instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Friday, May 07, 2004

Friday fantasy

Quaterlex is a country with a unique form of government. The constitution allows for only four laws – a Tax law, a Contracts law, an Election law, and a Beer Purity law. Furthermore, each law must be one of two prescribed versions: a version in conformity with the true good (i.e., an objectively good version of the law), and a version not in conformity with the true good (an objectively evil version).

Each year, the country's Senate votes on a single omnibus bill, indicating which version of each law is to be put into effect. The bill is sent to the monarch, who may either accept it, in which case the laws are changed accordingly, or reject it, in which case the laws stay the way they were.

How can the monarch determine whether a particular bill should be accepted or rejected?

For example, suppose the Senate proposed a bill like this (red indicates an objectively evil law, blue an objectively good law):



Should the monarch accept this?

It depends on what the current laws are, doesn't it? If they are like this:


Status Quo #1

then accepting the bill is an objectively evil act, turning the election law from good to evil.

If the current laws look like this:


Status Quo #2

then accepting the bill is an objectively good act, changing the contracts law to good while tolerating (with no power to remove) the evil tax and election laws.

These two cases are pretty straightforward, though some purists might prefer the monarch not be tainted by accepting anything less than this:


The Perfect Bill

Suppose, though, the current laws look like this:


Status Quo #3

Can the monarch in effect make a two-for-one trade, accepting the evil election law in order to get the good contracts and beer purity laws? Is this situation the same as #2, where accepting the bill is a legitimate act of removing certain evils while tolerating others?

The answer to both questions, alas, is no. You cannot do evil that good may result. Reasoning strictly according to the net change in conformity to the true good is proportionalism, and proportionalism is an error deriving from an inadequate understanding of the object of moral action.

If we switch things around, making the bill the status quo and status quo #3 the bill, we can see the monarch still cannot accept the bill. If a change from one set of laws to another is immoral, that doesn't mean the change in the other direction is moral. (Although it might be, as with status quo #1.)

It also seem that, while the monarch must reject the bill if #3 represents the status quo, meaning that the status quo continues for at least one more year, if the monarch were given a choice between the bill and the status quo, the choice must be refused. But that is a paradox for another post.