Monday, August 9, 2010

Happy Consequentialism Day!

Perhaps you already observed it on Friday, since that was the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. But today, the anniversary of the Nagasaki bombing, is an equally fitting date. Certainly the image at left – the aftermath of Fat Man’s explosion over Nagasaki – is a fitting symbol for consequentialism. Perhaps consequentialist ethicists should consider putting it on the covers of their books, or wear little mushroom cloud pins when they meet up at philosophical conferences. For one thing, since the consequentialist case for the bombings – that they would save more lives than an invasion of Japan would – carried the day with the Truman administration (and with defenders of the bombings ever since), it may be the most consequential piece of consequentialist reasoning ever formulated. For another, the bombings give a pretty good idea of what a world consistently run on consequentialist principles might look like.

But don’t put the party hats on yet, because there’s one little hitch: Consequentialism is, as David Oderberg has put it, “downright false and dangerous, an evil doctrine that should be avoided by all right-thinking people.” And the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were, accordingly, as evil as consequentialism is. So, maybe Consequentialism Day is not a good idea after all, except perhaps as a reminder of the scale of evil that can be and has been done in the name of “good intentions” and “rationality.”

Jimmy Akin offers us a helpful reminder of why the bombings must be considered gravely immoral from the point of view of natural law theory and Catholic moral theology. It is only fair to acknowledge that many consequentialists would no doubt also condemn the bombings, arguing that better consequences would result overall and in the long run from respect for a rule that forbade such actions. Whatever. What matters is that any consequentialist must allow that it is at least in principle legitimate intentionally to kill the innocent for the sake of a “greater good.” And from the point of view of us reactionary, bigoted, unprogressive natural law theorists and Catholics, that is enough to make consequentialism a depraved doctrine. For it is never, never permissible to do what is intrinsically evil that good may come – not even if you’d feel much happier if you did it, not even if you’ve got some deeply ingrained tendency to want to do it, not even if it will shorten a war and save thousands of lives. Never.

As Akin makes clear, the point has nothing whatsoever to do with pacifism, with opposition to nuclear weapons per se, or with anti-Americanism. Indeed, most of the “sandal-wearing fruit juice drinkers” (to co-opt Orwell’s famous phrase) and “pasty-faced peace creeps” (to quote P. J. O’Rourke) who badmouth American foreign policy, and who seem to think no war is a just war, are wildly out of step with natural law theory on most other issues, and are generally wrong even about war and U.S. policy. But as they say, even a broken watch is right twice a day.

(See the Oderberg article linked to above for a brief popular overview of what is wrong with consequentialism. See Oderberg’s Moral Theory: A Non-Consequentialist Approach for a more thorough and academic treatment. And see Oderberg’s Applied Ethics: A Non-Consequentialist Approach for a serious, natural law theory treatment of just war theory and other life and death moral issues.)

44 comments:

Crude said...

I was given a Catholic schooling. My history teachers made it clear that using nukes on Japan was the only rational thing to do. He expressed his opinion that the second bomb may have been going too far, and if I recall right agreed with a student that it was racist that only the Japanese were bombed, and that Germany should have been bombed too.

Just to let you know what happened in one Catholic education, that's all.

David T. said...

Dr. Feser,

I wonder if the analysis of the use of atomic bombs as simply a case of "killing the innocent" vs. "not killing the innocent" is a bit naive. Especially considering what the Japanese were contemplating: Arming every civilian with sharpened bamboo poles for suicide attacks, strapping TNT on children to throw themselves under tanks as "Sherman carpets", etc. The Japanese themselves did not make the distinction between soldiers and civilians. Every Japanese was expected to die for the Emperor (if not in battle, then by suicide, which many civilians committed on Okinawa.) Just how are these folks innocent?

Even setting all that aside, the atomic bombs killed about 105,000 civilians. How many of these same civilians, and more, would have been killed in a conventional conquest of Japan? 100,000 civilians were killed in the Battle of Berlin alone, and that battle would have been repeated in every Japanese city. This isn't a consequentialist argument. It is to ask the question, Why is it morally superior to kill 400,000 civilians with machine guns and 500 lb bombs, rather than 100,000 with nukes? That was the choice that was faced, not the artificially simple one of "killing or not killing the innocent." Modern war is a nasty business and the innocent get killed either way - if in fact you can figure out who the innocent are.

I wonder: In what sense is the Japanese civilian manufacturing bullets in Nagasaki more innocent than the 18 year old farm kid from Oklahoma drafted and sent into those bullets on the beaches of Honshu? I'm not sure Truman ordering that kid into machine gun fire is any less ordering the killing of the innocent than was the order for the atomic bombs.

Damien S said...

David T

Wow. Compelling answer.

As much as I admire Ed's work I think I have to disagree with him on this one.

Ilíon said...

Yet, the fact remains that the bombings were morally justified and morally necessary.

AND, your refusal to acknowledge that truth can itself be seen as (or at least, be seen to seem to be) an example of consequentialist moral reasoning.

normajean said...

Ed, what about the story of Rahab where she lies to save life? Is this an example of greater goods morality?

Just Thinking said...

You gotta lose this Oderberg fix.

The 27th Comrade said...

@David T: The good in what you do is not dependent on the ungood that some human-worshipping people over there are doing.
Just saying.
There is a reason that martyrdom is always considered foolish by those who martyr the faithful-unto-death.

Then again, most people do not realise that the problem is not what you do when the Japanese fight; the problem is that there is war at all. I understand that the evils under the Heavens are contingent -- it has been bad since Adam, for exactly that reason -- but I do understand if they (the rest) understand.

Edward Feser said...

David T.,

Akin addresses most of that in his article. I urge you to read it.

Re: the stuff about arming civilians, well, the devil's in the details, but the general point is this. First, that civilians might in the future be mobilized is irrelevant. "Here and now" they are civilians, and thus cannot intentionally be targeted. Second, this is not what in fact guided the Truman administration in any event. They didn't think "There's this really tough and dedicated group of civilians they intend to mobilize in Hiroshima. Might cause trouble when we invade. Better take 'em out now!" The point was rather to demoralize the country by just killing lots of people.

Edward Feser said...

normajean,

I'd have to go back and look at the details of the story, but yeah, lying is from a natural law POV intrinsically wrong, though usually not gravely so, and this doesn't rule out actions that are short of intentionally speaking outright falsehood (e.g. speaking vaguely or ambiguously, etc.). Big topic of its own, though.

Edward Feser said...

Crude,

Just to be clear, I do not by any means endorse all the other stuff usually flung at the U.S. on this issue, e.g. that the act was "racist," part of a generally unjust war policy, etc. Nor do I take any position on the subjective culpability of those involved. I just think the particular action itself was in fact gravely wrong.

Ilíon said...

As much as I may like the idea of condemning Democrats as being fundamentally immoral, the decision to a-bomb (and fire bomb) Japan was not immoral.

I wish they had not targetted Nagasaki (and thus killed Christians when there were plenty of non-Christians elsewhere), but that decision was not on the face of it immoral.

Had they possessed enough atomic bombs to wipe out half (or all!) the population of Japan, and had they done so because the Japanese would not surrender, that would not have been immoral.


Moral obligations are interpersonal ... and they are relational.

The moral obligations of the Truman adminsitration, and of the US armed forces of the day, were to protect -- and failing that, to avenge -- American lives and rights and property.

To value the lives of the enemy -- even the innocent children of the enemy -- over one's own people is the most immoral mindset possible. To act to preserve the lives of the enemy -- even the innocent children of the enemy -- at the expense of the lives of one's own people is the most immoral betrayal possible.


When we stand before God in judgment, do you really think it will be an excuse to say, "But at least I kept my hands clean"?

David T. said...

Dr. Feser,

Yes, I read Akin's article. It is based on the distinction between "combatant" and "civilian" that the Japanese themselves rejected.

Talking about "mobilizing civilians" is to continue reading into the Japanese a distinction they never made. Every Japanese man, woman and child was expected to die for the Emperor - not starting from the possible U.S. invasion of Nippon, but forever and all time. By the way, the Japanese did not make this distinction with other nations either, which is why they treated enemy civilians just like enemy soldiers (e.g. throwing them in prison camps or killing them en masse.)

One reason for the large U.S. casualty estimates for a possible invasion of Japan was precisely the understanding that every Japanese on the home islands was in effect a soldier - something we learned on Okinawa and Saipan. So, yes, Truman DID think there was a large group of tough civilians on the Japanese homeland.

If I understand your position, the following is true:

1. Truman sending an 18-year old draftee onto the beaches of Honshu to face machine gun fire, is morally justified because... why? The 18-year old draftee is not innocent? Why not?

2. Truman bombing Nagasaki so he won't have to send the 18-year old into Japanese machine guns, is morally odious because the civilians manufacturing the machine gun bullets are innocent.

Not following that...

David T. said...

I accept just war theory, but I think it is much harder to distinguish the "innocent" or "non-combatants" than is supposed, at least in the modern world.

Back in the days of Charlemagne, when just war theory was in its infancy, the average peasant encountering an invading army probably had no idea what was going on. He was just tilling his fields and trying to survive the next day, and the first he knew of a war was probably the pikemen trampling his fields. He was truly an innocent in whatever wars the kings decided to wage amongst each other.

But that peasant is not comparable to the Japanese civilian of WWII, self-consciously manufacturing weapons of war and dedicated to give his/her life for the Emperor. Nor is he the schoolkid with a bomb strapped to his back, or the VC tilling his fields by day and laying booby traps for GI's at night. Like I say, modern war is a nasty thing, and using a category like the "innocent" isn't as easy as many think.

Crude said...

Ed,

I wasn't intending that bit of personal minutae as any kind of criticism at all. Just relating what one person's "Catholic" schooling had to say on this issue.

David T,

"Yes, I read Akin's article. It is based on the distinction between "combatant" and "civilian" that the Japanese themselves rejected."

You mention Saipan. You probably know far more military history than I do (I knew the arguments about how civilian forces would be used, but I didn't know of this particular case where they were used that way), but I notice LG Saito (so sayeth the wikipedia) is reported to have said this:

There is no longer any distinction between civilians and troops. It would be better for them to join in the attack with bamboo spears than be captured.

I think that complicates matters for both sides in this argument. Apparently Saito himself thought there was a distinction between civilians and soldiers - and he chose to round them up as troops. So apparently there really was such a thing as a citizen, even from the Japanese perspective. And that citizens can become soldiers by a single order seems to make the "innocent civilians" argument
more complex, on Ed's side.

"2. Truman bombing Nagasaki so he won't have to send the 18-year old into Japanese machine guns, is morally odious because the civilians manufacturing the machine gun bullets are innocent."

But Akin's (and I would assume Ed's) claim here isn't that it was wrong to bomb Nagasaki and Hiroshima in order to stop weapons manufacture. From Akin's article:

But notice what is not being said—either by Mr. Graham or anybody else: “Hiroshima and Nagasaki contained such important war widgets that without those widgets Japan would be unable to prosecute the war. Thus by taking out those military resources we could deprive Japan of its ability to make war.”

[...]

The reason nobody says these things is that they were not the thinking behind the U.S.‘s actions. The idea was not to end the war through the direct destruction of military resources in these two cities, nor was it to end the war by scaring Japan into thinking we might destroy all of its military resources. It was scaring Japan into surrendering by threatening (explicitly) to do this over and over again and inflict massive damage on the Japanese population. In other words, to make them scared that we would engage in “the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants.”


I don't think Akin or Ed would argue that it's immoral to bomb a munitions factory, even if it was primarily staffed by civilians.

Let me ask you: Under what conditions do you yourself consider it morally odious to target civilians in a conflict?

Josh said...

Can I answer that, sheepishly? I think the Japanese conflict towards the end of the war had become a war of attrition, and I'm not sure that targeting civilians in a just war situation would be acceptable at all outside of those conditions.

Just Thinking said...

I recall a UTube vid of Bishop Sheen giving the stats of how modern wars have had an ever increasing # civilian 'collateral' deaths.

What about the horrific # civilian deaths in Iraq.

War IS hell.

Doug Portmore said...

Hi Ed,

You write,

"lying is from a natural law POV intrinsically wrong"

"it is never, never permissible to do what is intrinsically evil"

So is it your view (the natural law POV) that I would be morally required to refrain from telling a small lie even if, as I know, my telling this small lie would harm no one and advert an otherwise inevitable nuclear war in which all life on the planet would be extinguished?

If your answer is 'yes', then why isn't a mushroom cloud just as fitting a symbol for natural law theory as it is for consequentialist theory?

David T. said...

Crude,

One of the differences between the Pacific and the European theaters was that the German civilians were not interested in fighting to the death (despite what the Nazis might have liked.) German soldiers, as well, were surrendering (to us, not the Russians) as fast as they could in the last few months of the war. So I think the firebombing of cities like Dresden in Feb. 1945 was morally dubious and morally distinct from our use of the A-bombs in the Pacific. At Dresden, we (or, rather the British), bombed civilians who had no interest in continuing the war. (As far as the "racist" argument goes, the Allied firebombing of numerous German cities caused more destruction than the A-bombs. 80,000, for example, were killed at Hamburg.)

Would you return the favor and answer my question?

What was the morally correct way for the U.S. to end the war? (You will notice that Akin does not volunteer an answer to this question.)

I submit any answer you give will involve killing "innocent" civilians (using the Feser/Akin definition of civilian.) In war, everyone gets dirty.

Crude said...

David T,

What was the morally correct way for the U.S. to end the war? (You will notice that Akin does not volunteer an answer to this question.)

I submit any answer you give will involve killing "innocent" civilians (using the Feser/Akin definition of civilian.) In war, everyone gets dirty.


What do you mean by "involve killing "innocent" civilians"? In a collateral sense? Or specifically targeting them?

Before I answer, I want to stress that I'm not fully on board with Ed's or Akin's arguments here - like I said, the quote I gave re: Saipan complicates the issues on both sides, taken at face value.

Anyway, the best answer I can give: The US forces clearly didn't think that the Japanese needed to be wiped out utterly (thinking they'd never stop fighting, etc.) They were aiming for a surrender, and that's what they got. I think pursuing a surrender was the right thing to do. I don't object to displays of supreme offensive capability, and it's my understanding that even under Akin's and Ed's view there may sometimes be justified acts that will result in civilian deaths.

So I suppose my answer would be: The best path would have been to continue targeting military forces, installations, etc. Clearly it was thought that a surrender was possible. But I have trouble justifying the explicit aiming for population centers as a means to get to that surrender.

Ilíon said...

David T: "What was the morally correct way for the U.S. to end the war? ...

I submit any answer you give will involve killing "innocent" civilians (using the Feser/Akin definition of civilian.) In war, everyone gets dirty.
"

What was the morally correct way to prosecute the war in June and July of 1945? What was the morally correct way to invade Iwo Jima and Okinawa? ... All the way back to, what was the morally correct way to react to Dec 7, 1941?

Mr Feser is certain that he's not shilling (my word, obviously) for pacifism. But he is! It matters little that his intention is not to assert that a moral government may never protect/avenge its citizens or subjects with deadly force, for that is the practical result of consistently applying these doctrines to foreign, and domestic, policy.

Do we not already see in the domestic carnage that our society has been experiencing for close to 50 years where such an ethos must lead?


David T: "... In war, everyone gets dirty."

Yes, in war, everyone gets dirty. But, in truth, getting dirty is simply most dramatic in war; it is life itself which gets us dirty. And I don't mean simply the fact that we are sinners; for even true righteousness will tend to get us dirty.

Only by doing nothing, which is in itself sin, can we keep our hands clear -- thus my comment that "At least I kept my hand clean" will be no excuse when we face judgment. It seems to me that there is a mindset (both within "the religious" and within God-deniers) by which one imagines oneself to be more righteous than God.


Doug Portmore: "... If your answer is 'yes', then why isn't a mushroom cloud just as fitting a symbol for natural law theory as it is for consequentialist theory?"

Excellent question.

David T. said...

Crude,

Well, the deliberate targeting of civilians didn't start with the atomic bombs. The British were doing it firebombing German cities, attacks that were even more devastating than the A-bombs. And we did it with our own B-29 firebombing attacks. In fact, it didn't even start in WWII. (An argument could be made that the Union did it at both Atlanta and Vicksburg in the Civil War.) The difference with the A-bombs wasn't so much the end effect, but the psychological effect.

But, I suppose that is besides the point. There is no reason to think that Japan would have ever surrendered under any amount of conventional attack without an invasion, or that we would have been able to degrade their defensive potential to the point of impotence merely through bombing. We blew the crap out of Iwo Jima - an 8 square mile island - for days, with everything from 16-inch battleship guns to divebombers. And we nonetheless suffered 4,000 casualties the first day of the landing. One of the lessons of WWII is that conventional bombing alone can't force anyone to surrender: The Germans tried it with the British in 1940, we and the British tried it with the Germans from 1943-45.

I don't think the use of the atomic weapons was a no-brainer. What i object to is the easy self-confidence that Akin seems to show insofar as he can swiftly identify the "innocent" in the conflict, and condemn thousands of American teenagers to a mauling by machine guns to save the "innocent" and his own moral purity. I don't think those civilians were quite so innocent, nor do I see why the innocence of American teenage draftees counts for nothing in the moral calculus.

David T. said...

llion,

Yes, life is dirty... so many of the great saints are vowed religious who have avoided entanglement with the world. There is nothing wrong with that, and their purity and sanctity is genuine... but somebody must be the politician up to his neck in the muck of the world, making decisions where all the alternatives are bad... like the alternative between nuking Japanese civilians or condemning thousands of American boys to death - boys who follow you under the belief that will not spend their lives unnecessarily.

Crude said...

David T,

Well, the deliberate targeting of civilians didn't start with the atomic bombs. The British were doing it firebombing German cities, attacks that were even more devastating than the A-bombs.

Absolutely, and I have as much problem (possibly more of one, depending) with what I know of Dresden. I certainly don't think that using nukes on Japan was the first incident of openly targeting civilians.

If you're contending that the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are unjustly singled out as "the" immoral acts (or at least morally questionable acts) in WW2, I could see that easily. That's certainly valid by my measure. I wonder how many people have even heard of the bombing of Dresden.

But, I suppose that is besides the point. There is no reason to think that Japan would have ever surrendered under any amount of conventional attack without an invasion, or that we would have been able to degrade their defensive potential to the point of impotence merely through bombing.

Well, one thing here: I'm not saying that the use of nuclear weapons in the pacific theatre was the problem. If the A-bomb were deployed in order to take out a military installation, or munitions factories, etc - even with the reasoning of "we're taking this thing out in this way to show them just how much offensive power we now have" - this conversation would be different. My problem here - I suspect it's Ed's problem and Akin's problem as well - is the deliberate targeting of civilians. It goes for Dresden just as easily as Hiroshima.

If you think my concern here is merely that nuclear weapons were used, that's not the case.

What i object to is the easy self-confidence that Akin seems to show insofar as he can swiftly identify the "innocent" in the conflict, and condemn thousands of American teenagers to a mauling by machine guns to save the "innocent" and his own moral purity. I don't think those civilians were quite so innocent, nor do I see why the innocence of American teenage draftees counts for nothing in the moral calculus.

I said before, I think the issue does get complicated when it comes to that distinction between "civilian" and "soldier". On the other hand, did the people backing the A-Bombs ever say "As far as we're concerned, we weren't targeting civilians. We were targeting soldiers in reserve"? Or did the status of the 'civilians' at Hiroshima/Nagasaki ultimately not matter (Or better yet, were they flat out considered 'citizens' rather than 'soldiers' anyway?), because all that really mattered was the ends?

normajean said...

Ed, please tell me where I'm going wrong. Ray Bradley once attempted to undermine the Judeo Christian claim to the existence of objective moral values with something like the following: What does objectivity mean with respect to morality? Surely it means unchanging and yet the God of the Old Testament is so very different from the God of the New Testament (so he says). The injunctions in the Old Testament (the commands of God) are different from those in the New Testament (slavery for example). Sounds like the bible is culturally relativistic, this culture has this set of morals and that culture has that set of morals, but don’t the basics apply to all cultures at all times? Bradley hopes to show an inconsistency with God and Objective Moral Values.

But in my mind to say there are objective moral values is not to say that nominal rules (lying for instance) necessarily apply in every single situation. In my mind, to say there are objective moral values is simply to say that given a specified set of circumstances there are always facts about the right and facts about the wrong. The moral objectivist is in other words only committed to ‘rightness’ and its privation ‘wrongness’ (the “right” is necessary, universal, and immutable; the “nominal rule” is contingent). This is why there is no problem for God to deal with His people one-way in the Old Covenant and progressively different in the new. Does this mean we are relativising the scriptures? Not at all! So long as we understand there is a matter of fact to what is right and what is wrong, the relativism accusation is undercut and defeated. But how about something so simple as “thou shall not lie?” Shouldn’t this nominal rule apply in every single circumstance? I don’t think so. If we read about Rahab we see she is commended when she lies to save a life (see Joshua 2 and her commendation in James 2:25). Likewise, doesn’t our conscience (Rom 2) tell us that lying to save Jewish folk from angry Nazi’s is the right thing to do? The implication seems to be that God takes the context of actions, the character doing the act, and the motive behind the act into consideration.

normajean said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Of course the world altogether is a psycho-physical or psycho-energetic Indivisible Unity in which every body and every thing is in one way or another inter-connected.

IT is also governed by the immutable laws of psycho-physics, namely:

For every action, either by individuals or collectives, there is always an equal and opposite reaction/response.

Which will inevitably manifest in one form or another sooner or later.

The Law of Twoness, and thus almost infinitely magnified multiplicities--a vast pattern patterning.

You inevitably reap what you sow.

Everybody inevitably gets their hideously perfect just deserts!

The various Hindu traditions call it the (immutable) Law of Karma.

The negative exploitation and killing of human beings, and the non-humans too, by human beings violates the heart of one and all.

David T. said...

Crude,

This will be my last post, and I've enjoyed our exchange. I'll leave you with the last word...

Pax,
David

Ilíon said...

NormaJean,
When you develop that thought further, you notice that moral objectivists tend to understand that the facts of the situation is one the determinants of the morality of an action (that is, an action may be immoral in one situation, nut moral in another); but, on the other hand, moral relativists tend to be absolutists!

Ilíon said...

... for instance, moral objectivists usually can differentiate murder from negligent homicide from justifiable homicide (or self-defense) from lawful (just) execution from death-in-war, etc; but moral relativists tend to have a difficult time distinguishing anything other than murder. Unless it’s murder then like, such as abortion or euthanasia.

normajean said...

Thanks, Illion, that was insightful.

Edward Feser said...

Hi Doug,

1. Yes, it is always wrong to lie, even in a case like that, though in a case like that it would not be seriously wrong. But still, it would be wrong.

2. Is your argument: "But in that case, Ed, your own view would lead to some pretty dire consequences, and for that reason alone it must be mistaken"? If so, then that is itself a consequentialist argument, and thus begs the question.

3. You might respond: "But Ed, wasn't the point of your own post that consequentialism leads to bad consequences like Nagasaki, and therefore should for that reason alone be rejeced?" No, that was not my point, for that too would be a consequentialist argument, and naturally I do not endorse such arguments. I was not saying "Consequentialism is bad because it leads to bad consequences." I was saying "Consequentialism is bad because it says that intentionally killing innocent people is not intrinsically evil." Obviously no consequentialst is going to be moved by that statement alone, but the post was not intended as an argument against consequentialism (certainly not as an argument that would convince consequentialists themselves). It was merely intended as an illustration of the sort of thing consequentialism must allow to be permissible at least in principle. Lots of even worse examples could be given, but the Nagasaki one is particularly poignant because it is a real-world example.

4. There is another reason the cases are not parallel. It's true that natural law theorists standardly hold that lying is intrinscially evil, but that is not somehow definitive of natural law theory itself. It's an application of the theory which requires bringing in subsidiary considerations about the natural end of our communicative faculties, our nature as social animals, and the like. By contrast, the claim that it can at least in principle be legitimate intentionally to kill the innocent follows directly from consequentialism. It is at the core of consequentialism in a way that the absoluteness of the wrongness of lying is not at the core of natural law theory.

5. A final reason that the cases are not parallel is that what consequentialism entails is that it can in principle be legitimate intentionally to cause a nuclear holocaust, whereas that is not what natural law theory entails even in your proposed scenario. Your scenario involves instead not preventing such a holocaust. That is very different. I realize of course tht consequentialists would say that it is not a morally significant difference, but they cannot simply assume that it is not without begging the question against natural law theory.

Crude said...

David T,

Nothing further for me, and it was a pleasure. Thanks for the exchange, I love 'em when there's some common ground and both sides are polite.

Doug Portmore said...

Hi Ed,

Is your argument: "But in that case, Ed, your own view would lead to some pretty dire consequences, and for that reason alone it must be mistaken"? If so, then that is itself a consequentialist argument, and thus begs the question.

I didn't give an argument. I just asked a question. The thrust of the question was that although agent-neutral consequentialism has some highly counter-intuitive implications, it seems that natural law theory has some equally counter-intuitive implications. That is, I suspect that most people will find it just as absurd to think that it's impermissible to tell a little lie in order to advert a nuclear holocaust as to drop a nuclear bomb (thereby intentionally killing innocent people) for the sake of bringing about the best available outcome.

By the way, you wrongly assume that someone who holds that it's permissible to tell a little lie so as to prevent some terrible consequences (impersonally construed) from obtaining must be assuming that agent-neutral consequentialism is true and is thereby begging the question against you. That's not true. For what's distinctive about agent-neutral consequentialism is not that it holds that the agent-neutral badness of the consequences of an act can affect its deontic status, but that the agent-neutral badness of the consequences of an act is the only thing that can affect its deontic status. Thus, many non-consequentialist hold that although it is generally wrong to lie even so as to bring about the agent-neutrally best outcome, this constraint against lying has a threshold such that if the consequences of not lying would be sufficiently dire it is permissible to lie.

Ilíon said...

Anyone not in mental captivity to some (obviously incorrect) theory of morality knows that "lying" to the Nazis about where some group Jews are hidden is not a wicked act; it simply is not immoral, it is not sin.

Part of of the problem is that in English we have only the one word to denote the intentional act of saying that which is not true.

Part of the problem is trying to bring the simplified version of moral reasoning we necessarily teach children into adulthood.

Joe said...

I had a catholic education for a year and a half and I remember reading the book Hiroshima and being pretty horrified. I don't think you read that book in state schools, all you hear is the moral calculus argument. Also, and I'm not entirely sure of this, but I read somewhere that that was not the argument that actually convinced the truman administration. It was something made up years later as a justification. I could be wrong on that. I guess all you would need to do is look at all the war transcripts, which I'm sure you can get now.

Daniel Smith said...

I'm surprised no one has brought up the command of God to the Israelites to slaughter man, woman and child when taking over a country (from the Hittites I believe.) God obviously thought that the greater moral good was for the Israelites to remain pure - even at the expense of innocent women and children.

Interstellar Bill said...

The case for Nagasaki would be clearer without the obviously immoral bombing of European civilians having previously fouled the moral waters. Dresden and Hamburg were totally consequentialist, in that their only purpose was to terrorize civilians. That was the source of their immorality. Besides that, they merely hardened the civilian resolve of a previously war-baulky populace.

Every Nagasaki death, on the other hand, was by the choice of those locals who ignored the enormous numbers of warning leaflets dropped over both cities, at great risk to the pilots so charitably dropping them. I don't recall leaflets prior to Pearl Harbor.

Everybody in the nuked cities could easily have left the weekend before, particularly Nagasaki. You'd think one nuke was enough to make the leaflets credible. That's not the behavior of 'civilians'.

We did the best we could to bomb empty cities. Not a single death was our doing. All we did was demonstrate our nuclear capability with an on-site test, which they could have observed from a safe distance (a 6 hour walk). Maybe we'd've air-dropped blast goggles for them all.

Anyway, the only thing our puny nukes did was light off a couple of urban fire traps, rickety warrens of wooden shacks that could as easily have been torched by a large-scale conventional attack, which the Japanese had already been shrugging off.

The Imperial Command only heeded Truman's gutsy bluff of further nukes we didn't have, which gave them an 'honorable' excuse to surrender. Also, those detonations clearly put the 'fear of the Lord' into the postwar world, quite beneficially.

I applaud Truman for his moral courage at 'dropping the Big One'. Too bad he didn't get to do the same to, e.g., a Hitler-lead rally of the entire SS. Think of all the Jewish inmates who would have been saved, and Eastern Europe freed. As it was the Japanese didn't slaughter all their prisoners.

Consequentialism was exemplified by the Allies' abetting the post-war deaths of ten million German civilians in 1945-1946. Where's their memorial and sobbing pacifist ceremonies?

Consequentialism was Roosevelt letting the Russians into a defenseless Berlin, halting our armies while Stalin got yet more territory in appeasement. Only later did Stalin take pause at our nukes and cancel his plans to invade Japan.

It's gutless pacificism that's consequentialist. Self-annointed purists swallow every leftie cliche that gets trotted out in the name of 'peace', so they can feel good about themselves while others haul the moral freight for them.

Interstellar Bill said...
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md said...

>> I was saying "Consequentialism is bad because it says that intentionally killing innocent people is not intrinsically evil."

Ed,

Do you subscribe to the principle of double effect? From the way you are using the phrase "intentional killing" it sounds like you may not be distinguishing intent to do something from foreseen but unintended consequences of intending something else. If that isn't done would't that also be consequentialist?

Mark

Edward Feser said...

Hi Doug,

1. I wasn't appealing to intuitions as an argument against consequentialism or as an argument for natural law theory, because, like you, I wasn't giving an argument at all. I did not expect that any consequentialist would be moved by the post. The point was rather to illustrate for readers already sympathetic to or on the fence vis-a-vis natural law theory what, from a natural law POV, consequentialism looks like, and what Nagasaki looks like. And, in the porcess, to get those conservative readers who endorse the standard justification of the bombing to consider that maybe, given the natural law approach many of them are at least sympathetic with, they shouldn't endorse that justification. In other words, it was intended as a snarky post, albeit with a serious point.

2. I realize someone might try to defend lying without endorsing any version of consequentialism. I don't recall saying anything that implied otherwise.

Edward Feser said...

Daniel (adn anyone else who's interested),

I've addressed that point (and some of the others that have arisen here) over in the combox at the cross-post of this post at What's Wrong with the World, where a long and vigorous exchange has also been going on. (Very hard to keep up both with that set of exchanges and this one!)

Edward Feser said...

Mark,

Yes, naturally (as a natural law theorist) I subscribe to PDE. But PDE doesn't justify Nagasaki. It would do so only if the bombers were not trying to kill poeople who they knew to be innocent, but were instead trying to destroy munitions factories or some such thing, and the civilian deaths were a foreseen but unintended byproduct. But that is not what they were doing. They were, again, trying to kill the civilians.

You might respond "But they were doing so only for the sake of ending the war sooner." True, but irrelevant, and to think it is relevant evinces a misunderstanding of PDE. PDE doesn't say "As long as your ultimate goal is OK, you can justify whatever means you need in order to achieve it." The act of intentionally bombing thousands of innocent people is itself intrinsically immoral, and the reason yopu are doing it doesn't change that. The act of intentionally bombing a city for the sake of destroying munitions factories is (according to PDE) a different act, even if you know civilians will die as a result, because killing the civilians is not part of the intention behind the action.

I say more about this in an exchange with George R. over at the WWWtW cross-post combox.

Jeff said...

Why are civilians inherently innocent? If there were no civilians, no military could be supported, and thus no war waged. That they were not armed at that moment seems to me to be irrelevant.

Benny said...

I agree with you Dr. Feser on the immorality of it. No justification is sufficient to warrant intentionally killing civilians. Yes what the Japanese did in China and the Phillipins and elsewhere was abominable, it does not justify responding in kind.