A Question about Lyin’ and Killin’

A reader writes:

I was hoping you could clear up this question for me. I don’t understand how the double effect can apply to justify killing, but not lying. Seems like all the same arguments that are applied to killing someone in self defense, or to protect another person, or death penalty, etc could be applied to lying. Why not?

I’m not a moral theologian, nor do I play one on the Internet, so I’m not sufficiently versed in these matters to give a good answer off the top of my head.  Happily, I know people (like Joe Grabowski) with actual training in moral theology.  So here’s his reply.

A good place to start here would be CCC 2263. It notes here that killing is always an intrinsic evil, and therefore even killing in self-defense is no exception to the universal proscription against murder. But there’s an important distinction in language here: murder is a moral act. By a moral act, we mean an act that involves the will choosing a particular object. There are other kinds of actions taking the life of a human being that cannot be called murder per se, such as suicide, killing in war, accidental manslaughter, etc. When someone kills in self-defense, we can truly speak of their not having committed murder because of the principle of double-effect. The principle of double-effect inserts another moral object into the equation, namely the object of self-preservation. This object is chosen immediately - that is, the self-preservation is not chosen as a more remote end than the object of killing the other, but it springs independently and spontaneously from the action itself. The evil result of the death of the victim that springs from the action is not chosen for itself or its own sake, but chosen through a permissive will as something which must unfortunately accompany the good object (self-preservation). Because the will is not responding to the death of the victim as the primary object, this act is not called murder. But it is significant to note that all it takes is a moral change in the disposition of the individual doing the act to change the nature of the moral action: suppose a surge of anger makes me just really WANT to kill that other person who is attacking me, and it’s a sinful kind of anger. Well, then, I very well may sin on the grounds of my intention and I might even change the moral object to be murder because I will that primarily (and not my own self-preservation).

Now, in the previous paragraph, I front-loaded some terminology which is necessary to the discussion: first, I spoke of two of the three sources (or fonts) or moral action: object and intention. The other is circumstances. The object is the “good” to which the will moves in the doing of an act (by “good” here we don’t mean something ethically good, but rather think of it as a good like we say of “goods in the marketplace” – its a ware for the purchase by the moral will). The intention corresponds to what I hope to achieve ultimately and encompasses the entire act and its foreseeable ends. Sometimes this intention comprises more than one moral object: I directly intend to save myself (object #1), but I also do intend to shoot the other person. It’s just that I primarily intend one and the other springs secondarily or consequently from the entirety of the action. Circumstances can be both approximate (the weather) and remote (my general upbringing) and also bear on the quality of moral action. [By the way, it is important to distinguish between moral act and mere action: the pulling of the trigger on a gun is an action, which is complete and circumstantial, involving one of several moral objects (or perhaps more than one) and a whole slew of intentions. It has no moral quality in itself any more than a condom in itself is "immoral." You can put a condom on a pen without sin. It's when it is used as a contraceptive for contraceptive purposes that it becomes sinful, because the act becomes part of the moral action of contraception.)

These definitions out of the way, it is now time to outline the principle of double-effect in its full definition. It entails four separate criteria:

  1. The act itself (object)      must be morally good or at least morally neutral/indifferent;
  2. The good effect/end is the      primary thing chosen (intention) and the evil is not chosen for      itself;
  3. The good effect must spring at      least as immediately from the action as the evil end, and must never be      mediated by the evil end (in other words, the evil end cannot be a means      to the end of the good effect) - and by "immediately" we mean in      terms of mediation by agency or material cause and not in terms of      quickness in time or another colloquial meaning;
  4. Finally, there must be a      proportionality to the good end achieved which satisfies the allowance of      the evil end; self-defense is proportional, but if I choose to shoot      someone to stop him from eating my pancakes (itself a good moral object,      stopping the assault on my property) it is disproportional.

Finally we can take all of this and consider the matter of lying. In lying, the object chosen is "the deliberate assertion of a falsehood with the will to deceive or lead someone to error [as to the truth].” This is my own composite definition but captures accurately the tradition and the poorly translated version of Augustine’s formula given in the Catechism. Now, to test lying for this principle, let’s take an exigency for case-study in which double-effect applies in other moral acts: self-defense. According to the above criteria: (#1) I could choose the object of self-preservation the same as I do with firing my weapon, theoretically – so this one is satisfied. (#2) I (again theoretically) can primarily desire/intend my self-preservation, so this one seems to be satisfied, too. Skipping over the third, (#4) it seems to go without saying that misleading someone as to the truth, say, of my identity, is proportionally less grave than allowing myself to be murdered, so this one is satisfied.

The third criterion is where we have our hang-up, and it is on the grounds of this criterion that I would dismiss the application of double-effect in instances of the act of lying.

In the case of physical self-defense, it is not unimportant to the situation that there are physical realities involved. My bullet will actually stop something which is actually (that is to say, kinetically) happening, and all of this springs relatively simultaneously from the one action of, say, pulling a trigger. The moment I move my will to choose my preservation by means of firing my gun, a process is underway at which in every instant there are two effects springing from the same undertaken action: my desired object of self-preservation rides along withe bullet, as it were, while so does the indirectly-willed harm to my attacker. His being hurt, when it happens, is also not chosen for itself, but is stemming not more immediately from the action than my chosen act of self-preservation is springing at the same time: I am (as it were) in the act of being protected, and it is hurting him as a kind of consequence.

Lying is a violation against the truth. In the case of lying, we’re dealing with, in a way, a whole other universe of morality. We’re dealing with the unique and complicated matter of human communication, and of sins against the truth. The way in which such acts “work” relative to their ends is spider-webbed and convoluted (much more than the rather easy “physical” morality questions of, say, violence or sex). In fact, lying – by its nature – takes up up onto a higher level of moral consideration, one which some moral theologians would say is involved in all other moral acts of a simpler nature such as killing. Because even when I kill someone, there’s a whole process of moral dispositions and psychology involved primarily that can merit its own consideration even before the trigger is pulled. Lying situates almost entirely in that more primary sphere. In fact, the complexity of the discussion is given evidence even by the definition in the catechism itself, which has a circular definition: “speaking falsehood with a will to deceive” – does this refer to the intentional will of the second font of morality, or the primary action of will in motivating toward a good?

In any event, when I speak a falsehood with the intention to deceive, I have accomplished the moral object immediately: in the moment the words are leaving my mind to be spoken by my mouth. In the normal cases of lying, I have (potentially) sinned literally more quickly than the speed of a bullet, and before the other person hears – and even regardless of whether they ever hear it – so long as I have spoken with the will to deceive, I have performed this intrinsically evil act. As I see it, this immediacy, this directness to the action, which is born of the unique contours of the speech act (or really of all human communicative/semiotic acts, even sign-language or winking), is ineluctable: the evil end must spring primarily from the act in every instance, because the evil resides in the will to deceive. The moral act of lying is, remember, as all “acts” relate to “actions,” morally prior to the fuller “action” of actual communication either achieved or aborted, depending on the case. The truth is immediate to us, and my enunciation of falsehood that will deceive is a sin against this - the “truth.’ While lying is also a personal sin and harms another (with a very real violence, indeed sometimes a terrible ‘spiritual’ violence) still the primary violation of lying is that it attacks the Truth that is in our hearts and in our minds. Paradoxical though it may seem, in a case of self-defense, it probably would be better to shoot someone than to lie to them (not to mention probably a much more reliable way of defending yourself!).

Finally, it is important to remember positive obligations in all this. Double-effect works because the goods chosen usually relate to a positive obligation of ours: we have a positive obligation to life, and to our own life especially. We serve this when we choose as we do to allow another’s attack spring back upon themselves. And we serve this obligation immediately because of its nearness to us: he is harmed more ‘remotely,’ as it were. But with lying, whereas we also have a positive obligation to the truth, this violation of this positive obligation is closer to us even than the good end of saving ourselves (if that end even be achievable through lying). It becomes a case of an evil facilitating a good, which is problematic always.

My final take: double-effect won’t work with lying precisely because lying associates to such a unique category of human action as communication and to such a unique quality as “truth” on the obligatory side. As Christ revealed Himself as “The Word,” we know there’s something terribly and humblingly immanent about Truth; and this is not the least part of what we’re dealing with in these discussions. It should actually be something of a consolation to us that these moral situations involving truth don’t seem to allow of much “mediation”, because that signifies to us the immediate way in which the Truth is in us and present to us, and also the tremendous and awesome power that our ability to communicate (verbally and otherwise) represents.

  • Harry

    How about lying in wartime? Well, deception more like- as in the D-Day preparations, where great steps were taken to deceive the Germans as to where the landings were going to take place (even going so far as to dump a body with fake documents off the coast of France). This involved lying to a certain extent- double agents informing their German superiors that the invasion would take place at Calais. Would this be acceptable in wartime?

    • Marion (Mael Muire)

      Saint Thomas would most likely reply in the negative to that question.

      His article on ambushes (ST II-II Q 40) distinguishes between purposefully deceiving the enymy by word or by deed, as opposed to concealing from the enemy information that we do not wish him to have.

      “Whether it is lawful to lay ambushes in war?

      “Objection 1: It would seem that it is unlawful to lay ambushes in war. For it is written (Dt. 16:20): ‘Thou shalt follow justly after that which is just.’ But ambushes, since they are a kind of deception, seem to pertain to injustice. Therefore it is unlawful to lay ambushes even in a just war.

      “Objection 2: Further, ambushes and deception seem to be opposed to faithfulness even as lies are. But since we are bound to keep faith with all men, it is wrong to lie to anyone, as Augustine states (Contra Mend. xv). Therefore, as one is bound to keep faith with one’s enemy, as Augustine states (Ep. ad Bonif. clxxxix), it seems that it is unlawful to lay ambushes for one’s enemies.

      “Objection 3: Further, it is written (Mat. 7:12): ‘Whatsoever you would that men should do to you, do you also to them’: and we ought to observe this in all our dealings with our neighbor. Now our enemy is our neighbor. Therefore, since no man wishes ambushes or deceptions to be prepared for himself, it seems that no one ought to carry on war by laying ambushes.

      “On the contrary, Augustine says (QQ. in Hept. qu. x super Jos): ‘Provided the war be just, it is no concern of justice whether it be carried on openly or by ambushes’: and he proves this by the authority of the Lord, Who commanded Joshua to lay ambushes for the city of Hai (Joshua 8:2).

      “I answer that, The object of laying ambushes is in order to deceive the enemy. Now a man may be deceived by another’s word or deed in two ways. First, through being told something false, or through the breaking of a promise, and this is always unlawful. No one ought to deceive the enemy in this way, for there are certain ‘rights of war and covenants, which ought to be observed even among enemies,’ as Ambrose states (De Officiis i).

      Secondly, a man may be deceived by what we say or do, because we do not declare our purpose or meaning to him. Now we are not always bound to do this, since even in the Sacred Doctrine many things have to be concealed, especially from unbelievers, lest they deride it, according to Mat. 7:6: ‘Give not that which is holy, to dogs.’ Wherefore much more ought the plan of campaign to be hidden from the enemy. For this reason among other things that a soldier has to learn is the art of concealing his purpose lest it come to the enemy’s knowledge, as stated in the Book on Strategy [*Stratagematum i, 1] by Frontinus. Such like concealment is what is meant by an ambush which may be lawfully employed in a just war.

      Nor can these ambushes be properly called deceptions, nor are they contrary to justice or to a well-ordered will. For a man would have an inordinate will if he were unwilling that others should hide anything from him .”

    • Dan

      “dumping a body off the coast of France” — the body was actually dropped off the coast of Spain. It wasn’t as bald as handing the Germans some false documents; it was more like starting a rumor and knowing that if you spread it to the right people, it will find its way to the ears you desire to hear it.

    • Mark Shea

      According to Thomas, lying is always a sin. Your question is dealt with in Objection 4 and the reply here. That said, I’m not persuaded the Man Who Never Was qualifies as a lie. Allowing the Germans to draw false conclusions is not the same as lying.

  • Laura

    As a side comment: the actual moral equivalent of killing in self defense would be concealing the truth through misdirection or (even better) silence. This is because, in the cases that were mentioned, the aggressive person has no actual right to the information (i.e. denying him the info is not itself a sin), and the threatened person makes no assertion that false information is true. That is, the aggressive person is permitted (or sometimes coaxed) to deceive himself.

    This sounds very “woofy” but it’s actually MUCH more common than killing in self defense for most people! There’s a real danger of descending into, ahem, jesuitical nonsense on the edge of lying, of course, and you’re MUCH better served by simply keeping your mouth shut if possible. But sometimes it’s not possible, and in that case, a misdirection or careful omission may be legitimate. And it’s also worth noting that many of these situations are not the “spur of the moment”, but are (or should be) thought-through decisions about what to say about private knowledge about various persons’ conduct, court filings, trade secrets, negotiations, publishable information, etc.

    My favorite example is when St. John of the Cross escaped from the other monks who were holding him captive– he had been locked in an unheated cell barely large enough to lay flat in, slowly starved and regularly beaten, among other things. He managed to escape out of the monastery and fled stumbling in the dead of night to a convent of (enclosed) Carmelite nuns nearby. He asked to come in; the abbess replied, “Are you here to hear our confessions, father?” He replied, “Yes, I can hear your confessions mother.” So they brought him inside, fed him, and gave him a place to hide. Later that day, the other monks came to the convent and demanded to know if St. John was inside. The abbess replied, “The mere thought that we would have a man in here!” They saved his life, and ultimately got him to a hospital where he could recuperate.

    This meets the four criteria listed above: the object (pooh poohing the pursuers’ question instead of answering it) was not evil, it was not the abbess’s primary objective to deceive (her objective was for them to stop harming an innocent man), the good effect was immediate, and the good desired was proportional to the action.

  • Linda C.

    Blessed Miguel Pro made use of disguises in his efort to be able to continue his priestly ministry during the persecution in Mexico. The goal was clearly a moral one, but disguse is clearly an effort to decieve. How do you parse that?

    • http://disputations.blogspot.com Tom K.

      Marion quotes St. Thomas offering one parsing: “A man may be deceived by what we say or do, because we do not declare our purpose or meaning to him. Now we are not always bound to do this, since even in the Sacred Doctrine many things have to be concealed, especially from unbelievers, lest they deride it….”

      What he says of ambushes would also apply to disguises like Bl. Miguel’s: they aren’t “contrary to justice or to a well-ordered will. For a man would have an inordinate will if he were unwilling that others should hide anything from him.”

    • J. H. M. Ortiz

      Seems to me that while our essentially human purpose in speaking is to manifest what’s on our minds, our essentially human purpose in dressing is not to manifest anything, but to accomplish effectively our business (or our pleasure, as by dressing appropriately for a fun tennis game). In a regime which persecuted priests and religious, these went about their business by publicly dressing otherwise than as priests or religious had usually publicly dressed.
      Besides, the very existence of such a persecuting regime led people there to take for granted that someone dressed as a carpenter, say, was not necessarily one really. (I understand that a relative of mine, a Brother of the Christian schools in Mexico, sometimes dressed that way in the early 1900′s.)

  • Linda C.

    “*disguise* is clearly…”

  • http://disputations.blogspot.com Tom K.

    “A good place to start here would be CCC 2263. It notes here that killing is always an intrinsic evil, and therefore even killing in self-defense is no exception to the universal proscription against murder.”

    To be clear, CCC 2263 does not note “that killing is always an intrinsic evil.” To the contrary, it states, “The legitimate defense of persons and societies is not an exception to the prohibition against the murder of the innocent that constitutes intentional killing.”

    My own amateur opinion is that moral theologians tie themselves into sophistical knots trying to argue that killing in self-defense is legitimate if and only if it’s not intended, following a long-held tradition of deferring to ST II-II, 64, 7, which CCC 2263 also quotes. http://newadvent.org/summa/3064.htm#article7

    It’s silly, says I, to argue that the object of firing a shotgun into the chest of an attacker standing three feet in front of you is not to kill the attacker, but that’s exactly the argument required by this tradition. It gets even sillier as the argument gets applied (as it sometimes does, in an attempt to simplify the doctrine on the Fifth Commandment to say “killing is always an intrinsic evil”) to soldiers in wartime, and even to public executions.

    • Charles Robertson

      ST II-II 64 7 is followed by 64.8 in which St. Thomas argues that it is intrinsically evil for a private person to intend harm. Much less, then, should we read him as saying we can intend the death of the assailant. Rather, we intend a defensive action from which we can forsee the death of the assailant. Let’s not think in terms of gunplay (which did not exist in the 13th C) and think instead in terms of swordplay, in which a defensive move may end up killing the attacker. Public authorities, on the other hand, can intend the death of an attacker, a criminal, or an enemy soldier. So the key is to answer the question “why can the public authority intend the death of an evildoer, but a private citizen cannot?”

      • http://disputations.blogspot.com Tom K.

        “Public authorities, on the other hand, can intend the death of an attacker, a criminal, or an enemy soldier. ”

        Yes, but if you’ve already convinced yourself that the object of firing a gun into someone’s chest is something other than killing him, then you can apply that argument to soldiers as easily as to homeowners (which I’ve seen done). And if you’ve convinced yourself a soldier shooting at an enemy does not intend the enemy’s death, then you can — at least, some people have — convince yourself that an executioner doesn’t intend to kill the executed.

        • Charles Robertson

          I agree. This is a general characteristic of the New Natural Law thought of Germain Grisez and his collaborators. It is not, however, the traditional teaching of the thomist tradition. The distinction between private and public and the relation of each to the common good is the basis of the teaching of St. Thomas on this matter; it is the public authority that has the right to punish offenders, even to the extent of taking the life of the offender.

    • J. H. M. Ortiz

      As I remember from several decades back, Germain Grisez was apparently arguing that the death penalty is at least sometimes justified because it’s not necessarily a direct killing. I can agree that such argumentation is tying oneself into knots: Ethel Rosenberg was not killed on the first electric-chair jolt, so repeated jolts were expressly applied until she was.
      Less knotty on the death penalty is the view of the prominent 20th-century Thomist Jacques Maritain, who — doubtless in disagreement with Aquinas’s writings — stated flatly (in note 19 of Chap. XIII of his book On the Church of Christ): “In my opinion … capital punishment is in itself such a sin [i.e, 'a sin of homicide'] committed by society.” (The French: “A mon avis … la peine de mort est de soi un tel péché [i.e, 'péché d'homicide'] commis par la société.”) Note Maritain’s phrase “in itself” (French “de soi”), equivalent here to “intrinsically”.

    • http://coalitionforclarity.blogspot.com/ Robert King

      I agree that a totally pacifist approach, disallowing the death penalty as well as just war and deady force in self defense, at least has the virtue of prima facie consistency.

      I’ve never quite understood Thomas’ (and the traditions he draws on) distinction between public and private authority to kill in this regard. Not that I necessarily disagree; I simply don’t sufficiently understand it enough to be able to critique or defend it.

      In my own mind – I’m not aware of anyone else arguing in this way – I’ve tended to think of double-effect in terms of active will and permissive will. I’m willing to permit the likelihood that my gun will kill the assailant or enemy soldier in order to achieve the good I intend, that is, the defense of myself or my homeland.

      With regard to the death penalty, I really don’t see a way that double-effect applies because it’s unreasonable to say that the death of the condemned is NOT the intended act – rather like Mr. Grabowski argues that lying cannot be separated from the intended act. So the justification must come from a distinction like Thomas’ distinction between private and public responsibility for the common good.

      My position is that I accept the Church’s teaching that the State has the authority to execute criminals, but I don’t fully understand the reasons for this authority. I also accept – and understand – the Church’s exhortation to use capital punishment minimally or not at all. It’s not clear to me whether the State’s authority to execute is a doctrinal matter (it’s mentioned explicitly in Scripture, after all) or not, so I’m open to the possibility of development in this teaching. That said, I don’t expect development in the near future, unless there is a total re-examination of the authority of the State in light of, say, the so-called “War on Terror” or perhaps even the “Arab Spring”.

      • J. H. M. Ortiz

        Altho I’m with Maritain and against Aquinas on the subject of the death penalty, I see nothing wrong with Aquinas’s analysis of the morality of perhaps actually (in actu exercito) but definitely not expressly (in actu signato) killing an attacker in self-defense, nor in a just war of defense.
        Further, I don’t agree that the Church “teach[es] that the State has the authority to execute criminals”. I maintain rather that the Magisterium has (non-definitively) taught this alleged statal authority, but at present neither denies nor confirms it. The Catechism’s use (Cf. CCC 2267) of the hypothetical words “assuming” (“supposita”), and “if” (“si”), in its non-exclusion (“non excludit”) – note, not positive inclusion — of “recourse to the death penalty” (“recursum ad poenam mortis”), indicates that it prescinds from, not endorses, the proposition that the death penalty may sometimes be moral. (Maritain for his part, asserting that the death penalty is IN ITSELF “a sin of homicide committed by society”, clearly implies that the state has no authority to commit such a sin.)

    • http://www.2effect.com Paul Connors

      Tom K. “It’s silly, says I, to argue that the object of firing a shotgun into the chest of an attacker standing three feet in front of you is not to kill the attacker, but that’s exactly the argument required by this tradition.”

      There are points where human thinking is extraordinarily weak, and easily confused. For example, humans can do badly at distinguishing cause from correlation.

      There is something quite similar in the idea of double effect that all too easily causes our minds to trip up.

  • Charles Robertson

    If you can get your hands on this article, I highly recommend it: http://secure.pdcnet.org/schoolman/content/schoolman_2006_0083_0002_0143_0162
    Steven Jensen, “The Trouble with Secunda Secundae 64, 7″

    • http://disputations.blogspot.com Tom K.

      Thanks, the introduction sounds promising.

  • Blog Goliard

    “Paradoxical though it may seem, in a case of self-defense, it probably would be better to shoot someone than to lie to them…”

    Be that as it may, I’d much rather be lied to than killed…and so the Golden Rule would lead me to the opposite conclusion.

    • http://www.ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca Randy

      It depends on what the matter is. If the lie is something that can threaten your eternal soul then being killed is preferable. Death does not cause us to sin but sometimes being lied does.

    • Jamie R

      I don’t think the Golden Rule works that way. If someone’s choice is either lie to you or kill you, what you would want them to do to you is of minimal moral importance. You would want them to surrender to you, they probably would otherwise not want to kill you.

  • http://www.ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca Randy

    If I understand him he does seem to condemn most killing in self defense. It seems like you can only kill in self defense when the physical act is defensive. That is the killing is not the means of defending. So if you reasonably believe a person is going to kill your child that is not a good enough. He has to be in the act of killing. Otherwise your killing is the means by which the defending is accomplished. That makes it immoral.

    Interesting ideas. It answers one of the big questions I had about the issue. I still have a question about the lack of tradition around some of these issues. Where are the bishops telling people not to tell their kids tall tales about Santa Claus? Where is the magisterial condemnation of undercover investigations? These are common things in society that the church has not indicated are morally problematic.

    • J. H. M. Ortiz

      “Let the layman not imagine that his pastors are always such experts, that to every problem which arises, however complicated, they can readily give him a concrete solution, or even that such is their mission.” — Vatican II’s Constitution Gaudium et Spes, in its section 43.

    • Irenist

      Quick guess: Santa Claus would be considered a “jocose lie,” and treated as more of a jest than a true falsehood. That said, I’m not sure about Santa Claus: presumably licit, but I’ve met too many adult atheists who categorize God and Santa as two exploded lies from their parents not to think that maybe telling my daughter about Santa is something I might want to skip if I want her to later trust me about God. My wife and I are due for our first child in a few months, and I’ve found myself wondering about whether I’ll tell our daughter about Santa or not for just that reason–I want her to know she can trust me. Luckily, I’ve plenty of time to think it over before she can talk. (Although I imagine I’ve already missed the application window on the fancy preschools I neither admire nor can afford….)

      • Marion (Mael Muire)

        My wife and I are due for our first child in a few months, and I’ve found myself wondering about whether I’ll tell our daughter about Santa or not for just that reason–I want her to know she can trust me.

        If it helps, I was raised in a home in which our parents told us children about God and about Santa Claus. By the time I was six, I had figured out (on my own) that Santa was a fictitious character, like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, or the Three Little Pigs, or Red Riding Hood. But I didn’t tell my parents I was wise to Santa, because I knew that my parents were behind all those great presents, and I didn’t want to say or do anything that might represent even the remotest possibility of messing that up.

        God, however, was a different story. I saw Mom and Dad praying to Him, and I saw the priest and all the people praying to Him at church. And even though I couldn’t see Him as I could see these other people, I was aware of Him living in my heart; I was aware of Him in the world around me, and I was aware of Him in other people.

  • http://disputations.blogspot.com Tom K.

    Taking another look at Joe’s answer, I have to object to this:

    “The moment I move my will to choose my preservation by means of firing my gun, a process is underway at which in every instant there are two effects springing from the same undertaken action: my desired object of self-preservation rides along withe bullet, as it were, while so does the indirectly-willed harm to my attacker.”

    The act that is the means of my preservation is not “firing my gun.” It is “shooting my attacker.” The harm to my attacker is not only directly willed, it is the object of shooting him. Self-preservation is not the object of my act, it is my intention in acting.

    • Irenist

      Tom, are you endorsing pacifism here, or saying that Aquinas’ view restricts licit killing to soldiers of the state as opposed to private citizens, or just thinking out loud? I’m sure your position is thoughtful and thought-provoking, so I’m eager to get a handle on what it might be.

      • http://disputations.blogspot.com Tom K.

        No, I’m not endorsing pacifism. And yes, certainly, St. Thomas states that “it is unlawful to take a man’s life, except for the public authority acting for the common good.”

        I’m saying that attempts to turn what is in itself an act of killing into an act of non-killing by appeal to purity of intention are doomed to fail in all sorts of awkward ways.

  • http://www.2effect.com Paul Connors

    Joe Grabowski: “The intention corresponds to what I hope to achieve ultimately..”

    It is more helpful to remember that intentions come in sequences. For example: I intend to open the door because I intend to walk through it because I intend to get in my car because I intend to drive it to work because … (etc. etc.). Such a sequence of intentions is commonplace in our actions. And each and every one of these intentions has to be good. It is generally a mistake to try to somehow identify a single intention as driving each action we undertake.

    Joe Grabowski: “The good effect must spring at least as immediately from the action as the evil end”

    Ouch! That word “end” is extremely unhelpful there. Most sources simply use the word “effect”, because “end” is associated with what our intentions are, and “effect” just refers to the state of affairs that results because what action we choose. Much, much better just to use the word “effect” there, because it avoids weaving a nasty tangled web.

    Joe Grabowski final discussion of lying and double effect doesn’t really address the issue. A relevant question is: Is there some way of knowingly telling someone a falsehood that we know may deceive them, but where our intention is not achieved because of the deception? If so, it does not qualify as a lie.

    I have more about this on my website, 2effect.com.

  • Blog Goliard

    All I really know is that “Double Effect” would be an excellent name for a prog-rock album.


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