Rejecting the Physicalist/Causal Account of Intrinsic Evil

January 20, 2009 § 44 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.

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§ 44 Responses to Rejecting the Physicalist/Causal Account of Intrinsic Evil

  • love the girls says:

    “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.”While an act can be objectively evil, the end is not separable from the act as morally evil choice because the end determine there reason for the act. Thus the judge intends the health of the state while sending the convict to his death, while the murderer intend the death of the innocent. Both acts include an objective evil, i.e. killing of a man, but only the latter is a morally evil choice because its end is an evil end.

  • love the girls says:

    yikes, rewritting my first sentence because its even less coherent than usual. While an act can be objectively evil, the end is not separable from the act as morally evil choice because the end determines the reason for the act.

  • zippy says:

    <>…the end is not separable from the act as morally evil choice because the end determines the reason for the act.<>The Magisterium has expressly rejected that understanding. The choice of some behaviors – <>intrinsically<> immoral acts – can be qualified as morally evil apart from the intention for which the behavior was chosen. Any moral theory which rejects this is false, condemned by <>Veritatis Splendour<>.

  • Mouse says:

    I agree with Zippy that it must be possible to designate an act as intrinsically evil before one gets to the point of asking whether its result is directly intended, or whether its result in itself causal in the ultimate goal. But I disagree with his application of this truth to the issue of causing physical harm and deaths. At root, the problem lies in how one defines a given human act. You cannot say broadly and indiscriminately that causing a death is intrinsically evil, because there are many cases of causing death that are moral. Most directly: the executioner following correct procedure in putting to death a rightly convicted murderer. But there are other cases as well. Of course, Zippy was careful to add the factor that there are <> innocent <> people that could be killed. He has no problem with the morality of intentionally killing a convicted murder – at least as being a not intrinsically evil act. But the fact that a person has not been convicted of a capital crime does not mean we can never, ever subject him to harm even to the point of death. When a soldier attacks the enemy’s soldiers, he has no particular reason to believe that those soldiers are guilty of crimes. Presumably (for a just war), our good soldier thinks that the enemy STATE is wrongly at war, but there is no valid argument from saying that the enemy’s leaders are in the wrong to concluding that these enemy soldiers before me right now are actually guilty of crimes punishable by death, and convicted of such. The reason our good soldier can shoot them is not on account of their personal guilt, but to stop them from overcoming our country – for the safety of his own state. And, in fact, the good soldier’s actual intent is not the DEATH of his targets, but to incapacitate them from any attack. It just so happens that the only realistic method available is one which is likely to cause the death of many such targeted enemy soldiers. These deaths are NOT intended explicitly. That they will probably happen is known beforehand but not actually part of the intent. Likewise for the policeman shooting at an armed robbery scene: His moral right to shoot is not dependent on having a convicted felon whose execution has been ordered. It is, rather, that public safety calls for the use of force to stop the violence, and the most effective way of applying that force is by a bullet shot from behind a shield. The death of a guilty party is not the intent: incapacitating an apparently violent criminal is, and the death is incidental to the intent. If the policeman shoots and kills the criminal, the death is foreseen but not intended. If the policeman shoots Joe the homeowner who had a gun because he too was also trying to shoot the armed robber, the policeman has not thereby done something immoral – because it is not the GUILT as such that establishes the right to subject the criminal to harm, it is the appearance of presenting immediate further harm to the public. So, in these 2 cases death is not the actual intent of the act which might end up causing the death. The human act properly designated is not “killing a person” but rather “shooting a person to incapacitate them”. Guilt is not a necessary pre-condition of morally choosing to incapacitate them. It is all about defining the act. If you define the act as the intentional killing of an innocent person, then of course the act is intrinsically evil. But you must be sure that the human act is properly defined that way. If a son kills a father (by cutting him with a knife) to get his inheritance, it is clear that the act IS correctly defined as causing the death, because the death is precisely what is intended as an intermediate step needed for the final step. If the exact same physical death happens, but was instead caused by a different son, a surgeon, trying to save life, it is NOT correct to define the human act as killing the father. It is impossible to define the act AS HUMAN ACT without looking to the acting person. I am not being a physicalist, or materialist, to focus on correctly defining the act. This is inherently necessary to all moral evaluation. The philosophical problem is that causing physical damage is not <> of itself <> the sort of thing that can be classed as intrinsically evil. So to call an act intrinsically evil one must of necessity refer the act to something distinct from the mere fact that physical damage is involved. How is it that you are sure that this additional aspect of the act is truly a defining part of the act as a human act? Zippy, how do YOU define the human act which occurs when the sharpshooter shoots through the kid’s leg to take down the terrorist?

  • zippy says:

    Mouse:I use the term “innocent” in the same way that Anscombe uses it. In fact we can define it very, very conservatively without changing my fundamental point about bombs and innocents. That is, we can say that every person who ever has or presently is engaged in any deliberate attacking behavior or any deliberate material support of any attacking behavior is not innocent in the pertinent sense. That is why I posit an infant as the innocent in my scenario — to remove every conceivable objection to the designation of the innocent in the scenario as innocent. It is true that leaves open many sub-categories of “not innocent”, but I’ve designed my scenario to sidestep that concern. We all ought to be able to agree without reservation that an infant is innocent in the morally pertinent sense.I don’t think it is true that soldiers never <>intend<> to kill enemy soldiers. It is true that in some circumstances disabling an enemy is better than killing him, that is, killing is in some cases disproportionate. But “I deliberately blew him to smithereens, yet I didn’t intend to kill him” is just the sort of gibberish that gives some kinds of casuistry a justifiedly bad name. I think soldiers <>do<> intend to kill other soldiers in war, and that that can be morally licit. Aquinas proposes that an individual may not deliberately intend to kill, even in self-defense, on his own behalf; but that an agent of the State <>can<> intend this on behalf of the State and the common good, when the person is an aggressor. JPII cites Aquinas in <>Veritatis Splendour<>, and I expect he was at least marginally familiar with the <>Summa<>. But whatever the case more generally it must be admitted that a specific situation where we have an infant, thus <>innocent<>, and the behavior of blowing her to bits with a bomb, thus <>killing is intrinsic to the behavior chosen<>, that there is no real room for argument.As for the rest, again, following the lead of JPII, I don’t view it as valid to use casuistry to cast doubt upon the validity of an absolute moral prohibition. In short, it is most definitely <>not<> about “defining the act”, as if using the appropriate words can remake a specific choice of behavior from one thing into another thing. Language is not reality, and the existence of puzzling cases does not call into question the moral status of clear cases.

  • zippy says:

    I can render an opinion on the shoot-through-the-hostage thing; though again, the ambiguity and arguability of <>that<> case does not in any way cast any doubt on the other case.Suppose the hostage’s leg is what is keeping her standing in the line of fire as a human shield. Thus her leg itself is putting her in mortal danger. I think it is in that case licit to shoot the hostage’s leg to save her life, not under double effect but simply because her leg is subordinate to her life as an object with a telos. On the other hand, if the notion is to shoot through her leg to get to the terrorist, that is, shooting through her leg does not stop her leg from being a threat to her own life, then I am inclined to say that shooting through her leg (I would say “as a means to the end of reaching the terrorist with the bullet”) is illicit. If the action taken on her leg is something which saves her own life from a threat in part imposed by her own leg, then I think the act is licit. If not, not. But this isn’t a question of double-effect at all, but rather is a question of the threat to her own life posed by her own leg; just as if it were caught in a rising tide and needed to be amputated to free her from that mortal danger. Mutilation — the destruction of a part of the body which is not a threat to the person’s life – is always wrong. But in a case where a particular part of the body <>is<> a threat to the person’s life, destroying or harming it is not mutilation in the pertinent sense.Now, I answered that question, tentatively, in a way which I fully acknowledge to be more arguable and perhaps controversial than the other case, so that I won’t be falsely accused of avoiding a pertinent question. But again I also object to the very premise that the question is pertinent. It isn’t. Casuistry in difficult and complex cases must not be taken to cast doubt on more clear cases.<>Although [faithful Catholic moral tradition] did witness the development of a casuistry which tried to assess the best ways to achieve the good in certain concrete situations, it is nonetheless true that this casuistry concerned only cases in which the law was uncertain, and thus the absolute validity of negative moral precepts, which oblige without exception, was not called into question.<> — <>VS<>

  • Just for the record. The situation you describe in this post appears to me as a subset of Rahner’s “fundamental option”. ¿no?

  • Tom says:

    <>How is it that you are sure that this additional aspect of the act is truly a defining part of the act as a human act?<>What makes an act a human act is that it is chosen or willed by a human. To be a bit tautological about it, the thing that I am actively trying to do is what defines my act.In the parricide example, in one case the son is actively trying to kill his father, in the other case he is actively trying to save his father. The object of the first act, the thing for which the son is acting, is his father’s death (not his inheritance!); the object of the second act is his father’s recovery.

  • zippy says:

    Embajador: I do think that what I am calling the physicalist/causal account of intrinsic evil is a kind of fundamental option theory, though it is constrained by a physically causal account referred to the intention for which the behavior is chosen. But whether or not that is a good way to categorize the theory, it remains the case that the theory always depends on making reference to the intention for which the specific action is chosen in order to specify the moral quality of the act. So whatever we want to call it, it is a <>kind of theory<> expressly rejected and ruled out by <>Veritatis Splendour<>.Tom:<>The object of the first act, the thing for which the son is acting, is his father’s death (not his inheritance!); the object of the second act is his father’s recovery.<>To rephrase this in a way which may be more resistant to some (of what I believe to be) errors or confusions which tend to arise in these kinds of discussions, I would say that in the first case the behavior chosen is a killing behavior; in the second the behavior chosen is a saving behavior. Failing to kill in the first case would clearly be an accident; failing to save in the second would clearly be an accident; and this is built into the concrete behaviors the two sons are choosing.The patricide/surgeon case is really much more straightforward than either the shoot-the-hostage or the bomb case. In the bomb case, if things go according to plan the bomb blows the innocents to bits (along with the combatants). In the surgeon case, if things go according to plan the father lives and nobody dies.

  • Anonymous says:

    “The means are as importnat as the end, if not more” – M K Gandhi Gandhi too manage to figure out the fact that the use of one’s end as the justification of one’s means always lead to great evil…Some deeds are indeed evil by themselves..and I submit that the only real honorable and just measure of one’s action is to consider the objective good or evil actually emanating from one’s choice of means more seriously than the intended goodness of one’s ends…For the way to hell is paved with intentions too good to be true…

  • Mouse says:

    <> That is why I posit an infant as the innocent in my scenario <> Fine. I can live with an infant as the shield the terrorist is using to protect himself. No philosophical issues there.<> I don’t think it is true that soldiers never intend to kill enemy soldiers. It is true that in some circumstances disabling an enemy is better than killing him, that is, killing is in some cases disproportionate. <> I agree – most soldiers, in most wars, intent explicitly to kill, as such. But that is because most soldiers in most wars are doing evil acts. I was trying to refer to a good soldier acting in a just war, and trying to remain moral in his efforts to help win the war. In general, the Church has generically forbidden excessive methods of warfare, but using guns to shoot at the enemy is NOT one of them. But using guns usually kills the target. I take it that the Church does not think that using a means which pretty regularly kills the target, when the moral category of action is to incapacitate, is an inherent moral problem. I don’t remember any passage from St. Thomas saying it is OK to intend to kill enemy soldiers, can you dig up the citation? But it is not the case that the willingness to use a high level of force (such as to be likely to cause death) depends specifically on the target be guilty of aggression – it is enough that there be the <> appearance <> of his being a danger to society. The police can shoot a known insane person who is an imminent danger to others – because of the appearance of danger, not because of the guilt of aggression. <> I think it is in that case licit to shoot the hostage’s leg to save her life, not under double effect but simply because her leg is subordinate to her life as an object with a telos. <> Perhaps this is the most important passage you have written so far, Zippy. What you call not a double effect matter is <> precisely <> a double effect situation as most of us describe it. The act engaged in, if described as shooting through the leg, is not inherently sinful. But it is a causing of harm to the body all the same. It is not like the leg it its actual state (of having no bullet hole) is going to kill the girl if nobody does anything to her. On the other hand, the act described as “saving a life” is in reality a poor sort of identifier for the act, since it does not really <> specify <> the act in its particular character. I mean, jumping in front of a bullet meant for the President is also “saving a life” but is an extremely <> different <> sort of moral act altogether. So if you want to actually specify the act properly, you have to say more than saving a life, and you cannot claim the leg is an impediment to health as such. <> I don’t view it as valid to use casuistry to cast doubt upon the validity of an absolute moral prohibition. <> If your “absolute moral prohibition” is based on an equivocation in the moral meaning of the verb “to kill” then pointing out the different senses will, to you, look like casuistry. To those who are used to the methods of the Scholastics like St. Thomas, calling distinctions “casuistry” seems a lot like name-slinging. But it is NOT casuistry at all to argue, by example, that your use of the concepts would ALSO put you in a difficult corner with situations we feel more confident about, because in logic a single counter-example to a thesis disproves the whole thesis. We feel more confident saying it is OK to shoot through the girl’s leg to get the terrorist. Your analysis of this as being not “double-effect” because you are saving her life appears at least as much “casuistry” as my distinction, if not more. Saving a life with harming a part of the body is a classical example of double-effect principles. Your correct comment about the the girl being an object with telos points to the basis for WHY the principles of double-effect are valid and necessary, not a kind of basis for something having nothing to do with double-effect. Can you at least agree to this much: saying (A) that the first son <> killed his father <> when he wanted to get his inheritance, and saying (B) that the second son “killed his father” while cutting him open in an unsuccessful attempt to save his life, is using the phrase “killed his father” in morally equivocal senses? We all agree that used in the first sense, killing an innocent person is absolutely forbidden. Do I at least have that much right?

  • zippy says:

    <>I agree – most soldiers, in most wars, intent explicitly to kill, as such. But that is because most soldiers in most wars are doing evil acts.<>Let me clarify: I think most soldiers in most wars, even including justly acting soldiers in a just war, intend to kill enemy soldiers. It is not evil for legitimate agents of the competent authority to intend to kill enemy combatants on behalf of the common good (see Aquinas already cited).<>Saving a life with harming a part of the body is a classical example of double-effect principles.<>Removing a gangrenous limb does not require invocation of double-effect. The gangrenous limb is not a healthy limb, in much the same way that a hooker is not a man’s wife.Mind you, I think you are still barking up the wrong tree and that throwing other cases at the problem willy nilly in no way addresses <>this specific kind<> of case, precisely because the attempt is to abstract from the concrete case, apply the abstraction to other cases where the same concrete facts do not obtain, treat those other cases as a <>reductio<>, and back-fill the putative reductio into the present case. I reject the whole methodology as fundamentally flawed, and <>VS<> at the very least drops a significant hint that the methodology is fundamentally flawed.

  • Tom says:

    On Aquinas and killing in war, see < HREF="http://www.newadvent.org/summa/3064.htm#article3" REL="nofollow">ST II-II 64, 3, ad 1<>: “a soldier slays the foe by the authority of his sovereign, and the executioner slays the robber by the authority of the judge.”

  • William Luse says:

    I should mention what a fine analysis this is. Anscombe would be proud.

  • Rodak says:

    And if his sovereign is Hitler, or his commander is Donald Rumsfeld, and his orders are to murder, or to torture, is our soldier exempt from culpability–a morally immune Good German–or must he, regardless of being under orders, evaluate the morality of the proposed act and decided, himself, whether or not to commit that act? Does being under authority ever really matter? Doesn’t the agent always need to both evaluate the goodness of the authority and every order coming down from that authority, before acting? And, if not, isn’t one better off morally as a puppet or a slave, than he is as a free agent?

  • zippy says:

    <>…or must he, regardless of being under orders, evaluate the morality of the proposed act and decided, himself, whether or not to commit that act?<>Always. Acting on behalf of the competent authority is a <>necessary<> condition for a just act of deliberately killing an attacker/criminal; not a <>sufficient<> condition.

  • Rodak says:

    But, isn’t it always a necessary condition that the final authority be oneself? Or can one stand before the Throne of Judgment and plead, “How was I to know that Rumsfeld was an evil bastard? He was my boss, and I trusted him!”

  • Tom says:

    The claim isn’t that certain acts are always permissible if you have the authority, but that they are always impermissible if you don’t. Authority is necessary but not sufficient.Looking at a less-charged example, the authority of making treaties with foreign countries on behalf of your own rests in the government. Private citizens cannot go off and do it on their own. But even the ones delegated to make the treaty cannot morally put whatever they feel like in the treaty, since treaties are intended to serve the common good.

  • Rodak says:

    My point is simply that one always has to take moral responsibility for what one does in the end, whether it has been authorized, or not. So an appeal to authority after the fact may work on the legal level, but it’s always irrelevant on the moral level.

  • zippy says:

    <>So an appeal to authority after the fact may work on the legal level, but it’s always irrelevant on the moral level.<>No, it is not irrelevant; because <>absent<> that authority the act is definitely wrong, whatever else obtains.

  • Rodak says:

    <>absent that authority the act is definitely wrong, whatever else obtains.<>That is, I assume, it was “definitely wrong” in the case that it turned out to have been intrinsically evil? But, if it was intrinsically evil, then the agent was in the wrong whether he had been authorized to commit the act, or not. So, again, he needed to make that decision independently, after taking the word of authority under consideration, presumably.Authority can never, however, take the moral agent “off the hook.” Authority can <>remind<> the agent of that which is patently right, or wrong; authority can <>give an opinion<> on what is probably right, or wrong, given a set of circumstances; but authority can’t <>sanction<> a risky (or imprudent, if you prefer) moral act, so as to relieve the agent of his personal responsibility for taking that action (e.g. bombing a human dwelling) if it turns out badly.It therefore seems to me that, while authority may or may not be helpful in determining the morality of an act, that the only thing authority is truly <>necessary<> for in connection with the act, is giving the order to act. Following that, the moral agent is essentially on his own.

  • zippy says:

    <>But, if it was intrinsically evil, then the agent was in the wrong whether he had been authorized to commit the act, or not. So, again, he needed to make that decision independently, after taking the word of authority under consideration, presumably.Authority can never, however, take the moral agent “off the hook.”<>This is very confused. Killing the guilty is something which is only morally licit when done on behalf of authority: the competent authority and only the competent is capable of doing it justly, though by no means is guaranteed to be doing it justly in a particular instance; just as a husband and only a husband is capable of justly having sexual relations with his wife.This business about “letting people off the hook” badly distorts the truth of the matter. A man who has sexual relations with his wife is not otherwise guilty of fornication but then “let off the hook” by the fact that this woman happens to be his wife. To state things in that manner is to reveal a completely wrongheaded view of the underlying deontological reality. Rather the husband’s act is fully good and justified, assuming other factors obtain, e.g. that his wife is not ill, that she is willing, that they have not modified their act into an inherently fertility-blocking act, etc. Similarly, a soldier who kills an attacker is not “let off the hook” from what would otherwise be an act of murder. His act, unlike the act of a person acting on his own behalf, is fully justified, assuming other criteria are met.

  • Rodak says:

    I’m not at all confused. If war could be limited to acts of clear self-defense, or even to punishment of the guilty parties for previous wrongs committed against one’s country or countrymen, then your reasoning would cover the whole shebang.Unfortunately, however, war is not so limited. And, in fact, it is demonstrably true that, even with the “good” side supposedly being careful not to harm the innocent, the innocent are killed and maimed in large numbers, due to the nature of the weapons being used, combined with the nature of asymmetrical warfare; that being pretty much the only kind of war being waged in the world today. All of that said, the man who drops the bomb on the human dwelling, hoping to kill combatants, has been ordered to do so by the authority whose will he is carrying out. If, however, he is a religious man, there is another Authority to which he must answer. He is caught on the horns of a real dilemma, to my way of thinking.

  • zippy says:

    It is demonstrably true that, even with the good guys trying very hard not to harm the innocent, tens of thousands of people will be killed each year on the freeway. Once more around the racetrack of conflating <>accident<> with <>on purpose<>.I think you’d have a much better case if you argued that it is possible to fight a just war but that <>in fact<> the rules of engagement of actual parties in actual wars right now are unjust rules of engagement. (Part of the reason I think you’d have a much better case is because I think it might actually be <>true<>).

  • Rodak says:

    I still don't buy the highway analogy. But that is only because I don't believe that civilian deaths in urban bombing are “accidental.” I believe that they are completely foreseeable (when not deliberate, as they often, perhaps usually, are, in fact) and simply accommodated under the heading “War Is Hell (Stop Whining & Deal With It”).As for Just War–it's great in theory. But, in actual practice, even the purportedly Just Wars of antiquity routinely took devastating tolls on non-combatant populations, usually as a matter of course (see, <>pillage, rape and<>). To me, that tends to somewhat compromise the justness of the enterprise.So, sure–one can argue the theoretical possibility of a war in which the “good” side does morally pristine battle only. But the argument is about as far as it goes in the harsh light of reality.Better, then, we should outlaw war beyond protecting our shores, unilaterally disarm to the extent of ungarrisoning the globe, and see what happens.

  • zippy says:

    <>But that is only because I don’t believe that civilian deaths in urban [why only urban?] bombing are [ever even in principle?] “accidental.”<>Right. You stamp your feet and refuse to distinguish between accident and on-purpose, much to the detriment of your argument.

  • Rodak says:

    The statistics support my argument. As do the news reports from war zones. And I’m not stamping my feet. I’m quite calm.Why urban? Because bombs are most effectively used to blast “bad guys” out of cities.

  • Josh Miller says:

    <>Saving a life with harming a part of the body is a classical example of double-effect principles.<>Zippy responds: Removing a gangrenous limb does not require invocation of double-effect. The gangrenous limb is not a healthy limb, in much the same way that a hooker is not a man’s wife.Actually, your correspondent is correct in that this is an application of d-e. This is in fact mentioned in my medical ethics textbook I used for a class. Basically, you begin with the fact that it is wrong to knowingly amputate a part of the body (bad effect), yet intend to save the body as a whole (good effect).

  • Rodak says:

    As for the news reports and the statistics to which I refer above, I woke up to this typical example this morning. While I have been extolling “boots on the ground” over bombing as the best way to protect against non-combatant casualties, it would seem that < HREF="http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090125/ap_on_re_as/as_afghanistan" REL="nofollow">even<> this is not fool-proof, and not so even with elite troops involved in an operation.War is not the answer.

  • zippy says:

    Josh:In some cases, medical amputations may fall under the PDE. They do not <>always and in every case<> fall under the PDE, in particular when the amputated part is so diseased as to no longer be what it was before. Removing a tumor, for example, is different from removing a healthy limb. That textbooks express things in a certain way doesn’t imply that there is no deeper and more subtle understanding than the Cliff notes.And in any event, as my subsequent post discusses in more detail, throwing other, different cases at the problem does not in any way cast any doubt whatsoever on the bombing case.

  • Tom says:

    <>Basically, you begin with the fact that it is wrong to knowingly amputate a part of the body (bad effect)<>No!!!It is <>not<> “wrong to knowingly amputate a part of the body”! If it were, then it is wrong to knowingly amputate a part of the body, whether or not you have a reason. You may not do evil that good may result.What is wrong is to amputate without just cause, because amputation is a kind of physical evil and you cannot inflict physical evil without just cause.

  • William Luse says:

    I think Tom’s right. For PDE to apply, removing the limb would have to result in two effects, one good, one bad. The bad effect cannot be that the limb is removed. That would be like saying that “dropping the bomb” is the bad effect, when it is in fact the certain and willed deaths of innocents. The bad effect in the limb case would have to be that the patient might die, that is, that by removing it you might kill him before the gangrene does. That is the point at which a prudential use of PDE would kick in.

  • Anonymous says:

    Zippy:Curious, are you planning to submit a response, be it on your blog or his or even both, to two recent posts put up by Jonathan at his website which specifically concerns this very topic?< HREF="http://crimsoncatholic.blogspot.com/2009/01/simple-misunderstanding.html#comments" REL="nofollow">A Simple Misunderstanding<>< HREF="http://crimsoncatholic.blogspot.com/2009/01/physicocausal-account-of-double-effect.html#comments" REL="nofollow">A Physicocausal Account of Double Effect<>

  • zippy says:

    Thanks for bringing it to my attention. The main objection seems to be that if we reject the kind of account that I think VS requires us to reject, we won’t be able to make sense of theft as intrinsically immoral. I don’t see why. Fornication is also predicated on an objective relation, that between a man and his wife. The spousal relation cannot be severed, whereas the property relation can, of course; but that doesn’t imply that we need a physicalist-causal account of a particular theft in order to judge it to be theft. (That a physicalist-causal account is possible and coherent does not mean that it is necessary).

  • zippy says:

    To clarify the previous comment about theft, now that I am back at a real keyboard: it is not theft if the ownership relation has been severed. Ownership relations can be severed by various conditions and occurrences. Thus acts of theft – of taking an object from an owner against his permission – can be qualified as intrinsically immoral apart form any reference to the intention for which the action is chosen. It is not the intentions of the taker, but rather is objective conditions, which determine the validity of the owner-property relation.Taking a thing when the ownership relation has been severed is like marrying a widow. Again, it is objective matters of fact, not the acting subject’s intentions at all (beyond the choice to act, that is, to engage in that behavior), which are morally dispositive.Another thing to keep in mind is that I am not claiming to give a comprehensive account of intrinsic evil; I am merely rejecting a particular kind of account of intrinsic evil as inconsistent with <>VS<> (that is, as being the kind of account which VS tells us to reject).It seems to me that playing with ‘causal proximity plus intention’ like a slide rule allows one to make the ‘object’ of the act into pretty much whatever one arbitrarily chooses, leaving the rest as ‘effects’ which can be considered under double-effect. I didn’t choose to kill him, I just chose to pull the trigger, etc. That is just the kind of casuistry that rightly gets a bad name. Against that understanding I assert that the object of the act is the behavior chosen, with respect to a set of objective facts, independent of why one chooses that behavior. I think <>VS<> is very clear about this, and that it takes a very strained reading to propose otherwise.

  • e. says:

    Zippy,Allow me to put the case of a homeless family and, more specifically, a mother who has to feed an already starved child that is sick and in dire need of nutrition.In such a case, are you suggesting that if the mother were to take food (be it a morsel or even whole) from another person or group without subsequent permission, that she, regardless of her intention to save the child in an attempt to foster it back to health by attending to that child’s urgent needs that is currently dictated by the precarious nature of the predicament, would have, in effect, committed an intrinsic evil?

  • zippy says:

    No. Again, an ownership relation is just not the kind of thing that this assumes it to be.I’ve been < HREF="https://zippycatholic.wordpress.com/2005/05/property-propriety.html" REL="nofollow">saying for years<> that modern people have a < HREF="http://www.whatswrongwiththeworld.net/2007/05/property_and_selfmutilation_1.html" REL="nofollow">damaged conception of what is meant by property<>, and the notion that there is even a conundrum here is I think a manifestation of that. Property is a form of authority over other people. Authority over other people is a capacity to juridically impose moral obligations on other people. A fat and happy owner of a loaf of bread does not have juridical authority to impose a moral obligation on the homeless mother to let her child starve as opposed to giving him the bread. This is an objective limit on the authority conferred by the relation between property and owner; it has nothing to do with justifying theft based on intentions or circumstances. “Theft” is a species of disobeying a juridical authority over some object (the “property”); and that juridical authority has limits. “Disobeying” that authority outside of its due limits is not disobeying that authority.

  • e. says:

    “‘Theft’ is a species of disobeying a juridical authority over some object (the “property”); and that juridical authority has limits. “Disobeying” that authority outside of its due limits is not disobeying that authority.”Excellent formulation, Zippy.I was just about to ask your thoughts on <>praemunire<>.

  • zippy says:

    <>I was just about to ask your thoughts on praemunire.<>I’ve never thought much about the particular question, so I guess all I would do is observe that <>every<> juridical authority possessed by an individual or by the public authority has due limits. Again, the <>nature<> of a juridical authority – of which a property right or ownership relation is a particular kind – is a capacity to impose genuine moral obligations on others; and clearly the scope in which that authority is binding and in fact imposes a moral obligation is limited. This is the objective nature of the kind of thing upon which we are acting, independent of anyone’s intentions.The bottom line is that I think long-standing confusion over theft as an intrinsically immoral act stems from a misunderstanding of the nature of the species <>property<> specifically and the genus <>juridical authority<> generally.

  • Anonymous says:

    Zippy,Jonathan has resonded to your reply as follows:< HREF="http://crimsoncatholic.blogspot.com/2009/01/simple-misunderstanding.html#comments" REL="nofollow">“Unfortunately, I don’t really have anything to say beyond what I have already said. There is no compromise or dialogue amenable between the positions; they are incommensurable. One of us is wrong, and people have to judge which. The only objection I would make is that I haven’t offered a physicocausal account of theft. What I said is exactly the opposite, namely, that one cannot possibly give an account of theft irrespective of remote intention or circumstances, unless remote intention and circumstances is defined as I would require. But if remote intention and circumstances is defined as I would have them, then Zippy’s account is wrong.”<>By the way, is there any chance you might consider possibly reinstating Jonathan’s posting privileges?I’m sure that would be a far more welcome activity than my serving as intermediary.

  • zippy says:

    <>…one cannot possibly give an account of theft irrespective of remote intention …<>I understand that that is what he said. I disproved that conclusively by actually giving such an account of theft < HREF="https://zippycatholic.wordpress.com/2009/01/non-physicalistcausal-account-of-theft.html" REL="nofollow">in this post<>.As for restoring posting privileges, the conditions under which that could occur were established at the time of their revocation: complete, unequivocal, and public retraction of what got them revoked in the first place.

  • Anonymous says:

    Zippy,Jonathan had already posted an explicitly conciliatory message on his blog concerning the matter, in which the same reads:< HREF="http://crimsoncatholic.blogspot.com/2009/01/simple-misunderstanding.html#c3700927403897740393" REL="nofollow">“I have already apologized to Zippy and retracted any statements that have offense to him, intentional or unintentional. I bear no ill will toward him, and I never have.”<>I hope you’ll perform a similar act of conciliation in kind and reinstate his posting privileges.As to the post you deferred to in your latest comment in connection to this topic, Jonathan replied, “That was exactly the sort of post that I consider unhelpful. Framing the matter as one of authority rather than the owner’s reasonable will is immaterial to the point I was making. That may be a perfectly good discussion to have, but it has nothing to do with my point, which was that the owner’s legitimate authority to exercise his will over the property depends on the remote use for which the taking of the object is performed.”

  • zippy says:

    If that is what he said, then he is just being evasive and stubborn, in just the manner I expect Harvard lawyers to be evasive and stubborn, which is why I tend to avoid having pointless discussions with them. He rested his entire criticism on the premise that it is impossible to qualify an act as theft other than by making reference to the specific intention for which the acting subject steals. I provided an account of theft which does not make or require any such reference (in short, that the juridical authority of ownership does not extend to preventing a starving man from eating a loaf of bread), thereby proving his criticism completely unfounded. Stamping the feet in response to that counterexample isn’t an argument.That doesn’t – as I’ve said any number of times – imply that my particular account of this or that intrinsically immoral act is right, of course. It just conclusively proves that that criticism – the “what about theft?” criticism – is unfounded.As for the other matter, it isn’t a question of apology or ill will but of explicit and public retraction of specific false claims in the thread which resulted in my own juridical action: false claims that I assert <>this<> and assert <>that<> when in fact I do no such thing. Perhaps ironically, but not surprisingly, once again intentions and dispositions and such are being confused with objective acts.And with that, I am closing further comment in this thread.

  • […] a good end. It further follows that we can’t start with the principle of double effect and reason our way backward from the good end to conclude that the chosen means is not […]

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