Do not do evil that good may come of it. That’s the principle that protects the correct way to make use of the principle of double effect, or PDE. Alongside of this principle is the moral analysis of cooperation with (moral) evil: that there are some modes of cooperating with evil that are always wrong, and others which are not. This latter moral analysis has been much on my mind recently. I know we have talked about it in various contexts here at W4, such in voting, abortion, and coalitions, but I don’t want to discuss it primarily with respect to abortion or any particular matter. Rather, my intent here is to peer quite steadfastly into the very essence of the distinctions that make up this analysis, and see if the guts of the theory can be laid bare in a sensible manner. And I am enlisting your help, because I am confident that a more complete picture of the truth will come out of a good discussion.
The first division is usually between formal and material cooperation with evil (again, moral evil: in the following discussion, it is to be postulated that the primary agent’s act is already understood to be morally evil). Some here don’t care much for the Aristotelian distinction of form and matter. That would make it harder to take this analysis seriously, but in in this context I believe that the words are used analogously. In natural beings, like humans and trees, the words form and matter have their proper and primary meaning. As used with respect to actions, and the character of those actions, I think we use form and matter in a derivative or extended sense. It would probably be even more so in using "formal" to describe an aspect of cooperation, which is itself an aspect of action but is not the same thing as the action.
If you go around the web looking at definitions of formal cooperation, you see often statements like this: you share in the [primary] agent’s intention, either for its own sake or as a means to some other goal. Thus the character of the act in the agent (which is presupposed as evil) carries directly into characterizing the cooperator’s act. Hence, if you formally cooperate with the primary agent so that his intended result makes possible your intended (good) result, you are doing evil that good may come of it. It is recognized that if achieving your (the cooperator’s) intention requires, as a necessary condition, that the primary actor’s evil act be successful in achieving its object, (or, at least that his action must be undertaken) then the cooperator does in fact will the very act that the primary actor does, and this vitiates the cooperator.
Formal cooperation can be divided into explicit and implicit: It is implicit if, in spite of any words to the contrary, the willed action of the cooperator is such as to be “explainable in no other terms” than that he intends the evil action of the primary actor. (Normally a person can only pretend to himself that he is not formally cooperating with the primary agent’s evil act if his cooperation is implicit – explicit formal cooperation means that you as cooperator with awareness intend the primary agent’s intention.) Both forms of formal cooperation with evil bear the same character – moral evil – as the primary action.
Material cooperation is when your action does not participate alongside the primary by reason of an agreement of intention, but still participates in some fashion. Typically, the “material” of the cooperative act is a physical action you perform that runs, either before, during, or after the primary act, that in some way hinges on the primary act. Material cooperation is divided into immediate and mediate material cooperation. A simple application of the meaning of mediation would lead one to think that immediate material cooperation (IMC) is when the cooperator’s action has no intermediate aspects separating his action from the primary actor. However, there are numerous references that cite IMC as being an action that is necessary in order for the primary action to take place. Other authors present the matter differently: that IMC is when the cooperator’s action has the same object as the primary act. Mediate material cooperation (MMC) then would be material cooperation in which the cooperator has a distinct object of the act than that of the primary actor. Mediate is then further divided into proximate and remote cooperation: these are inherently a matter of degree, with proximate meaning near, with few intervening layers, and remote meaning many layers or much distance (or time).
Although the references out there for describing IMC as being necessary to the primary action noticeably outnumber the references to IMC as having the same object, I don’t lean toward this “necessary” position. Philosophically, it has not much to recommend itself, the idea of representing the notion of “necessary” by using the term “immediate”. The underlying concepts simply are not congruent, nor even co-extensive, and we should not expect them to work out equivalently. The power company’s providing power to the abortionist is necessary in order for the abortionist to run his suction, but that doesn’t mean the power company’s choice to provide power to the abortionist is immediate cooperation. If an abortionist’s nurse is standing by with a pad to wipe his brow, that action is not “necessary” to the abortion, but it is certainly an instance of immediate material cooperation (without even examining her intentions, that is).
Therefore, I fall more strongly toward understanding IMC as the cooperator having the same object of the act as the primary actor has for his act. However, I am doubtful that this really explains the issue very well. The “object of the act” is an expression of great confusion, and it invariably leads to disagreement even among people of good will and fair to good education. Aristotelian methodology leads one to say that a comprehensive account (definition) of a thing provides the nature of it, as well as the agent and the end, and by “nature” we mean the form and matter of the thing. In terms of actions, “object of the act” , as humanly chosen, is the form, I believe. When we describe an act in terms of just the physical event, we give the act in one aspect only: the matter. But a human act has a form as well as the matter (using the terms analogously), so that two physical acts that are identical physically are humanly distinct because of the object: a man and woman sleeping together before their marriage, and after their marriage, constitute totally different species of act, and it is the object that distinguishes them. In the second, the object is “make love to my spouse,” while the former is “make love to my lover to whom I am not married” which is not the same species of act. (St. Thomas points out that for a drunk man to have, as the object of the act, “to make love to this woman before me who is available” partakes of the evil of fornication EVEN IF the woman happens to be his wife, because his will disregards the state of the woman as “married to me” and only regards her as “available woman.”)
Yet there is a problem with this approach: the cooperator’s action may have as its object something that is part of the object of the primary actor, but not the entire object. If there is not a complete identity, is there an instance of IMC? The object of the nurse’s action (in the above example) is relieving the doctor of an irritation, not removing a baby from a uterus. Admittedly, the irritation is an irritation in the midst of the doctor’s going about removing the baby, but the precise object of the nurse’s action is not the baby. Properly, then, the nurse’s object in wiping his brow is not identical to the doctor’s.
Yet another explanation I saw for IMC, not quite the same as the “same object”, is this: IMC is the performance of a morally good or indifferent action which is inherently and intimately bound to the performance of an evil action on the part of the principal agent, in such a way that the evil action of the principal agent stands as a defining or morally significant circumstance of the cooperator's action which corrupts its moral species so that it is rendered morally impermissible. Well, yeah, but what the heck does that mean? I think that it is obvious that if the doctor is doing something evil in performing an abortion, then the nurse is wrong in wiping his brow because nurse’s action is morally accounted for only in terms of making the doctor more readily able to complete his evil action: the adherence of her moral action to his is found in making his action more readily achieved.
Many authors state that IMC is morally identical to implicit formal cooperation. If formal cooperation regards the same intention and IMC regards either the same object, or so the primary action stands as a defining or morally significant circumstance, it might seem doubtful that IMC must essentially be equivalent to implicit formal cooperation. Is there any philosophical reason why the intention must be the same if the objects are the same? Why cannot the cooperator intend something altogether other in cooperating? The trouble, I think, is that while it is indeed possible for the cooperator to have a distinct intention, he would hold that intention alongside of holding implicitly the intention of the primary actor. If the nurse’s primary intention in cooperating with the abortionist is, say, to simply make more money, she would be holding the intention of making money WHILE she implicitly holds the intention of helping to make the doctor’s operation successful, because that is what goes hand in hand with keeping her job and making money. So, implicit in her intention is the participating intention of his getting his job done – aborting the baby. (Either that, or the doctor is being stupid in paying her for something that doesn’t further his job, or she is being fraudulent in performing her job (which he hired her for to support his job) in such a way that it fails to render support for him.) She cannot really intend to earn money by working for him, unless she is implicitly intending to support his work.
I intend to take up the matter of MEDIATE material cooperation in another thread, so please don’t get too heavy into that arena here. Other than that, get out your hammer and tongs, and we’ll go at it.