Sunday, August 05, 2007

Legal terminolgy.

Janet E Smith, of conservative orthodox Roman Catholic fame, gives a little run down on moral terminology. Some people may find it helpful. It can be found here.

The right call

I’ve been away for a while, posting on other blogs. Apparently I can get into trouble anywhere I go so I guess in order to keep the peace, I am staying at home.

Recently I was involved in a rather engaging struggle over at the What’s Wrong with the World site. The site is definitely worth a visit and the topics raised there are treated intelligently and with conviction.

The matter under contention was titled The Right Call? The thread can be found here:

The moral question in essence was: Is it morally permissible to shoot down an civilian aircraft, commandeered by terrorists in flight and intending to use the aircraft as a weapon? Essentially a moral judgment was to be made on Dick Cheney’s decision to shoot down Flight 89 during the September 11 attacks.

Yours truly, took up position as counsel for the defence; arguing that the act was morally permissible under the principle of double effect for the following reasons.

1) The intention was to defend the United States.
2) Shooting down the aircraft was a morally legitimate form of defence.
3) The shooting down of the aircraft would have a double effect:
a. Stopping the attack. (good)
b. Death of the innocent civilian passengers(Evil)
4) Death of the civilians was not wished/intended.
5) A proportionate analysis of the double effect weighed heavily on the side of good.

The action of the Vice President conformed to the principle of double effect and hence was morally licit.

The prosecution argued that the VP’s actions were morally illicit. It was agreed that:

1) The intention was to defend the United States
2) The Vice President did not wish the civilians any harm
3) A proportionate analysis favoured the action but;

4) The action of shooting down the aircraft was morally impermissible since innocent civilians were going to be killed. It was argued that as the death of the innocent civilians was foreseen, and hence must have been intended. As deliberately causing the death of innocent civilians is intrinsically evil, the action was morally forbidden.
5) The principle of double effect is negated if evil means are chosen for good ends.

The Prosecution argued that the defence were proportionalists, justifying any evil act provided good could come of it. The Prosecution argued that the killing of the innocent was always and everywhere a deliberate evil and any other such act in which a deliberate evil was chosen was always and everywhere wrong.

The Defence argued that firstly, the Prosecution's understanding of intention was deficient; just actions could have deliberately foreseen evil consequences which were unintended. What defined the goodness or badness of an act depended on its moral object. The Prosecution argued that a deliberately chosen behaviour which resulted in intrinsic evil was always a sign of an evil moral object, the Defence rejected this proposition. Furthermore the Defence argued that the Prosecution's understand of double effect was flawed, since apparently some intrinsic evils were permissible and others were not. Cutting the flesh is intrinsically evil, yet is permitted for surgery. The Prosecution agreed that surgery was permitted but because cutting the flesh was not intrinsically evil.

At stake for the Defence was more than the question under consideration: At stake was everything.

If the Prosecution’s line of reasoning was correct, then any action in which an intrinsic evil was deliberately bought about would be not permitted. Killing one’s self is an intrinsic evil. One can step in front of fast moving train and afterwards claim that the train killed him, but one cannot say that he did not foresee his death. The Prosecution's line of reasoning would lead to the conclusion that the death was suicide; their early argument illustrated this position. The Defence insisted that why a person did what they did was vitally important. If stepping in front of a train to push a young child off the tracks resulted in the foreseen death of the rescuer, then the act was self sacrifice; not suicide: the highest of motives, as our Master taught.

Indeed; the Defence feels that the line of reasoning pursued is a most evil attack on Christianity, veiled as a defence. It was mentioned in opening argument, that had the passengers of flight 89 deliberately crashed the aircraft to save other Americans on the ground, it would have been collective suicide. Yet; our master would have taught that no greater love man hath, and would have such men supp with him in paradise. Indeed in choosing to have himself killed, Christ would have, by the prosecutions reasoning: committed suicide: The Son of God becomes the Devil himself. It is this foreseen consequence of the Prosecution’s reasoning, that drove the Defence’s vigorous crusade, but as usual argument drew to a stalemate.

The Defence as such has deferred the matter to higher authority and will publish the findings of this authority when it becomes available.

It remains to be seen whether the Prosecution or the Defence made the right call.