Evil for the win!

May 29, 2013 § 26 Comments

Suppose Bob has a plan to achieve good end X.

Suppose that in order to succeed at achieving good end X, Bob’s plan requires that Dave must form an evil intention.[*]  Suppose further that Bob plans to act in some concrete way – say by speaking to Dave – in order to convince him to form that specific evil intention.

Bob’s act – perhaps of speaking to Dave – is formal cooperation with evil.  Bob is deliberately trying to produce a specific evil intention in another human being. Bob’s plans will fail if Dave fails to form the specific evil intention.

In the terminology of double-effect, the evil effect (Dave forming a specific evil intention to commit a specific evil act) is a necessary cause of the good effect that Bob seeks.  But an act can never be justified, under the principle of double-effect, when an evil effect is required as the cause of the intended good effect.

___________

[*] This reasoning holds even if it is part of Bob’s plan for Dave’s evil intention to be thwarted by circumstances.

§ 26 Responses to Evil for the win!

  • Paul Connors says:

    A good analysis. But I hope you don’t think this applies to Live Action.

  • Zippy says:

    Paul Connors:
    But I hope you don’t think this applies to Live Action.

    Why wouldn’t it? What about their actions specifically distinguish them?

  • Paul Connors says:

    Let’s say someone believes (e.g.) that deliberately not paying inheritance taxes is a good thing, but they don’t say so publicly because it might cause them legal problems, and some social disapproval. Suppose I set up some scenario — for example, in some covert way asking them the best way to hide some legally due taxes from the government’s knowledge — and then I record them giving me this advice. I haven’t formed any intention in them that wasn’t in fact already there.

    Live Action, depending on all the exact circumstances, might also claim that they are revealing intentions, not forming them.

  • Zippy says:

    Paul Connors:
    I haven’t [acted in a way to encourage them to form] any intention … that wasn’t in fact already there

    Yes you have. Before the encounter they had no specific intention to help you in particular dodge taxes.

  • William Luse says:

    Also, this: Live Action, depending on all the exact circumstances, might also claim that they are revealing intentions, not forming them.

    Not quite. They are not so much revealing intentions as eliciting them, and not intentions in general but a very specific intention to do this particular thing to this particular person.

  • Paul Connors says:

    “Before the encounter they had no specific intention to help you in particular dodge taxes.”

    Entirely correct, but that’s not the unique use of “intention”. The question is: had the person already decided that the disapproved action (e.g. not paying legally required inheritance taxes) was in fact a good action, prior to any specific opportunity to perform the action. That’s also an intention.

    It’s perfectly meaningful and understandable to say: “I intend to kill someone, anyone, just as soon as I can get away with it”. An intention is there, even before any specific opportunity has presented itself.

    Live Action may be able to reasonably claim that Planned Parenthood has already formed the intention to ignore some legal requirements whenever they consider that their abortion services are more important.

  • Zippy says:

    Paul Connors:
    Entirely correct, but that’s not the unique use of “intention”.

    It doesn’t have to be. As long as forming that kind of intention is evil, it is morally wrong to deliberately prompt someone to form it as a means to any end.

  • Paul Connors says:

    “As long as forming that kind of intention is evil, it is morally wrong to deliberately prompt someone to form it as a means to any end.”

    A more careful analysis is needed. Suppose there is a man M in some town, and the following things happen:

    (1) M forms the firm intention to murder someone, anyone in the town, whenever he can get away with it.
    (2) M notices such a target.
    (3) M murders the target.

    Then (1) is certainly the formation of an evil intention (even if (2) or (3) never happen).

    And (3) is an evil action, consistent with (1).

    But even if (2) is somehow intentional, there is no necessity for it be considered as the formation of a moral intention — it’s a recognition by M that current circumstances allow a prior intention now to be carried out.

  • Zippy says:

    Everything that is chosen is, by definition, intended. Choosing a specific victim is definitely intentional; and the notion that choosing a victim is morally neutral, is risible.

  • Paul Connors says:

    “Everything that is chosen is, by definition, intended. Choosing a specific victim is definitely intentional”

    Agreed.

    “the notion that choosing a victim is morally neutral, is risible.”

    I do not think so. Consider this:

    (1) M decides, for reason R, to kill a member of some particular group
    (2) M locates such a target
    (3) M kills the target

    Although (2) is done intentionally, it’s impossible to tell if it’s good or evil or neutral. Also, it’s not possible to tell if (3) is good or evil or neutral. Everything depends on the reason R.

    In the appropriate circumstances, if I ensure that M does locate a target — but make sure that action (3) can’t be carried out — I have helped M do nothing more than he already fully intended. M’s guilt or innocence or neutrality is determined at the beginning.

  • William Luse says:

    I have helped M do nothing more than he already fully intended.

    It’s the Deacon Jim argument all over again: M’s “prior intention” (his willingness and desire to kill babies) is so evil that my encouraging him to do it one more time leaves me blameless.

  • Paul Connors says:

    “… my encouraging him to do it one more time leaves me blameless”

    I have said nothing at all about how encouragement might affect the analysis. I avoided that qualitatively different scenario by specifying that M is of “firm intention”.

    However, if M had not fully made up his mind, but was wavering back and forth as to the rightness of following the specified course of action, then indeed it would be morally wrong to present him with a opportunity to go wrong.

  • Zippy says:

    It isn’t about wavering. It is about presenting him with a specific victim — a victim which he has to then resolve to kill in order for my plans to work. My plans don’t work unless he resolves to kill that particular victim and starts making preparations to do so; so I am using evil means to achieve my end, which is never morally licit.

  • Paul Connors says:

    ” It is about presenting him with a specific victim — a victim which he has to then resolve to kill in order for my plans to work. My plans don’t work unless he resolves to kill that particular victim and starts making preparations to do so”

    Well, I think “resolve to kill” is ambiguous. The personal culpability in selecting someone to kill occurs where the intention behind the killing is formed. This simply doesn’t have to happen at the point in time where the selection itself occurs.

    Additionally, and likely more important, however: Note that if I (as the interferer) do help the murderer select a victim, then that act has two effects. One effect is to help the murderer in his plan (though with an intermediate action done in a way that will not lead to any actual death), and the other effect is to reveal the murderer’s plan. A single action with two effects means that it is analogous to Aquinas’ explanation of why lethal self-defense can be permitted (where an act of self-defense can simultaneously preserve my life while killing my assailant). One effect is what I am actually trying to achieve, and the other effect is praeter intentionem, beside the intention. Hence the act of helping in the selection of a victim can be permissible.

  • Zippy says:

    Paul Connors:
    The personal culpability in selecting someone to kill occurs where the intention behind the killing is formed.

    Actually, every single thing a person does in preparation to commit murder involves an evil intention. In the case of the clinic worker that includes doing the paperwork, talking to the client, scheduling the “counselor” — these are all evil acts done with an evil intention, because they are all done deliberately by the clinic worker as preparation for an abortion. Every little preparatory act done in deliberate preparation for an evil act is morally evil. Donning a condom in preparation for a contracepted sex act is itself morally evil, even if circumstances obtain that thwart the planned contracepted sex act.

    The whole point of the sting operation is for the pro life investigator to deliberately instigate these evil acts, in order to get some of them on video. If he fails to instigate evil acts on the part of the clinic worker, the sting fails.

    A single action with two effects means …

    … that the principle of double effect may apply.

    But in this case it doesn’t. Under the principle of double effect, an act cannot be morally licit if the intended good effect is caused by an evil effect. If the intended good effect is caused by an evil effect, that evil effect is itself also necessarily intended – and thus the multiple-effect act is morally evil. This is double-effect 101.

    In the case of a pro-life sting, getting the useful footage (a good effect) is caused by the clinic worker’s evil acts – the very ones caught on video – deliberately prompted by the investigator. If the clinic worker does not do evil at the investigator’s prompting then there will be no evil acts to get on video and the sting will be a failure.

  • Paul Connors says:

    “Actually, every single thing a person does in preparation to commit murder involves an evil intention.”

    Actions themselves aren’t capable of being moral evils. The moral evil occurs when a bad intention is formed. It’s only intentions that can be moral evils. (This is true even for intrinsic evils). One and the same action can also be inspired by several intentions. So, for example, if someone starts walking around town with the intention of finding and murdering a particular person, and with the intention of feeding some starving people he has heard about, do we describe the walking around town as something both evil and good? That would be contradictory. We avoid that problem by examining intentions that lie behind an action, and picking apart those intentions as being morally evil or good.

    Also: Take the case when someone is planning a murder, and I want to reveal that hidden fact. So, I set up some situation to make that happen (say, I set up a dummy under some bed sheets so that the murderer will be tricked into stabbing the dummy, thus revealing his intentions). Do I share the intention of the murderer? No. Do I do anything to further the intention of the murderer? No, because the intention of the murderer is directed towards murder, and my intention (both the end and means) is directed towards the revelation of the murderer’s intention. (The murderer’s intention is not advanced in the slightest by stabbing a dummy). Since my intention is wholly different, it’s impossible for me to share in the moral evil of murder.

  • Zippy says:

    Paul Connors:
    Actions themselves aren’t capable of being moral evils.

    Yes they are. Read Veritatis Splendour.

    In this case, though, they aren’t. The clinic worker’s actions, deliberately instigated by the sting investigator, are evil because the clinic worker intends them to be preparatory acts in anticipation of an abortion.

    This is about as clear cut a moral theology case as they come. We don’t have to debate the moral theology of lying. We don’t have to parse what intrinsically immoral means versus formal cooperation versus material cooperation. All we have to do is observe that the investigator deliberately instigates evil actions on the part of the sting target, and that the sting fails if the sting target doesn’t do anything evil. So the good effect of the sting operation (incriminating footage) is caused by a bad effect of his actions (the evil acts done by the sting target in response to instigation). That is always morally wrong.

  • Paul Connors says:

    Paul Connors: “Actions themselves aren’t capable of being moral evils.”
    Zippy: “Yes they are. Read Veritatis Splendour.”

    It was Veritatis Splendor #78 that I was relying on why I said that:

    “By the object of a given moral act, then, one cannot mean a process or an event of the merely physical order, to be assessed on the basis of its ability to bring about a given state of affairs in the outside world. Rather, that object is the proximate end of a deliberate decision which determines the act of willing on the part of the acting person.”

    An action can be pointed at as evidence of an intention, and then we might be able to deduce that a moral evil has been committed at some point, when the intention was formed.

    “the investigator deliberately instigates evil actions on the part of the sting target”

    In order to show that a moral evil has been committed, an intention has to be there. As I pointed out (in the case of tricking an intended murderer into stabbing a dummy), there is no intention to murder (because it’s a dummy), and there is no intention to further the aims of the murderer (since the murderer isn’t trying to stab a dummy). Hence there can be no moral evil. You haven’t replied to this argument, by pointing out intentions.

    If the tricker caused the murderer to somehow form an intention to murder, then that would be wrong on the part of the tricker. But that contradicts the assumption I have already pointed out, that the murderer has already formed an intention to murder, and we are not trying to form it, but reveal it.

  • William Luse says:

    You’ve left out an awful lot, such as: 79. One must therefore reject the thesis, characteristic of teleological and proportionalist theories, which holds that it is impossible to qualify as morally evil according to its species — its “object” — the deliberate choice of certain kinds of behaviour or specific acts, apart from a consideration of the intention for which the choice is made or the totality of the foreseeable consequences of that act for all persons concerned.

  • Paul Connors says:

    Re: “Veritatis Splendor #79”

    “Deliberate choice” refers directly to intention — i.e. a choice that we deliberate about. And even acts that are intrinsic evils must have an intention attached to them in order to qualify as a moral evil — if the act is unintentional, it cannot be a moral evil.

    Hence in all cases an intention has to be included for an act to qualify as a moral evil.

  • Zippy says:

    All of which is very nice, and has been discussed here at great length and in great detail over the years in many discussions, some of them quite contentious.

    But none of it – and no distinction in how different people come out on those debates – changes a single tiny thing about the current kind of case under consideration; because in the current kind of case under consideration there is no question that the sting investigator intentionally prompts the clinic worker to intentionally begin preparations to intentionally commit murder.

    All of those things are definitely intentional – under any and every even marginally sane notion of “intentional” – because the whole exercise is pointless if they are not.[*]

    The most one could argue to attempt to make this defensible is to contend that when the clinic worker, at the deliberate prompting of the sting investigator, intentionally begins making preparations to intentionally commit murder, she isn’t doing evil. But because that is risible on its face we get attempts to obfuscate a manifestly clear situation with verbal diarrhea.

    [*] A purely passive witness to (say) attempted murder is obviously categorically different from a sting operator. In the former case, the attempted murder will be chosen by the acting subject whether the witness is present or not, no matter what the passive witness does or does not do. The latter won’t get any useful footage if he doesn’t intentionally prompt the clinic worker to intentionally do evil in front of the hidden cameras. If the intentional prompting doesn’t result in intentionally evil acts, there is no useful footage. If the clinic worker doesn’t intentionally do anything evil, there is no useful footage.

    Intentionally committed evil prompted intentionally by the sting operator is a necessary condition of him achieving his intended end. But it is never morally licit to do evil in order that good may come of it.

  • Paul Connors says:

    Zippy: “All of those things are definitely intentional”

    That’s not in dispute. But more specifically, in order to show that an action by some person is morally wrong, that person’s bad intention that motivated the action must be there. Always.

    Zippy: “[a sting operator] won’t get any useful footage if he doesn’t intentionally prompt the clinic worker to intentionally do evil in front of the hidden cameras.”

    But in the case where the clinic worker has been tricked, they aren’t actually doing what they think they’re doing — they’re not doing anything to prepare for a real abortion, because they’ve been tricked. They aren’t performing any objective evil. There is evil there, but it’s internal — it’s a moral evil. What’s being revealed by the cameras is what their internal will is. Their will hasn’t been changed by the trick, because (as I keep specifying) it’s assumed that their will has already been formed prior to the trick.

    Also note, for example: Someone who has formed the firm intention to kill someone, but is waiting for a suitable moment to carry it out, has committed the same moral evil as someone who has formed the same intention, and then carried it out. And it’s the same moral evil if someone forms the firm intention to kill, and erroneously thinks he has achieved it. Certainly there is a difference between the three situations as regards the amount of objective evil in the world, but not the moral evil.

    Zippy: “The most one could argue to attempt to make this defensible is to contend that when the clinic worker, at the deliberate prompting of the sting investigator, intentionally begins making preparations to intentionally commit murder, she isn’t doing evil.”

    There’s moral evil in the thinking of the clinic worker, because the worker thinks they are preparing for a real abortion. But there is no objective evil, because they are in fact preparing for a fictitious event. In fact, causing the clinic worker to take time to prepare a fictitious abortion, rather than a real one, could justifiably be counted as a objective good.

  • Zippy says:

    Paul Connor:
    There’s moral evil in the thinking of the clinic worker, because the worker thinks they are preparing for a real abortion.

    Moral evil intentionally prompted by the sting operator as a means to his end.

  • Paul Connors says:

    Paul Connors: “There’s moral evil in the thinking of the clinic worker, because the worker thinks they are preparing for a real abortion.”

    Zippy: “Moral evil intentionally prompted by the sting operator as a means to his end.”

    If it’s the case that the clinic worker has — at some time prior to the sting — already made the internal moral decision that, given the appropriate circumstances, they will help prepare an abortion, then the moral evil has already happened. In which case the sting will not prompt a moral evil by the clinic worker, because the moral evil has already occurred.

    But, if the clinic worker has not made their moral decision at some prior time, then prompting them could indeed be prompting a moral evil.

    Which of these two cases applies is not clear to me in the case of Live Action. It would depend on a lot of details. People proposing any kind of sting must discern very carefully.

  • Zippy says:

    Paul Connors:
    If it’s the case that the clinic worker has — at some time prior to the sting — already made the internal moral decision…

    That is a literal impossibility for the specific evil things the clinic worker does on camera. The footage is footage of the clinic worker doing evil things, prompted by the sting operator. If it weren’t, the sting would be a failure: those evil acts on camera, deliberately prompted by the sting investigator, are a means to the sting operator’s ends — always, in every case of a sting investigation.

    So the sting operator always, without exception, does moral wrong.

    You keep trying to imply that there is some sort of loophole here that could make an abortion sting morally acceptable, with “careful discernment” or whatever. There isn’t. It is always morally evil to begin preparations for a specific abortion. The clinic worker (if the sting succeeds) always begins preparation – in specific concrete acts caught on film – for a specific abortion, and is always prompted to do so by the sting operator.

  • Paul Connors says:

    Paul Connors: “If it’s the case that the clinic worker has — at some time prior to the sting — already made the internal moral decision that, given the appropriate circumstances, they will help prepare an abortion, then the moral evil has already happened”

    Zippy: “That is a literal impossibility for the specific evil things the clinic worker does on camera. The footage is footage of the clinic worker doing evil things, prompted by the sting operator.”

    Hmm, well maybe now I have found the source of the disconnect between us.

    Catholic theologians (going back at least 300 years) have not held that merely asking someone to sin is necessarily an intrinsic evil — whether or not they actually perform the sin. Of course, advising them to sin, persuading them to sin when they show reluctance, or otherwise trying to actively persuade someone to sin is wrong (it’s scandal). But not merely asking. Though, there has to be a seriously proportional reason to do this.

    One example (given here) is of someone who needs a loan for morally serious reasons (e.g. to feed a family), and who asks a usurer for the money. It can be permitted.

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