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How Not To Construct A Sequitur, Redux

Apparently, in the minds of today's hawkish situational ethicists, if one isn't a situational ethicist one is necessarily at least functionally a pacifist.

Additional comment:

Our traditionalist situational ethicist (TSE) friends seem to be under the impression that if you aren't a situational ethicist you are obsessed with preserving physical life rather than saving souls. That is an extremely odd claim.

In all of the archetypical cases under dispute, the TSE's are arguing that more physical lives can be saved if we ignore absolute moral norms. I agree with them. Sometimes the price of being a good man is paid in blood. If we cannot save some lives without doing evil, we don't save those lives. So who exactly is obsessed with the preservation of physical life above all other concerns here?

Moral deontologists (quite unlike the TSE's) specifically are not taking the preservation of life as above all other considerations. It is the souls of the persons who perform actual acts which are at issue; it is for precisely this reason that the "greatest number of lives saved justifies the act" calculus of the situational ethicists must be rejected.

UPDATE: Two quick points on this:

1) When I describe the moral reasoning I oppose as situational ethics, that isn't a "smear" unless the charge of "absolute pacifism" against me is also a smear. I don't think either is though. Lawrence Auster really thinks that my position is tantamount to absolute pacifism. I know he does, because I know him as a man of honor who says what he really thinks. The charge of "absolute pacifism" is utterly wrong, but it isn't a "smear".

I think his expressed position on morality in warfare is in fact a situational ethics. I don't know why this is controversial, since what he accuses me of is ignoring the situation. Ignoring the situation is what you do when you've encountered a moral absolute which forbids you to act in a certain way. "Situational ethics" isn't a smear, it is what I really think his expressed position amounts to. I appreciate his candor. I would hope he might also appreciate mine.

2) I mostly agree with this characterization: "The only thing that matters morally is that the decision-maker not himself commit an immoral act." It isn't the only thing that matters, but it is a consideration which trumps any and all other considerations. In fact the opposite contention is self-contradictory, because it proposes that an actor is morally required to do something immoral.



This: It gives me no pleasure to say this, but I must point out the close logical parallel between Michael Berg's comments to Sean Hannity and the arguments of Zippy Catholic and his right-wing Catholic colleagues at What's Wrong with the World. Zippy argues that a person is under no positive obligation to perform an act of [wrongful] violence to save the innocent from wrongful death. A person's single transcendent duty, rather, is to avoid any positive act that would harm the innocent. Mutatis mutandis, Michael Berg says the same thing.

...is simply ludicrous, if you take out the "wrongful" in brackets, and it is beneath Mr. Auster to assert something so obviously ludicrous. For the record, if anyone tries to do harm to my son he'd better be prepared to die, because I wouldn't hesitate to respond with lethal force. There is such a thing as rightful violence, and it is the only sort (by definition) in which it is right to engage. As stated, yes, one should never (by definition) engage in wrongful violence. But that isn't particularly helpful unless we can distinguish wrongful violence from rightful violence.

I have the sense that the folks at VFR are simply incapable of engaging with my actual position. The thread is a long litany of straw man after straw man.


Zippy has gone beyond his previous shocking statements. Previously he condemned as the worst sin any act that, to protect innocents from being mass slaughtered, would kill an innocent person, even if the latter was about to die (e.g. a passenger in an airliner that had been hijacked by terrorists). Now he says that he would not even kill a would-be murderer to stop the murder of an innocent person.

This completely misrepresents the exchange. Hanski proposed a Flight 93 scenario (link): 200 innocents on the plane, 2000 on the ground who will die if the plane isn't shot down. A fighter (not piloted by me) is approaching the airliner to shoot it down. I am in a different fighter. Hanski asks me if I would shoot down the other fighter in order to prevent it from shooting down the airliner.

I responded that I would not.

Now, it is reasonable for someone not to understand why that would be my choice. But to characterize it as Auster has, that "Now he says that he would not even kill a would-be murderer to stop the murder of an innocent person", is just nonsense. I can only conclude that my friend Larry didn't read the exchange very carefully, because I know he wouldn't intentionally publish such a gross misrepresentation.

Oh, and I never characterized blowing up the airliner passengers with military ordinance as "the worst sin". I characterized it as morally wrong. "Morally wrong" and "the worst sin" don't mean the same thing. Not even close.

UPDATE: Mr Auster corrected the misrepresentation, for which I thank him. It is certainly understandable, since as Mr. Auster points out Hanski's original question was far-removed from the repeated comments in which Hanski attempted to portray my position as the very ludicrous one that Mr. Auster took it to be. No harm no foul.

Ian B writes a lengthy comment speculating about what Zippy must feel morally compelled to do. Ian's post proposes that Zippy must make his moral determinations based on either the outcome or on intentions. But Zippy is a moral deontologist: a moral deontologist understands the moral quality of an act to depend in general on object (the act or chosen behavior itself, distinguished from foreseen effects, intentions, circumstances, etc), intent, and circumstances. For intrinsically evil acts, the chosen behavior in itself is evil no matter why someone chooes to do it. So for example it is always evil to commit adultery or perform an abortion, independent of intentions and circumstances. Zippy respectfully suggests that the reason Ian thinks Zippy must be compelled to think this and must be compelled to think that is that Ian doesn't understand Zippy's deontological moral reasoning. And there is a nice open combox here that Ian or anyone else can use to ask Zippy questions, if so desired, rather than presupposing that Zippy simply must think what they say Zippy must think.

Comments (5)

But to characterize it as Auster has, that "Now he says that he would not even kill a would-be murderer to stop the murder of an innocent person" is just nonsense.

But that is exactly what one must conclude from Zippy's declaration that he would not try to prevent a fighter from shooting down a plane carrying 200 innocent people. He says he wouldn't do that "because there is no positive obligation to act to prevent other people from doing evil in all circumstances”. In other words he doesn't have to.

So why is it nonsense to characterize it the way L. Auster (originally) had?

I don't know what made Mr. Auster see my question as "far-removed from the repeated comments...attempted to portray (Zippy's) position as the very ludicrous one..." but it would be interesting to read his own words rather than Zippy's account. (Not that I don't trust Zippy.)

Anyway, my comments followed Zippy's ludicrous answers to my original simple question. Nothing has changed since then. Also, I dare to say that my question was infinitely more realistic than gems like: "would you shoot a little girl in the head to prevent ..." or "would L. Auster provide a list of things he would never do to win a war..", or would you saw off your father's arm to stop (insert your worst scenario)
Or something equally nonsensical.

...but it would be interesting to read his own words rather than Zippy's account.

Follow the link in the post. And enjoy your monologue.

Follow the link in the post. And enjoy your monologue

I did both. Thank you.

Unfortunately, the link doesn't lead to L. Auster's most recent correction of his original comment I asked to see.

Yes it does. (I suggest more careful reading on your part, and I supply the link here again - it is indeed in the post above - out of a sense of fair play, not because I have a renewed interest in your comments. In order for my interest in your comments to be renewed there would have to be some evidence that you've actually read what I said and at least attempted to comprehend it, rather than simply raving. So far I haven't seen any evidence of that.)

Here it is again. Search for your own name, and read the entiriety of what follows.

”here it is again”,

I admit I followed the link embedded in the text "...Hanski proposed a Flight 93 scenario (link): 200 innocents on the plane, 2000 on the ground …”, instead the one appearing much earlier. Mea culpa.

Otherwise I am greatly indebted to you for redirecting me to the right link. Otherwise I would have missed the pleasure of reading L. Auster’s, exceedingly respectful, characterization of you:
“…I'm glad to find out that it was an error, because it means that Zippy is not 100 percent wacky, as I mistakenly thought, but just 50-75 percent wacky. “

"50-75% wacky" How flattering!

Go ahead print it out and present it each time someone takes you for a 100% wacko. Even though it won’t work on me, others may be more inclined to accept it.

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