Friday, March 21, 2014

Sprinkle's Book "Fight" and Double Effect

This is the third post on Preston Sprinkle's book, Fight: A Christian Case for Nonviolence.

In a prior post I discussed how Sprinkle's definition of violence includes an intent to harm and I mentioned how he appears not to stick with this definition throughout.  I ended by briefly noting how a discussion of the "Principle of Double Effect" would have mitigated this problem.  Here I want to discuss that principle and how it bears on his book.

The Principle of Double Effect (its earliest robust formulation often attributed to Aquinas) holds that some action A that has some evil E as a consequence is (at least) permissible if and only if the (a) action is itself neutral or good (b) there is some good G intended (c) E is not disproportionately evil compared with the goodness of G and (d) E is not intended as an end or a means of bringing about G.

Clause (a) rules out actions which, by their very nature, are evil.  Clause (b) rules out there being no good intention.  Clause (c) rules out cases where the evil consequences of an action outweigh the good. And clause (d) specifies that an evil not be intended as the means to the good or an intended result of the action. This last clause, though, allows that E is the means (or a means) to bring about G, but E cannot be intended as a means of E.

Now consider the following two cases where the Principle is applied:

Case #1: Harvesting organs
Dr. Smith knows that Jones will not survive unless he has another heart and a liver.  Sally has a good heart and Mary has a good liver.  Dr. Smith murders Sally and Mary so that he can harvest the organs for Jones.  The action in this case was not permissible.  It violated clauses (c) and (d) and probably clause (a) as well (depending on how the action is to be described).

Case #2: Upping the Speed Limit
Governor Smith is considering whether to sign or veto a bill upping the speed limit on certain roads.  He receives good evidence that upping the speed limit from 60 mph to 65 mph will increase the state's economy.  In addition, 95% of the population are for it.  Nonetheless, he also has good evidence that upping the speed limit will result in 20-30 more traffic fatalities per year.  After weighing the costs and benefits, Governor Smith signs the bill, intending the effect of improving the economy and pleasing his constituents while foreseeing (in all likelihood) that there will be more traffic fatalities but not intending either those fatalities or that the legislation as a means to that end.  Governor Smith has acted in way that is at least permissible (but perhaps has also acted justly).

I believe in the Principle of Double Effect, in part because I'm a deontologist and think that one's intentions matter and not just the consequences.  In addition, because so many of our actions/inactions do have foreseeable evil effects (like the one above), rejecting the principle would seem to me to result in moral paralysis, wherein moral deliberation about whether to act or not would become darn near impossible.

Application to Sprinkle's "Fight":

As I said in a previous post, nowhere to my knowledge in Sprinkle's book is the Principle of Double Effect mentioned.  The closest he comes to saying anything about it is footnote 13 on p. 299 where he says Aquinas "believed that killing in self-defense is justifiable if the one being attacked did not intend to kill the attacker."  But after mentioning this historical anecdote Sprinkle pursues the issue no further.

How might such a discussion have benefited the book?  I think an entirely different book would've had to have been written if the Principle was given its due. But let me just take one example, Chapter 11 on the "Attacker at the Door."  For surely if any killing is justified it would be killing a murderer in the process of killing innocent people.

Here is what I take to be two key passages of the chapter:

"So while Jesus doesn't directly address the attacker-at-the-door scenario, I'm not sure we need Him to.  He has given us a framework of how to respond to evil.  If we take all this into consideration, it seems that the action most consistent with the New Testament is not to use lethal force to stop the attacker.
This doesn't mean that you shouldn't do anything.  Quite the opposite. There are many different nonviolent ways to stop the attacker.  These include verbal resistance (pleading, yelling, negotiating), spiritual resistance (praying, trusting God, witnessing), sacrificial resistance (taking the bullet), or even physical resistance (tackling, hitting, kicking).  Perhaps you're surprised that I'm describing hitting and kicking as nonviolent.  But not all enforced pain is violent.  It all depends on the intention.  The doctor and the mugger both slash your skin with a knife, but only one is a violent act.  Though some disagree, I think that one could forcefully resist without using violence.  But intentionally killing the attacker would be an act of violence."

"So far I've argued that killing is wrong and therefore killing the attacker is wrong.  In other words, killing is a moral absolute: Christians should never do it."

As I said in the previous post, Sprinkle defines violence in terms of a harmful act intended to destroy another against his will, but then, with little argument he goes on to make sweeping generalizations such as "killing is wrong and therefore killing the attacker is wrong" and "Christians should never [kill]."  But, at best, what he has argued against is killing that is inconsistent with the Principle of Double Effect, namely, that it's wrong to kill somebody by an action the intention of which is to destroy him.  But that does not entail that all acts of killing are wrong or that Christians (or anyone else) should never use lethal force.  (In addition, because of the way he defines violence, his book has little to say about the morality of suicide or euthanasia, where someone desires to be killed.  Presumably he thinks such things are wrong, but defining violence as he does leaves that stone untouched.)

Let's have before us another example: Suppose a murderer starts shooting children in a school classroom one after another, execution style.  You have a gun and see him across the hallway.  Is it permissible for you to shoot the murderer, intending to stop him from killing more students and intending to save the lives of those students?  If all killing is impermissible, as the quotations above suggest, then the answer is, "no."  Sprinkle thinks you should do everything in your power to stop the killing, save pulling the trigger.  But since he allows kicking and punching, which could also kill someone, why not shooting an M16 at someone if you have one in your possession?  The chances of you stopping more killings is greater, and you could shoot the attacker without intending to kill the attacker.  True, your chance of killing the attacker is greatly increased, but so is the chance that you will stop more murders!

Sprinkle considers a case similar to the one I just mentioned involving a sniper killing a terrorist running towards other soldiers with a grenade (p. 219).  He says that,
"If some situations justify killing, this one is it.  The terrorist would have died anyway!  Still the sniper was tormented for many years for killing the person.  And this was in war.  He's a trained killer.  But there's just something about killing--even "good" killing--that eats away at our humanity."

No doubt killing can eat away at our humanity.  But so too can refraining from killing.  Imagine living with the fact that you had an opportunity to save a classroom full of children or your family, but didn't take action because of the grip of a theory (pacifism).  Imagine feeling like Upham, in one of the great scenes of the vice of cowardice in movie history:

In this post I have not considered Sprinkle's strongest Biblical argument for pacifism, his argument from his interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount (I'll get to that eventually).  Nonetheless, what I hope this post makes clear is that (a) Sprinkle has not considered one of the strongest non-pacifist positions (viz., one which allows for actions, such as killing, provided they conform to the Principle of Double Effect) and (b) because of this his argument for his pacifist position is considerably weakened.

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