What’s Wrong with the World

The men signed of the cross of Christ go gaily in the dark.


What’s Wrong with the World is dedicated to the defense of what remains of Christendom, the civilization made by the men of the Cross of Christ. Athwart two hostile Powers we stand: the Jihad and Liberalism...read more

For this Sunday: Double-think about Double-effect

With the anniversaries of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki fast upon us, I thought this excerpt might be of some historical interest, in as much as the prinicples discussed are the same as those several of us defended in this post. Situations change, but the temptations do not. A Catholic philosopher addressing her co-religionists of a slightly earlier time, in the era of the Cold War:

The principal wickedness which is a temptation to those engaged in warfare is the killing of the innocent, which may often be done with impunity and even to the glory of those who do it...Now it is one of the most vehement and repeated teachings of the Judeo-Christian tradition that the shedding of innocent blood is forbidden by the divine law. No man may be punished except for his own crime, and those "whose feet are swift to shed innocent blood" are always represented as God's enemies...

Catholics, however, can hardly avoid paying at least lip-service to that law. So we must ask: how is it that there has been so comparatively little conscience exercised on the subject among them? The answer is: double-think about double-effect.

The distinction between the intended, and the merely foreseen, effects of a voluntary action is indeed absolutely essential to Christian ethics. For Christianity forbids a number of things as being bad in themselves. But if I am answerable for the foreseen consequences of an action or refusal, as much as for the action itself, then these prohibitions will break down. If someone innocent will die unless I do a wicked thing, then on this view I am his murderer in refusing: so all that is left to me is to weigh up evils. Here the theologian steps in with the priniciple of double-effect and says: "No, you are no murderer, if the man's death was neither your aim nor your chosen means, and if you had to act in the way that led to it or else do something absolutely forbidden." Without understanding of this principle, anything can be - and is wont to be- justified, and the Christian teaching that in no circumstances may one commit murder, adultery, apostasy (to give a few examples) goes by the board. These absolute prohibitions of Christianity by no means exhaust its ethic; there is a large area where what is just is determined partly by a prudent weighing up of consequences. But the prohibitions are bedrock, and without them the Christian ethic goes to pieces. Hence the necessity of the notion of double effect.

At the same time, the principle has been repeatedly abused from the seventeenth century up till now. The causes lie in the history of philosophy. From the seventeenth century till now what may be called the Cartesian psychology has dominated the thought of philosophers and theologians. According to this psychology, an intention was an interior act of the mind which could be produced at will. Now if intention is all important - as it is - in determining the goodness or badness of an action, then, on this theory of what intention is, a marvellous way offered itself of making any action lawful. You only had to 'direct your intention' in a suitable way. In practice this means making a little speech to yourself: "What I mean to be doing is..."

This perverse doctrine has occasioned repeated condemnations by the Holy See from the seventeenth century to the present day. Some examples will suffice to show how the thing goes. Typical doctrines from the seventeenth century were that it is all right for a servant to hold the ladder for his criminous master so long as he is merely avoiding the sack by doing so; or that a man might wish for and rejoice at his parent's death so long as what he had in mind was the gain to himself; or that it is not simony to offer money, not as a price for the spiritual benefit, but only as an inducement to give it. A condemned doctrine from the present day is that the practice of coitus reservatus is permissible: such a doctrine could only arise in connection with that 'direction of intention' which sets everything right no matter what one does. A man makes a practice of withdrawing, telling himself that he intends not to ejaculate; of course (if that is his practice) he usually does so, but then the event is accidental and praeter intentionem: it is, in short, a case of 'double effect.'

This same doctrine is used to prevent any doubts about the obliteration bombing of a city. The devout Catholic bomber secures by 'a direction of intention' that any shedding of innocent blood that occurs is 'accidental'. I know a Catholic boy who was puzzled at being told by his schoolmaster that it was an accident that the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were there to be killed; in fact, however absurd it seems, such thoughts are common among priests who know that they are forbidden by the divine law to justify the direct killing of the innocent.

It is nonsense to pretend that you do not intend to do what is the means you take to your chosen end. Otherwise there is absolutely no substance to the Pauline teaching that we may not do evil that good may come.

Some Commonly Heard Arguments

There are a number of sophistical arguments often or sometimes used on these topics, which need answering.

Where do you draw the line? As Dr. Johnson said, the fact of twilight does not mean you cannot tell day from night. There are borderline cases, where it is difficult to distinguish, in what is done, between means and what is incidental to, yet in the circumstances inseparable from, those means. The obliteration bombing of a city is not a borderline case.

The old "conditions for a just war" are irrelevant to the conditions of modern warfare, so that must be condemned out of hand: People who say this always envisage only major wars between the Great Powers, which Powers are indeed now "in blood stepp'd in so far" that it is unimaginable for there to be a war between them which is not a set of massacres of civil populations. But these are not the only wars. Why is Finland so far free? At least partly because of the "posture of military preparedness" which, considering the character of the country, would have made subjugating the Finns a difficult and unrewarding task. The offensive of the Israelis against the Egyptians in 1956 involved no plan of making civil populations the target of military attack.

In a modern war the distinction between combatants and non-combatants is meaningless, so an attack on anyone on the enemy side is justified: This is pure nonsense; even in war, a very large number of the enemy population are just engaged in maintaining the life of the country, or are sick, or aged or children.

It must be legtimate to maintain an opinion - viz. that the destruction of cities by bombing is lawful - if this is argued by competent theologians and the Holy See has not pronounced: The argument from the silence of the Holy See has itself been condemned by the Holy See (Denziger, 28th Edition, 1127). How could this be a sane doctrine in view of the endless twistiness of the human mind?

Whether a war is just or not is not for the private man to judge: he must obey his government: Sometimes, this may be; especially as far as concerns causes of war. But the individual who joins in destroying a city, like a Nazi massacring the inhabitants of a village, is too obviously marked out as an enemy of the human race, to shelter behind such a plea.

Finally, horrible as it is to have to notice this, we must notice that even the arguments about double-effect - which at least show that a man is not willing openly to justify the killing of the innocent - are now beginning to look old-fashioned. Some Catholics are not scrupling to say that anything is justified in defence of the continued existence and liberty of the Church in the West. A terrible fear of communism drives people to say this sort of thing. "Our Lord told us to fear those who can destroy body and soul, not to fear the destruction of the body" was blasphemously said to a friend of mine; meaning: "so, we must fear Russian domination more than the destruction of people's bodies by obliteration bombing."

But whom did Our Lord tell us to fear, when he said: "I will tell you whom you shall fear" and "Fear not them that can destroy the body, but fear him who can destroy body and soul in hell"? He told us to fear God the Father, who can and will destroy the unrepentant disobedient, body and soul, in hell.

A Catholic who is tempted to think on the lines I have described should remember that the Church is the spiritual Israel: that is to say, that Catholics are what the ancient Jews were, salt for the earth and the people of God - and that what was true of some devout Jews of ancient times can equally well be true of us now: "You compass land and sea to make a convert, and when you have done so, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves." Do Catholics sometimes think that they are immune to such a possibility? That the Pharisees - who sat in the seat of Moses and who were so zealous for the true religion - were bad in ways in which we cannot be bad if we are zealous? I believe they do. But our faith teaches no such immunity, it teaches the opposite. "We are in danger all our lives long." So we have to fear God and keep his commandments, and calculate what is best only within the limits of that obedience, knowing that the future is in God's power and that no one can snatch away those whom the Father has given to Christ.

It is not a vague faith in the triumph of the spirit over force (there is little enough warrant for that), but a definite faith in the divine promises, that makes us believe that the Church cannot fail. Those, therefore, who think they must be prepared to wage a war with Russia involving the deliberate massacre of cities, must be prepared to say to God: "We had to break your law, lest your Church fail. We could not obey your commandments, for we did not believe your promises."

From "War and Murder" by G.E.M. Anscombe, in Nuclear Weapons: A Catholic Response, 1961

I should add - that there be no doubt of this excerpt's relevance to the previous discussion - another paragraph from another essay of hers:

It is said that war admittedly produces a number of evil effects, including attacks on civilians, but that these must be balanced against the probable good effects...and if they are outweighed by good, then they can be discounted. It is indeed true that such a balance must be made; but we cannot propose to sin, because that evil will be outweighed by the good effects...That would be to commit sin that good might come; and we may not commit any sin, however small, for the sake of any good, however great, and if the choice lies between our total destruction and the commission of sin, then we must choose to be destroyed.
And it is this, I believe, that makes them so stubborn. They cannot abide it; they will not, to the degree that they end up reviling the very Law to which they have sworn their soul's allegiance.

Comments (46)

I have never heard the argument presented this way and it is very interesting.

First, however, the author stretches Romans 3:8. Paul's point was that we shouldn't sin on purpose and then talk about the glory of God because of his salvation given to us for our sins. In other words, we shouldn't sin to highlight that we have been and will be forgiven of those sins. I think it is debatable as to whether or not this applies to warfare. Paul was addressing a specific accusation being made against the believers. One has to be cautious against taking a rebuttal to a specific situation and turning into a general morality for dissimilar situations.

The problem with this line of reasoning is that it fails to take into account the actions of the other party. War is a multi-party affair and needs to be addressed as such. Based on the the reasoning above, if the enemy placed civilians at strategic locations, we would be unable to act against those locations because we would have to kill the innocent to destroy the target. The result is a ridiculous one sided moral that would allow evil to run free. Instead, the appropriate manner to approach this is to take into consideration the actions of both sides. If the enemy places civilians in the line of fire, we are not morally responsible for their deaths, even though we must still try to avoid them. The morality of an action can be dictated by the actions of another party. Mr. Anscombe incorrectly ignores the other party completely.

There is obviously a lot to discuss with this, but I have to run for now. Thanks for the thoughtful article.

I think I agree with everything Anscombe says here, with the one caveat that I doubt Descartes would have condoned all the things attributed to his followers. I also don't know enough to endorse her summary of Church teaching on the subject but am sure she knows what she's talking about.

It's very interesting terminologically that she appears to be using the phrase "double effect" in reference to the unintended effects of _refusing_ to act. I've never studied the history of the phrase, but that's one I don't recall running into before. Certainly it is a far cry from the idea that the phrase can only be used when we are taking some positive action and it has two immediate and unavoidable effects, one of which is a negative and one of which is a positive.

It's very interesting terminologically that she appears to be using the phrase "double effect" in reference to the unintended effects of _refusing_ to act.

That is very interesting and insightful. It is precisely the unintended effects - people killed on the ground by the terrorist attack, among others - that some are attempting to use to indict the refusal to do evil in the other thread.

If every enemy soldier carried an innocent infant in a backpack on his back, that would constrain what men of good will could do to oppose them. I think this terrifies a lot of people: terrifies them to the point where they think that anything other than consequentialism is absurd.

But a fearful result isn't the same thing as an absurd result.

Chris, Mr. Anscombe is a she, name of Gertrude Elizabeth Margaret.

It would be convenient for your case if she were "stretching" Paul's passage, but moral principles taught by Christianity since Biblical times are not, as you think, debatable.

As to your case itself, it is the same as presented by others in comments to a post called The Right Call?, which you can find a little ways down the page. Have fun plowing through all 120 some-odd.

Lydia - I doubt Descartes would have condoned all the things attributed to his followers.

This is inevitably the case, isn't it? But her characterization of its use - that making a little speech to oneself - accurately characterizes the reasoning of some of our disputants in that other thread.

With you and Zippy, I too was most grateful for her understanding of double effect ( more truly, her explaining the Church's understanding), but it took me a while to get it, such that I once would have permitted things that today I cannot.

I meant to say, Lydia, that sometimes you remind me of her.

If every enemy soldier carried an innocent infant in a backpack on his back, that would constrain what men of good will could do to oppose them. I think this terrifies a lot of people: terrifies them to the point where they think that anything other than consequentialism is absurd.

Zippy, you don't even need to go that far. Take one plane, add innocent one passenger, stir in a nuclear bomb, and have it arriving over New York in 5 minutes. In your line of reasoning, it would be evil to shoot down the plane, even though hundreds of thousands of people are going to die, because one innocent person is on the plane.

My point is that at times our choice of moral actions is dictated by the actions of another person. If someone is about to kill an innocent person and my only option to stop that person is to kill them, then that option is morally available. What is missing in this argument is that the terrorist has put the person in the line of fire and as such is responsible for what happens to the person.

You're right that your logic is fearful. It's not absurd, but legalistic.

In your line of reasoning, it would be evil to shoot down the plane, even though hundreds of thousands of people are going to die, because one innocent person is on the plane.

In the Christian line of reasoning, yes. That is exactly right. It is immoral to intentionally kill one innocent in order to save the world.

If someone is about to kill an innocent person and my only option to stop that person is to kill them, then that option is morally available.

At issue is killing the innocent, not killing attackers.

Thanks, Bill. :-) I don't smoke cigars, though.

To be as fair as possible in analyzing motives, I think lots of good people are afraid they aren't going to be able to save _other_ people. They wouldn't perhaps mind sacrificing their own lives, but the sense of being helpless when other lives, for whom they feel responsible, are at stake, is extremely hard to bear.

For comfort's sake, I will say (perhaps this just shows I don't know enough about the conditions of modern warfare) that I don't think these sorts of situations come up on a daily basis. And with precision bombing possible, hopefully even less so. So technology is good for something.

But I do worry that military ethics can be bad for the soul. One former friend specialized in the area and worried me more and more as the years went by with the things he apparently thought worth considering. e.g., "Would it be all right to pretend you were going to gang-rape a female soldier who knew the location of land mines that your men were running into?" on an exam for his students. Evidently he thought this one a real ethical poser. Then one year he up and left his wife and children for a student. Connection? Maybe.

Yeah, that's that spiritual danger of hypotheticals that Zippy talked about.

I don't smoke cigars, though

She was a bit of a character, wasn't she, for someone who had seven kids?

Mr. Lutz, you are doing Benthamite moral calculus. You can always write up an equation (as you do in your example) that makes it look, in our Utilitarian world, ridiculous not to do evil that good may come. By golly, it even looks positively evil not to do evil that good may come!

I have heard it said that each human life is infinitely priceless, and it is my understanding that Christian ethics accepts this proposition. If you truly believe this, then it becomes clear that you cannot sacrifice one innocent life to save others, regardless the numbers involved. It is nonsenical to compare infinity to a multiple of infinity. 1000 times infinity is no greater than infinity.

You can always write up an equation (as you do in your example) that makes it look, in our Utilitarian world, ridiculous not to do evil that good may come.

Except that it isn't even our world (utilitarian or otherwise). It is a counterfactual world made up by the casuist: a counterfactual world which lacks many things that our world has. Among those things that our world has and the casuist's imaginary one does not are included actuality and God's Providence.(Is "casuist" a word?).

It is a counterfactual world made up by the casuist...

Right, which means, if the argument goes on, I, too, can play with his made up world. For example, this made up example specifies killing one innocent person. Presumably he has in his mind some kind of a clean, clinical, detached kill (so he can sleep at night). But let's change it: you have to torture the man for several months, then kill him with your bare hands slowly in some excruciating manner. Before his and your families' eyes.

So now you have to become a complete monster to "save" all these people. After all, it's only a 50% chance of the bomb going off (I just added that one for fun). Become a monster...for nothing: 50% chance. What odds do you like better? 70%? What's your calculus?

Mr. Zippy, you are wrong. It would be morally justifiable to shoot down the plane, because the intent would be to kill the terrorist, not kill the innocent. Ditto the enemy soldiers with infants in their backpacks. As the Catholic Encyclopedia says; "Homicide is said to be indirect when it is no part of the agent's plan to bring about the death which occurs, so that this latter is not intended as an end nor is it selected as a means to further any purpose. In this hypothesis it is, at most, permitted on account of a reason commensurate with so great an evil as is the destruction of human life. Thus, for instance, a military commander may train his guns upon a fortified place, even though in the bombardment which follows he knows perfectly well that many non-combatants will perish. The sufficient cause in the case is consideration of the highest public good to be subserved by the defeat of the enemy"

This is not Benthamite - this is Christianity.

For Catholics at least the controlling document here is not the Catholic Encyclopedia, but the Magisterial document Veritatis Splendour. In fact VS is the only detailed Magisterial document on the topic: it says so itself:

115. This is the first time, in fact, that the Magisterium of the Church has set forth in detail the fundamental elements of this teaching, ...

The notion that you can directly choose a behavior which kills innocent people and then claim that it wasn't part of your plans to kill those innocent people doesn't seem particularly well founded.

This is not Benthamite - this is Christianity.

Yes, I think Willmoore Kendall would agree with you. Zippy's scenario is missing a few pieces.

Here's Kendall from "A Conservative Statement on Christian Pacifism":

The traditional reasoning here has its underpinning, let us notice at once, a profound metaphysics of Being itself, and one that has nowhere been better articulated than in Abraham Lincoln's blunt assertion that "No state voluntarily wills its own dissolution." The state--so runs the reasoning--has its end the common good of its citizenry; it therefore is an order of Being, and of the Being appropriate to a complex relationship. To say that it must not have recourse to armed might even when its existence is threatened by aggressors from without or within is, in other words, to demand that an order of Being voluntarily will its own nothingness; and such a demand is contrary to the structure of reality itself . . . In a word, when we say that the lawfully-constituted state must bare its neck to the executioner, must do so though it exists to promote the common good of its citizenry, we as good as say that reality must have a tendency towards non-reality, that existence is one with nothingness. The pacifist in his heresy approaches the heresy of suicide, and both are powerful artillery pieces trained upon the structure of existence itself.

He adds at the end:

God may have willed the destruction of the planet in an atomic Gotterdämmerung (I do not know, of course, and can never know); but we are still obligated to use the means at our disposal in order to preserve justice in the situations in which we are involved, to fulfill our duties in all their concreteness and detail. That preserving, that fulfilling, is God's will for us, and whatever else He may have willed as a consequence of what we do is, I repeat, God's business and not ours. In acting accordingly we would have behind us the full weight of the only tradition--the Christian tradition--that has made life bearable for man within time.

Mr. Lutz adds the missing piece in his reply.

Aquinas does too, in Question 66 (Summa Theologica (II-II, Qu. 66, Art.7), where he makes it our responsibility to prevent the destruction of life.

It is possible that Aquinas didn't expect any conflict between the answers of Q. 64 and Q. 66. But it is in the nature of tragedy that two imperatives will pull us apart. Damned if you do, damned if you don't. It is possible to tweak scenarios and remove the dilemma, but if the deontologist can remove tragedy from this life, they have enacted the greatest magic trick ever.

Thanks for writing, Tom S.

But then you wouldn't mistake me for a pacifist, would you KW?

The mistake I made was the reference for Aquinas. They are all from Question 66. The articles are 5, 6 and 7.

But since war is ALWAYS a behavior that kills at least some innocent people, doesn't this result in a functional pacifism?

"The notion that you can directly choose a behavior which kills innocent people and then claim that it wasn't part of your plans to kill those innocent people doesn't seem particularly well founded"

Why not? This is the way that the whole issue has been understood for hundreds of years, and was obviously the way Aquinas understood it. It wasn't part of your plan, or your intent. This definition of noncombatant immunity is even more restrictive than current traffic laws, which at least grasp the concept of an accident, and the idea that in pursuit of lawful objectives others have a responsibility to stay out of your way. Are we totally ruling out such traditional factors as intent, the public good, and proportionality? If this interpretation of Veritatis Splendour is correct, then the Catholic Church is essentially pacifist, since we can never be totally sure that innocents will not be killed, and since an enemy can always use human shields, hostages, etc. in such a way that would make victory impossible, and hence require us not to fight a war under Jus ad Bellum. With all due respect, I would be surprised to find that most Catholic theologians interpreted it in this manner. If so, then Just War for the Catholic Church becomes what polygamy is for Judaism; a technical possibility, but not one that is ever encountered in real life...

So KW, you are or you are not mistaking me for a pacifist? Because if you are mistaking me for one, then the anathema makes sense but is misdirected. If you aren't then it is misleading to present a criticism of pacifism as though it were a criticism of anything I've said, ever.

Indeed anyone who thinks I am one is welcome to present himself to me in an act of aggression against my person, at which time I will decisively disabuse him of his misapprehension.

I have no doubt of your courage, Mr. Zippy; but what if KW threatens you or your family from behind an innocent human shield? What then?

But since war is ALWAYS a behavior that kills at least some innocent people, doesn't this result in a functional pacifism?

No. It just means that you can't licitly target civilians in your chosen behavior and then assert in an act of will that that isn't what you really did. (Just like a woman cannot have an abortion and then claim that that isn't what she really did, because what she was really doing is preserving her economic independence).

We had a quite lengthy discussion on this in this thread.

...but what if KW threatens you or your family from behind an innocent human shield? What then?

Whatever morally licit options I may have (which, given my fallen humanity, may well be different from what I actually choose) they will not include me killing his human shield.

I agree totally, but we're not talking about "targeting civilians" - we're talking about what is often referred to as "collateral damage". If one shoots down a plane carrying a terrorist with an a-bomb, one is not "targeting civilians" - one is targeting the terrorist and the bomb. The innocents killed were not targeted - their deaths were not necessary for the achievement of the objective; they were simply on the same plane, and were victims of the terrorist. If this is immoral, than what Scott Beamer and co. did on Flight 93 was also immoral.
This is really a debate about the number of collateral deaths that is acceptable in any military action. Reasonable men can disagree about this, but if the answer is "none", then functional pacifism is the result. It's really just that simple.

I just read the thread you recommended. I can't add anything to that. I guess we just disagree. I would only add that this reading of Catholic Doctrine revolutionizes our understanding of double effect, and I'm highly skeptical of it.

I would only add that this reading of Catholic Doctrine revolutionizes our understanding of double effect, and I'm highly skeptical of it.

Well, I think this reading of double-effect - John Paul II's reading, as I understand it - is the only one which preserves the notion that there are universal moral norms, acts prohibited under all circumstances (e.g. abortion, adultery, etc).

Rape, for example, is intrinsically immoral.

Suppose a terrorist is going to blow up the entire world with a doomsday device if you do not rape his ex-wife. You are morally certain that he means it, and that his own goal is to coerce you to do this thing: he will follow through with his threat if you do not comply.

Is it morally licit to do so?

Most of us would agree that it is not. No matter what.

So when it comes to matters of modern warfare, what people are functionally arguing is that killing the innocent isn't really intrinsically immoral like rape, abortion, adultery, etc.

But it is.

That isn't to say that accidental civilian deaths in wartime - civilian deaths where nobody is choosing in a specific behavior to kill civilians - are morally illicit. They aren't: they are accidental.

But you can't specifically choose a behavior on purpose and then claim that it was an accident.

If you read Veritatis Splendour carefully, arguably the most important thing you can bring away from it is an understanding of the object of an act as the specific behavior you are choosing, independent of your intentions and the circumstances. When that chosen behavior falls under an intrinsically immoral species -- and killing the innocent, like rape, is an intrinsically immoral species - then the act can never be justifed by an appeal to double-effect. Double-effect is irrelevant when a chosen behavior is evil in itself: when the object of an act is evil.

But the deaths on the plane would be accidental, because they were not intended!

As noted, we don't agree on this, it all has to do with the definition of the word "intent" and, given the thread that I just finished reading, I doubt if I would be able to convince you otherwise. I'm not Catholic, so this probably affects my outlook somewhat. For me Veritatis Splendour is important, but not the final word. Anyway, I can only say that I respect your opinions and the conviction with which they are held, and also, sadly, that I hope that people who share your convictions are kept out of power in our country for the forseeable future.

Thanks for an interesting discussion,

Tom S.

Actually, KW, what Tom S. is proposing is not Christianity, but proportionalism (aka consequentialism), which has always been condemned by "Christianity". Nowhere in the Kendall excerpt do I see an apology for killing the innocent, and Aquinas, whom you interpret at your convenience, explicitly says that purposely killing the innocent is always forbidden.

With all due respect, I would be surprised to find that most Catholic theologians interpreted it in this manner

These fellows have been known to be wrong in great numbers. As Zippy says, VS is the first comprehensive treatment of the subject by a Pope, but Anscombe's thoughts, written many years ago, prove that the priniciples involved have always been available to anyone who cared to look for them.

As to keeping people who think like Zippy out of power...someone who thought like him might have kept us out of Iraq.

Love me some more, Bill. How have I interpreted Aquinas at my convenience?

How have I interpreted Aquinas at my convenience?

By interpreting him to mean that it is sometimes licit to kill the innocent when he explicitly says that it is never licit to kill the innocent.

But you are in good (or at least numerous) company, in that many people have interpreted Aquinas to mean the opposite of what he says on this particular point.

Et tu? Will you show me where I made such an interpretation?

I'd love to see Zippy in power, except that it would be an unkind thing to do to him. Who would _want_ to be president of the United States?

Et tu?

Is that a repudiation, or is it just fog?

Is it licit on your reading of Aquinas to blow up the plane, passengers, and terrorists with a missile? Or not?

I searched your comments in the other thread, and you never addressed its seminal question directly: you just threw cold water from a cistern you marked "Aquinas" every time someone answered "Nay", oddly omitting the cold water in the case of the "Aye's". If Bill and I have the distinct impression that you are invoking Aquinas to assert the opposite of what he said, it is only because you have created that impression.

I'm sorry, but you have presented no evidence of how I interpreted Aquinas--one way or the other.

I am asking you how you interpret Aquinas (and JPII) on this question. I could quote from the other thread at length and substantiate the impression both Bill and I got, but that isn't really the point.


I think that you shouldn't attribute wrong ideas to me for the sake of truth. The Lord knows that's not nice. As for what I think, you're welcome to read it. Slow is pro, Zippy. It's all there. As for your impressions, please don't make me guilty of mistakes that are not the direct consequence of my action.

It's all there.

No it isn't. Do you think it is morally licit to shoot down the plane or not?

It's forgivable.

That still isn't an answer. Is it morally licit, or not? Ought it be done, or not?

Sure it is. It's an answer in addendum to my previous ones. Gratis. Merci beaucoup.

Here's Belloc for good measure:

. . . With his stout Episcopal staff
So thoroughly thwacked and banged
The heretics all, both short and tall,
They rather had been hanged.

Oh, he thwacked them hard, and he
banged them long,
Upon each and all occasions,
Till they bellowed in chorus,
long and strong,
Their orthodox persuasions!

(Next time I might have to throw in some Gulag Archipelago!)

Take care, Zippy. Don't forget to meditate on my answers.

Sure it is.

So Bill and I haven't misread you, as it turns out.

I think KW means "sure it is an answer", not "sure, it's morally licit." I want it on record that neither you nor Lydia were any more successful than I at getting a straight answer.

Also, that "it's forgivable" is something Zippy already admitted the possibility of. But it wasn't the issue under discussion, nor an answer to the question he asked.

I think from what KW said before that he thinks the forgivability must mean that it's not really _all that bad_, or else it wouldn't be forgivable. That's a guess, though. KW's delphic quality makes me slightly curious at times, but my curiosity varies with the subject matter.

I think KW means "sure it is an answer", not "sure, it's morally licit."

Well, if that is what KW means, he is straightforwardly wrong. "It is forgivable" is not an answer to the question I asked. Examples of answers to the question I asked include "yes", "no", "I don't know", "I think you guys are too confident in your answers", "I think the question contains false premeses", etc. Even "I refuse to answer" would constitute an answer of sorts.

But "it is forgivable" isn't delphic or enigmatic, it is just a non-answer to the question which was asked: a straightforward evasion of the question.

You're too nice, Bill.

You know that you are welcome to substantiate this charge yourself of misinterpreting Aquinas. It's not true, as far as I can tell.

I entered this discussion as a matter of inquiry, not with any dogmatic conclusion. My intention to cite Aquinas was educational, not polemic. Polemics often diverts the discussion into secondary matters, or what is worse, a sort of pin-the-blogger where winning is no longer of marginal importance. All in all, we ought not to think too highly of our polemics, as those folks are wont to do in academia. We know what's wrong with that world. They don't read much of Plato, if at all, and end up being Thrasymachus or Miletus, not knowing the difference between Socratic ignorance and something Socrates himself called human wisdom. No, party politics--indeed the spirit of this world--as never had any patience for that sort of thing.

...a sort of pin-the-blogger where winning is no longer of marginal importance.

It seems to me that there can be a corresponding pathology where this concern morphs into a discourse in which truth is of marginal importance.

If you don't have a firm opinion on the specific matter in question, how painful is it to say "I don't have a firm opinion on the specific matter in question?"

Yeah, you're right about academia. The issue at stake, however, was not a matter of party politics, but of moral truth, concerning which the willingness (as Maritain advised) to call a spade a spade is a duty, to disdain the battle a dishonor. Winning is only of marginal importance when the stakes aren't very high.

Post a comment

Bold Italic Underline Quote

Note: In order to limit duplicate comments, please submit a comment only once. A comment may take a few minutes to appear beneath the article.

Although this site does not actively hold comments for moderation, some comments are automatically held by the blog system. For best results, limit the number of links (including links in your signature line to your own website) to under 3 per comment as all comments with a large number of links will be automatically held. If your comment is held for any reason, please be patient and an author or administrator will approve it. Do not resubmit the same comment as subsequent submissions of the same comment will be held as well.