Might makes right

March 30, 2010 § 33 Comments

One of the more difficult elements of the just war doctrine is the requirement that the country defending itself must actually have the power to defend itself in order for the decision to wage war to be just.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church:

2309 The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time:

– the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;

– all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;

there must be serious prospects of success;

– the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.

These are the traditional elements enumerated in what is called the “just war” doctrine.

The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good.

(Emphasis mine).

Of course this means “might makes right” only as a necessary condition for a just war, not a sufficient condition. All of the other conditions must also be satisfied. But it is perhaps important to make it explicit that, contrary to modern egalitarian and democratic sensibilities, one of the requirements for justified remote material cooperation with evil is that the person doing it must be powerful enough to actually achieve the intended good end.

Put differently, we can’t justify our acts of remote material cooperation with evil by appealing to outcomes we are powerless to bring about.

Circumstantial Causes

March 26, 2010 § 24 Comments

There is a ridiculous objection which often comes up when discussing voting or other sorites-building contests like the rocket race in the last post.

The objection goes something like this:

If we accept that our own personal act of voting has negligible influence over the outcome of the contest it must follow that the outcome of the contest has no cause, since everyone’s individual vote has negligible influence over the outcome. Obviously the outcome has a cause; therefore our individual vote has non-negligible influence over the outcome.

A moment’s reflection reveals the silliness of this objection.

The outcome of the contest is caused by all of the votes taken together. These votes are separated into two categories. All but one of the votes are votes cast by other people, not you. Therefore they form part of the circumstances of your vote. The remaining vote is, of course, your vote itself.

The outcome of the contest is determined by your action in combination with the circumstances of your action. The influence of your action on that outcome is literally negligible compared to the influence of the circumstances: the outcome is going to be the same whether or not you even exist, let alone whether or not you vote in a certain way.

Therefore it is simultaneously true that the outcome is caused by all the votes taken in aggregate, and that your vote’s influence on the outcome is literally negligible.

To the moon, Alice!

March 25, 2010 § 14 Comments

Suppose there is a big rocket race. Several teams compete to win, but only two of those teams are actually viable as winners. It takes about a million pounds of rocket fuel to win, and only those two teams have a practical hope of getting that much fuel.

The way teams get rocket fuel is by soliciting it from individuals. Every individual in the country gets one-tenth of an ounce of rocket fuel – and only one tenth of an ounce. We each get to decide which team gets our tenth-ounce of fuel.

Can I meaningfully influence the outcome of the race with my tenth-ounce of fuel? No.

Does the process of choosing who gets my tenth-ounce of fuel have meaningful effects on me, and on those people who I interact with in doing the choosing? Absolutely.

With that background, if giving my fuel to a team involves remote material cooperation with evil, which effects are most important for me to consider when evaluating whether or not I have a proportionate reason: effects which flow from the outcome of the race, or effects which flow from my own act of giving fuel to a team?

More funding for abortion is just the status quo

March 25, 2010 § 11 Comments

And hey, given that it is the status quo it is fine and dandy to formally support the law that does it, as long as you support that law for other reasons, right?

I checked into what my own bishop is teaching about the matter, and was referred to this:

Nevertheless, for whatever good this law achieves or intends, we as Catholic bishops have opposed its passage because there is compelling evidence that it would expand the role of the federal government in funding and facilitating abortion and plans that cover abortion. The statute appropriates billions of dollars in new funding without explicitly prohibiting the use of these funds for abortion, and it provides federal subsidies for health plans covering elective abortions. Its failure to preserve the legal status quo that has regulated the government’s relation to abortion, as did the original bill adopted by the House of Representatives last November, could undermine what has been the law of our land for decades and threatens the consensus of the majority of Americans: that federal funds not be used for abortions or plans that cover abortions. Stranger still, the statute forces all those who choose federally subsidized plans that cover abortion to pay for other peoples’ abortions with their own funds. If this new law is intended to prevent people from being complicit in the abortions of others, it is at war with itself.

Nothing but Net

March 24, 2010 § 9 Comments

Apparently the argument is in the ether that it is OK to support legislation which permits or even funds abortion, as long as that legislation will result in a net reduction in the number of abortions.

That is a load of poppycock.
Lets assume for the sake of argument that there is a law up for consideration. This law bans all abortions for white people, but it permits other abortions already permitted under the law and adds in that killing, say, Haitians up to age six is now permitted.
Lets suppose that on a net basis this law will in fact reduce the net number of legal murders, even though it permits murders which were not permitted under the previous law.
According to arguments in some quarters it should be OK to support this new law, since on a net basis it reduces the number of legal murders. This illusion arises because some folks are interpreting Evangelium Vitae’s language – more restrictive – to mean a net decrease in some aggregate number. But this is obviously not what it means. More restrictive means more restrictive; it doesn’t mean using some net actuarial argument to grant permission to murder, or for that matter to fund the murder of, human beings whose murders are not federally funded under current law.
It is always wrong without exception to support removing the legal protection of the life of one single innocent in the law. That includes even the small legal protection of not having her murder funded by the government.

A veracity heuristic

March 23, 2010 § 42 Comments

When Planned Parenthood and pro-life groups unanimously agree on something, it is probably true.

Planned Parenthood caught in the Girl Scout cookie jar, again

March 23, 2010 § 3 Comments

I guess the idea is that this delightful brochure might be helpful if a little girl gets Lemonaids.

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