Monday, January 23, 2006

Pacifism and the "Double Effect"

by Mitch Ullman

I knew what I was getting into when I decided to read the Anscombe selection. However, I did not expect the forceful attitude against pacifism that would be taken, nor the apparent double standard of the “double effect” doctrine. I’ll attempt, with a merciful motive, to extract some of the venom and mend the wound appropriately. Keep in mind, this may hurt a little.

First off, I’d like to say just a little about Professor Anscombe. She was a student of Wittgenstein, and as such, has a lot of negative things to say about Rationalists and their ilk (read Descartes). She was also a Catholic theologian, which means that there will be a lot in the way of references to the Bible and the Pope as authorities appropriate for all matters ethical. One of her major contributions to contemporary philosophy was to give a name to the brand of Utilitarianism that Mill may have been attempting to proffer: consequentialism (or more specifically, rule-consequentialism). After all of this, one would realize that Professor Anscombe was analytic in her work; and would recognize this in her writing. Even if I may disagree with her on many counts, I did enjoy reading her methodological approach.

One thing that the reader may notice is that from the start there is an assumption. On the whole, it is a basic assumption that many social contract theorists make though they may not agree on the outcome: the world is a jungle without law, law requires coercion, coercion requires violence. It is based on this line of thought that we arrive at Professor Anscombe’s first remark: violence in the name of the law is necessary and right. As a matter of fact, in her opinion, it should be obvious unless you are some bleeding-heart romantic with no sense of reality. To back up this notion that violence is the only way by which to contain evil, Professor Anscombe makes her first fallacious statement. She returns to the idea of violence by rulers being just. Her example of such is that of a God containing the evils of the Devil through violent acts. I am fairly certain that in most philosophical circles, this appeal to inappropriate authority would garner more odd looks than it would appreciation and respect. Perhaps a more positivist (not of the legal sort, you just have to love philosophical jargon) view would have sufficed: many social animals, in nature, require violence in the maintenance of a hierarchical society. Keep in mind, this is not an endorsement of violence, but a meagre attempt at resuscitating Professor Anscombe’s argument.

Although she seems to acknowledge the certainty of malicious activities during wartime, Professor Anscombe appears to allow the praise of the people to sanctify unjust actions, considering the “extraordinary occasions” that preclude civility in the heat of battle to be excuse enough. This is an oversimplification of the concept, and as such, seems vague enough to be a cause for confusion. Now, ignoring the “extraordinary occasions” statement, which really does nothing to justify violence -much less warfare itself- our attention is directed, by Professor Anscombe to what is truly unjust and vile. I find it interesting that given the position that she took against President Truman as regards the use of nuclear bombs against Japan, due to the number of civilian deaths, -I abstain from the use of the term innocent due to its murky meaning- that Professor Anscombe did not spend more time in discussing the distinction of hostile military and civilian personnel. I haven’t much in the way of an argument against the distinction, only that I feel that the Professor could have elaborated a bit more in her description of civilians and her justifications for not bringing violence against them. It also seems strange, to me, to have glossed over the idea that warfare is just, even given the idea that warfare is, from beginning to end, full of unjust actions.

I take offense at the idea that secular humanists have some sort of misconception about Christianity that creates some new species of spineless pacifists who, for some reason, believe in some twisted mythology of the New Testament while rejecting the Old with its wrathful God and full-on obliterative wars. Doesn’t this somehow contradict the whole idea of a secular movement? Perhaps the finger pointing the Professor has going on at this point should be ignored and we’ll focus on the more relevant material. No, this is going to hurt, as I said before and we are going to attempt to pull from all the Bible quotes and speculation about civilizations long gone a glimmer of truth. I may have misunderstood this representation of morality as nothing more than a proselytization and justification for the modern Church, however, I will do what I can to show that it does contain a truth: morality is natural and obvious. Even while Professor Anscombe claims that due to the modern man’s proclivity toward malice and hate, the Church and its dogmas are necessary, she states most plainly that the immorality of the killing of innocents is obvious “especially to the poor victims.” Is this a formulation of a system of ethics? No, of course not. It is, however, a step away from the Hobbesian view of humanity that she was just proffering! The interesting implication, in my mind, is that once this step is taken there appears less justification for the violence by ruling authorities, internally or externally. There appears, also to be a misconstrued notion of pacifism in that it is a modern precept. She shadow-boxes with a pacifist who states that war is wrong because technology is getting to the point that all wars must end with total obliteration. She may have been able to digest this opponent with ease, however, she may have some difficulty with someone who actually holds -without resorting to inappropriate authority claims- that killing is wrong in any respect. While her logic is impeccable her assumptions about pacifism, I believe, are incorrect, leaving the Professor with an untenable position. What I find most ridiculous is the final claim that pacifism has lessened the impact of the idea that killing the innocent is immoral! By having a universal respect for humanity, for life, there is some danger of making the world ready and eager to slaughter the young and feeble. I can certainly see the connection.

And so on that note, we move along to the “double effect” conundrum and Professor Anscombe’s seemingly shaky use of the term. I will state, up front, that I found the apparent allusion to mental masturbation that Anscombe makes in reference to the Cartesian psychology. I’ll admit, it was long in the coming, but that is the standard by which one gauges their aptitude, literarily speaking. I find it hard to believe that the Christian ethics that Professor Anscombe discusses is the system of ethics that was peeking its head out of the muck just a few lines above. Apparently, in order for people to go about their lives without worrying about their fellow man’s plight, they may ignore their own ethics system in favor of the “double effect” doctrine. While on the one hand, it may be necessary to not kill they neighbor, it is not necessary to be responsible for the death of thy neighbor through -informed- inaction. To me, this is just as preposterous as the representation of Cartesian psychology given by Professor Anscombe. Now, I would like to say here that what I mean by informed inaction is similar to the situation that Singer gives with the boy in the pond scenario. I knowingly allowed the child to drown. That is murder, “double effect” or not. Now, as pertains to the idea of war, there is an issue that I think Professor Anscombe makes an excellent point, even if she does refer again to the Bible in the process: you are still culpable for the means, regardless of the justification for the ends. And in this, we again see Kant’s misshapen head rear its Deontology back into our world-view. No matter what the intent, there is still the issue of the method by which one achieves those goals. This flies in the face of the ‘to know peace is to know war’ frame of mind.

So with a new bandage, a few doses of some illicit opiates, we find ourselves at the end of this paper. I intended to repair the maladies which I saw plaguing the Professor's selected work, and I ended up jabbing it with a fork and pouring salt all over it, before I was done. Please be gentle, I've recently returned sutured, the bandage may seep.


Anonymous Jamie McCall said...

I think it is interesting how you point out that Anscombe believes even if you are under the double effect, you are still responsible for the foreseen means you use to get to your morally justified end. Since I had to deal with the double effect a lot with pacifism, the question I have about how it is used in this context is how do we judge when our forseen means is so much worse than the good we would bring about in the end. After all, in war, such is not always so obvious...

11:51 AM  
Blogger Wesley Gibbs said...

I admire you for trying to salvage Anscombe's argument, but I think that it is a task near impossible in some ways. To tell the truth, I was confused by the part that speaks on the "extraordinary occasions" having to do with the heat of battle. I am actually still a little confused about it. I think that the one really good point of her argument was when she says that one is responsible for the means that get them to the end.

12:12 PM  
Anonymous Mitch Ullman said...

The way I understand the "extraordinary occasions" bit is basically the traditional "war hero." The person is being exalted even though they have done some fairly nasty, arguably immoral things in the heat of battle.

12:49 PM  
Anonymous Wesley Frazier said...

I am still struggling to digest the "Double Effect" in it's entirety and to understand how it cashes out in varrious way.

However I am not entirely certain it's vastly different from virtue ethics. Or to put it more specifically a virtue ethics back door on a potentially consequentialist system. As it is only meant for "special occasion"

10:06 PM  
Anonymous Kim Morrison said...

My knowledge of philosophy is rather rusty (I took Intro. 3 years ago with Dr. Geller) but I'm glad I'm not the only one who was confused by Anscombe's use of "extraordinary occasions." I mean can't that be used in other situations other than in "the heat of battle"? I don't want to step on any toes but it would seem to me that capital punishment would be along the same lines. The "extraordinary occasion" of committing a brutal murder (or murders) and the guilty being put to death seems to follow along the same lines of the end justifying the means. Maybe I read too much into it but that's what I thought of. As for the Catholic Anscombe using the Bible and the Church as references, well all I can say is that everyone makes their own interpretations. Being in the new generation of Catholics myself I can honestly say that no matter what we're taught to believe, the Church is not always right. The Church and the Bible are both full of contradictions in themselves. Like I said, it's all about interpretation. Anyway, I've said more than I meant to. The paper was enjoyable and you did an excellent job of pointing out the flaws in her not-so-easy-to-read article.

1:25 PM  
Anonymous Steven Grueshaber said...

I cringe at the idea of "extraordinary occasions." It seems to allow someone to perform acts of passion rather than logic during a time of war, which can be disastrous to the war effort and seems rather immoral regardless. One could claim that they had only the best intentions while performing the act in order to be excused for it. If this were allowable, I do not see how it would only apply during times of war. Breaking the law out of rage or anger at any other time is still punishable, war should be no different. The entire concept is too easily exploited.

3:19 PM  
Blogger Adam Johnson said...

Bit of a tangent, but it irks me when people cite the actions of God (particularly in the Old Testament) and conclude that a human being acting is the same way is okay. Even assuming the existence of God and the truth of the Bible, the claim is still nonsensical. Sure, God slays some evil bastards, yet commands his people to not only refrain from murder but also abstain from counter violence when attacked yourself. Maybe I'm crazy, but I've always thought there is a fairly obviously disjunction in things God is allowed to do and things people are allowed to do.

Anyway, more on topic - I hesitate to fully buy the assumption that law can only be maintained through coercive violence. I'm quite aware that this is pretty much the only way it's worked so far, but it seems at least possible to me that at least a smaller society could move away from this. Rewards for following the law rather than punishment for breaking, or perhaps the violently inclined naturally deselect themselves to large extent, etc. I must admit I'm somewhat tempted to purge this entire paragraph to avoid being associated with hippies.

4:37 PM  
Anonymous Jeremy Page said...

Well, it seems that everyone has issues with "extraordinary occasions," it looks like I'm hopping on the bandwagon. It seems that her closing sentence would cover those "occasions" and make an attempt to estrange (from God) those who might fall into them and followthrough with some sort of immoral or unorthodox action.

4:43 PM  
Blogger Joe Miller said...

I think that you're exactly right to mention that Anscombe assumes that violence is necessary to prevent a collapse into a state of nature. It might be interesting to explore whether her conception of the state of nature is more Hobbesian or Lockean. Or whether it is something else entirely. A good Catholic, she may actually have in mind someone more like Augustine, with his discussions of original sin and the like. Could make for an interesting topic, though one that’s not exactly relevant to what you’re doing here.

1:38 PM  
Anonymous Kim Morrison said...

As a religion major among this group of philosophers I just want to point out that God has been known to tell His people to wage war. On some occasions He helps them defeat the enemy. However, I agree with Adam when he said that what God does, what He commands humans to do, and what humans do on their own, are entirely different things.

10:04 AM  
Blogger Drew said...

I like the fact that u agree with Ascombe even though i dont, there are many ways you can rebute this argument but you choose to run with it and create a postive refelction toward Ascombes writting. I personally am having a hard time understanding the double effect. this whole concept is new to me along with Ascombe but your paper was informative and helped me see what we discused in class a little more clearer.

9:49 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home