Tuesday, August 29, 2006

On-line casuistry

I thought it would be fun for people to post links to any on-line manuals of casuistry with which they are familiar. Here are some that I have found:
A Brief Text-book of Moral Philosophy by Charles Coppens
(Here is the definition of a lie: A falsehood, or lie, is speech contrary to one's mind.)
Moral Philosophy: Ethics, Deonoology and Natural Law by Joseph Rickaby
(Here is his definition of 'lying': a formal lie is saying what one believes not to be true, or promising what one intends not to perform: briefly, it is speaking against one's mind.)
Catholic Moral Teaching / by Joseph Mausbach
(Here is a section on lying.)
Elements of Moral Theology by John J. Elmendorf
(Here is the section on lying.)

On-line casuistry

I thought it would be fun for people to post links to any on-line manuals of casuistry with which they are familiar. Here are some that I have found:
A Brief Text-book of Moral Philosophy by Charles Coppens
(Here is the definition of a lie: A falsehood, or lie, is speech contrary to one's mind.)
Moral Philosophy: Ethics, Deonoology and Natural Law by Joseph Rickaby
(Here is his definition of 'lying': a formal lie is saying what one believes not to be true, or promising what one intends not to perform: briefly, it is speaking against one's mind.)
Catholic Moral Teaching / by Joseph Mausbach
(Here is a section on lying.)
Elements of Moral Theology by John J. Elmendorf
(Here is the section on lying.)

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Lying in the CCC

An interesting fact reported this week by Quentin de la Bedoyere on lying in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. As he notes, the explanation of the obligation was changed between editions:

Version 1: a lie is 'to speak or act against the truth in order to lead into error someone who has the right to know the truth.' The 'Justice' version.

Version 2: a lie is 'to speak or act against the truth in order to lead someone into error' - with an added proviso that one should use discreet language. The 'Natural Law' version.

The fact that Version one appeared in the CCC is sufficient to show that it is a permissible position in Catholic theology. It is less restrictive, and would be a lot easier to use in hard cases: one may tell untruths in order to lead into error, when one's interlocutor is engaged in some wicked enterprise for which the information one has is vital. It is also clearly what St Robert Southwell acted on, as famously explained at his trial. I'll try to put his dialogue with the prosecutor onto this blog.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Is it ever permissible to deceive?

Not long ago the government urged us to leave lights on when we go out, in order to prevent burglaries. There are three possible ways of looking at this:
  1. It's a case of impermissible deception: the government is asking us to bring it about that burglars believe a falsehood, viz. that we are in when we aren't, and it's always wrong to bring it about that someone believe a falsehood (at least if the person does not consent).
  2. It's a case of permissible deception: the government is asking us to bring it about that burglars believe a falsehood, but the burglars have no right to know the truth here, so their rights are not violated if we bring it about that they believe a falsehood. (A similar argument was used to justify Sven-Goran Eriksson's lying to his employers about his sex life.)
  3. It's not a case of deception: we do not intend to bring it about that burglars believe a falsehood, we intend to bring it about that they do not believe the truth (viz. that we are out) -- our intentions would be fulfilled if the burglar suspended judgment. We intend merely that the lights' being on should bring it about that the burglar not think that we are in.
I'm inclined to favour (1) above. (I wonder if a burglar has ever broken into a house with the lights on, found nobody at home, and trashed the place, leaving a message saying 'Thought you would try to deceive me, did you?'. It may also be the case, long term, that the result of this scheme will be that burglars will break into more houses with lights on, thinking that nobody is at home, and end up having to beat up the occupants. This may thus lead to a rise in violent crime even if it leads to a decrease in burglary.)

Another interesting example is a friend of a friend that used to smuggle Chinese Bibles into China. He was asked by a custom officer whether he had any literature in his case. He replied:
I have no literature that I can read.
He said this because he thought it would be morally wrong to say 'No', as that would have been a lie. He also thought that it would have been foolish to say 'Yes', as then the custom officer would have found and confiscated the Bibles. He seemed quite pleased with the way round the impasse that he discovered (being unable to read Chinese). But if he wished to bring it about that the custom officer believe a falsehood (viz. that he had no literature in his case) is that really any better than lying? Obviously the custom officer's job was not to ascertain whether he had any literature that he could read but whether he had any literature at all in his case. But perhaps this friend of a friend intended merely that the custom officer shouldn't believe that he had any literature in his case; perhaps he intended just to confuse the officer.

One final, famous, example on the same point. In response to the famous case of the mad axeman at the door asking whether one's friend is inside, many mediaeval casuists asserted that one should say 'non est hic', which could mean either the true 'he is not eating here' or the false 'he is not here'. But if one intends that the axeman should take it in the latter sense, as surely one does, is one not attempting to deceive him, and is this not as bad as lying to him? (Again, perhaps it is possible that one is intending merely that he shouldn't form the opinion that the friend is inside; perhaps one is trying only to confuse, but this seems unlikely.)

Other examples of deception are:

(i) telling children 'noble' lies, e.g. about Santa Claus/Father Christmas;

(ii) teaching children simplified, and strictly false, versions of chemistry, physics, etc., because the truth is too hard for them to understand

(iii) giving approximations because the exact truth would be too tedious to spell out in detail.

One can argue that (iii) doesn't really count because one is affirming not the approximation as an exact truth, but the approximation as an approximation, and this will be understood by one's interlocutor. Are (i) and (ii) justified, though?

Lastly, and most strikingly, there appear to be examples in the Bible where God himself deceives. The two most famous are 2 Thessalonians 2: 11, 'Therefore God sends them [the perishing] a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false', and the story of God's sending the lying spirit to deceive Ahab, reported in 1 Kings 22:
19 Micaiah continued, "Therefore hear the word of the LORD : I saw the LORD sitting on his throne with all the host of heaven standing around him on his right and on his left. 20 And the LORD said, 'Who will entice Ahab into attacking Ramoth Gilead and going to his death there?'
"One suggested this, and another that. 21 Finally, a spirit came forward, stood before the LORD and said, 'I will entice him.'

22 " 'By what means?' the LORD asked.
" 'I will go out and be a lying spirit in the mouths of all his prophets,' he said.
" 'You will succeed in enticing him,' said the LORD. 'Go and do it.'

23 "So now the LORD has put a lying spirit in the mouths of all these prophets of yours. The LORD has decreed disaster for you."

Is it significant that in these passages God acts through secondary means rather than directly affirming a falsehood himself. Do these passages show that it is permissible sometimes for us to deceive after all? Or do they show only that it is sometimes permissible for God to deceive?

Any thoughts?

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Can One Lie to a Dog?

A friend of mine sent me this moral query:
My dog wouldn't come down the stairs today when I called, so my daughter shouted: "We're going!" which is usually sufficient to send my dog racing down the stairs. I reprimanded my daughter because she was lying (we were not going out, and it was wrong to get my dog down the stairs under false pretenses). Then I shook the keys because my dog usually comes down upon hearing the keys. Talk about casuistry! But I was wondering whether you thought it is possible to lie to a dog, and thus whether a moral issue might be involved (assume it was only my dog and I, no other humans about).
Here is my suggestion: to deceive is to cause someone or something to have a false belief, intending so to do. Lying is one way to deceive. In lying one (a) affirms a falsehood, (b) believing it to be a falsehood, and (c) intending that someone believe it. There are other ways of deceiving: shaking one's keys at an adult human in order to get the adult human to believe the falsehood that one is going out, for example. I think that lying and deceit are always wrong.

I don't think, however, that a dog can have beliefs, and so I don't think that a dog can have false beliefs. In addition, one isn't usually affirming the proposition that one is going out when one says to a dog 'We're going out'; one is usually merely giving the dog a certain aural stimulus that will cause it to come down. Shaking of keys is likewise the mere conveying of an aural stimulus: there is usually, when talking to dogs, no intention that this have a causal effect by way of beliefs.

Having said all that, it seems to me likely that my friend's daughter (like most children and some philosophers) thinks of the dog as having beliefs, and so she was attempting (succesfully?) to lie to the dog. Therefore, my friend was right to castigate her. His own action in shaking the keys would, however, give his daughter the false impression that it was morally permissible to deceive -- as long as one didn't lie. So, while my friend's action was in itself morally permissible (since (I'm sure) he doesn't think that dogs have beliefs), it was ill advised in the circumstances. He should have told his daughter off, sent her out of earshot, and then done exactly what she did (but with different intentions).

What do others think?

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Jumping Ship

Joseph S., you quoted Davis in your very interesting (honestly!) post on the technical terms used in Roman-Catholic handbooks of moral theology to the effect that it is morally permissible to jump out of a sinking boat to lighten it, since one doesn't intend to kill oneself.

This raises an interesting problem: why is it that it is morally permissible for me to jump out of the boat voluntarily to lighten it, but impermissible for you to throw me out? (Compare the notorious case of United States v. Holmes.) Lord Bacon claims that it is morally permissible for you to throw me overboard and he was cited (unsuccessfully) in the equally notorious case of R. v. Dudley and Stephens:
Necessity carrieth a privilege in itself. Necessity is of three sorts: necessity of conservation of life, necessity of obedience, and necessity of the act of God or of a stranger. First, of conservation of life. If a man steals viands to satisfy his present hunger, this is no felony nor larceny. So if divers be in danger of drowning by the casting away of some boat or barge, and one of them get to some plank, or on the boat's side, to keep himself above water, and another to save his life thrusts him from it, whereby he is drowned, this is neither se defendendo nor by misadventure, but justifiable.

It is alleged that Bacon justified himself by appealing to 'the canonists', but surely there is no support for this among them or the 'manualists'?

Another question: would it be permissible for me to ask you to help throw me overboard? Would it be permissible for you then to do so? I think so; it seems to me that consent makes a huge difference.

It might be thought that throwing me overboard is impermissible because it still involves intending an assault on my person, but would it, then, be permissible for you to remove a plank in order that I might fall overboard carried by my own weight? I think not. Perhaps the principle is that one shouldn't intend that somebody's body be moved without that person's permission? Still, it seems like a minor offence rather than the major one that we feel against Holmes and his fellow sailors.

Trolleys and fat people come in again here . . . .

Any thoughts, anybody else?

Discrimination and Sexual Orientation

I have e-mailed the below to equality.project@dti.gsi.gov.uk
The deadline for comments is Friday 9th June.

I would like to make a response to the 'Getting Equal' consultation document.

The document is flawed by a consistent conflict between the main text and the examples. The main text refers to discrimination on the basis of (real or perceived) sexual orientation. Yet the examples appear to be cases of discrimination on the basis of behaviour (p42: same sex couple holding hands), or marital status (discounts applicable to married persons not applicable to persons in a civil partnership, p43). It is not explained why or how these examples are examples of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, but presumably the reasoning goes like this:

The only reason why someone should object to a same-sex couple holding hands (in his restaurant), given that he doesn't object to a heterosexual couple holding hands, is a wish to discriminate against those of a particular sexual orientation.

And similarly for the discount case.

However this reasoning ignores the possibility that the restaurant owner (or whoever) is making a judgement not about the sexual orientation of the persons at issue, but on the morality of their behaviour or lifestyle. It is perfectly possible to believe that it is morally permissible for a heterosexual couple to hold hands, and at the same time believe that it is not permissible for a homosexual couple to do so (admittedly this is not a great example, but the point remains valid). A restaurant owner who held these beliefs would think that it is more likely to cause justified scandal and upset to his customers to witness displays of affection from a same-sex couple, than it would for them to witness such a display from a heterosexual couple.

This judgement is in NO WAY dependant on and in no way implies discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

As a matter of contemporary cultural fact the kinds of beliefs I have alluded to are associated with certain religious commitments. The impact of the proposed regulations will be, therefore, an effective discrimination against the freedom of conscience and of association of people of certain faiths. It will cause particular problems for religious charities and other institutions, as many of these are committed to employing people whose lives conform to certain moral standards. If discrimination on the basis of moral behaviour and general way of life is understood - as implied in this consultation document - as discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, this will be very harmful for charities and institutions with a religious ethos.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Bennett and the Cruel Sea

Extract from an unpublished piece. See Bennett. The Act Itself.

The naval captain is too squeamish to go after the submarine (killing ship-wrick survivors floating in the water) just in order to go after the submarine. He loses his squeamishness, however, when he considers the possibility of killing the personal enemy. Bennett suggests that acting on the intention to kill the enemy would be a way for the captain to fulfil his military obligation, but that it would contravene the obligation not to kill one of the survivors. He also suggests that failing to drive through the survivors, out of squeamishness, would contravene his military obligation. Therein lies the problem, a dilemma in which the first horn is doing the right action on the wrong intention, and the second horn being not doing the right action at all. However, Bennett is mistaken in his presentation of both horns.

On the first, it is not the captain’s duty simply to drive through the survivors; it is his duty to take militarily appropriate action, with the proviso, whether or not this is specified explicitly in military law or the commands of this individual’s superiors, that it is a very serious wrongdoing to conduct operations on the basis of personal enmities, let alone personal enmities with people on his own side, or non-combatants. The proposal before him, according to Bennett, is to do exactly that: to drive through the survivors in pursuit, not of a submarine, but of a personal vendetta. This is not a proposal to fulfil his military duty; it is a proposal to put the warship and sailors at his command to a purely personal use. It would be an act of piracy.

Since he would be also driving through the survivors if he were doing his duty, this clearly represents a golden opportunity for him to pursue his vendetta without being detected. That, however, obviously does not justify his action. Again, his commanding officers might prefer him to behave, outwardly, as he ought to behave, with the wrong intention, than not to behave that way at all. It should be clear, however, that obligations, even military ones, are not just about bodily movements: the same bodily movement might be required and forbidden in conjunction with different mental states, such as beliefs, expectations, and intentions. Obligations govern actions in the full sense, behaviour plus the mens rea, the mental element. So the preference of the military superiors for our captain to move his body in a certain way, regardless of what he is thinking, does not show that his action in doing this would necessarily be the action required by military duty.

On the second horn of Bennett’s dilemma, suppose that the personal enemy were not there, and the captain ‘could not bring himself’ to drive through the survivors. Would that be a failure of duty? Usually, when people say they can’t bring themselves to do things, they mean simply that they have a strong aversion to doing it, which gives them a reason not to do it, and that they don’t value the reason in favour of doing it sufficiently highly to do it anyway. The same people who say that they could not bring themselves to put down the cat, or sack the cook, would do it soon enough if enough depended on it. If Bennett’s captain was on a Soviet ship, and if he had a political commissar standing beside him on the bridge, holding a revolver to his head and reminding him of his obligations, he might suddenly find it in him to do the action after all. If the captain’s inability to do it was of this kind, then it would be true that in failing to do the action the captain would be failing in his duty, for he would be failing, in a kind of moral laziness, to get a grip on himself.

However, that is a distracting thought, because this is Bennett’s example and Bennett tells us that the captain ‘could not bring himself to do it.’ We must take him at his word and assume that the captain really could not do it: there was some kind of psychological blockage which not even a revolver-toting commissar could overcome. We should think of the captain as having a kind of breakdown, akin to shell-shock. The question is whether, in these circumstances, the captain would be failing in his duty in failing to drive through the survivors, and the answer is clearly ‘no’. No one should blame a person who is literally incapable of doing an action for failing to do it. The best thing, militarily, might be for the captain to grow wings and fly over the survivors, plucking them from the ship’s path, but no one is going to drag him before a court martial for failing to do that, for the simple reason that he can’t do it. He might have more difficulty in persuading his superiors that he couldn’t drive through the survivors than that he couldn’t grow wings, but he would not be the first officer to crack up under the stress of combat, and even military law acknowledges the principle ‘ought implies can’. Since there can be no duty to do the impossible, the captain’s incapacity dissolves his obligation to drive through the survivors.

Bennett’s dilemma dissolves with it. The choice before the captain turns out to be a choice between an act of cold-blooded personal vengeance contrary to both ordinary moral principles and his military obligations, and remaining in a state of catatonic passivity caused by the harsh realities of war. This, of course, is a psychologically incredible situation, but that is not the fault of the moral principles, or of their reliance on the concept of intention.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Condoms and Aids

The linked article [link to article in the Sunday Herald now broken, grr] indicates the poor level of debate on this topic in the popular press. Archbishop Conti (of Glasgow) is trying to make a somewhat complicated point. I'd like to summarize some of the arguments doing the rounds.

First, the natural law prohibition (according to the Church) is against contracepted sex. In terms of intentions it covers acts with (as Finnis calls it) a double intention: both the intention to have sex and the intention, if one has sex, that this act of sex should be prevented from resulting in pregnancy.

This gives rise to the following arguments.

Non-contraceptive uses of the Pill: for controlling menstruation etc.. The permissibility of this is uncontroversial. The permissibility of marital sex in this context is not affected - there is no contraceptive intention.

'Nuns in the Congo': can take the pill when fearing rape. There is no intention to engage in a sexual act. This sounds odd but is widely accepted in the Church. It depends of course on the strictly contraceptive effect of the pill (as opposed to the abortifacient effect).

Morning-after Pill for rape victims: an extension of the last argument. Finnis has defended this, again on the basis of the contraceptive effect of the pill. Its permissibility depends on the intention, and an informed person will make use of this morning after pill after rape with a contraceptive intention (as opposed to an abortifacient intention) only in certain conditions, depending on the time of ovulation and the time since the rape. There is a good precedent for this in the classical discussions (see Henry Davis Moral and Pastoral Theology, Vol II, p171). But the conditions attached to it undermine its practicability.

Non-contraceptive use of condoms: to protect against infection. This seems to be Conti's point. The parallel with the non-contraceptive use of the Pill is inescapable. The fact is that all sorts of things can render a person temporarily or permanently infertile, notably pregnancy, lactation, disease and certain kinds of medical treatment, and even if these things have been entered into voluntarily they do not affect the permissibility of marital sex, assuming they have not been done with a contraceptive intention.

The lesser of two evils argument: if people are going to fornicate, commit adultery, or resort to prostitution, it is better they do so with condoms, because of the risk of infection, and the injustice done to the children who are conceived. This seems to have been Cardinal Martini's argument.

Some uses of this form of argument are uncontroversial: if a pregnant women is hesitating between an abortion and giving her child up for adoption, the agencies of the Church will encourage her to do the latter - despite the fact that doing so is a serious sin. (The child has a right to be brought up by his natural parents.) It is far preferable, of course, to abortion. The efforts of Catholic charities to discourage abortion actually encourage the abandonment of children, but that (non-intended) result is less bad than the alternative, which is a larger number of abortions.

Other uses are controversial: needle-exchange programmes for drug-addicts; efforts to make prostitution less dangerous and unpleasant; free clean drugs for addicts; etc.. It is always a matter of balancing the seriousness of non-intended harms, and has be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Countervailing arguments draw attention to the non-intended harms of the promotion of condoms for infected couples.

The material scandal argument. It would cause scandal for the Church to allow the use of condoms in a sexual context (blowing them into balloons is clearly ok), because for the simple the natural law prohibition is against using contraceptives, simpliciter. 'The Church is against condoms.' This sounds simple minded, but highly paid media executives are very simple minded indeed.

The infrastructure argument. Distributing condoms and educating people in their use will increase the contraceptive use of condoms to a disproportionate extent. Collaborating in the policies of agencies and governments who promote contraception as a thing good in itself, will be even worse.

The Russion roulette argument. Condoms are far from fail-safe in preventing pregnancy, and the same will be true of preventing infection. (On the one hand the virus has to enter the bloodstream, but on the other an infected person is infectious all the time.) For a married person who knows he is HIV positive to have sex with his uninfected partner with a condom, would be for him to play Russian roulette with his partner's life.

On reflection, whatever one may think of the principles appealed to in favour of a permissive attitude to condoms, and whatever balance of harms derives from the earlier arguments, the Russian rouletter argument seems to be decisive. How could it be right to subject a spouse this this appalling risk, and to do so without necessity, and repeatedly?

Post Script: since writing the above I have encountered a different approach: that 'condomistic' intercourse is itself wrong, even within marriage, even with no contraceptive intention, because the condom barrier prevents it from being an act of mutual self-giving. This is an attractive argument, and is set out by William May here.

Torture: reply to Joseph S.

Situation A: we have a ticking timebomb planted by a terrorist, but we don't know where. His wife didn't know that he was a terrorist but she does know where he's been spending a lot of time lately. She won't, however, say where until a lawyer skilled both in our law and the law of her native land and religion arrives to witness her statement. We don't have time to wait for this lawyer; is it OK to torture her to get the information out in a couple of minutes?

Situation B: we have a ticking timebomb planted by a terrorist in our hands. Only one person can defuse this very intricate bomb safely. But he is retired now and won't leave the bedside of his dying wife. Can we torture him to get him to leave her and defuse the bomb?

With regards to both A and B, Joseph S. suggests that yes, it is morally permissible to torture the person in question. I disagree. Even if they are guilty of a wrongdoing, it is surely not one that deserves torture. In any case, it is plain that we aren’t considering torturing them as punishment for their wrongdoing, for we’d stop the torture as soon as they agreed to help (and not resume it afterwards), even though the torture might go on for different times at different levels of intensity for different cases, contrary to what we expect from punishment.

Also consider the following case: suppose the terrorist’s innocent wife wants to cooperate but cannot remember where her husband left the bomb. The psychologist says that she’ll remember under torture. She doesn’t submit voluntarily to torture, for she believes it’s always wrong. (Her belief is correct if the argument of my paper is sound.) Surely it wouldn’t be OK to torture her to get her to remember?

Joseph S. also suggested the following: anyway, if we define ‘material aggressor’ as ‘person who is a causal factor in an impending harm, and harming whom could avert the harm’, then they are material aggressors, and the question of guilt does not even arise.

I think, however, that this definition will be too broad. It will certainly include (contrary to the Vatican) babies that are causing their mothers harm, and would include, surely, the fat potholer whose stuck body prevents us from getting out of the cave, or the bystander that is in my way as I rush to escape some harm.

Note that there are other contexts than ones involving agents of the state in which the question arises: suppose that my daughter has been kidnapped and I have captured one of the gang, who tells me that my daughter has been buried alive in an airless coffin and has only hours to live. He refuses to divulge where she is buried. May I beat the information out of him? No, I say.


When is it permissible to kill in self-defence?

With regard to the first post on this blog, I'd like to raise for broader discussion the question of what constitutes material (as opposed to formal) aggression. The question can be posed without the jargon: when is it morally permissible to intend to kill someone in self-defence? One answer would be:
(A) It is morally permissible to intend to kill someone in self-defence only if that person is maliciously intending to kill (or cause grievous bodily harm to) one.
There are, however, some problems with this:
(i) it wouldn't allow one to kill in self-defence in war time (for the enemy soldiers wouldn't have malicious intent);
(ii) it also wouldn't allow one to kill in self-defence if one were about to be wrongly judicially executed (e.g. by mistaken identity);
(iii) it wouldn't allow one to kill in self-defence if one were attacked by someone acting in (what he or she thought was) *his or her own* self-defence;
(iv) it wouldn't allow one to kill in self-defence if one were subjected to grievous bodily harm by a doctor under the mistaken impression that he or she was performing a surgically beneficial procedure;
(v) most importantly, it wouldn't allow one to kill in self-defence if one were attacked by a madman or a drunk or someone under the influence of drugs;
(vi) also, it might well be that someone endangers my life maliciously without intending to kill me, e.g. if I am a shipwreck-survivor on a small plank in the open sea, someone tries to throw me off not to kill or hurt me but to save him or herself--I think that here it would be permissible to kill my assailant even though he or she doesn't intend to kill or hurt me.
At the other extreme would be this principle:
(B) It is morally permissible to intend to kill someone in self-defence only if that person would kill (or cause grievous bodily harm to) one if one weren't to kill that person.
But (B) seems too permissive for the following reasons:
(i) it would allow a mother to kill her foetus if it were endangering her life (though intended abortion is always condemned by the Vatican);
(ii) it would allow one to kill clumsy bystanders that were about to knock one in front of a bus;
(iii) it would allow one to kill a child that was playing with a handgrenade;
(iv) it would allow one to kill the person falling off a building on top of one.
Some of these cases are a bit tricky, and there is certainly controversy surrounding them.
I propose a midway principle:
(C) It is morally permissible to intend to kill someone in self-defence only if that person is about intentionally to kill (or cause grievous bodily harm to) one.
The point about (C) is that it allows one to kill people that are about intentionally to perform an action that amounts to killing or the causation of grievous bodily harm even if they do not intend to kill or cause grievous bodily harm. Thus, one may kill the person trying to tip one off the plank into the sea since he or she intends to perform the action of tipping one off, which will amount to killing or causing grievous bodily harm, even though the assailant doesn't intend to kill or cause grievous bodily harm. It will not, however, allow one to kill a child, to abort a foetus, or kill a clumsy bystander or a falling person, since they aren't intentionally about to perform an action that would amount to a killing or infliction of grievous bodily harm. It would allow one to kill a mad person or a drunk or someone under the influence of drugs provided that he or she was about intentionally to perform the action in question: there is a difference between a drunk's drunkenly pushing one over a cliff and a drunk's drunkenly falling into one knocking one over a cliff.

What do others think?

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Captain Oates and Altruistic Suicide

Quentin de la Bedoyere (QB), writing in the Catholic Herald (successive issues, May 2006) raises the question of Captain Oates leaving his companions, on their antarctic expedition, in order to maximise their chances of survival (since he would not be using up stores etc.). Oates simply left the camp and walked into the wilderness to certain death. Was this wrong?
QB addresses one response: it was permissible because Oates's intention was to benefit his companions, and not to die himself. QB replies: Oates accomplished his helping of the others by his own death. Since one must intend one's means, he intended his death.
I reply: Oats's death was not a necessary part of Oates's plan; it was his absence, or better, his non-use of the scarce resources, which was necessary, and this was accomplished by his walking away from camp (to certain death).
Similarly, the man who jumps out of an overladen life-boat, to lighten it, intends to lighten it, and to jump out (as a means to that), but does not (necessarily) intend his own death, which does nothing to advance his plan of saving the remaining people. (On this example see Henry Davis, Moral and Pastoral Theology.)
As a matter of fact, Oates is on record as advocating suicide using a revolver as a way out in these situations, and wanted a revolver on the expedition for the purpose. This would obviously involve the intention of death, since the only way shooting oneself brings about one's non-use of scarce resources is by one's being killed. This suggests Oates's intention may have been to kill himself. However this does not change the principles at work in the case.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Kant's Religion on Ritual: reply to Lucy Allais

My original argument: Kant wrongly rejects outward religious obligations (such as rituals), in Religion within the Realm of Reason Alone, failing to see that (for example) sacramental rituals purport to effect a metaphysical change, and are thus not (in the view of the participant) 'empty'.

Lucy's reply: Kant is here relying on the conclusion of an argument in the First Critique, in which he attempts to show that such metaphysical changes are unknowable. Thus no participant in a sacramental ritual could know that there will be or has been a metaphysical change, and thus there is no justification for the participation. Accordingly, any objection to Kant on this subject should start with the First Critique, and not with the remarks about ritual in the Religion.

On further reflection, I reply: First, the justification I sought for the ritualist was subjective, not objective, and Kant's argument against the knowability of metaphysical facts would not directly impinge on this. (I mean that it is a matter of what the participant believes to be the case, not what actually is the case, which determines the blameworthiness of his action. The ritualist believes he knows the necessary metaphysical facts, and so on.)

Second, Kant is willing to countenance the 'postulation' of three admittedly unknowable metaphysical facts 'as problematical hypotheses', which nevertheless are rightly used as assumptions in deciding what to do: Viz. the existence of God, the freedom of the Will, and the Afterlife. This provides a model for dealing with further metaphysical claims, such as Transubstantiation. Kant thinks that he is licensed to postulate the three claims, and not any others, because they are in different ways absolutely necessary for us to postulate if we are to act rightly and with moral worth. The claim that the reality of Transubstantiation is not something which is necessary for us to postulate, certainly makes sense from Kant's point of view, but is vulnerable to theological objections. Suppose, say, that God revealed that it was after all necessary? ('If you do not eat My Flesh.. you can have no life in you.')

In fact Kant refuses to dismiss the possibility of divine revelation to individuals, but claims it cannot have any moral impact, because it is necessarily not 'universal'. It is this argument which gets the most exercise in the Religion, not the unknowability of metaphysics.

Third, I referred to the Catholic Sacraments as an extreme example of a ritual not being 'empty' and mere outward actions and words - according to their devotees. However there are many religious ritual obligations which do not rest on metaphysical claims such as transubstantiation. Ordinary prayer (praise and thanksgiving), for example, is regarded (in the Tradition) as a obligation upon all rational beings, not contingently upon a revealed command, but as the consequence of the recognition of the existence of God, which can be recognised by arguing from the effects to the cause (so the classical argument goes). Kant rejects such teleological arguments, but he does postulate the existence of God, precisely in order to take account of its practical consequences. He does not regard the existence of God as an indication that we are obliged to engage in prayer, however, and it is not clear why. Again, I suspect that theological assumptions are in play here.

Fourth, Kant actually approves of rituals designed to raise heart and mind to God. We should use 'certain formalities' to make ourselves worthy of divine assistance; these are 'observances which have no intrinsic value but yet serve as a means to the furthering of the moral disposition.' (Part II Section 3) See also the General Observation at the end of this Section: rituals with metaphysical import are allowed a purely ethical role.

This is of great historical interest, because (thought not without precursors) it is the manifesto for 'liberal' modern theology. It is clearly influenced by the (usually incomplete) Protestant rejection of the supernatural in religion, in favour of the ethical. Classical Protestant moves are to say that, for example, saints can be allowed a role not as intercessors in heaven (answering our prayers), but as ethical examples for our imitation; church services do not create a metaphysical reality, but retain a role as exhortations (and usually very tedious ones); etc. etc..

However, despite this, Kant continues to insist that religious observances cannot be moral duties: 'one can recognise its useful influence... and at the same time deny to it, taken as the illusory duty of divine worship, all influence upon the concept of genuine (that is, moral) religion.' Why? Because it is historically developed or revealed, and so is not universal, and genuine moral duties are universal. A familiar argument, but a bad one: why not say that the duty to worship God is universal, but (in Kantian terminology) an imperfect one? Or indeed one that can be perfected, for a certain group, by a divine revelation or a historical church.

More needs to be said about Kant's argument and the best response to it, but it does at least seem to be a moral and theological issue, and not a metaphysical one.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006


Forgiveness: some comments on Lucy Allais’s ‘Aspirational Forgiveness’

Joseph Shaw

This is one of those topics in which philosophers are uneasily aware that there is a theological background to ordinary thinking, without understanding, or wanting to get involved in, the theology. So a couple of thoughts about that might be useful, although I’m far from being an expert on that either.

The ‘foundational prayers and creeds’ Calhoun refers to as establishing the Christian idea of forgiveness is presumably the Fifth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer, ‘Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.’ This is illustrated by the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant, and other passages. I note this because an easy way in to the theological literature is to see the discussion of either in biblical commentaries, or, especially, the petition-by-petition discussion of the Lord’s Prayer in the 16th C. Catechism of the Council of Trent, or the new Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Two important things which are worth saying are these: Christian forgiveness is not exactly obligatory, since there is great emphasis on its being voluntary; and Christian forgiveness does not wipe away all need for punishment. Both these points are important, but easy to miss.

On the first: The major incentive for forgiveness is the desire for a similar forgiveness from God. And in each case, what actually happens in forgiveness is that the forgiver disclaims at least some what is owed to him in justice. (This obviously can’t be obligatory: it can’t be a requirement of justice to waive what is just.) Since we forgive what is owing to us personally, we can forgive an injury without being unjust; it is supererogatory. (We have the right to give up what we have a right to demand.) However, in the context of a Christian’s relationship with God, a failure to forgive others would be scandalous, since God has forgiven each of us much more—hence the parable of the unforgiving servant, who refused to forgive a trivial debt, having been forgiven himself a vast one. If we hope, not for justice, but for a supererogatory forgiveness, from God, we have to behave in a parallel way ourselves.

This is, incidentally, in line with your interpretation of Bishop Butler. Butler is following the standard orthodox line here, as given in the Catechism of the Council of Trent, for example. Feelings of resentment may remain, and insofar as they are involuntary, should not be a cause for scruples in the Christian, who has genuinely given up plans for revenge etc..

On the second: In withdrawing our claim on what is owed to us, we don’t necessarily obviate the need for punishment, let alone repentance. It is interesting that you mention absolution here, because, odd as it may seem, real absolution does not remove one’s liability to punishment. What it does is commute eternal punishment due to mortal sin (if the penitent has confessed a mortal sin), to temporal (ie non-eternal) punishment (ie purgatory). This is still due to God’s justice, even though the penitent has clearly received God’s forgiveness.

And even this kind of absolution is only possible because of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Christ’s sacrifice is an offering to God which is sufficient to make up for all the sins throughout history, and Christ made this offering available to us to satisfy God’s justice, making God’s forgiveness possible. God forgives (ie, no longer requires what is owed to him in justice, which is eternal punishment), because he graciously accepts the offering of Christ, offered by the penitent in lieu of what he owes God. (So God’s forgiveness is still supererogatory, but it does not go so far in merely giving up the demands of justice, as to trivialise the wrongdoing and the wrongdoer: a point emphasised by Richard Swiburne in his book on atonement.)

On the other hand, sins which are forgiven are ‘blotted out’, not merely ignored, and no longer act as a barrier in one’s relationship with God. This is in sharp contrast with the Lutheran and in general Protestant view, in which God merely ignores our sins. In Catholic thinking, God makes us genuinely better people. Our souls are injured by sin, and they are healed by God when he forgives us.

It is interesting to think of the philosophical debate in the light of this doctrine. If one doesn’t want to talk about God, but wants to give a sympathetic account of the intuition that forgiveness is possible and good, and even quasi-obligatory, the paradoxes your paper started with arise very quickly. However, it still makes sense to say that one is not being unjust in waiving what one is owed; and that this is a good thing, when seeking to restore a relationship with someone who is seeking forgiveness. What is not possible to see is how justice might be satisfied from a different source, ie Christ’s sacrifice; and how forgiving others has an important role in one’s other important relationship, ie with God.

Forgiveness of the unrepentant, I think, is a slightly different animal, although the same word is used. I think that the theological context of this is the command to love one’s enemies, and pray for the persecutors, and not curse them. Again, in the original context this is motivated by reference to the parallel with God’s attitude, which is to love everyone, and to seek their salvation—God does not desire the destruction of the sinner and so forth. And as before, while as an individual one gives up one’s claim on the person persecuting one, the need for the latter to repent, and to be punished/ do penance, remains. And again this is all connected to the way in which Christ took on the burden of sin in dying on the cross. But whereas the point of forgiving the penitent—God forgiving us or us each other—is to restore the relationship, the point in forgiving the unrepentant is to seek his good, and not his (moral) destruction.

In one sense God has already forgiven all sins, because he has accepted Christ’s offering, which is sufficient in justice to make up for all sin. But in another sense God’s forgiveness awaits the sinner’s repentance, which involves the sinner’s pleading of Christ’s offering on his own behalf. What we imitate, here, is God going after the sinner—the lost sheep—and trying to win him over by doing good to him, and not merely abandon him to his just punishment. As with the other kind of forgiveness, without the theological background this is harder to understand, but I think that the supererogatory nature of wishing well to the persecutor, without denying the seriousness of his wrongdoing, is still intelligible.

The example of the adulterous husband illustrates some of these issues. In Catholic teaching adultery (and ‘unreasonable behaviour’, which would cover physical abuse) gives the injured party the right to separation (of ‘bed and table’). (The conditions for to annulment and remarriage are a separate matter.) If the injured party should forgive the adulterer/ abuser, this is the giving up of what is belongs to her by right. The good of the relationship would usually be a powerful reason to forgive, and thereby restore the relationship, but as you say there are limits, most obviously where physical abuse is concerned. In the scenario you describe, the beaten wife might give the husband the forgiveness of not seeking revenge, but not go back to him, even if he expressed repentance.

I hope this is helpful. In light of what I’ve said, one thing I would look out for in this debate is whether the different participants accept the possibility of supererogation. A lot of people don’t, and if you don’t, I think the paradoxes of forgiveness are insoluble.


Daniel Hill’s ‘Tortue and Self-Defense’: Comments

Joseph Shaw

I think the examples and discussion throw up some extremely important questions, and I will try out another response, below. There are a few relatively minor issues I disagree with you about, however, and I’d like to get them out of the way first.

First, while is relatively uncontroversial to say that killing is ok in war and self-defence, it is not uncontroversial to derive the right to kill in war from the right to kill in self-defence. This move is fashionable with certain kinds of political theorist, but Thomists disagree, and there are a lot of them about in the debate about intention. Aquinas is a lot more comfortable with the state’s right to kill than with the private citizen’s; so deriving the former from the latter would be retrograde.

Second, I don’t like the terminology of ‘intentionally causing harm’. Agent either acts with the intention to cause harm, or he doesn’t. If he doesn’t, he may still be acting intentionally, and if he is acting intentionally, what he is doing may be causing harm. In which case it is natural to say that he is intentionally causing harm—although (ex hypothesi) he is not acting with the intention of causing harm. People like Anscombe even say that an intentional action which knowingly causes harm is intentionally causing harm, and that this allows us to conclude that the harm is intended—which is hopeless. To avoid the muddles which arise from that scenario, I completely avoid using the adverb ‘intentionally’.

Third, I am surprised at what you say about innocent threats: the child playing with the hand-grenade and so on. It is well-established in the debate—obviously not infallibly so—that one can intend to harm innocent threats, and I should like to see a full-length argument against this view. (Innocent threats are distinguished in the Catholic tradition as ‘material aggressors’, as opposed to ‘formal aggressors’.) There is a very good reason for this: in the paradigm case of the just war, the subjective guilt of enemy combatants has got to be irrelevant to one’s right to kill them. One may even be quite sure that the enemy soldier is convinced, on the basis of the information available to him, of the justice of his cause. But the right to self-defence, public or private, is not removed by this. What it depends on is the objective rightness of the situation: if you know he’s wrong to be attacking you, you can resist. The same goes for the child and the grenade: he’s a material aggressor; the aggression is unjust; one may resist the aggression.

Fourth, I am extremely wary of distinctions between ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ actions and the like. Do you have a neat and tidy criterion for the distinction? You need to state what it is. Personally, I think that Jonathan Bennett has buried that whole approach in ‘The Act Itself’. But I’ve got a paper about it if you’re interested, which is also relevant to my solution below (‘A Use for the Act-Omission Distinction’).

On the major issue: now that you’ve convinced me that we have to talk about intending harms and pains in self-defence, it would seem that the right to self-defence comes down to the right to inflict harms and pains on people. So the problem is: why do our intuitions tell us it is ok to inflict pain on a paradigmatic aggressor, like the 11-yr-old, and on the terrorist reaching for the bomb switch, and not ok to torture a terrorist into telling us where the bomb is hidden, and things like that? Let alone the terrorist’s otherwise innocent wife, who knows the secret, or the retired bomb-disposal expert, who is reluctant to help. (Nice examples.)

A couple of possibilities come to mind. One is: are the people in the latter category aggressors, in the same sense as people in the former category? At first glance it would seem that the only way of distinguishing them from aggressors would be some positive/negative distinction which I am quite sure would collapse the moment it is articulated. But I’ll come back to this.

Another is that our intuitions tell us no such distinction. Of course it is morally ok to torture the terrorist for information which will reliably save lives, and the wife, and the retired bomb expert. All of them are in fact guilty of a very serious wrongdoing, of failing in a positive duty to aid others and undo a wrongdoing, when it is in their power to do so, and where the cost of doing so is small. (They are accessories to the bomb-planting, in fact, either formally or materially.) And anyway, if we define ‘material aggressor’ as ‘person who is a causal factor in an impending harm, and harming whom could avert the harm’, then they are material aggressors, and the question of guilt does not even arise.

A third possibility, which in a way incorporates both the above, is this: in drawing up rules of engagement for soldiers and police, especially in a situation where one hopes for reciprocity from the enemy (as in the Geneva Convention), it may makes sense to make some distinction here, for practical and pragmatic reasons. Because of the marked tendency to over-use torture, the high likelihood of persons being tortured who actually lack the information being sought, and the appalling nature of torture itself, it may seem sensible to agree that harms should not be inflicted when a person has surrendered. Physical surrender is without doubt the key to the rules of engagement: that is when harm must stop. As discussed, a person may continue to be an aggressor, material or formal, while in secure custody, by withholding information. Indeed enemy soldiers with knowledge of their army’s secrets will normally come into this category. But in the interests of placing a limit on the horrors of war, the convention that one may not harm such aggressors is agreed, and becomes morally binding.

So here is a type of active/passive distinction which will resist collapse: different norms apply before and after surrender; surrender being a conventional concept indicated by intentional use of conventional signs.

How about that?

Insomniac's corner: Catholic handbooks of moral theology - a discussion of their technical terms

(extract from a longer unpublished piece by me)

Next I need to give some more systematic attention to the terminological issues raised by the manualists. To help me explain their applications, I shall refer to some imaginary examples.

Alfred the bandit steals money, preferring a life of crime to an honest job as a way of supporting his family.

Belinda the doctor gives dying patients high doses of pain-killer, in the knowledge that this will shorten their lives, but with the chosen purpose only of controlling their pain.

Cuthbert the doctor gives dying patients high doses of pain-killer, in the knowledge that this will shorten their lives, but with the chosen purpose to finish them off, because he is fed up with them.

The word ‘intention’ (and its Latin root) is used in a number of different ways. The 1939 edition of Gury and the Dictionary of Moral Theology use it in connection with the first condition of the PDE: one intends the positing of the cause, or whatever one immediately does. This suggests, to use a term to be explained in a moment, that ‘intention’ should be limited to the object of an act.[i] (Alfred’s intention, in this sense, would be theft.) However, Prümmer uses it in a way distinguished from the first condition, to refer to the motive of the action (Alfred’s desire to support his family); Prümmer’s interest is in good or indifferent actions done with bad motives.

Again, Prümmer and Davis use ‘intending’ and ‘willing’ in their discussion of the voluntary, where they adopt Jeremy Bentham’s distinction between directly intended (or ‘willed’) and ‘indirectly intended (or ‘willed’)’ to separate things really intended, and those which are merely foreseen (see below). (Belinda, on this terminology, intends or wills her patients’ deaths indirectly, and their comfort directly. Cuthbert intends his patients’ deaths directly.) Finally, in his discussion of suicide Davis uses the word in the ordinary sense and with admirable clarity. A man jumps out of an over-laden boat to lighten it:

We defend his action, because the first effect, viz., the lightening of the boat, was a good effect, intended by him as such, and the other effect, his drowning, was not at all intended in itself, neither as an end or as a means. It was foreseen and permitted.[ii]

(On this usage, Belinda does not intend the deaths at all.) To avoid confusion I shall continue to use the word in this, my own sense, except where I make it clear that I am doing otherwise.

The ‘object’ of an act is (Davis tells us) ‘that to which the will immediately and primarily directs itself and its activity’.[iii] This is the action itself under an appropriate description, ascribable to the agent as what he is doing. The description is one in the ‘moral order’, and it is generally fixed by reference to the intention of the act, although it may still be natural to distinguish object and intention. This requires a different illustration. ‘Getting appointed as x’ is the intention with which Daphne goes to a job interview. However, while ‘going to a job interview’ is obviously the description of an action which Daphne is doing, ‘getting appointed’ is not; rather, it is something which she hopes to achieve by means of the action. On the other hand, the intention of getting appointed rules out a description of Daphne’s object as merely ‘going to room y in building z’, or ‘walking around’. When we say that she is going to a job interview, this description relies on and implies (at least in the normal case) her intention to get a job. The practice of distinguishing objects from ultimate intentions explains the manualists’ tendency to separate the action in itself from what it does, its purpose (in Prümmer), or its causal role (in Gury and Davis), despite the fact that for all of these writers the act is understood (implicitly) in terms of its intention. Again, Alfred’s thieving might be separated from his supporting his family, as object and purpose. I return to the concept of ‘object’ at the end of the section.

The ‘act’ itself, by distinction from the object of the act, is the act of will which is the origin of the action. It is objects which are good or bad in the first place, but there is also a goodness or badness of the will in doing them, as will become clear in dealing with the next two terms. The difference between act and object is sometimes referred to as the distinction between the external act and the internal act, since usually the internal act of will is accompanied by an external act of the body. However, a mental action like imagining or calculating is an object of an act of the will, and not just an act of the will.

The distinction between ‘formal’ and ‘material’ sin is between sin which is against one’s conscience and sin which is ‘in dissacord with unsuspected moral obligation’.[iv] The manualists have at their disposal an elaborate classification of different kinds of ignorance, and an account of how much, if at all, they excuse. The distinction between formal and material goodness and badness corresponds to the objective goodness or badness of the object of the act, and the subjective goodness or badness of the act itself.[v] What this means is that Alfred’s theft is objectively wrong, as an object of the will, but if Alfred has non-culpable ignorance of the immorality of theft (if this is possible) it may be subjectively excused. On the other hand, because theft is objectively wrong, if Alfred knows it is wrong, then his will must be malicious, regardless of any further intention in the action, and it is a morally wrong act. Again, an indifferent object (giving a pain-killer) may be done with a good will (as by Belinda) or a bad will (as by Cuthbert). The good or bad will determines the moral quality of otherwise indifferent actions.

Prümmer adds that causing a bad result (such as deaths) is a materially bad act, a ‘material sin’, but there is no formal sin if it does not fall under any of the first three conditions of the PDE, and if, further, there is a justification in terms of a compensatory good (the fourth condition: in Belinda’s case, the easing of pain). The concept of material badness of acts is also important for dealing with what the contemporary philosophical literature calls ‘innocent threats’. A child playing innocently with a hand-grenade, or an enemy soldier sincere, but mistaken, in his belief of the justness of his cause, are ‘materially’ in the wrong, or are ‘material aggressors’, and force can be used against them. A person who takes your goods thinking they are his is a material thief, and can be apprehended.

An act ‘which is itself a morally wrong act’ (as Davis puts it), is distinguished, by implication, from actions which are themselves innocent, but are made wrong by the will or by circumstances. There are two ways in which an act may be wrong ‘in itself’: it may be intrinsically wrong, like ‘hatred of God’, or it may be wrong because of a ‘positive precept’, that is, an authoritative command[vi] (such as a contract of employment, or the law of the land). Acts wrong in themselves cannot be willed rightly, unless there is non-culpable ignorance: someone willing them is willing wrongly. Other objects are indifferent in themselves, but are made right or wrong by circumstance or motive. (Belinda’s use of an illegal painkiller is wrong in itself. Cuthbert’s giving a legal painkiller to the patient he wants to finish off is wrong because of his motive. Belinda’s giving a lethal dose of legal painkiller to dull the pain of another patient is right because of the circumstances - for example, because it will not shorten his life by a significant amount.)

The distinction between acts wrong in themselves and those wrong only because of motive or circumstance reinforces the tendency to separate the ‘object’ from circumstances, motives and consequences, but the separation is not carried out systematically because the description of the object often specifies the motive (‘hatred of God’), the circumstances (‘theft’, taking what is another’s) or anticipated consequences (‘saving a life’).

The ‘voluntary’ is a category the manualists have adopted, via Aquinas, from Aristotle. The way they use it, however, is their own. Davis seems to have it that it is the consequences of action, and not exactly actions themselves, which are voluntary or not. (Thus the focus is on losses of property, not on acts of thieving.) Intended results are voluntary (the loss of property Alfred causes). If I know that an effect will occur if I act, but act without intending it, the effect is voluntary in its cause, but not in itself[vii] (the deaths of Belinda’s patients). If I refrain from preventing an effect when I should prevent it, it is indirectly voluntary (if Alfred leaves a victim injured, who dies without assistance).

Prümmer calls acts, not consequences, voluntary or not. (Thus the focus is on acts of thieving, not losses of property.) Acts willed in their cause, but not in themselves, he calls indirectly voluntary. An obligatory act which is omitted is called negatively voluntary.[viii] (So what Davis calls ‘indirect’ Prümmer calls ‘negative’; Prümmer calls ‘indirect’ what Davis calls ‘voluntary in its cause’.)

Although it is more natural to say that it is acts which are voluntary or not, and not the results of acts, the focus on acts causes Prümmer problems. First, although the result of an omission might be attributable to an agent as what Davis calls ‘indirectly voluntary’, the omission cannot itself be called an ‘act’, even (as Prümmer has it) a ‘negatively voluntary’ one, because omitting to act is not a kind of act. Second, Prümmer’s example of an indirectly voluntary act is Aristotle’s case of throwing cargo overboard in a storm. Prümmer says that the loss of the cargo is ‘detested’, but in fact, while the loss of the cargo’s value is not desired or intended, the loss of its weight emphatically is intended, as the chosen means to saving the ship. The case is exactly parallel to Davis’ suicide example quoted above. The distinction between value and weight cannot, however, be made when talking in terms of ‘acts’ rather than outcomes.

Prümmer later says that effects which ‘could and ought to have been foreseen’ (the victim left to die, perhaps when Alfred eased his conscience with the thought that he might be saved by a passer-by) are ‘indirectly intended’.[ix] Overall, his terminology explains why Prümmer refers, instead of to foreseen but non-intended upshots, to indirectly voluntary acts.

‘Direct’ and ‘indirect killing’ is not used in my sources’ formulation and initial discussion of the PDE, since that is a general principle, not limited to killing. Davis has a later section on ‘indirect killing’ which does not use that phrase in the text;[x] however, his discussion indicates that it refers to killing which is a ‘secondary effect’ in accordance with the PDE, which he then calls ‘indirectly intended’ or ‘indirectly willed’ (Belinda causing deaths). Prümmer links it explicitly to the voluntary, and says that indirect killing is an action in which killing is indirectly voluntary.[xi] On his terminology this means that it is not intended.

However, in another passage Davis writes ‘It is never allowed directly, i.e., by direct means, nor intentionally, i.e., with deliberate intent, to kill the human product in utero…[xii] This attributes to the notion of directness a reference not only to intention but to certain kinds of causation, which is then put on a level with intention as coming under the prohibition. Indeed, it is natural to think of ‘directness’ in this area as causal directness.[xiii] This is not in line with Davis’ own official definition, and it suggests that Belinda’s giving of pain-killers, which is causally responsible for the deaths of her patients, is ‘direct’ regardless of her intentions; I return to Davis’ treatment of this issue in the next chapter. It cannot really be the case that causal directness should be put on a level with intention; as well as misclassifying Belinda’s actions, causal directness does not imply that one knows what one is doing. Charles Fried gives the example of a person running to catch a train who knocks a bystander off the platform to his death: this is causally direct, but not only unintended but unwitting.[xiv]

‘Co-operation’, Davis tells us, ‘is concurrence with another in a sinful act’.[xv] It may be ‘formal’ or ‘material’, depending on whether the sin is itself willed, or not. The category of material co-operation is further subdivided and can be excused for strong reasons in certain kinds of case. It is important, however, as an example of a wrongdoing associated with one or other good or virtue which does not involve an attack by intention on the good or virtue. The PDE explicitly recognises the wrongness of actions which fail the test of proportionality, as wrongs against (say) life, which do not include an intention to kill; material co-operation with a killer, as by supplying the murder weapon out of a desire for profit but in the knowledge of the bad use to which it would be put, is in the same position, and is certainly not ignored by the manualists. It cannot be subsumed under proportionality, because the moral significance of, say, handing the killer a gun is not reducible to its impact on the value of outcomes: it would be wrong even if someone else was standing by ready to lend another gun if necessary, in which case whether one co-operated or not would make no difference to what ultimately happened.

A pithy expression of the moral importance of co-operation is given by the ‘Nine ways of being accessory to another’s sin’ which is a traditional part of the ‘Examination of Conscience’ printed in Catholic prayer books: ‘1. By counsel. 2. By command. 3. By consent. 4. By provocation. 5. By praise or flattery. 6. By concealment. 7. By partaking. 8. By silence. 9. By defence of the ill done.’

While on the subject, a related way discussed by the manualists to do wrong without necessarily intending harm to any good is connected with scandal. Like co-operation it comes in two varieties, ‘direct’ scandal, where bad example is intended to cause another’s wrongdoing, and ‘indirect’ scandal, where it is not.[xvi] At least arguably indirect scandal, like material co-operation, is not reducible to proportionality. As with proportionality, in both these cases the prohibition is against doing something knowingly, and not just by intention: if we know that we are acting in such a way as to cause harm, or that we are co-operating in evil, or that we are giving scandal, then this is wrong unless there is some justification, either in terms of compensating goods, or the high cost of avoiding it, or something else.

Finally, twin concepts not used by Davis and Prümmer, but which are closely related to the above listed concepts: finis operantis and finis operis. The finis operantis is the ‘end of the agent’; the finis operis, literally, is the ‘end of the action’. In its ethical use this distinction corresponds to that between ultimate motive (finis operantis) and object (finis operis). Calling them ‘ends’ is simply a way of emphasising that they are both intentions (in my sense) of the agent: the agent has as an end, intends, not only his ultimate goal, but also the action he does in order to achieve that goal.

I mention these concepts and distinctions not in order to recommend them to a wider audience, but in order to facilitate an understanding of the issues surrounding intention, as discussed in the Catholic tradition. By way of explanation for the complexity exhibited here it is important to understand that the manualists, like legal theorists, aspired to a complete coverage of morality, in such a way that the principles necessary to decide any moral question would be available to their readers. In addition, and again like legal theorists, the manualists were obliged to build upon an existing foundation of precedents, partially articulated principles and established terminological usages. Someone going through the material with a blank sheet of paper might be able to work out a more parsimonious set of concepts, but such a project would make it difficult to incorporate the insights of previous thinkers or authoritative decisions as originally expressed.

I need to say a little more about the concept of the voluntary, and the notion of the object of an act. On the voluntary, as I noted the concept comes from Aristotle, who did not seem to have an articulated concept of the will or of intention. By contrast, the concepts of will and intention come from the Augustinian tradition. The synthesis of these two traditions by Aquinas has left his successors with two sets of concepts for doing what is essentially the same job: separating the paradigmatic wicked action from actions where an agent is not to be blamed for a bad outcome he nevertheless caused. Defining the voluntary in terms of intention is the way the manualists have adopted of unifying their set of concepts, but this makes the notion of voluntariness even more obviously redundant. The concept continues to influence the way the discussion is framed, however, most importantly is drawing attention to acts, rather than intentions or outcomes. The search for acts which are supposed to be right or wrong ‘themselves’, and attributable or not attributable to the agent, brings in the concept of ‘object’.

This is the most important of the concepts just explained. It is worth pausing to consider what would result if Germain Grisez were correct to complain, as he does, that the manualists categorised actions merely as ‘chunks of behaviour’.[xvii] This presumably means that ‘objects’ are actions described in morally neutral terms, such as ‘crossing the road’ or ‘killing’. This seems to be presupposed by Elizabeth Anscombe when talking about ethics, when she say that intentions have reference to actions, not to outcomes, and so an action is intended itself, even on a description which includes reference to unintended consequences.[xviii] She tends to say, further, that the main morally important outcome of an action is, somehow, to be seen as an intention of the agent, for the purposes of the PDE, even if it is not intended; a similar move has been made by other writers who suggest that an action of ‘killing’ has a ‘finis operis’ of death ‘in itself’ which is attributable to the agent, regardless of what the agent intended as an end or a means. This interpretation is ruled out, of course, by the definitions of ‘object’ I have already referred to, but it should also be noticed that it has the result that the question of the PDE would simply not arise. Since unintended consequences can always be fitted into a description of the object, every action which produced an evil effect would be an evil object: every action causing a death could be described as a killing. It is obvious that not every action which predictably causes death, such as Belinda’s giving of lethal pain-killers to dying patients, is categorised as having ‘killing’ as its object or finis operis by the manualists: that is why they can distinguish between results of an action which are means and ends, on the one hand, and results which are mere side-effects, on the other. In fact, as I noted above, the manualists understand the object by reference to the end of the action: it is not just any description of what someone did, but a description in terms of something which is definitely intended by the agent.

This allows them to do what they clearly do do, which is consider actions which kill on descriptions other than ‘killing’, and so on. Anscombe and her followers are concerned by the possibility that self-serving descriptions of wrong actions will allow people to get away with murder, but this fear is unfounded because of the way the manualists’ PDE works. The description ‘All I did was move my arm’ is ruled out, because it is as a ‘moral’ action, and not a physical movement, that an action must be considered: there should be some implicit reference to the end of the action. So it would have to be ‘All I did was knife Edgar for money’, which is a psychologically (‘morally’) comprehensible description because it captures the reason the thing was done: the intention. As Gury indicates, the object is associated with the end, and this is just a way of using the scholastic principle of categorising actions by intentions. Again, when Anscombe talks more accurately about intention, outside an ethical context, she puts it like this:

an object is not what is aimed at is; the description under which it is aimed is that under which it is called the object.[xix]

It may seem absurd to allow a villain to say ‘All I did was knife Edgar for money’, when he killed him, but the truth of matter will be dragged out by the PDE. For the next question is: was Edgar’s death a means to an end? If it was, the original under-description makes no difference: the act is murder. Before we get carried away by the idea that killing is just killing, we should notice the moral differences between Belinda and Cuthbert, and an unlucky surgeon, a panicky mugger, and a hired assassin.

Here is another example. Suppose someone were to say ‘All I did was relay to them a truth, which I thought they should know’. Without taking issue with the description, we can mark this down as an indifferent ‘object’, and move on to the question: what was the motive? - to give offence, perhaps? Then it has an evil motive, and is a wrong action. Or did the agent act in the hope of gaining (for example, amusement) from something which was anticipated to follow from an evil result (the offence)? Then the agent is using an evil means (offence), and the action is wrong.

The dialogues I have sketched, as I say, drag the truth out from the most inadequate description. (In fact, they would drag it out even from a description in terms of physical movements.) They are the kinds of dialogues the manualists’ intended readers might have had in the confessional. We might call this the method of the ‘penitent’s description’.

The best way of appreciating the role of the concept of ‘object’ might be to see it as a way of dealing with ordinary moral language, since ordinary language distinguishes inconsistently between the action ‘itself’, the motive, the circumstances and the net results. The manualist categories are not, exactly, a conceptual analysis of what is necessary for an expression of moral rules. Rather, once we have heard the ordinary language description of what has happened, the different categories serve to emphasise that any intended evil is wrong. The intention principle makes the same substantive judgement with much greater philosophical elegance, but the ordinary descriptions have to be completely rethought, and we need to ask a question expressed in non-ordinary terms: was there any evil in the things which you intended, which is to say, which, of the things you made more likely by your action or omission, gave you a motivating reason to act?

[i] Cf. David S. Oderberg Moral Theory: a Non-Consequentialist Approach (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2000) p87

[ii] Henry Davis Moral and Pastoral Theology, Volume II: Precepts, 3rd ed (London: Sheed and Ward, 1938) p145

[iii] Davis Moral and Pastoral Theologu Vol. I p55

[iv] Davis Vol. I p204

[v] Davis Vol. I pp41-43

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Davis Vol. I pp12-14

[viii] Prümmer pp12f

[ix] Prümmer p26

[x] Davis Vol. II pp152-154

[xi] Prümmer p129

[xii] Davis Vol II p168

[xiii] See Costa in Fisher and Ravizza (1987) p297

[xiv] Fried p39, footnote.

[xv] Davis Vol. I p341

[xvi] See Davis Vol. I p334; Thomas Aquinas Summa Theologica IIa IIae q.43 a.7

[xvii] Germain Gabriel Grisez The Way of the Lord Jesus Vol. I: Christian Moral Principles (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1983) Ch12 App3, p308

[xviii] G. E. M. Anscombe 'Medallist's address: Action, intention, and double effect', in P.A. Woodward (ed) The Doctrine of Double Effect (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 2001) pp57f; cf. John Lamont 'Finnis and Aquinas on the good of life' New Blackfriars 83, no. 977/978 (2002): 365-380; p373; see also Anscombe

[xix] G. E. M. Anscombe Intention, 2nd ed (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1963) §35, p66