instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Monday, May 17, 2004

An indifferent parry

Rob comments below:
But many of the same people who are horrified by the killing of a baby in the womb, are rather indifferent to the killing of a baby in its crib, if that crib happens to be in the home of a "terrorist" (as opposed to a "human"), or in a home next door to that of a terrorist, or in a home next door to a suspected terrorist, or in the home of a person known to consort with a suspected terrorist.
What if the baby is in the womb of a known terrorist? Bombs away! Right?
I assume everyone knows the canonical parry to Rob's thrust: The bombing death of a baby in its crib is an unintended side effect. The aborting death of a baby in its mother's womb is a deliberate act.

I won't assume, though, that everyone knows how flimsy this parry is. I have a strong impression that a lot of Catholic who consider themselves well-versed in moral reasoning believe that, if something is an unintended side effect, it does not affect the morality of an act. Practically speaking, they remove the "the good must outweigh the evil" condition in the principle of double effect.

Being well-versed in moral reasoning, they would (I do assume) deny they've removed that condition, but we're still left with the apparent indifference to the evil. Now, there's no way I can peer into someone's heart to determine whether he is honestly giving fair weight to the evil that comes with a good he very much desires. All I can do is ask, "Are you sure you're not too indifferent?" If he answers, "Yes," there's an end to it.

And yet... isn't this something to marvel at, that, in a particular instance when a greatly desired good can only be achieved along with some evil effect, a person is able to be morally certain he is properly and fairly weighing the good against the evil, and the good wins out? Personally, I am constantly discovering I've misjudged the relative weights of the factors that determine my judgment, almost always to the advantage of whichever judgment I want to be able to make, even in matters so trivial the objectively best decision can be found by inspection. I envy those who are certain of their prudence in difficult matters, even though I know I am too sinful myself to aspire to such certainty any time soon.