Biting the logic bullet

August 11, 2017 § 124 Comments

In general there is a lot of resistance to morally evaluating the means we choose to accomplish our ends in their own right, independent of those ends. Modern people resist evaluating behaviors in themselves against objective moral criteria.

It is certainly true that, in order to be morally evil, a particular objective kind of behavior must actually be chosen by a moral agent in an act of the will.  It is also true that choices of behavior are preceded by the formation of interior subjective plans, intentions, mentalities, and dispositions, all of which are themselves subject to moral evaluation. Later behaviors are often preceded by earlier behaviors, carried out in preparation for the later behavior. And it is possible for a moral agent to suffer from an error of knowledge: for the person making the choice to be mistaken, to think that the kid waving a toy gun is actually a criminal waving a real gun.

A subjective error of knowledge is of course (and obviously) entirely different from the person making the choice having a malign subjective opinion that it is morally acceptable to shoot children waving toy guns. Malign subjective opinions don’t change objective moral reality. Subjective opinions don’t in themselves change objective reality at all, although disordered preferences can certainly give rise to disordered behaviors.

Once we accept the premise that good ends don’t justify evil means it follows that we must be able to morally evaluate means in themselves, independent of ends, and reject those means which are morally evil. We’ve already stipulated 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 evil.

The means we choose to achieve our ends must always, first, and foremost be evaluated morally in themselves, independent of those ends.

And this is a logic bullet that most people just aren’t willing to bite.

§ 124 Responses to Biting the logic bullet

  • Edward says:

    Just ask the people of Hiroshima.

    Apologies for being rather off-topic, but I thought this link might be of Zippish interest: http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/issues/august-11th-2017/the-real-reason-catholics-cant-be-freemasons/

    Well-known, badly-named canonist Ed Condon hinting heavily that Catholics are forbidden by canon law from supporting many (most? All?) political parties because theyre tainted with Freemasonry.

  • “It is certainly true that, in order to be morally evil, a particular objective kind of behavior must actually be chosen by a moral agent in an act of the will.”

    I’m going to question just that one part, Zippy. I think we can have moral evil inflicted by unwitting tools who are actually engaged in sin with no awareness at all. Objectively it is still “moral evil” to plow into a crowd of pedestrians as a drunk.

    There may well be degrees of immorality or something, but I tend to believe sin need not be a conscious act of will, mostly because our own ability to deny or fail to recognize our will in the situation is somewhat legendary. We’re kind of dumb that way.

    I tend to think of freewill as the freedom to chose what we will be influenced by, but we have a way of allowing ourselves to be influenced by all sorts of dark things and then to claim victim status,as if the end result was not an act of our will at all.

  • Scott W. says:

    Objectively it is still “moral evil” to plow into a crowd of pedestrians as a drunk

    The chosen evil act was getting drunk. Plowing into pedestrians the evil consequence.

  • “The means we choose to achieve our ends must always, first, and foremost be evaluated morally in themselves, independent of those ends.”

    I actually have a post related to that very theme coming out in a few hours. I don’t wish to sound unkind towards women, but short sighted, emotionally driven, and prone to measure morality as good intent, as if the ends justify the means, are really feminine characteristics.

  • There may well be degrees of immorality or something, but I tend to believe sin need not be a conscious act of will, mostly because our own ability to deny or fail to recognize our will in the situation is somewhat legendary.

    You don’t need to be conscious that what you are doing is sinful in order to commit a sin. But you do have to be conscious of what you are actually objectively doing. Zippy explains this in the example he gave with the kid waving a toy gun. We don’t have to be conscious that shooting a kid waving a toy gun is sinful in order to commit evil by shooting him, but we do have to be conscious that we are actually shooting a kid waving a toy gun; if we think we are shooting a criminal wielding a real gun, then we don’t necessarily sin by shooting.

    Another example is one of an innocent man sentenced to death. The executioner doesn’t sin by killing the man because he thinks he is executing a guilty man.

    We do have a tendency as human beings to rationalize all sorts of things, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t genuinely have impaired wills or have perceptions that don’t accord with reality. The consequences (such as that of the drunk driver hitting pedestrians) is evil, but it is not moral evil.

  • “Another example is one of an innocent man sentenced to death. The executioner doesn’t sin by killing the man because he thinks he is executing a guilty man.”

    Yes and yet I dispute that. Weren’t Nazis just following orders too? As to shooting the kid with the toy gun, I think our souls recognize the sin there, we suffer the sin of having been deceived, the sin of having taken a life. It may be understandable, it may have been the only choice we knew to make, but it is still sin.

    Myself, I don’t believe having an impaired will or a perception that is not in accord with reality has any bearing on whether or not we sin. Sin is an objective thing outside of our intentions,and sometimes even outside of what we perceive as our own will.

  • Zippy says:

    insanitybytess22:

    Weren’t Nazis just following orders too?

    It isn’t a question of following orders. It is a question of whether, as duly appointed representative of competent authority, the executioner is or is not executing a man who is in fact guilty of a capital crime.

    I’ve argued with (Catholic) legal positivists that when the executioner personally knows of the condemned man’s innocence he is required to refuse to perform the execution. Trustworthy knowledge of the condemned man’s guilt is a necessary precondition of a licit execution. (As is often the case, that other theoretically orthodox people would argue the contrary I found rather stunning).

    As to shooting the kid with the toy gun, I think our souls recognize the sin there, we suffer the sin of having been deceived …

    Moral wrong is always in the will: in the choices we make. It is possible to be innocently deceived and therefore not culpable in a terrible accident. However, it is often the case that we are guilty for the consequences of a terrible accident because of negligence. The part which we choose is the negligent behavior; guilt for the consequences of that negligent behavior is imputed to us because of the negligence.

    Truly innocent errors do happen though. Heck, if I didn’t believe in invincible ignorance I’d have to conclude that all Protestants go to Hell.

  • Yes and yet I dispute that. Weren’t Nazis just following orders too?

    You are conflating two different things. The Nazis were aware of what they were doing; it wasn’t like they thought the gas chamber was really just a room that teleports people to the big rock candy mountain. They were aware that what they were doing was starving and torturing people; they just thought they were in the right. The executioner in my example is unaware of what he is actually doing.

    Sin is an objective thing outside of our intentions,and sometimes even outside of what we perceive as our own will.

    Sure sin is objective; but we have to objectively will that which is sinful in order for it to be a sin. Otherwise the doctor who attempts a risky surgery that ends up killing the patient is guilty of murder. A man who buys a rolex that happens to be stolen is guilty of theft.

  • “Heck, if I didn’t believe in invincible ignorance I’d have to conclude that all Protestants go to Hell.”

    Ha! Well, I have found it best to just repent of all things at all times, always. I am absolutely certain sin is involved somewhere, and that has been proven true every time. I don’t think I believe in “innocent errors” but I certainly do believe in God’s mercy and grace.

  • Zippy says:

    insanitybytes22:

    If every action is sinful then there is no moral good, and therefore there is – literally – no reason to bother trying to do the right thing.

    Is that really the conclusion you are looking for?

  • TomD says:

    Sin and Evil are not the same thing. Something can be evil without being sin.

  • Zippy says:

    TomD:

    Right. Evil in the most general sense is a “disorder in relation to the truth about the good” (Veritatis Splendour). Traditionally we distinguish between ‘natural evil’ (widespread death by the bubonic plague, say) and ‘moral evil’ (sin).

    The subject of the OP is moral evil, in particular.

  • “If every action is sinful then there is no moral good, and therefore there is – literally – no reason to bother trying to do the right thing. Is that really the conclusion you are looking for?”

    Somewhat, yes. That is why we have a Savior, no? Trying to do the right thing on your own as if it is even possible to not ever sin, sounds like an even worse conclusion.

    Isn’t it true that “moral evil” stems from human action (or inaction in some cases?) That’s the classic definition, so I was just trying to understand why you have introduced the idea of sin into the equation? One can sit there and do absolutely nothing in the face of evil, technically not sinning at all and yet one is. So moral evil can occur with or without sin, completely independent of human will or desired outcomes.

  • Zippy says:

    insanitybytes22:

    Trying to do the right thing on your own …

    … is a change of subject.

    Again if there is no objective distinction between good things to choose and evil thing to choose then all moral discussion is meaningless. We might as well just go watch cat videos, because there isn’t even a discussion to be had.

  • Zippy says:

    insanitybytes22:

    Just to stay focused, here again is the statement in the OP to which you objected:

    “It is certainly true that, in order to be morally evil, a particular objective kind of behavior must actually be chosen by a moral agent in an act of the will.”

    This is true by definition: moral evil is an evil action chosen by a moral agent.

    That isn’t a comprehensive account of evil (see the distinction between natural and moral evil upthread). But unless this is just some sort of vocabulary problem I can’t make sense of the objections.

  • “Again if there is no objective distinction between good things to choose and evil thing to choose then all moral discussion is meaningless.”

    I am objecting because I believe we lack the intelligence and moral compass to even know the difference half the time. So when you say, “a particular objective kind of behavior must actually be chosen by a moral agent in an act of the will,” I disagree. We are moral agents exercising our will in only the most basic moral situations.

    Your definition leaves a lot of leeway for us to just create a world full of “not sinners,” everyone now “victims” rather than moral agents, living in a land full of nothing but unintended consequences. Which is pretty close to what we have going on already.

  • Zippy says:

    insanitybytes22:

    Your definition leaves a lot of leeway for us to just create a world full of “not sinners,” everyone now “victims” rather than moral agents, living in a land full of nothing but unintended consequences.

    I haven’t the faintest idea what you are talking about.

  • LarryDickson says:

    I think insanitybytes22 has too poor an opinion of the God-given stability of the human mind. Soviet soldiers were shattered by the experience of being rapists, despite propaganda and social pressure to do it; they had to get drunk to do it; two generations later, as the Soviet Union was toppling, those old soldiers were drinking themselves to death by the thousands. Same thing for American women having abortions. We are created to love, and are filled with horror when we deny that, even in the darkness of paganism – look at “The Trojan Women” by Euripides, or “The Ones who Walk Away from Omelas” by Ursula LeGuin.

    Everyone in their hearts knows that evil means poison good ends. It is called having a conscience. People have to scream really loud to shout it down.

  • “I think insanitybytes22 has too poor an opinion of the God-given stability of the human mind.”

    That’s a distinct possibility.

  • Advenedizo says:

    Talking to protestants the other day I got an answer similar to that of insanitybytes.

    If I remember correctly they believe that sin is unavoidable, and that you can even sin during your sleep. They were using a psalm as support, maybe 16.

    So logically, if you believe that sin is unavoidable, why even try.

    I was surprised. I do not think we read the same Bible or live in the same universe. Their mental view of reality is alien to me.

  • Advenedizo says:

    Sorry, psalm 19 counting as protestants. 20 the Catholic number.

  • So logically, if you believe that sin is unavoidable, why even try.

    The strict form of predestination is why many Protestant denominations have developed lax morality rules. If you believe sin is a sign that one is going to hell (as opposed to something chosen which can send you to hell), then it’s much easier to say that lots of things aren’t sins than to say that literally everyone (since everyone sins) is going to hell. So the rules for morality become more lax as people don’t want to believe they are going to hell and there’s nothing that can be done (and rightly so; there is something that can be done).

  • Well, needless to say, I object to the portrayal of protestants as “lax liberals” and to the mis-understanding of predestination.Not be unkind here, but there’s some real truth in the old joke, “if you don’t like your in-laws, have them baptized Catholic and then you’ll never have to see them again except on Christmas and Easter.”

    I do believe sin is unavoidable, but I do not understand why that would translate into, “why try or why bother?” Grace is why we bother, recognition of His sacrifice for us, love for the Lord, a desire to be pleasing to Him. I am pretty sure there is no Catholic doctrine suggesting it is possible for us to obtain some kind of sin free status either, but I’ll leave that to the people who know such things.

  • TomD says:

    Unavoidable is said in two ways here – there’s absolutely unavoidable (that no matter what, you have to sin) and practically unavoidable (everyone is a sinner in some way).

    What we’re saying is that sin requires a choice – you have to choose the evil, and that this choice is free – you could have chosen not-evil. Otherwise, if it were sin and not chosen, God forced you to sin as you couldn’t avoid it.

  • “Otherwise, if it were sin and not chosen, God forced you to sin as you couldn’t avoid it.”

    God never forces us to sin. Just the same, there are numerous people so deceived they have no idea they are actually sinning and they do not see how their will laid the foundation for their sin.

    So to say, “in order to be morally evil, a particular objective kind of behavior must actually be chosen by a moral agent in an act of the will” puts an awful lot of faith in people’s ability to be totally self aware at all times, fully conscious, empowered moral agents of their own will. Also, unbelievably intelligent, because sin can get rather complex and moral ambiguity is a real thing in the world.

  • object to the portrayal of protestants as “lax liberals” and to the mis-understanding of predestinatio

    I didn’t mean to disparage all protestants. I was talking about the changes that were happening at the level of doctrine within Protestant denominations, not necessarily the behavior of individual protestants, and only certain denominations at that. And I certainly don’t mean to say there aren’t many lax Catholics.

    If sin is unavoidable in the sense that it is metaphysically impossible to avoid sin then there is no point in trying to do so. If all you mean is “at some point we will probably sin by our own free action” then yes there is a point in trying to avoid sin because with God’s grace it is possible to avoid it, and we have his mercy when we fail.

  • Zippy says:

    insanitybytes22:

    So to say, “in order to be morally evil, a particular objective kind of behavior must actually be chosen by a moral agent in an act of the will” puts an awful lot of faith in people’s ability …

    No it doesn’t. As I suspected, you are projecting all sorts of things onto my statement that it doesn’t say. (Despite sometime appearances I do try to choose my words carefully).

    What my statement says is that

    1) There are certain kinds or categories of objectively wrong behaviors, and

    2) One central kind of moral evil is when a moral agent chooses one of those kinds of behaviors.

    (There are other kinds of moral evil I have discussed elsewhere, and linked in the OP, e.g. formal cooperation with evil).

    As a mere abstract category of acts, theft isn’t sin. Sin becomes actual sin when a moral agent actually chooses to steal. Sin is in the act of a moral agent. Technically it is only possible to know what behavior he chose by placing yourself in his perspective — because he may have mistaken the toy gun for a real gun, not because his opinion is that shooting kids with toy guns is OK.

  • donnie says:

    I don’t find insanitybytes22’s understanding to be terribly surprising. See Leviticus Chapter 5:

    If any one sin through ignorance, and do one of those things which by the law of the Lord are forbidden, and being guilty of sin, understand his iniquity, He shall offer of the flocks a ram without blemish to the priest, according to the measure and estimation of the sin: and the priest shall pray for him, because he did it ignorantly: and it shall be forgiven him, Because by mistake he trespassed against the Lord. (Leviticus 5: 17-19)

    Taken literally this would seem to indicate that those who violate God’s Law in ignorance are still guilty of sin, and are still in need of atonement for said sin. It wouldn’t occur to a Protestant that what is actually being atoned for is the temporal effects of the evil action, not the eternal consequences of a mortal sin. Those who lived before Christ’s Sacrifice on Calvary had no hope of atoning for the eternal consequences of any sin in their lifetimes, not even original sin. All their acts of atonement were directed toward remedying sin’s temporal effects.

    Understood in this context, a Catholic would certainly agree that any man who violates God’s Law in ignorance ought still to make sacrifices and do penance to remit the temporal effects of his actions, and that others would do well to pray for him. But having acted out of ignorance, he was never in any danger of an eternal punishment. As it says in the last verse, “it shall be forgiven him, because by mistake he trespassed against the Lord.”

  • TomD says:

    Perhaps part of the problem is that even if something is not sin it can still be not good; it may not be sinful that the kid was shot, but it certainly was not good.

  • Zippy says:

    TomD:

    I think it is natural and appropriate to feel remorse when we are the instrument — even the unwitting instrument — of bad things happening. And it is always good to do what we can to mitigate those bad things, when we can.

    But there is a fundamental difference between accident and on purpose that modern people tend to resist in moral discussion just as much as they resist evaluating the morality of means in themselves, independent of ends.

  • donnie says:

    I also wonder how much of this debate is really a semantic issue. insanitybytes22 seems to be arguing that people can and do sin in ignorance. In other words, that a sin just is an evil action, rather than an evil action that the actor deliberately chooses, with full knowledge. The Scripture I quoted above seems to use the word “sin” in this way, in fact it is worded quite plainly in the Douay-Rheims translation: “sin through ignorance.” But once the full context is brought into the picture I think the truth is plain to see.

  • Zippy says:

    donnie:

    Yes, it is characteristic of an accident that there is remorse afterwords. I made this point in the endless debates over the justice of the Iraq war: if it really was just a mistake that there were no active WMD programs, and our leaders had been genuinely convinced that there were and that is why the war was justified, we ought to expect some sort of remorse or at least acknowledgement of this mistake.

    When we make mistakes, even non-culpable mistakes, we don’t (and shouldn’t) treat that the same as if we had successfully carried out some good action.

    I also wonder how much of this debate is really a semantic issue.

    Yes, FWIW I suggested that possibility upthread. It still strikes me as possible that this is one of those cases where if we were all using the same language there wouldn’t be disagreement.

    But it is hard to say for sure.

  • Advenedizo says:

    Well, there was no semantic problem with the protestants I spoke and I referred before. They were claiming that you can sin even while sleeping or being unconscious. when I kept telling that in order to sin a choice has to be made the pointed me to psalm 19 (or 18) verse 12, with hidden or unknown meaning unconscious or maybe accidental in the language we were discussing.

  • Zippy says:

    Advenedizo:

    They were claiming that you can sin even while sleeping or being unconscious.

    Yeah that pretty much just destroys any concept of morality right there.

  • Scott W. says:

    I suspect this is the passage:

    Who can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret faults.

    Which is really raises a discussion about culpability rather than chosen acts. There’s no escaping moral agency.

  • donnie says:

    Yeah that pretty much just destroys any concept of morality right there.

    I agree, but I can see how this might not be obvious to a Protestant.

    For instance, I am not aware of a single Protestant denomination that acknowledges the reality of the enormous, Christ-given gift that is the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. In rejecting this gift, Protestants have no assurance whatsoever that the sins for which they have repented of have been forgiven by God. I suppose it’s true that many presume that the sins for which they are knowledgeable of and sorry for have been forgiven, but I also know plenty of Protestants who recognize that God is not bound in any way, shape, or form to forgive them of their sins. They are entirely at God’s mercy. I think that this line of thinking also leads naturally to the errors of Calvin, that God has already decided ahead of time whose sins He will retain in His justice, and whose sins He will forgive in His mercy. Even if you are honestly repentant, God still has every right to retain your sins. No one is entitled to the salvation won by Christ’s Sacrifice.

    It doesn’t surprise me that folks that think this way might be inclined to believe that one can sin unknowingly or while sleeping or even while unconscious. If all sin is ultimately up to God’s discretion as to whether to bind or loose, forgive or retain, then why couldn’t it be true that we are all guilty of a myriad of sins that we don’t know about or weren’t awake for? Those sins would, if they existed, be just like all the other sins that we are knowledgeable of and sorry for: ultimately in God’s hands.

  • Once we accept the premise that good ends don’t justify evil means it follows that we must be able to morally evaluate means in themselves, independent of ends, and reject those means which are morally evil.

    That’s interesting. I don’t think we’d have much in common but I’d sort of agree – primarily because while ‘ends’ v ‘means’ are useful problem solving categories, when it comes to morality the distinction is unclear. ‘Means’ are in ends in themselves – they are outcomes of actions and they in turn have an impact on others and, in turn, have consequences beyond whatever ‘ends’ are used to justify them.

  • Zippy says:

    donnie:

    I think that this line of thinking also leads naturally to the errors of Calvin, that God has already decided ahead of time whose sins He will retain in His justice, and whose sins He will forgive in His mercy.

    Yes, which presupposes that perfect justice and perfect mercy are incompatible: that God cannot at one and the same time be perfectly merciful and perfectly just.

    There is also the fact that as finite human beings we discover our own flaws over time. This obvious fact has inconvenient implications for anti-realist or radically subjectivist moral theologies.

  • pilgrim says:

    I’m curious, Zippy: what is your take on the Catholic teachings using the principle of double effect?

  • TomD says:

    this search may help.

    Basically “double effect” is a real thing, but there are things that must be true before you can discuss it, and it’s not a “Will good do whatever”.

  • Zippy says:

    pilgrim:

    I firmly support the principle of double effect. On the other hand, it is probably one of the most abused principles in all of moral theology.

    The first step in the principle of double effect is to ask whether the proposed behavior of the acting subject himself is or is not evil in itself. If the proposed behavior is not at least morally neutral in itself, the principle of double effect does not apply at all.

    For example, fornication is an intrinsically immoral behavior. It is always morally wrong to choose to fornicate, no matter why one chooses to do it.
    Therefore the principle of double effect does not apply, and therefore it doesn’t matter that the woman seducing the terrorist (say) was trying to save a bunch of lives, or had some other good goal in mind, etc. Her further goals, weighing of good effects and bad effects, proportionate means, analyzing what causes precede the good effect, and the like, are entirely irrelevant — because fornication is an evil behavior in itself.

    Good ends never justify evil means, full stop. It follows that it must be possible to evaluate means in themselves, independent of ends.

    Most people who argue based on double effect either skip this step entirely or truncate it perfunctorily as a way to beg the question.

    There are certainly plenty of places where double effect does apply.

    For example suppose a military commander orders his soldiers to attack an enemy position. He anticipates that some of them will be killed by someone else — by the enemy – but he is not killing them in his own behavior. He isn’t firing his own weapon at them, blowing them up with a bomb, or the like. Furthermore his own ends are better served if none of his men are in fact killed. Therefore his act of ordering them to attack may (or may not[*]) be morally licit, as long as the other double effect criteria are met.

    ——

    [*] As an example where the commander’s behavior is not justified, consider David and Uriah. David acted immorally in this specific way because he intended for the enemy to kill Uriah, so that David could marry Bathsheba.

  • pilgrim says:

    Thanks, TomD. Apparently Zippy is OK with the principle of double effect, but it has to be under the proper conditions. As far as I can see, I think the same thing. A person should not pretend to be using the principle of double effect with a behavior that is an intrinsically disordered behavior. The principle doesn’t allow for that. The behavior (for the principle to apply) has to be in itself morally licit.

    I wonder. if a doctor uses the polio vaccine (or, a few decades ago, the smallpox vaccine), knowing that in nearly all cases the vaccine does not harm the person, but in one in ten million cases it kills them. Is that a case of a doctor choosing a behavior that kills innocent people?

  • Zippy says:

    pilgrim:

    I’ve written a number of posts where I talk about physicians and risky treatments in a context of double effect. Also Matt Briggs’ book on statistical / probabilistic reasoning is, while not directly related, a good antidote to the many epistemic minefields of viewing reality in probabilistic terms. (Just a quick comment from the phone at the moment, let me know if you have trouble finding appropriate stuff and I’ll get you links later tonite or tomorrow.)

  • pilgrim says:

    Thanks very much.

  • Scott W. says:

    Just finished reading you back-and-forth with Deacon Russell. Failed argument 8: Dropping The Bomb is like shooting a man trying to kill me and missing and just happening to kill innocent bystanders — omitting facts in an analogy.

  • Zippy says:

    Scott W:

    The weakness and predictability of the arguments in that article were bad enough. But the fact that there wasn’t even a pretense to try to address the (also well known and long tired, though decisive) counterarguments, and the whole “lets just try to leave the door of ambiguity open for maximum weaponized ambiguity” approach, makes the whole thing look more like a silly propaganda piece than something worthy of a publication which also features Jim Kalb as a writer.

    Disappointing, for an article published at Crisis.

  • Zippy says:

    BTW saw Maiden early this summer at the same venue where we went back in the day, when you came to visit. I think Book of Souls might actually be the best album to date. Just wish they could have pulled off a live version of Empire of the Clouds. I affectionately call my Scorched Apple Harley Pro Street Breakout “the Bike of Souls”, haha.

    As always let me know if you are ever in the area.

  • Scott W. says:

    I remember. I also remember Dickinson hinting that it might be their last USA tour. Never say never eh? Did you ever get a hold of their Trooper Ale?

    My wife was trying to get me up your way for a Capitals game for my Bday in November, but that’s looking pretty iffy.

  • Disappointing, for an article published at Crisis.

    Yes it is. I’m hoping a well argued counter argument will be published in the near future. They often have articles that offer counter arguments to other articles so I will be looking for it.

  • pilgrim says:

    I thought it was pretty poorly argued as well.

  • Advenedizo says:

    People over there must be pretty educated if they abuse the double effect principle. I do not think people know that principle where I come from. In my corner of the woods the abused principle is the lesser evil one. They choose evil even though a non evil option exists, particularly in politics.

  • Zippy says:

    Scott:

    Yeah, the Trooper ale was OK, nothing to write home about.

  • Zippy says:

    Advenedizo:

    I think what happens here is that some not especially bright pundits tend to use double effect as a kind of totem. They hold up the totem, readers check their catechisms and see that double effect is a thing, and then the pundit confers sacred favor upon the action he is writing to justify using the totem. Or even worse, the pundit recites the “so Catholics are free to disagree” incantation. This is supposed to suspend unequivocal condemnation of the action – even an action as obviously immoral as firebombing or nuking a whole city of civilians.

    Of course it is (under the fog of this incantation) possible to disagree about the moral status of the act itself, but people who support the act are good people and there is no imperative for them to repent of their formal support of mass murder.

  • Mike T says:

    Advenedizo,

    If I remember correctly they believe that sin is unavoidable, and that you can even sin during your sleep. They were using a psalm as support, maybe 16.

    I have never heard the “sin in your sleep” argument, but yes, we do believe that sin is unavoidable. However, we do not believe that that excuses any particular sin we commit. It’s just a constant reminder of the insufficiency of man’s actions with respect to salvation. Without Christ acting as our savior and intercessor for our sins daily, we would be judged by God’s perfect, unyielding standard and no one would ever, under any circumstances, find a punishment other than damnation.

  • Zippy says:

    If anyone is interested, the Crisis article about the atomic bombings (the comment thread is long, and nested / not in chronological order, but my own participation is kind of in its own ‘section’) is here: http://www.crisismagazine.com/2017/combatants-non-combatants-double-effect

    This link might take you to my comments, but in my experience Disqus often ‘hides’ things in a rather annoying way: http://disq.us/p/1lcsysc

    [Update: the link-to-comments seems to work OK]

    [Update 2: but it doesn’t take you to the whole thread in the mobile version, just to one of my comments in isolation. These nested comment systems are just atrocious.]

  • Wood says:

    I wanted to drop a bomb on disqus. I had to keep hitting “load more comments” until the end of the comments and then scroll back up to the top to find your discussion. It’s a really good one for people interested in this topic.

  • Zippy says:

    Folks could always “like” my comments, assuming you actually do like them, so that when the article loads that particular part of the discussion is pushed toward the top in the default setting.

  • If you go to the article and sort by “newest” your comments go close to the top for people to read them. I’ve read the whole thread and it really never got any better on the Deacon’s part.

  • Mike T says:

    I guess abortion is OK as long as it is done with bombs rather than suction aspiration.

    And what is a serial killer but an abortionist who doesn’t engage in age discrimination?

  • Zippy says:

    This comment by the author of the piece was a real head shaker:

    I remain convinced that there are legitimate objections Catholics can raise regarding treating the bombings of Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki as immoral acts. In a conventional war, they’d all be immoral. In a total war, as acts of an unjust aggressor, they’d all be immoral. But, in a total war, as acts of a *defender* against a total-war aggressor, I remain convinced that there is a possibility they can be considered justifiable.

    So being convinced that the bombings were definitely immoral acts is a personal attack on the author, because he remains convinced otherwise. And there are magic categories of war which make actions which would usually be immoral even in wartime receive a special dispensation through the incantation of the phrase ‘total war’. And the point isn’t to actually argue for the case, it is to pile shaming language on anyone who definitely concludes otherwise. The only permissible view is that there are multiple permissible views: definite conclusions are condemnable, but knowingly firebombing civilians isn’t.

    Oh, and a war which never so much as actually touched the mainland USA was a ‘total war’.

  • Zippy

    This was also from the author:

    The moral object of self-defense against a total-war aggressor by initiating an attack against the aggressor is morally good or indifferent.

    It seems he views moral objects in forms of categories. So the object is the moral category into which it fits rather than the moral category being a description of the particular moral object of the act. He argues (here and in other comments) that the actual object of the act was “self-defense against an unjust aggressor” rather than “dropping that particular bomb on that particular location.” And it leads to all kinds of nonsense.

    Just before the quote you gave was this:

    The reason discussion often goes in circles is because, at the outset, those who disagree can’t seem to move past their existing moral assessments to try to follow the rational basis for applying double effect. That is, if one thinks the A-bombings were unquestionably immoral because they fall into the category condemned by the Church, then it will be *very* difficult, if not impossible, to give due consideration to any application of double effect to the historical scenario that gave rise to the bombings.

    So even though the question that is under dispute is whether double-effect is even applicable in this case, it’s our fault for not giving double-effect reasoning due consideration. Basically “I know you say this is intrinsically immoral, but if you assume that you’re wrong, this analysis makes sense! Really it does! You just won’t look at it because you think you’re right.” It completely avoids the crux of the dissenting argument.

  • Zippy says:

    TimFinnegan:

    He argues (here and in other comments) that the actual object of the act was “self-defense against an unjust aggressor” rather than “dropping that particular bomb on that particular location.”

    Yes, he is obviously confusing the object of an act (the specific behavior chosen by the acting subject) with a remote intention: with the reason why the person acts, the desired consequences of his chosen behavior.

    And of course this just is consequentialism.

    And even that isn’t the half of it. The whole thing, article and comments, is designed to assert ambiguity and then claim moral superiority over anyone who reaches a definite conclusion. The only “permissible” conclusion is no conclusion.

  • And even that isn’t the half of it. The whole thing, article and comments, is designed to assert ambiguity and then claim moral superiority over anyone who reaches a definite conclusion. The only “permissible” conclusion is no conclusion

    Yes, and that’s just generally true of moral analysis nowadays. It is somewhat understandable (though still not desirable) when debating instances of things which actually are up to prudential judgment (such as modesty in dress), but when discussing something like bombing entire cities, it’s ludicrous. We might as well not even have laws or confession; no mortal sin or crime is even possible if we can’t come to definite conclusions about the morality of certain acts.

  • donnie says:

    Back in the day, my godmother actually wrote her eighth grade thesis on why Truman was morally justified in dropping both bombs. The nuns who ran her strict, pre-VII Catholic school loved her paper so much they gave her an award for it at her junior high graduation ceremony.

    She’s still proud of that award to this day. God love you if you even suggest that either of those bombings might have been intrinsically evil…

  • Mike T says:

    Zippy,

    I remain convinced that there are legitimate objections Catholics can raise regarding treating the bombings of Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki as immoral acts. In a conventional war, they’d all be immoral. In a total war, as acts of an unjust aggressor, they’d all be immoral. But, in a total war, as acts of a *defender* against a total-war aggressor, I remain convinced that there is a possibility they can be considered justifiable.

    I’m surprised that you didn’t note that what he’s describing is really just conventional war where the other side are a bunch of dishonorable dicks who don’t mind shooting women and children to accomplish their goals. His argument would only make any real sense if it were a matter of genocide, and I mean real genocide like what Hitler attempted on the Jews. If Israel existed as a nuclear power in 1942 and the Germans invaded with 4M soldiers to exterminate the entire nation to the last man, woman and child, one could at least forgive the Israelis for ordering a systematic nuclear strike across the Germany if their conventional forces couldn’t be trusted to be sufficient to stop the Wermacht.

    But back in the real world, that is not even remotely what happened in Japan…

  • Mike T says:

    Funny story. I was reading Quora and saw a question about Chinese vs American nuclear doctrine. The TL;DR summary was:

    1. American doctrine is nuke the military and hold out the ability to nuke the cities if the military’s survivors decide to hit our cities.
    2. Chinese doctrine is nuke the cities and pray the Americans or Russians don’t respond in kind because Chinese doesn’t have enough nukes for a counterforce (against the military) strike with the option to hit the cities after that.

    It’s ironic because all of the know-it-all wonks who call third world countries’ nuke policies rational haven’t seemed to notice that nukes are the sort of weapon where you have only two choices: play with the big boys on equal terms or face nuclear genocide at the hands of a very pissed off and hurt big dog.

  • one could at least forgive the Israelis for ordering a systematic nuclear strike across the Germany

    Only in the sense that all sins should be forgiven should the sinner sincerely repent. Blowing up entire cities with civilians cannot be justified by any set of circumstances, even genocide, and that is entirely the point.

    I’m surprised that you didn’t note that what he’s describing is really just conventional war where the other side are a bunch of dishonorable dicks who don’t mind shooting women and children to accomplish their goals.

    That isn’t what the author is talking about; the author is talking about a war with an enemy who is ready and preparing to conscript every able-bodied man, woman, and child to fight on their side of the war, which he claims makes every citizen a combatant.

    His argument would only make any real sense if it were a matter of genocide

    No, his argument only makes sense if one of the following is true:

    1) everyone is a combatant, even the infants and unborn children residing in the city

    2) you can drop a bomb in a place where you know someone will be blown up by it without “deliberately and directly” targeting that person

    His argument seems to be door number two, which is ludicrous on its face.

  • TomD says:

    It’s basically the same argument I got into with a “moral theologian” about usury – because extrinsic titles exist and we don’t know exactly what those entail, all interest is morally sound until the Church rules on it.

  • Zippy says:

    TimFinnegan:

    That isn’t what the author is talking about; the author is talking about a war with an enemy who is ready and preparing to conscript every able-bodied man, woman, and child to fight on their side of the war, which he claims makes every citizen a combatant.

    Right, in the ‘normal’ use of the term ‘total war’ with which I am familiar it refers to war crimes: to war prosecuted outside the bounds of jus in bello. In this case the author reverses that, in effect suggesting that war crimes (conduct outside what is permitted under the just war doctrine) becomes legitimate when the entire enemy population consists of combatants. The notion that the entire enemy population consists of combatants is of course ridiculous, as demonstrated (though not exhaustively accounted for by) the small born and unborn children in the civilian population who cannot possibly be combatants, no matter how strained and expansive we try to make that category be.

    But changing the understanding of total war to “the enemy’s objective is genocide” doesn’t excuse war crimes either. We may sympathize with the predicament of the defenders, just as we (say) sympathize with a woman pregnant with her rapist’s child.

    But no amount of sympathy adds up to justification of an immoral action.

  • Zippy says:

    TomD:

    … because extrinsic titles exist and we don’t know exactly what those entail, all interest is morally sound until the Church rules on it.

    Yes, this pervasive “hide morality in an epistemic cave as a way to produce license” nonsense is another good reason to be a digger.

  • Zippy:

    According to St. Thomas Aquinas:

    But as it is unlawful to take a man’s life, except for the public authority acting for the common good, as stated above (Article 3), it is not lawful for a man to intend killing a man in self-defense, except for such as have public authority, who while intending to kill a man in self-defense, refer this to the public good, as in the case of a soldier fighting against the foe, and in the minister of the judge struggling with robbers, although even these sin if they be moved by private animosity.

    My question would be: does this mean that private individuals acting in self-defense cannot take any action which is guaranteed to kill their attacker (such as shooting him between the eyes) because such an action would be an intentional killing?

  • Mike T says:

    TimFinnegan,

    Total war doesn’t have anything to do with conscription. This is a pretty good definition:

    a war that is unrestricted in terms of the weapons used, the territory or combatants involved, or the objectives pursued, especially one in which the laws of war are disregarded.

    I could have been clearer, but my point was pretty much that: a war in which at least one side throws Jus in Bello out the window.

    Total war covers a lot of things and doesn’t require any clear policy on who is a combatant and who is conscripted. It’s basically “screw it, they’re not us, do whatever works” no matter how evil and rotten it is.

    Only in the sense that all sins should be forgiven should the sinner sincerely repent. Blowing up entire cities with civilians cannot be justified by any set of circumstances, even genocide, and that is entirely the point.

    Yes, that was my point. It cannot be justified, but in a case where a weaker nation is facing genocide in an unjust war it didn’t start you have a situation where absent a powerful third party intervening militarily and taking credible steps to bring the war to a just resolution, you’ve entered a grey area where no human authority is competent to adjudicate the matter due to their inaction.

    The point that the nuke apologists cannot accept is that even the closest they could get to ever kinda, sorta, maybe justifying what we did still wouldn’t excuse it. It would just put the matter purely into God’s court to judge in eternity, but it wouldn’t justify it.

  • Mike T says:

    I think we can all agree that every Christian alive should have felt charity and sympathy for Truman because there are probably few, if any, men since the resurrection of Christ who have ever been so challenged to honor the first commandment.

  • Zippy says:

    TimFinnegan:

    Somewhere around here or at W4 maybe we discussed self defense, including that passage. I’m pretty sure I just disagree with Aquinas on the point: that your own life is a ‘micro-polity’ for which you are responsible and over which you have authority, including the authority to use lethal force in self defense if necessary, under a kind of ‘micro just war’ doctrine.

    It is also possible that I just haven’t fully grokked Aquinas’ meaning.

    But in any case a person who is choosing attacking behaviors is not innocent in the pertinent sense, so this would not call into question the absolute prohibition of killing the innocent.

  • Zippy says:

    Expanding on the OP, another thing that people have a very hard time doing is staying focused on evaluating the morality of actions.

  • Total war doesn’t have anything to do with conscription

    That may be, but my description is how the author was using the term in the context of the conversation at Crisis.

    It is also possible that I just haven’t fully grokked Aquinas’ meaning.

    Yes, it confused me a little bit too. It may be that he means that when killing in self-defense one can be considered in authority if one refers it to the public good (that is, refers the killing to the good of himself and/or others) rather than killing the man out of “private animosity.” Thanks for your take.

    evaluating the morality of actions

    What distinction are you drawing between behaviors and actions?

  • Zippy says:

    TimFinnegan:

    No distinction. The discussion had turned toward sympathy (or not) for Truman: that is, away from actions/behaviors and toward persons. The ’empathic turn’ in my experience tends to obscure evaluation of actions/behaviors.

  • The ’empathic turn’ in my experience tends to obscure evaluation of actions/behaviors.

    Ahh; yes that is true. And of course people usually have the most empathy for themselves which is why rationalization of ones own actions is something humans are adept at doing.

  • pilgrim says:

    a war that is unrestricted in terms of the weapons used, the territory or combatants involved, or the objectives pursued, especially one in which the laws of war are disregarded.

    I thought that the main ingredient of “total war” as that term was generallyy used for the two world wars was that all parts of society were mobilized so as to best make use of them with regard to the war. Kids going through trash to collect metal and rubber. Farmers told what to plant and how much. Auto makers told they can’t make the autos they want, they have to make tanks or planes. Rationing of almost everything that might affect the war. And on and on. Total mobilization. Total control of society for that one purpose. The nazis did it. We didn’t, quite.

    Maybe I misunderstood how it was being used.

  • Mike T says:

    No distinction. The discussion had turned toward sympathy (or not) for Truman: that is, away from actions/behaviors and toward persons. The ’empathic turn’ in my experience tends to obscure evaluation of actions/behaviors.

    The problem is not empathy toward Truman, it is the emotion-driven behavior that doesn’t recognize that Truman had to sacrifice those millions of lives in conventional, non-nuclear destruction to carry out his objective duties under the first commandment.

  • Zippy says:

    Mike T:

    What?

  • TomD says:

    With reference to Aquinas, it’s always best to quote the whole thing:

    I answer that, Nothing hinders one act from having two effects, only one of which is intended, while the other is beside the intention. Now moral acts take their species according to what is intended, and not according to what is beside the intention, since this is accidental as explained above. Accordingly the act of self-defense may have two effects, one is the saving of one’s life, the other is the slaying of the aggressor. Therefore this act, since one’s intention is to save one’s own life, is not unlawful, seeing that it is natural to everything to keep itself in “being,” as far as possible. And yet, though proceeding from a good intention, an act may be rendered unlawful, if it be out of proportion to the end. Wherefore if a man, in self-defense, uses more than necessary violence, it will be unlawful: whereas if he repel force with moderation his defense will be lawful, because according to the jurists, “it is lawful to repel force by force, provided one does not exceed the limits of a blameless defense.” Nor is it necessary for salvation that a man omit the act of moderate self-defense in order to avoid killing the other man, since one is bound to take more care of one’s own life than of another’s. But as it is unlawful to take a man’s life, except for the public authority acting for the common good, as stated above, it is not lawful for a man to intend killing a man in self-defense, except for such as have public authority, who while intending to kill a man in self-defense, refer this to the public good, as in the case of a soldier fighting against the foe, and in the minister of the judge struggling with robbers, although even these sin if they be moved by private animosity.

    This is mirrored by the law in most states that have CCW permits – the force used must be reasonable (moderate).

    And one of the ways it’s proved is by showing you did try to de-escalate the situation (in other words, you didn’t go looking for a reason to kill).

  • pilgrim says:

    it is not lawful for a man to intend killing a man in self-defense, except for such as have public authority, who while intending to kill a man in self-defense,

    So is he saying: if you intend to save your life by hitting him over the head, and in addition he dies, you are OK. But if you intend to kill him by hitting him over the head, and that will (happily) also save your life, that’s wrong – unless it so happens that you are a judge with the lawful authority to intend to kill him for the common good.

  • in other words, you didn’t go looking for a reason to kill

    I posed my question because (like with the bombings) it seems there are some behaviors one can take where it is impossible not to intend to kill a person. I offered shooting the killer between the eyes deliberately as another example. If it is true that there are some behaviors one can choose which by their nature include an intention to kill another person (that is, the behavior is one which by its nature involves killing a person) then if it is unlawful to intend to kill a man in self-defense, it is unlawful to choose those behaviors as a means of self defense.

    My own thought was that it is lawful if the killing, while intended, was referred to the public good but it is my lawfulnif it is referred to some private end (revenge, satiating a violent urge, etc.). I don’t know if that interpretation is consistent with aquinas, but it appears to me to be consistent with reason.

  • I THINK – think, mind you – Aquinas is saying that even in self-defense your goal can’t be “I want to kill this person”. It can be “I want to protect myself”, or “I want to protect my family”, and that COULD mean that the best way to do that is to shoot the attacker between the eyes – but your goal should not be his death, but to stop the threat.

    The full quote TomD gave above seems fairly clear on that point.

  • What?

    I think Mike is saying that people have a hard time grokking that Truman would have had to invade Japan and lose millions of lives in the process, as opposed to only killing several thousand in a nuclear strike, in order to obey the first commandment.

  • The full quote TomD gave above seems fairly clear on that point.

    The problem is that it seems there are certain behaviors which it is impossible to intend (deliberately choose) without intending to kill the attacker. I don’t see how one can say “I meant to shoot him between the eyes, but I didn’t mean to kill him.” If this is the case, then “a man may not intend to kill another man in self defense” means there are certain behaviors one cannot choose as an act of self-defense.

  • I think Mike is saying that people have a hard time grokking that Truman would have had to invade Japan and lose millions of lives in the process

    Edward Feser agrees. he says for the non-consequentialists, the decision of whether or not to use the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki is the time to put up or shut up; that it probably is true that not dropping the bombs would lead to many more dead and yet dropping the bombs is still the wrong thing to do.

  • The problem is that it seems there are certain behaviors which it is impossible to intend (deliberately choose) without intending to kill the attacker. I don’t see how one can say “I meant to shoot him between the eyes, but I didn’t mean to kill him.” If this is the case, then “a man may not intend to kill another man in self defense” means there are certain behaviors one cannot choose as an act of self-defense.

    Once again, I may be extrapolating too much, but the context around it seems to indicate that Aquinas’s meaning here is that it needs to be a last resort, not a first.

    Or like Zippy I just flat out disagree. Other interpretations just seem way too wrong to me.

  • Mike T says:

    malcolm,

    Yep, that’s precisely what I was saying. Surprised that Zippy didn’t get that because I thought my point was rather clear.

    The reason I feel such pity for Truman is that literally the only way for him to have honored the first commandment would have been to make one of the most radically anti-consequentialist decisions in the history of human civilization.

    It would probably take someone with the heart and soul of a (literal) saint to have any chance of making that call and being at peace with the tsunami of #$%^ that would come your way from your own countrymen, even knowing you damn well may have signed a death warrant for your entire family at the hands of an angry mob by doing so.

  • Wood says:

    Mike T,

    I’m not as sure about the alternate Truman scenario as you are, but it’s possible I’m not as familiar with relevant facts.

    My own experience in these types of debates though (abortion is another good example) is that discussions regarding empathy or culpability or what have you only become pertinent after everyone has agreed that a horrific grave evil has taken place. Not saying you disagree with the morality of the issue, but rather I can understand why anyone would rather not focus on the empathy side of things. It’s often a way for people to evade denouncing others or their own evil.

  • Zippy says:

    I don’t assume that a massive land invasion of Japan was ‘necessary’ either, since in real life there are usually far more options than two. And this is where the cartoon storytelling always starts.

    I think there is something wrong with the emotional appeal those hypotheticals are supposed to make.

    “You could save millions of lives if only you agree to mass rape their women and make sacrifices to Baal”.

    “We could cure Parkinson’s if only we cannibalized a few million embryos for research.”

    So what? Those aren’t tempting options at all.

    As I said, the appeal-to-empathy almost always distorts our judgment of specific behaviors.

    I can see the rhetorical appeal of a ‘bite the bullet’ speech: true, one should never do evil, not even to save the world. No question.

    But the confidence people tend to have in their own narrow minded unimaginative cartoon counterfactuals is what drives that rhetorical appeal.

  • Zippy says:

    Wood:

    Right. Sure, the way the question is phrased, if the choice is between bashing in an infant’s skull and the world ending then the world ends. But it is amazing how many other options will suddenly present themselves if the wicked path is ruled out by other factors. What if the manhattan project hadn’t gotten the atomic bombs to work yet?

    I used to see it in more of the Feser ‘bite the bullet’ way. But I think that may be granting too much to the apologists for war crimes.

  • Mike T says:

    I don’t assume that a massive land invasion of Japan was ‘necessary’ either, since in real life there are usually far more options than two. And this is where the cartoon storytelling always starts.

    Factor in the well-earned reputation of the IJA as a war crimes machine that considered surrender to be a feint, not a serious move, and give us an example of how the allies would have done that.

  • Zippy says:

    Mike T:

    I’m not much of a storyteller. I lack the predisposition to constrain my perceptions of reality to a cartoon.

  • TomD says:

    As far as the USA is concerned, once Japan is no longer attacking her people, she can simply be ignored.

    Or they could have nuked Mt Fiji. Repeatedly.

  • Silly Interloper says:

    Didn’t the US have an offer of surrender in hand before the nukes? Japan’s only condition/request was to keep the kingship intact, and the US refused, even though they allowed it after the bomb.

    I believe that’s accurate, though it’s been an eternity since I learned it.

  • Mike T says:

    Silly Interloper,

    We did, but you have to bear in mind that the IJA was indoctrinated against surrender. Our experience with surrendering troops suddenly trying to murder our servicemen taught us that if it happened at that scale, nothing short of some mechanism forcing a total capitulation could be trusted.

    TomD,

    As far as the USA is concerned, once Japan is no longer attacking her people, she can simply be ignored.

    So call it quits after we broke their Navy at Midway?

  • Zippy says:

    They are sneaky, see, so we had to deliberately slaughter women and children. Otherwise they would have sprung up out of tunnels in Iowa.

  • Zippy says:

    It isn’t difficult to just Google articles like this one: http://www.fpp.co.uk/History/General/atombomb/strange_myth/article.html

  • Zippy says:

    I found this particularly interesting:

    Within the Department of State, there was less agreement than there was in the War Department over the idea of redefining the unconditional surrender doctrine. Assistant Secretaries Dean Acheson and Archibald MacLeish argued against any change in the Roosevelt doctrine of total surrender, not only because they felt sure it would be very unpopular with the American public, but because they took a dim view of the Emperor and regarded him as having been a tool of the infamous Premier Tojo and his military clique, and even as a possible subject of war crimes prosecution. Both saw him as a stumbling block to the development of genuine democracy in Japan.

    So it wasn’t enough to destroy Japan’s capacity to do us harm. We had to impose liberalism on them, good and hard.

    Does this sound familiar?

  • Mike T says:

    That article still held out the possibility that the IJA would have fought us tooth and nail through Kyushu and Honshu.

    They are sneaky, see, so we had to deliberately slaughter women and children.

    So now you’re accusing me of supporting a position that I actually disavowed?

  • Zippy says:

    Interestingly, the use of the atomic bombs on Japan may be the only time that liberalism has been successfully and totally imposed, by military force, on an illiberal country (as opposed to incubating from within). That probably in part explains why it remains such an iconic cartoon symbol that most people are simply incapable of assessing with a modicum of realism even today.

    Modern leftists see it as a horror because the conquering of Japan via nuclear holocaust successfully imposed a form of liberalism they have left behind, and now see as the terrible bigoted racist sexist homophobic oppressor establishment.

    Modern neocons/conservatives see it as a triumph because it is what they continue to hope to do everywhere. If the oppressor-untermensch is not eliminated everywhere, there can never be peace.

  • Zippy says:

    Mike T:

    That article still held out the [remote] possibility that the IJA would have fought us tooth and nail through Kyushu and Honshu.

    Sure. We also might get hit by a giant meteor.

    So now you’re accusing me of supporting a position that I actually disavowed?

    I know better than to take demonstrating the consistency of other peoples’ positions on myself.

    But maybe a more fair phrasing would have been “they are sneaky, see, and would have started emerging from tunnels under Iowa if we didn’t utterly obliterate them, so Truman’s predicament should elicit lots of sympathy from us”.

  • FWIW, I have no issue with Dr. Feser’s method of characterizing events, nor of sympathy for Truman. I was in favor of the bomb like every other red-blooded patriotic American until Feser talked me out of it. The conclusion was simply too inescapable for those opposed to consequentialism, the logic too air tight.

    But frankly, my study of it – I did study it in the past, though not on a scholarly level – leads me to side more with Mike T and Dr. Feaer’s read of events than anything else, and I have no problem saying that Truman had a hard choice to make.

    Hard cases do exist sometimes; I also know cases where delivering a baby as opposed to abortion did, in fact, lead to the death of the mother.

    This was one of them.

  • Yeah, that’s an article with a dissenting opinion all right. Want me to find a dozen more that support the traditional read of events? Interviews from generals? A few books?

  • Zippy says:

    Malcolm:

    It would be bad form for me to be unsympathetic to a view (your view) which was once my own.

    But I nevertheless think it grants far too much to the apologists for war crimes, in this particular case. Americans wanted to slaughter Japs and pound them into total capitulation because they were pissed off, and with reason (the pissed off part). You might consider it a civilizational crime of passion.

    But the supposed rational justifications – even granting consequentialism – are weak tea, cooked up after the fact.

  • Silly Interloper says:

    Yeah, how does changing a stipulation change how cooperative they would be?

  • TomD says:

    An aside – but as to Aquinas’s description of self-defense you might be able to argue that (in the USA at least) every citizen has been delegated the public authority to kill in very limited cases (explicitly by some of the self-defense laws).

  • Zippy says:

    I very much agree with this by the way and have knowledge of similar cases:

    Hard cases do exist sometimes; I also know cases where delivering a baby as opposed to abortion did, in fact, lead to the death of the mother.

    However, I don’t really believe any more that the atomic bombings were in fact a ‘hard case’ like this, at least given the background I myself have read on them.

    And I think treating them in particular like a ‘hard case’ has some detrimental effects (though “sure I’ll bite the bullet, millions were saved but we still shouldn’t have done it” is appropriate rhetoric against consequentialism).

  • TomD says:

    Zippy – WWII was still solidly in the “wars are caused by illiberal societies” era (which continues to today), so it would make a sick sort of sense that victory isn’t assured until liberalism rules your enemies (because of course then they won’t be enemies again, because liberalism doesn’t admit of any enemies).

  • Zippy says:

    Trivia: my grandfather knew Harry Truman when he was a haberdasher and used to play cards with him regularly, or so the family legend goes.

  • King Richard says:

    I hate to interpose so late, but please indulge me if I cover topics already discussed:
    US war crimes against Japan began early.
    1- the deliberate massacre of shipwrecked sailors and those giving aid to shipwrecked sailors, including rescue vessels (all specifically prohibited) This also was done versus German naval forces which is why the u-boats stopped rescuing allied sailors after sinking ships.
    2- Purposeful denial and destruction of food intended for civilians in opposition to international law. Mining campaigns against rivers designed to kill civilian farmers to disrupt food distribution, for example, was the purposeful targeting of non-combatants *and* the illegal disruption of food distribution to civilians
    3- The fire bombing of civilian targets. This one has been discussed at great length focusing on how the incendiaries were not suitable for damaging military infrastructure like train tracks and were not targeted on factories, but were focused on residential areas and maximized to burn homes and shops.. General Lemay, who initiated, commanded, and planned the firebombings he selected targets not based on military capacity, strategic location, etc. but purely based upon their civilian population – the more civilians, the higher their firebombing priority.
    The first bombing of Tokyo (the deadliest in history) killed so many civilians that later waves of planes had to wear oxygen masks to block the stench of burning bodies – at an altitude of almost 4 miles.

    As for the ‘if the Japanese hadn’t been nuked they would have fought to the last man’ myth, it is well documented that the Japanese offered surrender more than once asking only that their emperor not be charged with war crimes. The atomic bombs seemed to “only” be as bad as the fire bombings that had been going on for months. The fact that the Soviet Union finally declared war against Japan at about he same time probably would have also forced a surrender. Additionally, American strategists expected Operation Starvation to force a Japanese surrender within a few months without a shot fired as they cut off all fuel, food, and equipment to Japan and massively disrupted food distribution within Japan.

    Acting as if the atomic bombings can’t be a war crime because America doesn’t commit war crimes is ridiculous – the American high command was well aware that they had been conducting war crimes in both theaters for years. American high command knew Japan was not just on the edge of surrender but offering surrender.
    My personal suspicion is that American high command used the atomic bombs on Japan to intimidate the Soviet Union and to continue to punish the Japanese for daring to strike them.

  • pilgrim says:

    I’ve written a number of posts where I talk about physicians and risky treatments in a context of double effect. Also Matt Briggs’ book on statistical / probabilistic reasoning is, … let me know if you have trouble finding appropriate stuff and I’ll get you links later

    I did try to find them, and I had trouble. Sorry to bother you.

    I looked up Matt Briggs. I suppose you must mean William M (Matthew) Briggs. But I can’t figure out which one of his books you meant. I watched one of his youtube lectures, worthwhile for sure.

  • Zippy says:

    pilgrim:

    The Briggs book is here: https://www.amazon.com/Uncertainty-Soul-Modeling-Probability-Statistics/dp/3319397559

    We tend to do a lot of ‘probabilistic’ thinking without examining the underpinnings of that thinking, which is frequently just wrong. Briggs’s book isn’t on moral theology it is on probabilistic thinking. I don’t agree with everything in it but it is great reading for someone who wants to do more digging in this ‘fish don’t realize they are in the water’ aspect of how we think.

    My own positions on double effect and intrinsic evil haven’t been organized into an easy ’roundup’, unfortunately.

    Some relevant posts of mine in the general vicinity include (I don’t expect you to read them all, I’m just pointing to some in what I think is a reasonable guess as to order of relevance — maybe glance at them and read the ones you think are pertinent):

    https://zippycatholic.wordpress.com/2012/08/19/surgical-strikes/
    https://zippycatholic.wordpress.com/2016/01/10/horton-hears-a-homicide/
    https://zippycatholic.wordpress.com/2009/01/22/on-assumed-transitivity-and-proof-by-counterexample/
    https://zippycatholic.wordpress.com/2009/01/20/rejecting-the-physicalistcausal-account-of-intrinsic-evil/

    https://zippycatholic.wordpress.com/2012/08/26/some-arguments-ought-to-throw-themselves-on-a-live-grenade/
    https://zippycatholic.wordpress.com/2014/05/09/fertile-discussion/
    https://zippycatholic.wordpress.com/2012/09/24/thespians-and-the-hhs-mandate/
    https://zippycatholic.wordpress.com/2009/01/13/the-splendour-of-self-contradiction/
    http://whatswrongwiththeworld.net/2007/08/ectopic_airliners_1.html

  • Mike T says:

    However, I don’t really believe any more that the atomic bombings were in fact a ‘hard case’ like this, at least given the background I myself have read on them.

    To my knowledge (for what little that may be worth) we have no concrete proof of precisely what knowledge Truman was acting on. Shoot, the CIA couldn’t even advise Reagan and H.W. that the Soviet Union was about to crash and burn they were so far out of it. So you ought to bear in mind that, absent clear evidence that Truman was given confident, well-sourced information that indicated a happy path to a resolution, he very well may have been nudged in a direction that would lead a reasonable to President to see his choices as all bad, just bad for different reasons.

    King Richard is onto something with the points about the Soviet Union. We did not want any part of Japan to fall into their occupation. You cannot discount the role that might have played in the advice he got.

  • Zippy says:

    My main sub-point is that Oprah-riffic sewing circle emoting/empathizing about Truman’s state of mind or whatever is irrelevant distraction when the subject we are addressing is the morality of the action.

  • pilgrim says:

    Thank you, Zippy

  • One more thing I noticed about the discussion at Crisis: it’s not that no definite conclusion can be come to, it is that only the definite conclusion that dropping the bombs was immoral is impermissible. It’s perfectly fine to come to the definite conclusion that the bombings were A-ok and accuse faithful Catholics who disagree of being cowardly pacifists who would have let the Nazis rule the world.

  • Zippy says:

    TimFinnegan:

    That seems endemic to all of these modernist faux-neutralities. We take a contentious dispute between A and not-A, and personally attack anyone defending A by asserting that people are “free to disagree”. Asserting A is a violation of the “free to disagree” principle.

    But of course those defending not-A are not personally attacked for their belief in not-A. The “free to disagree” principle is just a way of begging the question in not-A’s favor while mounting a personal attack against people who believe A.

  • […] attack anyone defending A with actual arguments by suggesting that in asserting A they violate the free to disagree […]

  • TomD says:

    Interestingly enough Deacon Russell can see the problem with “whores for Christ”, even if “nukes for Christ” is still cloudy.

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