Let them eat cake

September 6, 2013 § 15 Comments

The modern economic order is one in which many businesses, large and small, are required to take on customers that they don’t want.  New Sherwood has a clever idea about how to respond to liberal brownshirts who are using the law to force small business owners to (for example) bake “wedding” cakes for sodomites: pledge to donate all of the proceeds to Courage or similar organizations.

The analysis of material cooperation with evil is correct, as best as I can tell.  As in similar situations, compliance with the law under protest in order to sustain an ability to make a living is, again in my analysis, morally licit.

Nothing says “leave me and my business alone” like funneling all the revenues from your unwanted customers to organizations they find distasteful.

I’d even suggest that a Christian pharmacist ought to donate all of his contraceptive revenues to a big, mainstream anti-contraception organization.  That is, I’d suggest it if one existed.

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.

Kicking them while they are down for Jesus

May 29, 2013 § 69 Comments

It has been suggested that it is morally acceptable for pro-life operatives to lie to abortion clinic workers, requesting an abortion that one does not intend to carry out, because clinic workers are already known to be formally cooperating in other abortions.

On top of the naked consequentialism in this approach to lying, it completely inverts the moral theology of scandal.

Under the moral theology of scandal even an otherwise morally acceptable behavior – which lying is not – can be sinful if it leads another person to sin.  Formal cooperation with evil – like a clinic worker agreeing to help someone get an abortion, or a slut agreeing to sleep with her seducer – is sinful.  Formal cooperation with evil is sinful even when the intention to do evil is thwarted by circumstances.  A tempter who is lying is just such a circumstance.

The moral theology of scandal is directed toward the protection of those who are vulnerable to temptation.  Even if an action is not evil in itself, it can become evil if it tempts another person to form an evil intention or perform an evil act.  The fact that a person may be a habitual sinner in general does not remotely begin to excuse specifically and deliberately creating the near occasion for a specific, new sin.

Turning the innocent into material adulterers

March 5, 2013 § 34 Comments

It is never acceptable to confuse a “subjective” error about moral good with the “objective” truth rationally proposed to man in virtue of his end, or to make the moral value of an act performed with a true and correct conscience equivalent to the moral value of an act performed by following the judgment of an erroneous conscience. It is possible that the evil done as the result of invincible ignorance or a non-culpable error of judgment may not be imputable to the agent; but even in this case it does not cease to be an evil, a disorder in relation to the truth about the good. – Veritatis Splendour

In Catholic moral theology we distinguish between what is formal (that is, intended) and what is material (unintended).

Most of us are probably material heretics: that is, we believe certain things to be true which are in conflict with sound doctrine. We’ve all experienced that “aha!” moment when we understand a doctrine and realize that we had it wrong before. When we had it wrong, we were material heretics: we didn’t intend to dissent from sound doctrine, and as soon as we realized our error we corrected it. But the ideas we had held to be true were in fact in conflict with sound doctrine.

One of the reasons that the annulment process should be very rigorous, and should err very strongly on the side of declining to invalidate a marriage, is that if the tribunal makes a mistake – and as a juridical institution it is certainly liable to do so – the resulting annulment and ‘remarriage’ turns the parties into material adulterers. This is a gross injustice against everyone involved, and most especially against any “new” spouse not previously married.

What not to do about tyranny

February 8, 2013 § 25 Comments

Liberalism has succeeded largely by bringing down tyrants, real or perceived, unleashing the free and equal new man to do whatever he chooses to do — as long as what he chooses to do is consistent with liberalism. It has done so by attacking the very idea of particular men or particular ideas having legitimate authority. Thus it devolves into an assault on truth.

There is no question that we live under a perverse regime, where those in authority hold to twisted ideas radically at odds with the good, the true, and the beautiful. Therefore the impulse to resist the tyrant is natural and good.

However, the means we choose to achieve our ends are important in both the moral and the practical domain.

In the moral domain it is wrong for us to lie or to advocate lying. (Advocacy of lying is formal cooperation with evil and is just as wrong as lying ourselves). When we advocate that the government adopt an agnostic or nominalist approach to marriage or some other fundamental institution we are advocating that the government lie: that government officials tell falsehoods about marriage and base policies on those falsehoods. It is wrong for us to advocate in favor of this on principle, independent of consequences.

So even though Caesar is a tyrant, and even if we think we might be better off if he did lie as a matter of consequences, it is wrong for us to advocate that Caesar lie.

Lez affair economics and formal cooperation

January 1, 2013 § 12 Comments

I’ve noted before that the language used by libertines about the government “allowing” various contracts (like so-called “gay marriage”) is inherently dishonest language, because the enforcement of contracts is not a passivity of government but an activity of government.   Specific terms in a contract cannot be enforced without the enforcer of the contract intending those specific terms.  If the enforcer of the contract intends the terms of the contract he is formally cooperating with that contract.[1]

It follows, then, that if a contract has intrinsically immoral terms – say it charges usury for money lent or asserts that two homosexuals are married – that the government officials who enforce it, and indeed anyone and everyone who intends that its intrinsically immoral terms be enforced and acts in any way toward assisting in that end, including even merely advocation by speech, commits formal cooperation with evil.

So the notion that people should be “allowed” to enter into contracts as long as they do so by mutual consent, independent of whether the contract terms are morally acceptable, is a bit problematic.

[1] It is possible in many cases for the enforcer to treat various terms of a contract as severable.  In such a case the morally right course of action could be to enforce the morally just terms and treat the unjust terms as null and void.  In a contract for usury this might mean (depending on the particulars) enforcing return of principal but not enforcing payment of interest.

The RAT: Relativism Aptitude Test

November 1, 2012 § 1 Comment

Conscience : Left Liberals :: Prudential Judgment : Right Liberals

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