Analyst Ethics and Intrinsic Evil

August 6, 2012 § 45 Comments

A commenter below wrote:

You may wish to reflect over 2309′s use of the words “rigorous consideration”. That’s what a policy analyst does. It’s practically a two word definition of the job.

This is suggested in the context of the atomic bombing of Japan, with the following admonition (emphasis mine):

What irritates is the refusal to look ahead and to own the consequences of the choices that would have followed. If the lowest cost solution in terms of casualties in a war is intrinsically evil, it is appropriate to pick the lowest cost solution that is not intrinsically evil and the delta, the difference in casualties is established as the minimum price you’re willing to pay and inflict not to lose your soul while avoiding slavery or genocide. There is a wealth of significance there to think through but very few will go down that path unless the conversation is allowed to play out.

I’m going to set aside the qualifier “avoiding slavery” because it is not morally licit to do evil in order to avoid slavery. Given the elimination of that qualifier, let’s assume (probably wrongly) that our model of the war game reflects reality. That is, let’s assume that what the Pope assumes that everyone recognizes to be impossible is actually possible: that we can accurately project the remote consequences of our actions in war.

The suggestion, as I understand it, is that the obligation to give “rigorous consideration” to the Just War criteria themselves includes an obligation to tally up what we might accomplish if we were willing to do evil and count that as a material cost of doing the right thing.

Even assuming the accuracy of our climate models, I mean war game models, it doesn’t make sense to contemplate doing intrinsically evil acts in order to count the “cost”. The reason is that the opportunities to do evil in a way which advances our material interests has no intrinsic limit. If the obligation to engage in rigorous consideration requires us to consider annihilating civilian cities in an air bombardment, it surely also requires us to consider the effects of mass rape of civilians in a ground invasion. After all, our model might suggest that doing so will demoralize the enemy and result in an earlier surrender with fewer casualties. Or perhaps mass sterilization of enemy civilians, or even something as crude as summary executions of civilians as we march through, would have a similar effect.

Examples can be multiplied, and that is part of the problem: the job of an ethical war analyst, if I may be so bold as to prescribe for a field I am not in, is to rigorously consider the moral options. In depth analysis of immoral options are at best a waste of resources. Somewhere in the middle it creates a scandalous temptation to do evil, and at worst, it involves formal cooperation with evil.

§ 45 Responses to Analyst Ethics and Intrinsic Evil

  • William Luse says:

    I’m sorry, but I couldn’t make any sense of the 2nd paragraph you quote, other than the first sentence. I can’t figure out what he’s saying about intrinsic evil, which, if contemplated, makes the evaluation of consequences irrelevant.

  • Near as I can tell, he is proposing that we can count the cost in casualties between winning WWII by nuking Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and compare that to counting the cost in casualties of (say) a land invasion. He further contends that we have to subtract the one from the other and use that result (subtraction results are traditionally referred to by the greek letter delta) as a measurement of the marginal cost of doing the right thing versus doing an intrinsically evil thing.

    I don’t think the question is incoherent or nonsensical. I just think it doesn’t make sense to frame things that way for reasons given in the post.

  • TMLutas says:

    You’re chasing a ghost. I wasn’t saying anything about intrinsic evil other than you don’t stop your analysis after you hit it. You go on to make positive recommendations as best you can given the situation you are in. What could rigorous analysis mean if not that? Ultimately you have to tell the President, King, or Premier that X is the best course of action, whatever X is.

    And once you make your choice, whatever it is, you’ve given away a number of facts about your moral position. They may not be fundamental facts. They may not even be very interesting or important for you. But different people have different ideas of what is important and the very act of making the choice reveals these secondary characteristics. I gave one as an example calculation.

    If you refuse to make a choice, you have made a choice because inaction and washing your hands is a choice. In the light of 2309 above, if your choice is to bail out in wartime and not rigorously analyze, you’ve made a choice inconsistent with the catechism. That too has consequences because it advertises a Catholic Church that is a bit of a distortion of itself.

    Someone confronting a Church that says no to Hiroshima and nothing else will make a judgment that is different than someone confronting a Church that says no to Hiroshima and permits other choices and has ready arguments and analysis why the extra casualties are worth taking and giving.

  • You said what you said, and it is right there for all to read. If you want to interpret the bolded part for us, have at it.

  • TMLutas says:

    You are a bit closer than your commenter but not quite there. No matter what you do, representing the Catholic position on war, especially in something as difficult as the nuclear bombing of Japan, will lead you to being judged by non-Catholics and a key judgment is going to arise from the casualty deltas. You hold that turning away from nuclear weapons use is right because the bomb is consequentialist in its use and reasoning. I get the logic. What you have failed to do, so far, is follow up with your reasoning on why the Church wants all these extra dead people.

    I suspect the consequentialists are right that the bomb produced a localized minima in terms of casualties. There weren’t any happy solutions with fewer dead people. There weren’t even ugly solutions with fewer dead people. If I’m wrong, please enlighten me because I’ve looked for one and failed.

    So the anti-Catholic tag shifts from hippy dippy hard choice avoiders to bloody handed pious myrmidons once you follow the analysis to the end. Neither are correct but they do shift the problems the Church faces afterwards. Probably the hippy dippy tag is an easier one to bear. But do you get to not rigorously analyze the war in order to ease the position of the Church afterwards? Now *there* is something that is a little more morally challenging to figure out.

    All you’ve got to do to make things more comfortable for the Church is stop the analysis before completion and just speak out against the bomb. Don’t be so rigorous about it all. Be an avoider.

  • I can’t make any sense out of this comment, unless it boils down to “you’ve got to model in detail [some, which?] intrinsically immoral options because evil people will insist that you do it.”

  • TMLutas says:

    I can’t indent below to respond to your request for analysis of the bold parts so I’m outdenting and trying my best.

    “and the delta, the difference in casualties is established as the minimum price you’re willing to pay and inflict not to lose your soul while avoiding slavery or genocide.”

    There is something called stated preference and revealed preference. Stated preference may be “I want a Mercedes to drive”. Revealed preference is that there is no Mercedes in my driveway even though I could buy one so I don’t actually want one. Stated preferences are what you say. Revealed preferences are what you do.

    You may state that you don’t want to commit intrinsic evil under a particular definition. When you act and choose, you’ve revealed a price tag that you are willing to pay to make that preference happen and you may be willing to go higher. If the delta is large enough, the actual words may start to gain weight.

    In the geopolitical sphere stated preferences are distrusted and revealed preferences are gold. Diplomacy has more lying than you can shake a stick at but behavior, especially repeated behavior, can be used as a guide to predict future behavior.

    Every analysis suffers from chaos which is why every decent analyst predicts to their prediction horizon and then stops. In science, they use error bars to measure the limits. In politics, the analysts at the CBO flatly say we don’t go beyond ten years. The EIA won’t go beyond 30 years on its energy projections.

    The Pope is correct that you cannot analyze beyond a certain point. But like many things from the Church, the Pope leaves plenty of room for the professionals to fill in the details.

    The remote consequences of war were not particularly remote by early 1945. Our prediction horizon extended past the end of the war. To refuse to analyze within a reasonable (for the time) prediction horizon is not respecting the Pope’s observation. It is hiding behind a distortion of it.

    I also can’t really agree with the idea that one does not investigate immoral options. One investigates to the point that one understands an immoral option sufficiently to prepare debate points against all the arguments for them and the likely subsequent back and forth. That is what is required to defeat the option.

    Do you think the anti-slavery crusaders did not understand slavery? Do you think that the early christians did not understand why and how the pagans exposed their infants to die? Do you think that people were persuaded out of these habits by opponents who were ignorant? I do not.

    I’m starting to give both sides of the argument over at Shea’s because there seems to be some sort of weird idea that laying out a point must mean that you are personally committed to it. On the Internet nobody knows if you’re a dog and that doesn’t really mean physically.

    Here is my true problem, how not to write -1 X 10^9 in simulation casualties.

    This problem likely will be gibberish to you until you read The Three Conjectures. I’ve found the original post that holds the heart of it:
    http://belmontclub.blogspot.com/2003/09/three-conjectures-pew-poll-finds-40-of.html

    The thing’s been extended into a book. You can get it from Amazon. It’s been bugging me for years and I can’t find a way around the logic of it.

  • William Luse says:

    “You hold that turning away from nuclear weapons use is right because the bomb is consequentialist in its use and reasoning…”

    I doubt that’s quite right. He’d probably hold that you should turn away from using nuclear weapons when the intention behind that use is to slaughter the innocent. He can do that without ever thinking about consequences because he knows it would be wrong to do it.

    “What you have failed to do, so far, is follow up with your reasoning on why the Church wants all these extra dead people.”

    Who are these “extra dead people”? People who would have died as a result of the invasion? Those people are only hypothetically dead, as opposed to the Hiroshima victims, who are really dead. You can avoid those dead people by not invading.

    ” I wasn’t saying anything about intrinsic evil other than you don’t stop your analysis after you hit it.”

    Yes you do. You throw it out. It’s not an option. Move on to morally permissible options.

    Your comments are syntactically slippery and hard to follow. Are you defending the bombing of Hiroshima or not?

  • Tom K. says:

    So computing the delta serves primarily a didactic function. “Do not do evil that good may result — not even this much good.” It adds some revealed heft to Bl. John Henry Newman’s famous statement that “it were better for sun and moon to drop from heaven, for the earth to fail, and for all the many millions who are upon it to die of starvation in extremest agony, so far as temporal affliction goes, than that one soul, I will not say, should be lost, but should commit one single venial sin, should tell one wilful untruth, though it harmed no one, or steal one poor farthing without excuse.”

  • Scott W. says:

    It reminds a bit of the Thucydides when he gives an account of Athens debate over invading Sicily and poor Niceas was trying unsuccessfully to keep Athens from embarking on this ludicrous adventure, so he tries a different tactic by saying if we are going to do it, let’s really do it. He proceeded to lay out a massive cost of the invasion hoping the Athenians would balk at the price. Well, the plan backfired and the Athenians went hog wild for it (typical democracy) and disaster ensured. The other thing it reminds me of is Saruman’s excessive study of the dark arts.

  • Tom K. says:

    Well, it’s empirically true that, if you don’t compute the delta, someone else will.

    I’m not sure, though, what’s gained by computing the delta yourself, or lost by letting someone else do it.

  • Do you think the anti-slavery crusaders did not understand slavery? Do you think that the early christians did not understand why and how the pagans exposed their infants to die?

    I’m just pointing this out as one example of a goal post shifting straw man. Nobody has suggested that we shouldn’t try to understand how and why our enemies commit atrocities. What we shouldn’t do is contemplate doing all sorts of atrocities ourselves, and we shouldn’t treat contemplating doing atrocities ourselves as virtuous. Contemplating doing atrocities isn’t virtuous: it is vicious.

    And again, why the arbitrary limitation to contemplating one sort of atrocity and not others? Why no insistence that the Catholic Church opposes mass rape because it “wants all those dead bodies”, the delta which would be saved by demoralizing the enemy more swiftly?

  • Robert King says:

    What you have failed to do, so far, is follow up with your reasoning on why the Church wants all these extra dead people.

    I suspect the consequentialists are right that the bomb produced a localized minima in terms of casualties.

    We are not talking about dead people generically. There is an essential difference between enemy combatants and civilians. Nuking a city does not distinguish between combatants and civilians, and that is the problem.

    Comparing a land invasion in which soldiers fight soldiers to a bombing in which soldiers fight civilians is to compare war to murder. The number of dead people is irrelevant to the question of whether an act is warfare or murder.

    The Church does not want “extra dead people.” The Church is willing to accept that 1) all people die, eventually; 2) soldiers are likely to die in battle; and 3) civilians deserve to be protected from dying in battle. This may mean more soldiers die, but they die in the normal course of their lives. Civilians dying are the “extra” here; the question really is why proponents of the bomb want all these extra – meaning non-combatant – dead people?

  • Certainly it is a problem to treat “not doing evil” as just another preference for which we need to count the cost.

  • johnmcg says:

    I am married. I have committed to not commit adultery.

    Would my commitment to not commit adultery be more meaningful if I made a list of all the attractive women I would *not* sleep with? Should I imagine myself being propositioned by them, and politely refusing them?

    When I meet a new attractive woman, should I imagine committing adultery with her, so that I have a clear idea of what price I am willing to pay to keep my pledge to not commit adultery? If I shared these activities with my wife or her family, do you think they would be re-assured about my commitment to chastity?

    Or, is it a greater commitment for me to make a U-turn when my mind goes down those roads, and that certain actions are unthinkable.

  • johnmcg says:

    Or to put it another way, in doing family budgeting, should I consider a budget that does not include feeding my children, and crystallize what things we could buy without this expense, just so we’re clear what price we’re willing to pay to carry out our duty to feed our children?

  • TMLutas says:

    You have to remember that these are not morality games but games at the command of the principal being played out. Game here is used in the sense of game theory and not to imply and unserious scope or frivolity.

    Morality in a morality game is the victory condition. You win, go to Heaven, have a happy eternity with God, the end. Morality in any other game is a constraint. You are precluded from certain winning moves because of the constraint.

    Victory for the Catholic is playing the requested game and still finding winning moves within the constraint. If you can’t, well you can’t and you must withdraw, to irrelevance or martyrdom as the case may be if you can’t pull it off gracefully. But you must work very hard to avoid having to withdraw.

    If you announce, a priori, that you are not going to play the principal’s game, they just say “that’s nice, get out” and you’re done. You have no further access and influence and no opportunity to advise and lay out anything including but not limited to just war concepts.

    You can declare principles until you’re blue in the face but it is your revealed preferences that have the most influence and provide credibility or undercut what you say. These games involve all types including inveterate liars with bad morals and power. Nobody admits to that, of course, but everybody is evaluating revealed preferences to identify the reality, instead of the stated reality.

  • So it is, in effect, as I suggested before, “you’ve got to model in detail [some, which?] intrinsically immoral options because evil people will insist that you do it.”

    So why model the Bomb and not mass rape?

  • I mean, the civilian population of Europe was terrified of the Russian army because they notoriously committed mass rape. Probably the reoccupation of Europe would have taken longer and been bloodier if it weren’t for this practice. Is it the job of a Catholic analyst to model this, count the delta, and explain why the Church wants those additional dead bodies?

  • Scott W. says:

    Am I the only one that sees a similarity between this “explain why you want extra dead people” and “Benedict XVI is causing the spread of AIDS in Africa by insisting on his irrational beliefs against contraception.”?

  • TMLutas says:

    I’m sorry, who’s shifting the goal posts here? Nobody’s goal I have ever met or corresponded with has ever been to launch nukes in preference to peacefully settling differences, or other clearly less expensive ways of settling problems. The nukes as first choice policy advocate set is an empty set so far as I can tell. For the purpose of this discussion I’m not even considering any branches that lead to nuclear use. They’re closed off a priori. The game in 1945 was to finish and win the war in the Pacific and try to not waste lives doing so. You have a solution that costs more lives? You have to justify that solution. That’s straight out of the rule 2309 you yourself brought up, rigorous analysis.

    On a completely separate occasion and completely unrelated to war, I have made exactly this sort of argument and carried the day. This sort of thing *is* possible. It just requires a deeper knowledge of the subject and a better appreciation of the temporal sacrifices you’re asking. The process, to my experience, takes you down a peg and tends to lead to differences in presentation that make the argument ultimately more effective.

    Anybody diving into commentary into the WW II nuclear bombings from any side has an obligation to be honest about the situation, the mistakes, if there were any, and if there were better choices, be willing to do the positives and the negatives of those choices and explain why they are better. In this case, it is why should Americans spend treasure they can ill afford, to kill more Japanese on net and extend the War as the Soviets gear up to take Europe in the next round. That’s not an easy argument to make and if I recall correctly, one of the worries about the blockade strategy was that we might have revolution in the US before it would have time to work. The blockade may have failed the “realistic chance of success” portion of the rules. I am not an expert enough to judge because all the anti-nuke people are going for the easy shot and stopping at the nuclear bombs being intrinsically evil. I don’t have enough hours in the day to go that far ahead of my opponents’ arguments and map out the blockade option in terms of suitability as a jus in bello option when they won’t seriously do it themselves.

    I think, ultimately, that the Church successfully making that argument would do wonders to clear out the hypocrisy of the Hiroshima/Nagasaki yearly accusation fests and get a lot of people out of their defensive crouch and positively thinking and perhaps coming to better conclusions.

  • TMLutas says:

    It is irrelevant who computes it. Why are people so impressed by christians whose witness involves great sacrifice? This is a calculation, conscious or unconscious, of revealed preference and revealed preferences move people.

  • TMLutas says:

    You’re misframing the argument, a common problem. The original scenario is not whether or not to nuke Japan (whether or not to commit a sin). The original scenario is how to win the war. The objection is that the solution chosen is intrinsically evil. The question I’ve posed is, ok, now which solutions were available?

    Zippy himself identified a particular rule, that actions in war should be subject of rigorous analysis. That doesn’t really work with your adultery example. Or maybe it does but I can’t figure out how to do it.

  • TMLutas says:

    Should the Church not explain its beliefs about contraception? Benedict XVI in particular *is* doing so and occasionally breaking new ground doing it. Is he wrong to do so?

    I will never use that formulation again if you provide a better way to point out that the blockade suffers from the defects of killing more people overall and taking longer. I am utterly unattached to the words and willingly would substitute better ones.

  • TMLutas says:

    I’m really unclear as to who is supposed to be proposing this budget. Perhaps if your hypothetical 9 year old did it and just forgot to assign money to feed himself?

    In WW II invade, blockade, or nuke were the major contenders as I understood the situation. It’s not unreasonable to go through the three, in turn, and say which ones were and were not intrinsically evil. There are no weird, extended hypotheticals here, unless you’d like to introduce them.

  • Scott W. says:

    So you are seriously telling me that you can’t think of anything better than saying that anti-bombers that don’t have a alternative formula want more dead people?

  • TMLutas says:

    On the disutility of mass rape as a military tactic (I can’t believe somebody actually asked for this but here it is)

    It is a well known phenomenon that the Russian advance was stymied by the revealed preference of the German government and German army to surrender to its Western enemies as opposed to its Soviet ones. In contemporaneous and subsequent interviews of relevant commanders one of the key motives for preferring to lose more territory to the west than to the east even when overall territory losses were increased was Soviet proclivity to atrocity, especially their tolerance for rape.

    Rape, as a tactic, may slake the bestial thirsts of ill disciplined troops but it makes the war run poorly and will very likely reduce the territorial gains of any power using it as a military tool. There is no utility gain to be had from this and much to be lost. Any army which has such poor moral conduct will impede legitimate state goals and should not even be considered.

    — end —

  • TMLutas says:

    Unfortunately, I can’t edit so here’s the commentary that should be after that –end–
    This very short monograph is an example of how one sneaks in the need to improve moral teaching into an army. There is a counter-argument, but it generally fails because the historical examples where rape actually works are almost exclusively of pre-historical roving bands of barbarians and even there it only works on very short time horizons.

    In a more modern, though less documented example, the Serbian use of mass rapes was highly detrimental as were the Croatian and muslim use of same during the modern Balkans wars.

    The failure of moral theologians to pick remotely plausible theoreticals because they are almost completely ignorant of the subject matter they are opining on is a major barrier to the adoption of their advice. The Church has long known this and has a long tradition of educating its priests to very high levels in order to avoid the problem (among many other benefits of superior education). How that is to play out in the modern world where everybody is ignorant about a lot of subjects is something I am not sure about but it is certainly a problem that needs addressing.

  • The nukes as first choice policy advocate set is an empty set so far as I can tell.

    The number of commenters who have suggested otherwise is also the empty set.

    You have a solution that costs more lives?

    More lives than what?

  • You are definitely not the only one.

  • So the reason a Catholic analyst shouldn’t analyze it and present it as an option is because it (supposedly) doesn’t work? How do you know that before you have analyzed it as an on-the-table option?

    I think this whole thread makes a great exhibit of where this kind of thinking goes.

  • William Luse says:

    In WW II invade, blockade, or nuke were the major contenders as I understood the situation. It’s not unreasonable to go through the three, in turn, and say which ones were and were not intrinsically evil.

    Okay. Which one or ones was or were not intrinsically evil?

  • johnmcg says:

    My point with my parallels is that in any endeavor, there are certain options, namely those that are immoral, that are simply off the table. One does not need to be an expert in that particular domain to recognize that these options should be barred.

    In figuring out my family’s budget, I cannot solve a shortfall by selling my children into slavery, refusing to feed them, or stealing. There’s no use in analyzing the costs and benefits of these because there is no chance I would actually do them. The same goes for an accountant at a big company. And I don’t need to be an expert in accounting to know that embezzling is wrong, not should moral accountants consider my concluding this to be an insult to their profession.

    There are all sorts of other examples, which we unfortunately don’t follow. Harvesting stem cells from live embryos should not be an option on the table for curing diseases. Again, this conclusion does not require a medical degree, nor should this conclusion be an insult to medical experts.

    If our minds and hearts are with the Church, this is the category nuclear bombing ought to be in. We would no more consider killing innocents to win the war than we would consider starving our children to solve a budget crisis.

    @TMLutas talks of different “games.” (though I know he means it in a different sense).

    For followers of Christ, the only game that matters is us following God’s law. I’ll repeat that: the only game that matters is us following God’s law. It seems flippant with as many lives are at stake, but I think the proper way to compare them would be to imagine the outcome of WWII to be akin to the outcome of a sports game (and not a particularly important one) compared to the outcome of the war. The importance of our salvation dwarfs everything else.

    Thus, I simply disagree with, “But you must work very hard to avoid having to withdraw.” Telling Christians they “must” perform analysis of immoral means is like telling a football running back he must dribble the ball. We are playing an entirely different game. And this is as it should be — we are to be the Light of the World, the salt of the earth, not fit in to the demands of the “principal.” We worship a God who is mightier than the principal, and that should show in everything we do, but who also allowed Himself to be crucified.

    Now, we are not perfect in this, myself chief among them, which is why there is sin in the world and we find ourselves in this situation in the first place. I can certainly understand why people would want to do this analysis, and come to the wrong conclusions. But to sit here at my computer in 2012 with no immediate threat on me and that it is right to consider killing innocents is simply wrong.

  • TMLutas says:

    Well, the threading’s gone so I’m going to be identifying who I’m talking to. Some of my responses now looking pretty disconnected and confusing. Apologies but there’s nothing I can do about it.

    Robert King – My understanding is the estimated civilian Japanese casualties in both the invasion and the blockade strategies exceeded that of the nuclear bomb. In an apples to apples comparison, the least number of civilians dead ends up being nuclear attack until X cities and X is greater than the two we ended up destroying. The biggest weakness in the case against the bomb is in those apples to apples comparisons. How is a military option less indiscriminate if it ends up killing more civilians? So since for this conversation, picking the bomb is just excluded a priori, you have to give some sort of justification. I can’t. I just don’t understand enough theology to do so. Perhaps there is no theology available that *does* justify it. I just do not know. It’s part of the reason why I am pursuing these threads so long. I want to know and don’t have access to any conventional method of finding an answer.

    Scott W. – When the numbers have been done and the civilian casualties minimization solution is nuclear attack, those arguing against nuclear attack are either doing so out of blind ignorance (I’m not assuming that) or they do, indeed, want more civilian dead because there’s something more important at stake. I still await somebody cleverer than me to find a better formula to clearly express the problematic situation, a formula that is not a lie.

    zippycatholic – I’m currently working on a simulation along with a few hundred other analysts, researchers, and interns on China shipping out a carrier battle group and will be doing so for about the next week and a half. So far I have contributed a total of two scenarios out of 24 submitted. Those two are my baby and it’s our collective job to fill out, improve, and tear down all 24. 11/12ths of all options in the mix are options I have not presented. For the majority of analysts all they are doing is detail work and knockdown work. When you talk about Catholics not analyzing and not presenting, you’re assuming a monoculture of thought in an arena that is intentionally, and radically heterogeneous. There might be 40 Catholics out of 300 participants. If some muslim proposes such a solution, or an atheist, or who knows what, you can’t just quote the Catechism and expect to win the argument because you’ll get the Koran right back at you and perhaps a dozen sources from traditions you never heard of asserting the rightness of whatever you find violates God’s law as you understand it.

    There is a rich and ongoing tradition in the Church of adapting Christ’s message to the language of the people who are being preached to. This does not only apply to translating the Bible into Chechen. It applies to speaking truths in scenarios and geopolitical sims in a language that is understandable to the analysts and the principals who commissioned the exercise du jour.

    William Luse – My answer at this point to which end the war option was not intrinsically evil is “I do not know”. The argument of indiscriminateness seems fairly persuasive but I’ve yet to see how things come out when it is consistently applied. Zippy has asserted that blockade would not have been intrinsically evil. I’m not sure that is right either. Details on that judgment really need to be filled in for me to adopt it as my own solution.

    johnmcg – I notice that you didn’t answer me as to who proposed a family budget without food rations for the kids. Because if your nine year old did it, your response should be very different than if the IRS did it as they calculated how much of your money you will have left over after wage garnishment.

    You may not need to be an accounting expert to figure out that embezzlement is wrong but you might need to be one to figure out the difference between legal tax avoidance and illegal tax evasion. And defining how indiscriminate a weapon must be before it is intrinsically evil is something I’ve never received a satisfactory answer on. There are problems both in answering and not answering the question.

    There is nothing wrong, at all, with harvesting stem cells from live embryos. The problem is killing human life. Today, the two may be more firmly linked than they will be in future. Just because there’s an unhappy overlap in the two today does not mean that we should fuzz up the field of battle and take on more opponents than necessary.

    You commit another unnecessary fuzz up by conflating with trying hard not to be forced to withdraw (what I said) with analyzing immoral means. One can choose any way the please to stay in the room and advocate for what is right. What I was objecting to was this false idea that in a discussion of how to end the war, one can just say the nuclear bomb is off the table and I won’t discuss anything further until that’s agreed to. Something like that is nowhere near the sort of rigorous analysis demanded of Catholics in deciding on war conduct.

    I say to you, that what is important to the promulgator of the faith is irrelevant if it is unimportant to the audience. The audience will not listen, will not truly hear the word of God, and souls will not be saved if you do not demonstrate that what is important to them can be addressed by the Church and that they should listen to the Church to better form what *should* be important to them. It is important to be in the room to speak the truth. It is important to promulgate the word of God. But it is all for naught if you are not heard.

  • Sounds pretty interesting.

    Two things:
    First, it is actually both ground invasion and limited blockade which I have said can possibly be done in a way which is not intrinsically immoral. The devil is in the details though: rules of engagement and other plans would have to be moral themselves. So saying that it is possible to stage a ground invasion morally is just the beginning, and the same sort of “how many dead bodies are you willing to sacrifice for the sake of morality” nonsense applies for every decision made, once we’ve bought into that utilitarian frame.

    You’ve made the point that moral rules are a constraint, and I actually agree with you. In fact I’ve posted on that very subject in the past.

    Second, I think in terms of analyst ethics I would offer the following:

    There is an important moral difference between proposing an action yourself and speaking up (or not) when others propose an action. One ought not propose an immoral action, period. Whether one ought to speak up and object when immoral actions are proposed by others is a matter of prudence. The greater the gravity of the immoral action, the greater the obligation to speak up; but it isn’t unreasonable to balance that against, as you’ve said, the opportunity to stay at the table.

    You have to recognize though that once you concede to a utilitarian frame, you might as well not be at the table. There is always a way to make crime pay (see the first point). What I think an ethical person cannot do is buy into a frame where all options, including immoral ones, are considered “on the table” and evaluated on a utilitarian basis.

  • William Luse says:

    “My understanding is the estimated civilian Japanese casualties in both the invasion and the blockade strategies exceeded that of the nuclear bomb. In an apples to apples comparison, the least number of civilians dead ends up being nuclear attack…”

    Mr. Lutas, if part of your preferred methodology in determining the morality of an act is to construct hypothetical piles of dead bodies, I can only say this strikes me as terribly misguided, since it implies that as long as I choose the smaller pile I’m in the clear.

    I also get the general impression that you do not fully understand what the church means by ‘intrinsically evil’ and its absolute condemnation of such acts. They are never ‘on the table.’ As I say, it’s an impression.

  • Conclusively Irrational says:

    How often is it that the “moral analysis” only takes in 2 or 3 options, and can’t find the time to see if there are any modifications to those options that would change their stance? For Nukes: what about nuking a remote military installation? An uninhabited island? After telling the Japanese high command: “put some observers 4 miles away from X spot.” For blockade, what about aerial dropping of food only, or whatever would change the calculus of unintended civilian deaths? And on, and on.

    The nukes used on Japan were apparently used with the express intention of taking advantage of the horror of all those (civilian) deaths. Those deaths were not incidental to the intention, but part of it, helping tip the high command’s hand toward surrender. You can’t use the principle of double effect to wash that away.

  • johnmcg says:

    Nukes could also go the other way. Why not analyze nuking Tokyo? What about nuking a third party or ourselves just to show how crazy we are?

    Yes, this sounds ridiculous. But, again, if our hearts and minds are with the Church, so is the idea of killing thousands of innocents.

    For my budget analogy, if it helps to concretize things, imagine our family is facing a sudden shortfall, and my wife (though she would never do this) proposes selling our children into slavery to solve it. Imagine also that she has the power and ability to cut me off from any contact or influence in our children’s lives if she so chooses.

    It would still be wrong for me to even for a moment analyze the costs/benefits of this proposal. I probably “should” laugh in the face of something like this, but it might be better toexercise some prudence about how I voice my objection.

    But if I get to the point where I start plugging numbers into a spreadsheet and seeing how things compare, I’ve entered into a bad place. I am inviting negotiation over something that should not be negotiable. What if we were assured the slave-owners were humane? What if the slavery was only temporary? We have established what we are; now we are haggling over the price.

    The Room that matters most is not the room where decisions of this world are made.


    There is an important moral difference between proposing an action yourself and speaking up (or not) when others propose an action. One ought not propose an immoral action, period. Whether one ought to speak up and object when immoral actions are proposed by others is a matter of prudence. The greater the gravity of the immoral action, the greater the obligation to speak up; but it isn’t unreasonable to balance that against, as you’ve said, the opportunity to stay at the table.

    I’d say one more dimension is the level of cooperation you are being asked for. You may not need to speak up if you are in the room. If you are asked to do some analysis of it, e.g. like legal analysts were asked to determine if the president had the authority to waterboard, I think you have a duty to object and refuse to play along.

  • Scott W. says:

    If you will pardon what may be another branch in the topic, I saw where Tom K. issued his voter challege on his blog. One commentor said that the Church teaches us that it is our duty to vote. I asked where and he didn’t get back to me. I’m sure one could dig up plenty of magisterial stuff that talks about the citizens obligation to take an interest in and participate in the public square, but I am having a hard time believing that it formally teaches that if one has the right to vote, then one must vote. Am I wrong?

  • Scott:
    You are probably looking for this.

    (I note that those who interpret “exercise the right to vote” as meaning you must vote in all available elections for a major party candidate don’t seem to interpret “defend one’s country” to mean you must enlist to fight in every military conflict).

  • caethan says:

    This comedy sketch seems particularly apropos to this discussion.

  • That is a hilarious piece of video :). And right to the point.

  • Scott W. says:

    “I can’t believe you haven’t done it drunk as a joke.” 🙂 You should edit this entry and embed the video at the beginning.

  • Tom K. says:

    As someone who spent an hour last night catching up on Mitchell and Webb YouTube videos, and only through an atypical act of personal forbearance avoided another hour of clicking through Fry and Laurie videos, I urge Zippy to perform a rigorous analysis of all the effects embedding the video in the post might have.

  • […] It further follows that we should automatically be suspicious when it is claimed that a particular tactic is an optimal way to achieve a certain goal. It is possible that the claim is “optimal within the bounds of the natural and divine law”; but, this being the modern world, it is probably a temptation toward wickedness. […]

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You are currently reading Analyst Ethics and Intrinsic Evil at Zippy Catholic.

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