior must not be evil in itself – removed from the picture.<>The second sentence here is entirely correct — proportionalism didn’t use the classic principle of double-effect, but radically changed it in the way you describe. VS condemned proportionalism at exactly the point where it differed from the classic principle, and hence left the classic principle completely untouched. (So Zippy’s first sentence can’t possibly be talking about the classic principle of double-effect.)Zippy: <>often I resort to concrete examples to illustrate them<>Your claims could be made much clearer to everybody if in fact you gave <>many more<> examples where classic double-effect has previously been used, and indicate where you agree or disagree with those conclusions. (For example, anesthesia, vaccination, or God’s creation of the world).

  • Mouse says:

    I am going to go back to the beginning for a moment. Zippy started with <> I think it is intrinsically immoral to deliberately blow up an indiscriminately mixed group of innocents and combatants with a bomb.<> Zippy, did you set up a straw man here to start? An <> indiscriminately mixed group <> of innocents and combatants is, of course, a morally charged term. What if it is a mixed group that is not indiscriminate? Or not readily discriminababable? Or discriminatable, but not to all, because not all have the data to work with? If you are bombing a military base, even in declared wartime, you are likely to get civilians – at least one or two. Is the mixing here indiscriminate, or can the opposing side say (justly) “well, they knew it is during war time, and they knew it is a military base, and they knew we have been talking about bombing such bases, so their presence there was probably in support of the war effort and, although they are not in uniform, they are not ‘innocent’.” The problem I see, if the the above is even partly admitted, is that the door is open to all SORTS of degrees of “innocence” versus “combatant” status. As a result, very often in war you cannot get a clear and definitive determination of when a group is mixed or not. I mean, a determination that all parties will be equally satisfied with the conclusion being accurate. If you are a bomber told by your officer to release the bomb because he (or someone higher in the chain) has made the determination that the mix only has “apparent” innocents and not true non-combatants, you have little choice but to obey. Because being under orders means, precisely, that you are subject to someone else’s prudential judgment of what is, or is not, the species of an act that could go either way depending on data that you might not be fully informed of.

  • Rodak says:

    Hmm. How does one address the concept “I was only following orders” without raising the specter of Nuremberg and invoking Godwin’s Law?

  • zippy says:

    Mouse,I am trying to be deliberately intransigent on the point of epistemic certainty here. Say that the case I am discussing has a terrorist and an infant (perhaps the terrorist’s own child) known with absolute certainty to both be within the blast radius of the bomb.I absolutely realize and agree that things get more difficult when we start discussing cases of epistemic uncertainty, where chains of command – and more importantly information – are involved, etc. What I’ve found is that I have a hard time getting a great many people to agree that it is intrinsically wrong to blow up the terrorist-and-infant even in a case of absolute certainty that that is precisely what I am choosing to do in dropping the bomb.Certainly things get more complex as we expand that to encompass other cases, especially cases where we have doubts about the facts of the matter. But if we can’t agree that the clear, unequivocal case is absolutely and without question intrinsically wrong, then we have no basis upon which to pursue a discussion of what applies in more difficult cases. As JPII tells us in <>VS<>, it is one thing to apply casuistry to cases where our knowledge of the circumstances as we act and the moral law is uncertain; it is another to be incapable of reaching or unwilling to reach assent in cases which are not so uncertain, where an action which violates an absolute moral norm is intrinsic to the behavior chosen, thereby calling into question the absolute categorical prohibition of certain actions or concrete behaviors as such under the moral law.So I’m not criticizing positions which raise doubts in cases where there are legitimate doubts about the fact of the matter: doubts about whether innocents are in fact present, or doubts about whether those known to be present within the known blast radius of the bomb are in fact engaged in attacking behaviors or behaviors which materially support the attacking behaviors of others. I fully acknowledge that such cases become difficult. On the other hand, we render ourselves incapable of making true judgments about such cases if we refuse to render a just judgment about a case where such doubts are not present. So I intentionally argue cases where we stipulate that there are no doubts about the presence of innocents within the known blast radius of the bomb. I do that because only those who can unequivocally judge such actions to be intrinsically wrong, independent of further intentions and circumstances, are capable of moving on to discuss more difficult cases. So I am not begging the question in how I have laid the groundwork of the scenario; rather, the groundwork of the scenario is such that it intentionally discriminates between the capacity to render a just judgment and the lack of that capacity. As (I like to think) usual, there is madness to my method. If we can agree that the kind of case in question is, without hesitation or qualification, intrinsically wrong, then we at least have the capacity to judge more difficult cases. When we prove ourselves in small and/or obvious matters, we become qualified to take on larger and more difficult things.

  • Mouse says:

    In your terrorist and child situation, the bomb is can be a potential for confusion – it causes damage far and wide, and that is difficult to assess (well, maybe). Suppose that the terrorist is holed up with just one access point, otherwise surrounded by 5 inches of steel. And in front of him, through that one access point, the child is protecting him. Is is moral for a sharpshooter to shoot through the child to hit the terrorist To make it even clearer – in case there are jesuits (small j) out there (in case someone says – well, what if the shot can go through the kid’s leg – that’s not likely to be fatal): Suppose the only shot the sharshooter has at the terrorist is through the kid’s head. I agree absolutely and 100 percent that if the death of the terrorist is to be accomplished solely by – through the means of – the death of the child, then killing the child to kill the terrorist is forbidden. But the philosophical problem, Zippy, is that it is not valid to say that the death of the child is the means to the death of the terrorist. The child’s <> body <> is physically in the way of achieving the hit on the terrorist. The shooter cannot achieve placing the bullet where it can do its “good” without sending the bullet through the child. But the death of the child is in no way causal to, or an improvement in, the effect of having the bullet hit the terrorist. To show this another way: suppose the shooter DOES have a shot, with some moderate chance of success, through the kid’s leg. Can he take it? If Zippy’s moral argument is completely sound, I don’t think so. For, if the child is innocent, intentionally putting a bullet through his leg and thus causing him damage is forbidden. It is immoral to do a wrong in order to achieve a good result, and there is no moral distinction in the “wrong” as to whether it be permanently damaging or repairable. If it is wrong to cause irreparable damage to the child because he is innocent, then it is wrong to intentionally cause repairable damage to him to achieve a good result. It may be LESS evil as an immoral act, but still immoral. But I don’t think most people will accept that this is the correct conclusion. I believe that most people (including those well up on the arguments of VS) will say it is acceptable to do an action that results in <> physical <> harm to the child in a moderate degree in order to achieve an overwhelmingly good result, as long as it is not the damage to the child which itself causes the good result that you desire. How then do we argue this? A surgeon can rightly (morally) and “intentionally” damage the muscle tissue by cutting it in order to get at the organ underneath and cure the patient. But the “intention” in cutting the muscle is to cut it not with the desire to destroy it, but to do the least amount of damage possible consistent with taking care of the organ hidden below. It is not really true that the proximate intention of the act of cutting is to cause damage to the muscle (for this intention would be an evil intent), but to <> get past the muscle <>. We must state the intention properly in order to see how it is not evil. (And, note, that in the case of an amputation of a limb for gangrene, the proximate intention includes permanent severing of the limb to save life.) When the shooter shoots through the kid’s leg, he intends to get past it by doing the least amount of damage he can do the kid consistent with getting at the terrorist. His intention is not to damage the leg, but to get past it. This intention is not evil, though the action itself causes damage. Of course, it is not possible, so far as I can see, to accept this description without also accepting that it could apply even when the shooter’s only shot is through the kid’s head. The damage the bullet causes is in fact irreparable (at this time) but that is not critically determinative to the moral argument. The amputation case shows that undertaking an action that causes permanent damage is not forbidden. So it is not that the damage is irreparable that Zippy objects to, it is the death itself.

  • zippy says:

    Mouse:The approach you are describing is indeed widespread; it is an approach which involves applying the principle of double-effect to a physicalist account of every act, independent of whether the specific behavior chosen is evil in itself. So for example under this understanding it is morally licit (or at least is not <>intrinsically<> immoral) to use a condom during sex with one’s spouse if the intended end (of using the condom) is to prevent the transmission of HIV, rather than to prevent the transmission of sperm. Preventing the transmission of sperm is not (on a physicalist account) a <>cause<> of any of the things I <>want<> out of my act, so therefore my act is not intrinsically immoral.It seems very obvious to me that this is question-begging, because it assumes the very thing which needs to be established – that the act is not intrinsically immoral – and then goes on to conclude, from a physicalist application of the principle of double effect, that the act is not intrinsically immoral. So that whole approach, while (I acknowledge) rather popular among moral theologians, will not fly. At all. As <>VS<> tells us, we have to reject any theory which does not permit us to conclude that certain chosen behaviors or concrete acts are always wrong <>independent of the intention for which the act was chosen<>. If I have to know that the concrete act was chosen to prevent HIV transmission not sperm, then I cannot conclude that choosing the concrete behavior is wrong without reference to the intention for which it was chosen. So that whole theory, that whole approach, is out.(That doesn’t make my own approach necessarily right, mind you; but <>that<> approach is definitely and without question absolutely wrong).Amputations and such don’t strike me as very difficult cases. The purpose of the limb is the life of the person; if the limb has to be removed or damaged to save the life of the person – including shooting part of her body which in some manner has put her life in jeaopardy – I don’t think there is even a need to appeal to double-effect. On a physicalist understanding to a modern person it might be puzzling, I suppose, in a similar manner to which the deontological difference between a hooker and a wife is puzzling. But I’ve already rejected physicalist accounts (as VS instructs me to do) before I even start the conversation.

  • zippy says:

    Mouse (and others):I’ve gone into more detail in my criticism of the physicalist/causal account (at least that is the label I’m using for it at present; that may not be the best label, and I welcome other suggestions) of intrinsic evil in a < HREF="https://zippycatholic.wordpress.com/2009/01/rejecting-physicalistcausal-account-of.html" REL="nofollow">new post<>.

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