Thursday, January 22, 2009

A simple misunderstanding?

Zippy Catholic has put a finer point on the parameters separating his view from my own, and I think it will clarify several misunderstandings to understand where it is right and where it is wrong. But there is a threshhold interpretational question that must be resolved first. It is stated in a previous post thusly:

This objection is problemmatic. Veritatis Splendour tells us: One must therefore reject the thesis ... 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 ... .

If we cannot determine the object of the act without considering the intention for which the choice was made, then Veritatis Splendour is self-contradictory, with all that that implies -- basically the encyclical is a meaningless jumble of words with enough apparent meaning that people can make it appear to say whatever they want it to say.

In the linked post it is stated this way:
But beyond that, Veritatis Splendour tells us that we must reject any moral theory which makes it impossible to qualify as morally evil the choice of certain concrete actions or kinds of behavior apart from any consideration of the intention for which the behavior was chosen.

I titled this post a "simple" misunderstanding, not to say that the diagnosis of the problem has been "simple" but that if the disagreement is what I think it is, then it turns on single interpretive question upon which every single disagreement with my position has turned.

The question is simply this:

What proposition constitutes the negation the following equivalent propositions from VS?

Those equivalent propositions are:



"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"
or the equivalent formulation of the proposition



"it is impossible to qualify as morally evil according to its species the
deliberate choice of certain kinds of behaviour or specific acts, without taking
into account the intention for which the choice was made or the totality of the
foreseeable consequences of that act for all persons concerned"

Let us begin with the glaring interpretive difference on the term "intention." My definition of the term, which I think is quite reasonable given the modifier "for which the choice is made," is that this is an ulterior intention, which could also be called a further intention or a remote intention or motive. Since John Paul II uses the term "proximate end" to describe the intent to perform the act according to the species, I would argue that this "intention" excludes the formation of the will required for the act to be what it is. In other words, I would maintain that the threshhold intent required for the choice to be some kind of species is simply part of the "choice," as contrasted with the intention for which the choice was made or the totality of the foreseeable circumstances.

There is, however, a countervailing interpretation that could be invoked to maintain that the choice of behavior is just the choice to do some particular concrete physical action irrespective of why one takes the action (the latter "why" being interpreted as intention). Thus, if the particular concrete physical action is done with some foreseeably certain effect immediately resulting from your physical action, then your chosen behavior necessarily includes the choice of that effect, irrespective of why one does it. Suffice it to say that I consider this interpretation wrong, but let's take is as being correct for the sake of argument.

Given the latter interpretation, one might take this proposition to mean that one can always classify intrinsically evil behaviors AS intrinsically evil apart from consideration of intention or circumstances. But I argue that this is a far stronger claim that is entailed by the denial of the propositions demanded by VS. Indeed, all one needs to be able to say to deny these propositions is that there is even one case in which is it possible to qualify an act as morally evil according to its species irrespective of the intention for which the choice was made or the totality of the foreseeable consequences of that act. I will refer to the former formulation as the "strong denial" and the latter as the "weak denial." I maintain not only that the "weak denial" is all that is required by VS but also that the "strong denial" is a false proposition that cannot be maintained.

As to the "weak denial" being an adequate negation of the principle, this follows simply from modal logic. "Impossible" simply means "not possible in any case," and the negation of "not possible in any case" is "possible in at least one case." So if we affirm that it is possible in at least one case to qualify a behavior as intrinsically evil (i.e., the weak denial), then we have denied the proposition.

I do, in fact, affirm that there are cases in which simply willing to do the behavior can be classified as intrinsically evil, completely irrespective of intention for which the behavior is done or the totality of foreseeable consequences. The clearest case is any sexual act of a type that is intrinsically sterile. There is no possible rationalization and no possible circumstance under which that act can be anything other than intrinsically evil. Likewise is the case of artificial contraception done for the purpose of regulating the number of births. Therefore, I affirm the weak denial.

As to the "strong denial" being false, we can take the case of theft, an intrinsically evil behavior which is the taking of property contrary to the reasonable will of the owner. Whether the owner's will is reasonable in opposing the taking of property must necessarily involve the use to which the property is planned to be put. This is because if the intended use of the property being taken is, for example, to avert starvation, to protect houses from being destroyed by flame, or other similar motives, then an owner's will to resist the taking would not be reasonable. Consequently, "theft" simply cannot be assessed according to its moral species, which includes evaluating the "reasonable will of the owner," without considering the remote intention for the use of the property.

Consequently, even on the variant interpretation of the term "intention" that I reject, it does not follow that anything more is required than the weak denial.

Now I can take this argument one step further, and argue that the variant interpretation is the one that actually makes nonsense of the meaning that VS intends to convey. The reason that I say this is because theft is an example of intrinsically evil behavior cited as what cannot be done even for good motives. But theft hardly qualifies as behavior that can be classified as intrinsically evil irrespective of the reason it is done, since the use of the property is essential for knowing whether it can be classified as theft in the first place! Consequently, the interpretation of VS that says that intrinsically evil behavior must be subject to classification based on the concrete choice of bodily action with all of its certainly foreseeable consequences irrespective of why that choice is made would render the case of theft completely irrelevant, since it clearly cannot be classified as intrinsically evil without regard to remote intention. It requires us to think that VS refutes the universal proposition, then digresses on to some other class of error completely distinct from the one being condemned, and then proceeds to flip willy-nilly between the two for the rest of the encyclical.

This is why I have always followed the rather conventional belief that "intention for which the choice is made" refers to an intention extrinsic to the "intention" (more specifically, "proximate end") required to classify the choice according to moral species. If you need to know why someone does something to determine whether it is evil, then that doesn't count as "intention." Taking property, for example, is a physical action that could be intrinsically evil but that cannot be determined as such without accounting for the remote intention of what one intends to do with the property. You can't even classify the proximate end of the action absent some reference to remote intention, since the intended use of the property is an essential element of what one is doing in choosing to take it and thus what the chosen behavior is in itself.

That suffices for the present point. I could (and plan to) subsequently argue that foreseeably causing the death of an innocent is precisely the sort of act that cannot be classified as intrinsically evil without reference to the reason one is using the means that cause the death, much like the taking of property cannot be classified without reference to why one is taking it. But there remains an intervening concern about double effect, and I will argue that my interpretation makes sense of it.

39 Comments:

At 8:54 PM, Anonymous Paul said...

The clearest case is any sexual act of a type that is intrinsically sterile. There is no possible rationalization and no possible circumstance under which that act can be anything other than intrinsically evil.


That part I didn't understand. Where does that come from?

 
At 6:44 PM, Blogger CrimsonCatholic said...

Unless we don't mean the same thing by an intrinsically sterile type, I thought it would be clear. I used that phrase to be euphemistic, but I mean it to refer to any sexual act completed somewhere other than a vagina. Masturbation, anal sex, and oral sex, for example, are intrinsically evil, regardless of why anyone does them.

 
At 8:12 PM, Anonymous Paul said...

Ah, I see! I knew you had to be talking about something else, but I couldn't see what. The word 'sterile' led me into thinking you were talking about the case of someone who was sterile choosing to engage in in a normal act of sex -- which wouldn't be an intrinsic evil.

As for the acts you refer to: while it is very difficult to come up with scenarios where the behavior is a genuine side-effect of some other action, I don't think it is impossible -- though one may have to think up outlandish possibilities. More generally, then: are there any behaviors which can't be (foreseen but not directly intended) side-effects of an intended good act?

 
At 5:33 AM, Blogger CrimsonCatholic said...

The word 'sterile' led me into thinking you were talking about the case of someone who was sterile choosing to engage in in a normal act of sex -- which wouldn't be an intrinsic evil.

Yes. It is not intrinsically sterile according to its type. It is a licit type of act that has the accidental circumstance of being sterile. That's why sterile men (whether voluntarily or involuntarily) can ordinarily continue to engage in marital congress.

As for the acts you refer to: while it is very difficult to come up with scenarios where the behavior is a genuine side-effect of some other action, I don't think it is impossible -- though one may have to think up outlandish possibilities.

No, this one is impossible in principle. If you actually intend to do it (as opposed to a completely involuntary physical response), it's evil, because the physical faculty itself has only one licit purpose. In fact, that is the example that provides correct outlandish scenarios for the most extreme cases (e.g., "Someone threatens to detonate a bomb that will utterly annihilate the planet unless to perform some intrinsically sterile sexual act. Is it moral to do it? A: No."). That is because the sexual faculty is in and of itself ordered to unitive and procreative functions, and there is physically no way that an intrinsically sterile type of sexual act can be anything but disordered, although it would not be a moral evil if it results from an involuntary physical reaction.

More generally, then: are there any behaviors which can't be (foreseen but not directly intended) side-effects of an intended good act?

Well, as I mentioned before, any sexual act that is intrinsically sterile according to its type can't possibly be such a side effect, not even in the most pathological case. Another case would be the use of a biological WMD, which is inherently incapable of distinguishing between target and innocent in the manner required for legitimate self-defense. They are comparatively rare, but they do exist.

 
At 9:15 AM, Anonymous Paul said...

An act of masturbation can, in the right circumstances (e.g. test tube collection), get a woman pregnant. That is another reason why the word 'sterile' does not get across to me your idea. Saying something like 'non-vaginal', rather than 'sterile', conveys your idea more clearly.

As for the second issue, let me give a concrete example: suppose that I need a physical examination by a doctor who is urgently looking to see if I have testicular cancer. It's possible that such an examination may cause physical arousal and the completion of a non-vaginal sex act. Additionally I could foresee that possibility (e.g. the doctor warns me). The occurrence of the sex act is then a side-effect of the physical examination, and would be permissible under double-effect (as being foreseen but not directly intended).

 
At 9:38 AM, OpenID arturovasquez said...

Hate to be a stick in the mud, but it's "Veritatis Splendor". There are no "ou"'s in Latin.

 
At 11:43 AM, Anonymous Paul said...

Though, that spelling is as habitually used by Zippy, who is being quoted warts and all.

 
At 7:17 AM, Blogger CrimsonCatholic said...

Regarding the term, I see nothing wrong with your proposed term, but the term "intrinsically sterile" is used fairly often for the same idea, and I think it is just as clear when one is familiar with its usage. The remote possibility of pregnancy, only accidentally connected with the type of act (such as artificial insemination), is not ordinarily contemplated when classifying the act according to its species. The act in itself is not ordered to the result.

With regard to the other example, I think that unless one were being too physicalist, the action would be "involuntary" in the correct send of the word. One's own action is in no sense advancing the causal result, so rather than calling it a double effect of a voluntary action, I would simply view it as an involuntary reaction. You wouldn't say that you willed your leg to move when struck with a hammer, even if one consented to have one's reflexes tested. So long as the test weren't used as means (such as testing seminal fluid, which is clearly immoral, even if done for diagnostic purposes), I believe this should rightly be classed as an involuntary effect rather than a double effect, analogous to patience for martyrdom.

 
At 10:09 AM, Anonymous Paul said...

I believe this should rightly be classed as an involuntary effect rather than a double effect

I see two difficulties with that:

1) How can it said to be involuntary, even though I know it is going to happen, and put myself in the situation where the foreseen effect will occur? If a suicide bomber carries a ticking bomb into a crowd, and then at some point the bomb's timer causes the bomb to explode, isn't that set of events along the same lines? How could we call the bomb going off an involuntary action on the part of the bomber?

2) Every set of foreseen events where there is a good effect and a bad effect are subject to double-effect. If the patient is warned by the doctor of the possible side-effect, then at that point the patient must use double-effect to decide what to do.

You wouldn't say that you willed your leg to move when struck with a hammer, even if one consented to have one's reflexes tested.

If I knew my leg would move when struck by a hammer, and I willed to have my leg so struck, then I am morally answerable for all the foreseeable consequences of my leg moving.

 
At 11:02 AM, Blogger CrimsonCatholic said...

How can it said to be involuntary, even though I know it is going to happen, and put myself in the situation where the foreseen effect will occur? If a suicide bomber carries a ticking bomb into a crowd, and then at some point the bomb's timer causes the bomb to explode, isn't that set of events along the same lines? How could we call the bomb going off an involuntary action on the part of the bomber?

We can't. However, if that same person were desperately seeking someone to disarm the bomb, I think it would go without saying that it was a different class of action. As you said, we probably would have to consider even involuntary effects of our actions under prudence, but it seems clear to me that those are two different kinds of actions.

Every set of foreseen events where there is a good effect and a bad effect are subject to double-effect. If the patient is warned by the doctor of the possible side-effect, then at that point the patient must use double-effect to decide what to do.

I think that's stretching the term "double effect" beyond its range of applicability to more general considerations of prudence. In all cases, the good likely to result from our actions needs to exceed the evil likely to result from our actions; that is simply prudence, of which the proportionality in double effect is simply one specific example. In more specific cases, there are situations where your own causal role in the situation is responsible for an effect such that if you directly intended it, the species of conduct would be evil. In a case with the doctor, the test he is performing just doesn't appear to be a sexual act in any sense, since it isn't using the physical reaction as either ends or means on either side, and since one presumably doesn't even know for certain that such a reaction will result. And even if you did, unless the mechanism bore some sort of real relationship to use of the sexual faculty, one could argue that it still wasn't a "sexual act" in the meaning of that term. For example, if there were some sort of electrical prostate test that spontaneously and involuntarily produced ejaculations, then it isn't clear to me that this would make the species of the chosen behavior a sexual act.

One is "responsible" for the consequences in the sense of prudence, but this shouldn't be taken to make one sort of voluntary act into another. If there is a physical reaction, it is wholly by accident, bearing no essential relationship to the conduct. To call an action in which neither party intends sexual gratification as ends or means a "sexual act" strikes me as abuse of language, just as it would be to say that the reflex test was kicking something. Perhaps under certain circumstances, it might be imprudent, but that still doesn't turn an involuntary reflex into an act of vandalism; it simply means that you balanced the good and harm unwisely.

In any case, we're chasing down a rabbit hole to some extent here. At best, you're arguing that we should define intrinsically evil sexual acts a little more precisely according to their species, which does nothing to change the point. There is not even an imaginable scenario in which deliberately ejaculating into the wrong orifice of another human being is reconcilable with the unitive or procreative intent of the sexual faculty, so it's not even questionable. Take deliberately descrating the consecrated Body of Christ if you want another example. That simply can't be justified under any circumstances; double effect analysis doesn't enter into the equation.

 
At 1:18 PM, Anonymous Paul said...

CC: You wouldn't say that you willed your leg to move when struck with a hammer, even if one consented to have one's reflexes tested.

I do in fact say that the motion of my leg in such a case is willed. The fact that my leg did not move in response to a direct command from my brain makes no difference to the morals of the situation, provided there is consent to the situation. (I repeat this, because I wasn't sure you had replied to it, and it seems to me a significant issue.)

CC: ...if that same person were desperately seeking someone to disarm the bomb, I think it would go without saying that it was a different class of action.

It looks like the same class of action to me: in the first case the motive is something like hatred, and in the second case the motive is an attempt to prevent personal death without sufficient concern for others. The motives differ, and the culpabilities differ, but the class of action seems the same to me. (Though, you haven't defined exactly what "class of action" seeks to convey, so I am not sure.)

Paul: Every set of foreseen events where there is a good effect and a bad effect are subject to double-effect.

CC: I think that's stretching the term "double effect" beyond its range of applicability to more general considerations of prudence.

Do you have a case where this can be clearly seen? (I can see that prudence has application to comparisons of greater goods to less goods, which is not the realm of double-effect. But I still can't see what I said about double-effect here is wrong.)

CC: unless the mechanism bore some sort of real relationship to use of the sexual faculty, one could argue that it still wasn't a "sexual act" in the meaning of that term.

Here I'm wondering if we're getting to the sort of situation that occurs so often in Socrates and Plato: Someone offers a definition of something, and Socrates points out some obvious problems with that definition. A fresh definition is provided, which also has problems. And so on. (I think the words in question here are "involuntary" and "sexual act".)

 
At 3:12 PM, Blogger CrimsonCatholic said...

I think you are right in thinking that we are talking past each other, and the difficulty does appear to be in the term "class of action," the species by which the will is formed in the particular case. In cases where effects are simply accidental to the choice and have no essential connection to the reason for which you are acting (and are not essentially incompatible with the reason for which you are acting), then typically those circumstances are merely accidental. You can't ignore accidental circumstances, but your conduct bears no essential relationship to them either. The species of the conduct is what it is, although act itself might be made evil due to extrinsic modification by further intention or circumstances.

In the case of the homicide bomber, the species of his act is homicide. He desires to end innocent lives both directly and as a means to his further intention of terrorism for whatever false cause he has dreamed up. The one trying to save his life is, in fact, trying to save his life, which is a species of perfectly licit conduct. It might well be evil by circumstance, but it is no part of his intention to blow other people up, but rather to avoid himself getting blown up. He would have a completed act even if no one blew up.

The question is what part of the act is essential to what the person is willing to accomplish and what part could be removed in principle without changing the essential formation of the will. A good proxy is the "test of failure," which examines the causal relationship between elements by what happens if by some miracle the effect fails (this is often called the "if by a miracle" test, but "test of failure" is more accurate). Obviously, the homicide bomber does not achieve his aim if the effect of killing innocents is not reached. The man trying to same himself, on the other hand, is completely indifferent, so while his act might be evil by circumstance, the object of his act is not evil.

Likewise with choosing to have one's reflexes tested. Your leg contacting anything is quite beside the point. It might be foolish to knock something over, but the act in itself is not essentially evil in its object. That's why I say that one ought not say that the species of act is kicking. The act is being patient for the test; kicking something over is at best accidental and quite possibly involuntary. You have a completed act even if nothing is knocked over.

Likewise, I see no essential connection between submitting to a medical test and the ordinary use of the sexual faculty. It's a purely artificial and physical reaction unconnected with the sort of the movement of the will associated with the use of the sexual faculty. There is no sort of attraction or sexual gratification involved; it is akin to spontaneous nocturnal emissions with no real engagement of the will at all. From the perspective of the acting will, it doesn't "look" like a sexual act at all in its species. I could certainly see where it could be done in such a way that it was intended wrongly (such as using it as a vehicle for artificial stimulation), but it does not seem to me that the species of formation of the will is anything like that of a sexual act.

I suppose the real question from a moral perspective is not the type of physical act or effects itself, but the form the will takes around those physical acts or effects. You can't disregard physical effects, but there might be a variety of ways in which the will is oriented around them, and that is what determines the form (object) of the moral act.

 
At 3:38 PM, Blogger CrimsonCatholic said...

Left out one thing. With respect to the term "double effect," there still must be some sort of connection with the will to act so that the thing in question would at least be capable of transforming a good act into a bad one, so that the effect could qualify as morally evil. Bad effects for which you wouldn't bear moral responsibility (viz., which wouldn't make your own act evil) aren't really "double effects" as I understand the term to be used. That's why I suspect that the case of the test isn't even really a double effect scenario; it strikes me as an involuntary physical reaction completely disengaged from the will.

 
At 7:50 PM, Anonymous Paul said...

CC: In the case of the homicide bomber, the species of his act is homicide. He desires to end innocent lives both directly and as a means to his further intention of terrorism for whatever false cause he has dreamed up. The one trying to save his life is, in fact, trying to save his life, which is a species of perfectly licit conduct. It might well be evil by circumstance, but it is no part of his intention to blow other people up, but rather to avoid himself getting blown up. He would have a completed act even if no one blew up.

I'm thinking about that differently: It's never possible to decide on the moral species of an action until you know all the morally-relevant accidents of the action. Some of these accidents will do nothing to decide the species, but some of them (individually or in combination) will decide the species.

Example 1: Someone knowingly carrying a bomb -- timed to explode in the next minute or so -- through some random crowd, with the aim of killing whoever is in the crowd. That's an easy one: it belongs to the species of homicide. (And in such a case, the motive isn't morally relevant -- it's an accident that doesn't affect the species.)

Example 2: Someone carrying a bomb -- which, due to an undiscovered error in construction, cannot explode -- through some random crowd, with the aim of killing whoever is in the crowd. That's also in the species of homicide. (Failing in a plan does not change the moral species of a planned act.)

Example 3: Someone knowingly carrying a ready-to-explode bomb through a crowd, because someone has promised to kill his wife if he does not. That's also in the species of homicide. (Because of the threat, it may be less culpable, but that does not change the species.)

Example 4: Someone knowingly carries a ready-to-explode bomb through a crowd, in a desperate rush to find someone to disarm the bomb. Given that information, there's a few more questions I'd have to ask before deciding on the species. Suppose then:
- Why not just drop the bomb?
Because it's handcuffed to me.
- Did you know how long until the bomb went off?
Yes, one or two minutes.
- Why go through the crowd?
Because the person who could help me was somewhere in the crowd.
- Did you consider the danger to the crowd?
Yes, but it was my only chance to live.

Given such answers, the species of the above act would be homicide. Perhaps very much less culpable -- but still homicide. Whereas if the last answer had been "No, I only realized later how stupid I was", then the species of the act would not be homicide. Merely knowing that the action was an attempt to save one's own life is not always sufficient to determine the moral species of the act.

C: The one trying to save his life is, in fact, trying to save his life, which is a species of perfectly licit conduct.

It's a licit species provided there are no other morally-relevant accidents (around the action "trying to save his life") that would change the determination of the species. But by adding in such accidents, the species is determined differently. (Note that these accidents are not changing the species but, rather, they are the accidents by which we decide what the species is.)

CC: it [reflex action of the knee] strikes me as an involuntary physical reaction completely disengaged from the will.

From the moment that the hammer hits the knee, I would agree. Prior to that moment, the will is involved when consenting to the situation.

 
At 8:03 AM, Blogger CrimsonCatholic said...

I'm thinking about that differently: It's never possible to decide on the moral species of an action until you know all the morally-relevant accidents of the action. Some of these accidents will do nothing to decide the species, but some of them (individually or in combination) will decide the species.

Facts that are morally relevant to the species are essential, not accidental. They are essential to the act of will being done, not merely accidental. I think you're confusing the moral species of the act with the character of the act. Something that is essentially morally good or innocuous can still be evil, but we draw a line between what is evil in itself (that is, intrinsically evil) and what is evil only by further intention or circumstance. What I am proposing is that in each case, we separate what is essential and accidental to the act of will, define the species of act based on what it essential to the act of will, and then further determine what additional culpability might still result from further intentions or circumstances. This is why we tend to make distinctions between premeditated murder and reckless manslaughter. The latter is probably just a stupid act that is not murder in kind, but that was so unwise under the circumstances that it was culpably evil. The former is intrinsically evil in its kind.

Incidentally, if you are saying that it is impossible to define the essential characteristics of a moral species without looking at all of the facts of the case, then I think that you really would run afoul of VS, since it clearly says that we can determine universal moral norms without reference to the particular circumstances of every case. A "universal moral norm" must be definable in principle even if we are agnostic about further intentions or circumstances not essential to determining the character of the will behind the action.

Given such answers, the species of the above act would be homicide.

I doubt that, simply because there actually was somebody in the crowd that he was seeking to disarm the bomb. It was legitimately in the species of life-saving action. Now, it was probably still culpable for risking the lives of the innocents, but that doesn't change the species from what meets all of the requirements of the life-saving act into something essentially different in kind. You're confusing what might make someone culpable with what makes something essentially evil in its kind.

It's a licit species provided there are no other morally-relevant accidents (around the action "trying to save his life") that would change the determination of the species. But by adding in such accidents, the species is determined differently. (Note that these accidents are not changing the species but, rather, they are the accidents by which we decide what the species is.)

As I said, if they are essential to determining the species, they aren't "accidents" at all. But my point is that there is nothing essential missing from the determination of the intent to save his own life. All of the circumstances, at least as the person knows them, are present. That defines the essence of the species. The present of these extraneous, accidental circumstances might make the act culpable, but it doesn't turn the act into one of homicide, because the will doesn't need to be formed to a species of homicidal intent in order to do the action. It might be culpable, and if we were speaking loosely, we might classify that culpability as "homicide," but the act is homicidal only accidentally, not essentially.

From the moment that the hammer hits the knee, I would agree. Prior to that moment, the will is involved when consenting to the situation.

Well, yes, and the question is whether we would view such consent as essentially entailing the intention to kick. It seems obvious to me that being patient for a test isn't a formation of the will in kind that entails vandalism or whatever results from the kick. It would be decidedly weird to knowingly allow yourself to kick something over for no reason whatsoever, but if you thought that you really needed your reflexes checked *right then* (say you have some tremendous anxiety that you have Huntington's disease) and that saving what was on the tray wasn't as important as that motive, then I can't see how the species of your act would still be transformed into vandalism. Your will is essentially formed to getting test results; the rest is accidental.

 
At 11:41 AM, Anonymous Paul said...

CC: Facts that are morally relevant to the species are essential, not accidental. They are essential to the act of will being done, not merely accidental.

I'm looking at things this way: In order to determine the moral species of some act, I must first find out some things about the act, since I have no direct access to species itself, except through facts. These facts can be divided into contingent accidents and proper accidents. If the case seems to involves some kind of theft, and the theft happened on a Tuesday, I may dismiss that fact as a contingent accident, that does nothing to help determine the species of the act. Or in some other case, I may ask "Did you know that your action would have that effect?", and on hearing the answer "No", I may decide that there is no moral fault, on the grounds that moral fault in an action/effect can only be assigned when there is prior knowledge of the effect of an action -- because "prior knowledge of the effect of an action" is a proper accident of any moral fault.

(I think that in some places we've been using different terminologies. For example, you said "...if they are essential to determining the species, they aren't 'accidents' at all". Whereas I would say they are proper accidents.)

CC: if you are saying that it is impossible to define the essential characteristics of a moral species without looking at all of the facts of the case

I've not said that, nor remotely think it.

CC: there is nothing essential missing from the determination of the intent to save his own life

I don't think the "intent to save one's own life" is enough to determine the species of an act. It might indeed form one of the further ends for which an action is done but, depending on the circumstances, there may be intermediate ends that affect the species of the act. Aquinas gives the example of stealing in order to give to the poor: the further end of 'giving to the poor' is good, but it takes place through the intermediate act of theft, which is evil. One always has to look to see if intermediate ends exist.

 
At 2:48 PM, Blogger CrimsonCatholic said...

These facts can be divided into contingent accidents and proper accidents.

OK, I see what you mean. I was using the term "accident" in the sense of the opposite of a necessary property, so it's good that we cleared that up. I agree that there are "proper accidents" in this sense, some logically necessitated by the species and some merely proper to it in the sense of being present in every instance (like being male or female for humanity).

Or in some other case, I may ask "Did you know that your action would have that effect?", and on hearing the answer "No", I may decide that there is no moral fault, on the grounds that moral fault in an action/effect can only be assigned when there is prior knowledge of the effect of an action -- because "prior knowledge of the effect of an action" is a proper accident of any moral fault.

And I likely wouldn't disagree with that. In the same way that quantity is a proper accident of any individual that does not pertain to the nature, the act of the intellect (knowledge) is a proper accident for formation of the will even though it does not pertain to the species of the act. So far, so good.

I've not said that, nor remotely think it.

And I didn't think you had, which is why I wanted to clarify where you were placing the boundaries.

I don't think the "intent to save one's own life" is enough to determine the species of an act.

I don't think the intent is, but I think it has the entire scope of requisite accidents. In other words, you don't merely have a general intent to save your life, but you are taking a concrete action that bears all of the requisite properties to be a life-saving attempt (at least if it succeeds, which presumably is what one intends in forming the will to this action). I can't understand what is missing from the specification of the act that would prevent it from being classified as such from the perspective of the acting person.

It might indeed form one of the further ends for which an action is done but, depending on the circumstances, there may be intermediate ends that affect the species of the act.

Well, certainly, the proximate end is disarming the bomb, but I think it's hard to imagine that is not a life-preserving act.

Aquinas gives the example of stealing in order to give to the poor: the further end of 'giving to the poor' is good, but it takes place through the intermediate act of theft, which is evil.

Of course, because there the moral species is properly qualified as theft: taking another's property contrary to the reasonable will of the owner. That is an intrinsically evil species of act, so if you meet all the requirements, then your act is evil in and of itself. But I am not aware of anything that makes endangering innocents indirectly (which is to say, neither as ends nor as means) an intrinsically evil act. The evil species of homicide is direct killing of the innocent; the fact that you endanger people might make an action evil, but not intrinsically so.

One always has to look to see if intermediate ends exist.

Certainly, and means as well. My point is simply that the undesired effect is obviously not being used as ends or means to disarming the bomb, and only endangering innocent lives as an end or means, the direct killing of innocents, is intrinsically evil. You can kill people as an unintended consequence, and while that is very likely to be evil as a matter of disproportion given the enormous value of human life, that doesn't change the essential character of an act otherwise specified, because the act itself doesn't fall under a species of intrinsically evil conduct.

This is why I took issue with your example of the doctor's test. It is not clear that the physical act of ejaculation, completely bypassed from the normal exercise of the sexual faculty and produced as a by-product of a completely innocuous activity, is of the species condemned in Humanae Vitae, for example. But if it is, then performing the test is forbidden no matter what your reasons for doing it, because the species of the act is intrinsically evil. If the effect in this case really is evil, then it can't be subject to double effect analysis, because the conduct is such that the act is an intrinsically evil species irrespective of further intentions or circumstances.

 
At 1:46 PM, Anonymous elysia said...

Jonathan,

I hope you don't mind, but I had brought your post here (as well as the other one relevant to it) to the attention of Zippy (although anonymously as I did not want to seem to offend Zippy -- given both your past history at his blog -- by my very mention of your name, as he had since declared you from that time as persona non grata) since I believe that interaction between 2 of the more intelligent and knowledgeable Catholic gentlemen would on such a matter eventually, in mine own personal opinion, lead to a fruitful and insightful discussion on specific aspects this matter intimately touches on and, for that reason, would benefit the general masses of online Catholics (as well as others) by the more in-depth, substantive discussion that would likely ensue.

At any rate, Zippy has kindly entertained my request and written thus far in reply:

"Thanks for bringing it to my attention. The main objection seems to be that if we reject the kind of account that I think VS requires us to reject, we won't be able to make sense of theft as intrinsically immoral. I don't see why. Fornication is also predicated on an objective relation, that between a man and his wife. The spousal relation cannot be severed, whereas the property relation can, of course; but that doesn't imply that we need a physicalist-causal account of a particular theft in order to judge it to be theft. (That a physicalist-causal account is possible and coherent does not mean that it is necessary)."

I truly hope you two will put aside past grievances and begin anew in mutual compromise and subsequent dialogue, if at all possible.

There is much to be learned from the both of you.

 
At 12:26 AM, Anonymous Paul said...

CC: The evil species of homicide is direct killing of the innocent; the fact that you endanger people might make an action evil, but not intrinsically so.

I think it does make it intended, though in a different way than usual. To see this, suppose there is some action that will cause a small good effect, but it is foreseen that it will also cause the death of a million people. The action is analyzed through the principle of double-effect, and the (obvious) conclusion is reached that the good effect will only be achieved at a massively disproportionate cost, and so the action is definitely impermissible. We can then ask: what kind of sin is committed if some person -- knowing the disproportionate cost -- goes ahead and performs the action anyway? I would classify it as homicide. And although the death of a million people was at first foreseen and not intended, it became intended when the action was known to be wrong because of the disproportionate deaths, but chosen anyway.

(Perhaps it might not be directly intended. But it is positive intention of some kind, the effect being not merely foreseen, but also actually brought about, though known beforehand to be definitely wrong.)

 
At 2:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"To see this, suppose there is some action that will cause a small good effect, but it is foreseen that it will also cause the death of a million people. The action is analyzed through the principle of double-effect, and the (obvious) conclusion is reached that the good effect will only be achieved at a massively disproportionate cost, and so the action is definitely impermissible. We can then ask: what kind of sin is committed if some person -- knowing the disproportionate cost -- goes ahead and performs the action anyway? I would classify it as homicide. And although the death of a million people was at first foreseen and not intended, it became intended when the action was known to be wrong because of the disproportionate deaths, but chosen anyway."

Gaza???

 
At 3:08 PM, Blogger CrimsonCatholic said...

To see this, suppose there is some action that will cause a small good effect, but it is foreseen that it will also cause the death of a million people. The action is analyzed through the principle of double-effect, and the (obvious) conclusion is reached that the good effect will only be achieved at a massively disproportionate cost, and so the action is definitely impermissible. We can then ask: what kind of sin is committed if some person -- knowing the disproportionate cost -- goes ahead and performs the action anyway? I would classify it as homicide.

I would too, but there are those sorts of lines around any action where the disproportion becomes so great that it is simply unreasonable to view it as a different type. I'd say that you aren't even getting to those sorts of questions, because there is no reasonable way to view the action as being really protective in those particular circumstances. I don't think you need to resort to double effect, because in those circumstances, a reasonable acting person does not see his act within the class of protective actions producing some relative good. Look, even intrinsically evil actions produce SOME good, because otherwise, they wouldn't be done. That doesn't make them candidates for double effect analysis.

 
At 3:12 PM, Blogger CrimsonCatholic said...

I truly hope you two will put aside past grievances and begin anew in mutual compromise and subsequent dialogue, if at all possible.

Unfortunately, I don't really have anything to say beyond what I have already said. There is no compromise or dialogue amenable between the positions; they are incommensurable. One of us is wrong, and people have to judge which.

The only objection I would make is that I haven't offered a physicocausal account of theft. What I said is exactly the opposite, namely, that one cannot possibly give an account of theft irrespective of remote intention or circumstances, unless remote intention and circumstances is defined as I would require. But if remote intention and circumstances is defined as I would have them, then Zippy's account is wrong.

 
At 3:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jonathan,

I greatly appreciate the reply.

As to the subject comments to which you responded, it seems I may have expressed myself rather inadequately.

When I spoke of "mutual compromise and subsequent dialogue, if at all possible", I had actually meant that with respect to your past altercation with him (or, rather, his past altercation with you).

I know that there seems to be the case that the fault lies more largely with Zippy then given certain particulars of the circumstances in which the altercation itself arose; still, it was so long ago and best be left and buried in the past.

Consequently, I've requested that Zippy consider reinstating your posting privileges at his blog. If he does, I hope you'll welcome the opportunity to engage him personally then as opposed to my serving as the soulless intermediary between 2 great Catholic minds.

 
At 4:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jonathan:

Apprantly, there was a new post that Zippy put up some time ago in response to yours.

Here it is:

http://zippycatholic.blogspot.com/2009/01/non-physicalistcausal-account-of-theft.html

 
At 11:12 PM, Anonymous Paul said...

CC,

Let me back up one step. Earlier you had -- in response to the scenario of someone trying to save their life in a way that exposed others to risk -- described the scenario as: a concrete action that bears all of the requisite properties to be a life-saving attempt (at least if it succeeds, which presumably is what one intends in forming the will to this action). I can't understand what is missing from the specification of the act that would prevent it from being classified as such from the perspective of the acting person.

Presuming that the consequences are fully understood by the person trying to save their life, their action (walking through the crowd) has two effects: (1) it's an attempt to save their life, and (2) it exposes others to risk. Both effects occur from the same action. Because there are two effects of a single action, the action can't be obviously classified as "a life-saving action". The action can only be morally classified once both effects are taken into account.

Elsewhere it seems as though you are saying that merely exposing others to risk can never amount to the direct intention to kill them (providing that there is, e.g. the good aim of saving one's own life). I really do not see how that can be true. Let me give a particular scenario: The person trying to save their life considers, as best they can, the situation they are in, and estimates that the attempt to save their life can be expected (in a statistical sense) to cause the death of two innocents in the crowd. Can they still make the attempt to save their life? I say no, because it amounts to the direct intention to cause the death of innocents -- since the effect of the attempt is to cause more loss of life than it saves and this is known beforehand.

 
At 7:42 AM, Blogger CrimsonCatholic said...

Elsewhere it seems as though you are saying that merely exposing others to risk can never amount to the direct intention to kill them (providing that there is, e.g. the good aim of saving one's own life). I really do not see how that can be true.

It is true, provided that the concrete conditions are not such that the act itself cannot reasonably be viewed as one of its type. A life-protective action must essentially be aimed on balance at reducing the overall risk to life, and one that cannot reasonably be understood to do so cannot legitimately fall within the species of protecting life under those concrete conditions. Moreover, the dignity of life is such that actions that are not life-protective cannot be balanced against foreseeable risk to innocent life. Consequently, something that cannot reasonably be viewed as life-protective on balance cannot legitimately be within the species of a life-protective act.

On the other hand, in cases that are legitimately within the sphere of prudential judgment and not beyond all reason (which is a blurry line depending on concrete conditions, since we aren't morally omniscient), where there is at least reasonable doubt as to whether the action is life-protective in its essence, there can be a complete act from the perspective of the acting person. Yes, there will be human judgment in pathological cases about what *exactly* can legitimately qualify as action in defense of life, but those are merely the exceptions that test the rule.

 
At 7:44 AM, Blogger CrimsonCatholic said...

Can they still make the attempt to save their life? I say no, because it amounts to the direct intention to cause the death of innocents -- since the effect of the attempt is to cause more loss of life than it saves and this is known beforehand.

I disagree fervently. Statistics are not certainties; indeed, the reliance on statistics in this case indicates a lack of certain knowledge. Those sorts of acts are within the scope of legitimate judgment and evaluation of risk.

 
At 7:50 AM, Blogger CrimsonCatholic said...

When I spoke of "mutual compromise and subsequent dialogue, if at all possible", I had actually meant that with respect to your past altercation with him (or, rather, his past altercation with you).

I have already apologized to Zippy and retracted any statements that have offense to him, intentional or unintentional. I bear no ill will toward him, and I never have.

Consequently, I've requested that Zippy consider reinstating your posting privileges at his blog. If he does, I hope you'll welcome the opportunity to engage him personally then as opposed to my serving as the soulless intermediary between 2 great Catholic minds.

I have no desire to post at Zippy's blog, nor to engage him personally, because I have nothing to say that I have not already said and I have not found such interactions to be helpful. Regarding your serving as an intermediary, if that is something that you find helpful, then feel free to continue. It is not something that I consider useful; I think you would be better served by asking us each directly and probably without reference to the other, since we can presumably explain and understand our own views better than one another's.

Apprantly, there was a new post that Zippy put up some time ago in response to yours.

That was exactly the sort of post that I consider unhelpful. Framing the matter as one of authority rather than the owner's reasonable will is immaterial to the point I was making. That may be a perfectly good discussion to have, but it has nothing to do with my point, which was that the owner's legitimate authority to exercise his will over the property depends on the remote use for which the taking of the object is performed.

 
At 11:26 AM, Anonymous Paul said...

CC, To your comments that began with It is true...", I have overall agreement with the conclusions you reach. Though, I point out that they are the same conclusions that use of double-effect would reach, with the advantage that double-effect much more clearly lays out how to reach such conclusions.

To your later comments beginning I disagree fervently, it is not clear to me what point you are making -- yes indeed, statistics are not certainties. And therefore ... what?

If someone says "such-and-such an action is risky", it's very hard to conclude whether the action is justifiable or not. But if someone says "this action has a one-in-a-billion chance of killing you", I should not be worried (since I know that all kinds of everyday actions have a greater chance of killing me than that, and I don't worry about them). But if it was "this action has a 1 in 2 chance of killing you", then I should need an extraordinarily compelling reason to perform that action. How did the fact that the risk was expressed numerically do anything to affect the essence of the moral analysis? (E.g. I would conclude that someone taking a 1 in 2 chance of killing themselves -- for no good reason -- was either insane, or deliberately suicidal in some way.)

In which case, I present the sceario again: If I do my best to estimate the risk in a particular action, and conclude that I expect that it will lead to an overall loss in life to innocents, and (importantly) for no proportionately good reason, but I go ahead in that action, then it amounts to directly intended killing. The fact that I didn't know for certain that it would kill anybody would, if proffered as an excuse, be an evasion of responsibility.

 
At 7:39 AM, Blogger CrimsonCatholic said...

Though, I point out that they are the same conclusions that use of double-effect would reach, with the advantage that double-effect much more clearly lays out how to reach such conclusions.

The problem is one of logical priority. "Double effect" presupposes classification of acts in order for the effect to be "double." Otherwise, everything is simply "effect," not "double" in any meaningful sense. That being the case, you can't bypass to "double effect" before you have classified everything necessary in the concrete circumstances to classify the act in itself. So there's nothing the least bit "clear" about calling this analysis "double effect." Rather, using that term obscures and renders implicit part of the analysis that went into the application in the first place. If you can't initially separate out what is and isn't relevant to species of moral acts, then you can't do moral analysis at all.

If I do my best to estimate the risk in a particular action, and conclude that I expect that it will lead to an overall loss in life to innocents, and (importantly) for no proportionately good reason, but I go ahead in that action, then it amounts to directly intended killing. The fact that I didn't know for certain that it would kill anybody would, if proffered as an excuse, be an evasion of responsibility.

What I am saying is that if you know to a reasonable certainty that the outcome of harming more innocents than not will take place, then that would suffice to take the species of action from something to something else. That would be a difference of kind, not merely degree. But if you know that your action has some real chance of saving you then the very fact that there is a real chance shows that you don't know with certainty one way or the other, because all you need for a life-saving action is for there to be a "real" possibility of saving lives.

Yes, the line on what is a "real" chance is a matter of prudence and circumstance, so there will never be a hard and fast formulation on what is and isn't in this area. That's endemic in moral judgment, because like all practical sciences, it deals in particular acts evaluated under universal principles, meaning there is always some gap in analysis that must be overcome by prudential judgment. What you're talking about is a case where you have applied that judgment and determined that the risk is too great to do the action, but you do it anyway. In that case, even still, there is no absolute or universal principle that places your act under moral condemnation; in principle, the fact that your act has a real chance of saving your life prevents it from being classified as illegitimate in and of itself. But it still contradicts your practical judgment and is evil on that account.

The problem I have with your analysis is that it looks at all of the effects to determine the classification of the action. But the entire point of being able to distinguish between acts that are evil in and of themselves and acts that are evil by further intention or circumstance is that the universal moral norms permit classification of certain acts as evil in principle based only on those concrete conditions identified as relevant in principle. Obviously, some acts are evil because they are likely to produce less good than evil, but that doesn't make them evil in principle (which is to say, a violation of reason), but rather because they go against wisdom.

The conclusion is the same; evil is evil. But the analysis is essential to understanding those cases that are evil in principle, so that we can analyze *other* cases clearly. Getting the right answer in the pathological case that is constructed so that the answer is the same no matter what the method does not help to illuminate cases where the methods give different results.

Likewise, it does not help to deliberately take unclear cases where the difference of degree blurs into a difference of kind, which are always going to be inscrutable, dealing as they do with the irreducible border between practical judgment and abstract reason. That is like trying to analyze the creative process of the arts, the mystical experience, or the detail of individuality. Turn instead to a clear case that illuminates the principle, and then use what is found there to analyze others.

 
At 12:35 PM, Anonymous Paul said...

CC: "Double effect" presupposes classification of acts in order for the effect to be "double." [..] you can't bypass to "double effect" before you have classified everything necessary in the concrete circumstances to classify the act in itself."

Not everything necessary. In double-effect, a single action leads to two effects. While it is certainly correct that the two effects have to be morally classified (so that they are known to be good or evil), it is the originating action that we are seeking to classify. And that is the point at which an additional principle is absolutely necessary, so as to be able to decide on the morality of the action -- without such a principle, we have no way of deciding on the morality of the action. (The question being: We know that we should do good, and avoid evil, but what about actions that bring about both good and evil?)

As to what principle should be used, history has thrown up different suggestions: For example: if at least some good effect occurs, then the action is permissible. Or: if any harmful effect occurs, then the action is not permissible. Or: the good and evil effects are always to be balanced against each other. But the Church has, in various ways, indicated that the principle to be used is that of double-effect.

So, one is not "bypassing" to double-effect, but using a principle expressly designed to be able to arrive at an appropriate answer.

 
At 7:54 PM, Blogger CrimsonCatholic said...

OK, I think we need to back up even further. There was a difference beyond even the term "accidents" that was causing us to talk past one another.

When I say "principle," I mean it in the narrower sense of arche, what causes the thing to be what it is, not in the looser sense of "proposition." Double effect is clearly not a "principle" in this sense; it is a method (or heuristic) for applying principles to concrete conditions. What we are trying to understand is how that method is used.

In the moral sphere, "principle" means a universal negative norm. Thus, principles are formulated as "It is incompatible with the love of God and neighbor to do the act X," where X is a formal specification of a species of act. Doing an act that violates one of these duties is intrinsically evil, viz., it is in the very nature of doing that act to violate a universal moral norm. An act that does not violate one of these universal moral norms is, by contrast, morally neutral or good in itself.

The formal specification of the prohibition on homicide is an act X that includes the killing of the innocent as ends or means. That is what says whether the effect of killing an innocent is morally evil (it is obviously physically evil for a person to die, but physical evils are not dispositive). So when you talk about effects being good or evil from a moral perspective, that doesn't make any sense to me. What determines whether something is morally evil is whether it conflicts with a moral principle (in the sense given above), and for example, I'm not aware of any principle makes the foreseeably caused death of an innocent morally evil without any qualifications.

Double effect is simply a heuristic for determining if the effect is intended as end or means, NOT for determining whether the act is evil, which was my point. Rather, it is a hypothetical analysis involving cases wherein the act would be morally evil if intended in such or so a way. When we talk about "the evil effect," that is what we mean, the effect such that the cause of the effect *could* conflict with a universal moral norm if one intended it in such or another way, plus the general prudential requirement that one not intend to produce a disproportionate evil to the good one intends to produce.

So when you talk about an "evil effect," my question would then be: how do you know the effect is morally evil unless you have identified an act that violates a universal norm? My position was that you have to perform the classification of the acts before you get to the double effect heuristic; otherwise, you haven't laid down the necessary preconditions for the application to be sensible. In the cases you cited, you are simply doing implicitly what you should acknowledge explicitly. In saying that an effect is (morally) "evil," you are saying that as a matter of principle, the act would be evil if the effect were intended directly or indirectly (thus identifying the potentially relevant moral species of the act), and then using double effect analysis as a heuristic to determine the side of the line on which it lies.

Is that clear, or do I need to explain myself further? The "principle" I have in mind is some universal moral norm that either is or is not violated.

 
At 11:08 PM, Anonymous Paul said...

CC: Double effect is clearly not a "principle" in this sense; it is a method (or heuristic) for applying principles to concrete conditions.

Since "heuristic" is often taken in a loose sense like: "rule-of-thumb", or "educated guess", I would avoid that description. But I would agree that DER (double-effect reasoning) is an algorithm, a step-by-step method of answering a problem, and logically based on other axioms. So, in that way, DER is not a principle.

But, being solidly based on those axioms, if someone were to disagree with DER, I would conclude that they were necessarily basing their thinking on different axioms (I have in mind here e.g. the proportionalists that Veritatis Splendor was addressing). I.e. disagreement with DER means different, and incompatible, principles are being used.

CC: In saying that an effect is (morally) "evil," you are saying that as a matter of principle, the act would be evil if the effect were intended directly or indirectly

No, I would state it differently. If, hypothetically, the act were to produce only the evil effect, then that act would not be permitted. And if, hypothetically, the act were to produce only the good effect, then that act would be readily allowed. The two effects are separated out, and their isolated moral characters considered, so as to aid the analysis. But, in fact, the act under consideration is neither of these hypothetical acts, so the separation has not assumed a decision on the moral character of the actual act in question.

 
At 8:53 AM, Anonymous Paul said...

To expand a little more on my previous comment:

As we go through the earlier steps of DER (double-effect reasoning), if we are able to use those steps to decide that the evil effect is intended (as opposed to only foreseen), then we classify the act as evil, and assign it the type corresponding to the evil effect. (E.g. if the evil effect is the death of innocents, then we classify the act as homicide).

But we may get to the last step, the proportionality step, without the prior steps having yet classified the act. At that point, if we then decide that the act is proportionally good, we classify the act as good. And if we decide that the act is proportionally evil, we classify the act as evil. What classification should the act be given if the act has been determined to be proportionally evil? I would again assign it the type corresponding to the evil effect.

 
At 3:48 PM, Blogger CrimsonCatholic said...

There were a number of helpful comments there, so let's see if we can follow them anywhere.

But I would agree that DER (double-effect reasoning) is an algorithm, a step-by-step method of answering a problem, and logically based on other axioms.

I like that description as well, so let's see if we agree on the steps.

No, I would state it differently. If, hypothetically, the act were to produce only the evil effect, then that act would not be permitted. And if, hypothetically, the act were to produce only the good effect, then that act would be readily allowed. The two effects are separated out, and their isolated moral characters considered, so as to aid the analysis.

I consider this the most common trap (i.e., the most difficult to avoid) in DER, but I think it must be avoided nonetheless. DER is solely a tool for determining the formation of the will relative to a concrete action. It is NOT (and I can't be more emphatic about that NOT) a tool to evaluate what the isolated moral character of the effect of the act is. Rather, it is explicitly a tool to analyze the moral character of the act with both effects together; that is the "double" in "double effect.

The easiest mistake to make is to think of the "double effect" as referring to "double acts," separated at least hypothetically, but one must always keep in mind that even hypothetically one is always considering a single undivided act. The hypothetical modifications can remove one or the other of the effects (e.g., the test of failure), but they can never separate the acts for moral evaluation.

Given that we are classifying the single act, then the reasoning of the algorithm is as follows.

Intention:
1. Would the act be evil if the "bad" effect were intended as a directly intended end? (N.B., this requires identifying the moral principle/axiom that would be violated.)
2. If (1) is yes, is the "bad" effect directly intended as end? (Y = evil, N = go to 3)

Causality:
3. Would the act be evil if the "bad" effect were directly intended as means? (N.B., again, identification of a moral principle/axiom.)
4. If (3) is yes, is the act directly intended as means? (N.B., this is typically evaluated by the "test of failure," which is to say that if the effect failed, the intended terminus of the causal chain would not be reached; Y=evil, N = go to 5).

Proportionality:
5. Is the likely good produced by the action proportionate to the unintended evil (i.e., the axiom that imprudence is evil)? (Y = evil; N = permissible under DER)

I put "bad" in scare quotes simply to emphasize that this implies negativity in a morally neutral sense, a relative or physical evil or harm or something of a kind that could be evil if directly intended. The key element, one that is often missed, is that (1) and (3) are often simply passed over silently on the grounds that one does not bother to apply double effect in cases where there isn't at least some possibility that the act is evil. But that doesn't mean one simply reads them out of the algorithm; rather, it means that you don't get to this point.

(2) strikes me as the hardest step to apply, because that is laden with all of those difficult issues regarding the relationship between will and bodily action involved in any sort of moral analysis, including asking what a reasonable person would really hope to accomplish with the bodily action. It essentially asks the question "in these concrete circumstances, what sort of orientation of the will is necessarily entailed by choosing to do this act?" But like I said, that is unavoidable.

So where you say "we classify the act as evil, and assign it the type corresponding to the evil effect," I would say instead that we classify the act as evil according to the moral axiom violated in the previous steps. There might be a gray area regarding whether something is so disproportionate as to change the intended end of the action (per step (2)) or whether it is merely evil by disproportion (per step (5)). But just as I think that we don't label "manslaughter" as "murder," I think we should not label acts that are not evil in their kind but are evil by disproportion as the same kinds of acts. Otherwise, we don't seem to adequately capture that the acts are in a significant degree well-intended or less culpable.

 
At 8:32 AM, Blogger CrimsonCatholic said...

I just had a thought that a better comparison might be between "reckless endangerment" and "murder," which lines up well with the distinction that I have in mind. Basically, someone doing something quite foolish, but without the deliberate malevolence that associated with the paradigm definition of the species. While some overheated rhetoric would put drunk drivers in the category of murderers, I think calling it "involuntary manslaughter" or "vehicular homicide" or providing other similar qualifications making it clear that it is not an act of "murder" actually illuminates the distinction more clearly.

 
At 4:43 PM, Anonymous Paul said...

OK, I think that we have had no particular disagreement about the workings of DER itself. The one remaining issue -- which is the one that has always been there -- is over classifying an act which goes against the last step of DER (the proportionality step).

A relevant scenario (as similarly introduced before) is of someone who is trying to save their own life, by an action which also exposes other people to the risk of death. In analyzing this, adjust the circumstances of the action such that the motive (self-preservation) stays the same, but the level of risk to others has different values and then decide -- for each level of risk -- if the action is proportionately good or bad.

For very low levels of risk, we classify the action as good, since the good effect (saving a life) clearly outweighs a very small risk to others. But as the risk rises, at some point we will make the decision that the action is no longer proportionately good, and is therefore an evil action. The question is: if such a non-proportional action was committed, what kind of evil would it be classified as?

1. Classifying it as a sin against prudence, or a sin against wisdom, does not seem to me to be useful -- every sin is in some way a sin against prudence or wisdom.

2. The distinction between murder and manslaughter is a useful one -- "murder" referring to the wanted/wished-for/desired killing of people, and "manslaughter" referring to death caused by other foreseeable and avoidable actions. So classifying the evil action as "manslaughter" in the above scenario is reasonable. I would include both murder and manslaughter in the classification of homicide. (Though it should be noted that, in the legal system at least, the boundary between murder and manslaughter is not at all sharp.)

3. In classifying the the action in that example scenario, I am trying to avoid factors that would make the choice less clear in the actor's own mind. Things like fear, anger, passion, bad habits, or imperfect knowledge, can all affect the choice made by the actor. Instead, I am assuming a situation where the actor has a complete knowledge of the consequences of his action, and makes a choice in the light of that knowledge. (I think that it's in such a case that an action known to be against the proportionality step of DER -- and chosen anyway -- should be considered as intended.)

4. The moral axiom violated is "thou shalt not kill". The evil action is classified as homicide. (That "thou shalt not kill" applies to more than just the wanted/wished-for/desired killing of people can be seen, for example, in the Vatican's Guidelines for the Pastoral Care of the Road.)

 
At 10:26 AM, Blogger CrimsonCatholic said...

Ah, I see, and you are right that I should moderate my earlier statements. It is not that the moral norm is not violated by imprudence, but that it is violated in a different way by imprudence than an act that is in its essence opposed to the moral norm (i.e., an act that is intrinsically evil according to its kind). But I would still maintain that distinction, so that the classification of the act according to its kind is logically prior to the classification of the act as violating the moral norm by imprudence or disproportion. The question is whether you have violated the universal norm qua universal or whether you have instead violated the standard of good as a particular and practical guideline based on the degree of good relative to some others. Double effect simply says that doing either is evil, and obviously, something that is intrinsically evil is a fortiori contrary to the universal norm as a practical standard (simply because what is contrary to the norm universally must necessarily be contrary in each particular case).

 
At 6:33 AM, Blogger paarsurrey said...

Hi friends

Quote from the first Paragraph of the article "St. Thomas".

Is it the same St. Thomas who is called Doubting Thomas who was disciple of Jesus and who went to India to spread the true teachings of Jesus?

I love Jesus and Mary as mentioned in Quran.

Thanks

I am an Ahmadi peaceful Muslim
http://paarsurrey.wordpress.com/

 

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