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Wednesday, November 08, 2023

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If Israel bombs in Gaza with no intention of killing any civilians, is it deliberate killing of innocent human beings and evil if civilians are thereby killed?

Obviously not.

Bill, thanks for writing this post. You have highlighted some of the epistemic aspects of the problem of dirty hands (PoDH). Our lack of knowledge (or at least lack of epistemic certainty) about the metaphysical foundations of morality makes the PoDH doubly difficult.

>>But how do we know that the metaphysics is true?<<

You’ve raised a problem that I haven’t seen in the literature. It’s a second-level epistemic PoDH. The first-level PoDH is something like this.

Suppose a head of state has a solemn duty to protect the people of that state and the nation itself from an evil threat. This obligation cannot be avoided. As a matter of state, the leader has promised to protect his citizenry. Perhaps the majority of voters have voted for and endorsed this leader and his promise. But to perform the duty, the leader must authorize military activity that is categorically wrong. Let’s suppose the leader must approve the bombing of a military target that will destroy the evil threat but also cause a large number of unintended though foreseen civilian deaths.

Here’s a more precise articulation of the dilemma:

-- Either the leader authorizes the military activity or he does not authorize it.

-- If he authorizes the activity, he morally wrongs some persons (i.e., the civilians) who will be harmed by it. He violates their human rights and his own duty not to harm the innocent. Here, he violates a fundamental non-consequentialist principle, say, the categorical imperative (CI).

-- If he does not authorize the activity, he morally wrongs the citizens he is obligated to protect insofar as the results of his decision involve harm to his own populace. Here, he violates a basic consequentialist intuition.

-- Hence, either he wrongs the first group or the second group of people. Given his position and duties, he cannot avoid wronging some persons and thus can’t avoid getting his hands dirty.

Now, here is the second-level problem you raised. On the one hand, suppose the leader opts not to bomb the target, thereby risking the lives of his own people, because he holds that the duty to follow the CI outweighs the duty to protect his populace, though he has sworn to protect them. As you noted, one could reasonably object: “How do we know that the metaphysics of the CI is true? What right do you have to impose your unknowable metaphysics on us?”

On the other hand, suppose the leader decides to bomb the target, thereby killing scores of civilians. Again, one could reasonably object: “How do we know that the metaphysics of your this-worldly consequentialism is true? What right do you have to impose your unknowable metaphysics on us?”

In sum, the first-level problem involves two options, both of which leave the decision-maker with dirty hands. Ditto for the second-level problem, though there is additional epistemic dirt involved in the second-level problem.

The second-level issue raises questions about the nature of knowledge. Does it require epistemic certainty? If so, is there a degree of epistemic justification short of certainty that would warrant the leader’s decision? If knowledge does not require epistemic certainty, we still face the Gettier problem. How much justification, short of certainty, is enough for a justified true belief to be an item of knowledge? Is there some fourth condition (beyond JTB) that must be in place for there to be knowledge? Should we set aside the difficult goal of knowledge and instead aim at justified belief? If so, how much justification is enough?

Thanks, Elliot. Do you know the literature on the PDH? I am only marginally familiar with it. Right off the bat I have a question for you. You write,

>>But to perform the duty, the leader must authorize military activity that is categorically wrong. Let’s suppose the leader must approve the bombing of a military target that will destroy the evil threat but also cause a large number of unintended though foreseen civilian deaths.<<

This is not the PDH as I understand it. If there are any just wars at all, then one has to admit that it is morally acceptable to allow for the death of innocent civilians. E. Anscombe defines the innocent in a war as "those who are not fighting and not engaged in supplying those who are with the means of fighting." She gives the example of a farmer who provides food eaten by combatants. Said farmer is not supplying the combatants with the means of fighting.

The page before, Anscombe makes some claims that strike me as correct. "Choosing to kill the innocent as a means to your ends is always murder." The same goes for killing the innocent as an end in itself. But it needn't be murder if the leader orders an attack that is "statistically certain" to kill the innocent. ". . . if you attack a lot of military targets, such as munitions factories and naval dockyards, as carefully as you can, you will be certain to kill a number of innocent people; but that it not murder." ("Mr Truman's Degree" in Collected Papers III, 66-67)

So I deny that what the leader authorizes is >>categorically wrong.<< I take it you mean 'intrinsically wrong,' wrong as the very type of act that it is, regardless of any and all good consequences.

I take it that we agree that there are just wars and that there are unjust wars. (We both reject pacifism.) This prompts the question as to the criteria whereby they are to be distinguished. We agree that a just war cannot be one in which the leader orders a military action whereby the innocent are killed for the purpose of demoralizing the population and the leadership of the enemy state (or substate entity such as Hamas).

The PDH, then, as I see it, is a very specific problem: The leader is obligated (in some sense or other, a non-moral sense) to defend his state. So he must, if he is to honor this obligation, in some extreme circumstances do what is morally unacceptable, namely, slaughter innocents on the other side in order to compel the other side to give up. ("You either give up, or we bomb you Nazi/commie/Islamist bastards back into the stone age!")

The PDH then can be boiled down to an antinomy:

There are no norms of human behavior that trump moral reasons.
There are some norms of human behavior that are extra-normal and do trump moral reasons. ('Reasons of state' if I understand that phrase.)

Elliot,

In the penultimate sentence @11:21, read 'extra-moral' for 'extra-normal.'

Bill,

You raise good questions and points about the precise nature of the PDH. I'll read your comments again carefully and try to reply tomorrow.

But for now, I’d like to make a passing comment, an obiter dictum that might be worth pursuing later.

You aptly raise metaphysical and epistemological questions about God, the soul, etc. A line from Walzer occurred to me:

“The argument relates not only to the coherence and harmony of the moral universe, but also to the relative ease or difficulty-or impossibility-of living a moral life.”

(Political Action: The Problem of Dirty Hands, 1973, p. 161)
https://people.brandeis.edu/~teuber/Walzer,%20The%20Problem%20of%20Dirty%20Hands.pdf

Like you, I’m a theist. I hold that there are adequate reasons for theism. But I also hold that there are adequate reasons for atheism. For example, versions of the probabilistic (evidential) problem of evil justify atheism (or so it seems to me), and I take the PoE very seriously.

A novel version of the PoE just occurred to me. At least, it’s new to me. Maybe someone has written on it already.

The existence of the PDH is evidence against theism, assuming it's a genuine problem. Why would an omniscient and morally perfect God create a world in which the following are true?

A. We are obligated to live morally pure lives, and we are held accountable for such;

and,

B. There are situations in which persons (leaders of nations, no less!) are obligated to do what is morally unacceptable, i.e., to act in a morally impure manner.

In short, we are obligated to be morally pure and, in some cases, morally impure, which raises Walzer's question about the coherence of a moral universe.
 
One might be able to work this into a robust version of the PoE. And I suspect there are reasonable theistic replies. But that’s a project for another time.

Interestingly, I think your post can function as a a reductio ad absurdam of your meta-philosophical thesis. You demonstrate convincingly that in order for a claim that an act is intrinsically evil to be binding on the conscience, it must be known with certainty that it is true and that all the metaphysical implications of its truth are also true.
So, if it is known with certainty that some acts are intrinsically evil, then one problem of philosophy is solved.
But, if it is not known with certainty that intrinsically evil acts exist, then a problem of philosophy is also solved, for we know by denying the consequent that no claims about intrinsically evil acts can bind the conscience… thereby solving a problem of philosophy.

So, metaphilosphical skepticism is false.

Bill,

You write: “a head of state may sometimes justifiably act in the interests of the citizens of the state of which he is the head by commanding actions which are intrinsically wrong. “

Here is Armand Jean du Plessis, Cardinal Richelieu on his death bed. A priest enters to administer the Last Sacraments. He asks, “Have you forgiven your enemies?” Richelieu replied, “I have had no enemies, save those of the public good.”

In 1627-28 Richelieu personally commanded the seize of La Rochelle, the last Protestant stronghold in France. He demanded unconditional surrender. La Rochelle held out for 14 months. Famine and disease reduced the population to 5,000 from 27,000. To conserve food, the garrison expelled the weak and the sick, but Richelieu refused to accept them. Many died between the city walls and the siege trenches.

Richelieu was unflinching to the end: “I have no enemies, save those of the public good.”

When Pope Urban VIII heard of Richelieu’s death, his utterance could summarize the moral dilemma you pose: “If there be a God, the Cardinal de Richelieu will have much to answer for. If there be none, why, he lived a successful life.”

"The existence of the PDH is evidence against theism, assuming it's a genuine problem. Why would an omniscient and morally perfect God create a world in which the following are true?
A. We are obligated to live morally pure lives, and we are held accountable for such;
and,
B. There are situations in which persons (leaders of nations, no less!) are obligated to do what is morally unacceptable, i.e., to act in a morally impure manner."

Elliot, Something like the above was obscurely lurking in my mind, troubling me, in the last few days as we considered the PDH, but I was unable to consciously formulate or express it precisely, as you have done. So I appreciate you doing so, and while I agree that there might well be theistic replies to this form of the probabilistic PoE, it certainly at first glance seems quite an objection to theism that must be taken seriously. If you and Bill have further thoughts on this, I would love to read them. The PDH is some hard problem!

Elliot,

Your (A) and (B) are logical contradictories only if 'obligated' in both of them is elliptical for 'morally obligated.' They would not be contradictories if two different sense of 'obligation' are in play. Can we assume that the PDH is a moral dilemma? If I am not mistaken Walzer, drawing on Nagel, is taking it to be such. But is it obviously a moral dilemma? If it is not, that might get God off the hook.

Elliot,

"God said to Abraham, 'Kill me a son!'" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8hr3Stnk8_k

This seems relevant to PDH. God commands Abe to kill his innocent son Isaac. Thus God commands an intrinsically immoral act. Abe is not morally obligated to kill his son. Is he obligated in some extra-moral sense? To explore this in relation to Kant and Kierkegaard might shed some light.

John Paul West,

I don't say what you said I said. Where do I say that >>in order for a claim that an act is intrinsically evil to be binding on the conscience, it must be known with certainty that it is true and that all the metaphysical implications of its truth are also true<

Vito,

Thanks for responding to Elliot.

Elliot,

Thanks for referencing Walzer. I read that essay of his a few years back, but I need to review it, as well as what S K says about the teleological suspension of the ethical.

James,

Thanks for referencing Richelieu. There is also the similar case of Sherman's Siege of Vicksburg.

As for the Richelieu case, what it shows is the danger of dogmatism. I take it that the 'good' cardinal was subjectively certain that the RCC had a lock on all truth regarding the Last Things, a certainty that to his mind justified his horrendous actions.

To him and his ilk I would say: which is better known (or more reasonably believed), that the rebellious Protestants deserve to be slaughtered for their opposition to the 'true church' or that it is a moral abomination to starve the residents of La Rochelle?

Richelieu had no right to be subjectively certain about a matter that is objectively uncertain. This is why Athens (philosophy) is needed to chasten Jerusalem (religion) when it goes overboard. This is also why the Four Horseman of the New Atheism are not entirely out to lunch.

In my opinion the dirty hands belong not to those trying to salvage a bad situation, but to those who let it occur in the first place.

Bill,

You are welcome. This is a very rich topic and there’s much to say.

<< … as well as what S K says about the teleological suspension of the ethical.>>

Yes, S. K. and the teleological suspension of the ethical occurred to me, too. It also occurred to me that some philosophers of aesthetics are autonomists and claim that there is something like an aesthetic suspension of the ethical. In other words, moral categories and evaluations don’t apply to art.

I don’t buy autonomism, but perhaps the autonomists can help us to understand pragmatic realists who have claimed that inter arma silent leges. Law and morality are suspended during warfare. I don't buy pragmatic realism either. I believe that morality applies to warfare. I'm neither a pacificist nor a pragmatic realist. There are just and unjust wars.

Vito, thanks for your reply. I agree that the PDH is a difficult topic.

I should be more precise. It’s not that the PDH, as a philosophical problem alone, is serious evidence against theism. Rather, I think, dirty hands situations (which is what the PDH is about) are the evidence against theism. The actual world seems to contain many cases of dirty hands situations. Suppose this is a fact. Intellectual fairness demands that we ask if that fact counts against theism.

On the other hand, if the actual world does not contain any dirty hands situations, then such situations don't count as evidence against theism. But we could still raise the PDH in hypothetical terms. Suppose there is some possible but non-actual world in which there are cases of dirty hands …

Regarding possible responses, the theist could deny that there are legitimate dirty hands situations in the actual world. Or the theist could grant that there are dirty hands situations but say that these are cases of moral evil for which human beings are responsible rather than God. There are probably other responses, too, but I’d have to think it through further than I have so far. 🤔

Bill,

You asked: >>Is he obligated in some extra-moral sense? To explore this in relation to Kant and Kierkegaard might shed some light.<<

I admit that I’m tempted to construe that OT story as allegorical or otherwise fictional rather than historical. But either way, it raises a serious problem. Are there extra-moral obligations? That is a fundamental question about the PDH. Kierkegaard seems to say that there are extra-moral obligations, but Kant seems to say that nothing trumps the categorical imperative. It’s absolutely absolute.

James,

Thanks for posting the story about Richelieu. I was not aware of this historical detail. It reminds me of the Genevan Calvinists who burned Michael Servetus alive for his denial of trinitarianism. It seems that John Calvin himself was involved in the execution, though the historical details are unclear to me.

I find the killing of Servetus to be heinous and a moral stain on the Genevans and Calvin himself, if he supported the execution. Such dogmatism is unacceptable. The Calvinists were not epistemically certain of their Calvinist interpretations of trinitarian doctrine and the divine nature, and even if they had been certain (which is exceedingly unlikely), they were not justified in the slaughter of a theologian who took a different theological position.

Bill, you wrote:

>> Your (A) and (B) are logical contradictories only if 'obligated' in both of them is elliptical for 'morally obligated.' They would not be contradictories if two different sense of 'obligation' are in play. Can we assume that the PDH is a moral dilemma?<<

Good point. There is a contradiction only if ‘obligated’ in both propositions refers to moral obligation. Can we assume that the PDH is a moral dilemma?

This is one question I have. I plan to address it in my response to your initial reply from Nov. 9 @ 11:21 AM. I’m not sure if the PDH is one problem or a cluster of related problems. If it’s only one problem, is it a moral dilemma? Or is it a conflict between a moral duty and a non-moral duty?

Elliot,

Excellent comments! I hadn't thought of an aesthetic suspension of the ethical, but it makes perfect sense and captures the idea of 'art for art's sake' and beyond that the general policy of living one's life aesthetically in pursuit of 'experience' -- this was a big deal for many of us '60s guys -- without concern, or proper concern, for the morality of what we were doing in pursuit of 'experience.'

On the other hand, art that pulls the cart of a political commitment is dubious as well: Nazi art, Soviet art, leftist art that 'makes a statement.'

As for inter arma enim silent leges, this can be taken either factually or normatively. As a matter of fact, in an actual combat situation rules of engagement, laws of war, prescriptions and proscriptions as to the proper treatment of prisoners, etc. tend to go right out the window. The normative question, I take it, would be whether one is morally justified in 'teleologically suspending' peacetime morality in times of war.

Also worth exploring is the connection between an unbridled aestheticism in art and in lifestyle with the Left's fascination with the grotesque, the transgressive, the dysfunctional and incompetent, and the leftist penchant for valorizing and rewarding and 'honoring' such worthless individuals, e.g., Lori Lightfoot, John Fetterman, George Floyd.

Elliot,

As for Calvin, I am currently battling Calvinist presuppositionalists in a separate series of posts. They strike me as intellectually immature people who cannot live without subjective certainty. So they manufacture a fake objective certainty by presupposing the absolute and unquestionable truth of the Christian Bible interpreted along Calvinist lines.

>>On the other hand, art that pulls the cart of a political commitment is dubious as well: Nazi art, Soviet art, leftist art that 'makes a statement.'<<

I agree. Art for agitprop is objectionable. For example, it bothers me when people get all worked up about works of art that “make a statement” or “cause a change,” as if the only purpose of art is a means to politics, as if art is only instrumentally valuable for the sake of ‘political change,’ as if all change is good!

>>As for inter arma enim silent leges, this can be taken either factually or normatively.<<

Right. Good distinction. I don’t doubt that, descriptively speaking, the rules of war are often defenestrated in the heat of battle. But we can still ask the normative question: “is one morally justified in 'teleologically suspending' peacetime morality in times of war?”

Elliot,

The story about Richelieu comes from *Richelieu* by Hilaire Belloc. My copy was printed in the US in 1929 and it’s in good shape.

Calvin may have been “involved” in an execution, but after the fall of La Rochelle Richelieu caused the execution of two men. In both cases his motive was to secure the crown against intrigues by the feudal nobility.

One was a marshal of French forces in Italy who Richelieu had indicted in 1632 for selling goods intended for the troops for personal profit, a common practice at that time. The charge was valid, but the death sentence was not. It sparked riots. Richelieu sought the execution to send a signal to Louis XIII’s mother, Marie de Medici, of what would happen to anyone who conspires against the king. The Queen Mother liked neither her son, the king, nor Richelieu. She had taken refuge in Holland and was conspiring with Protestants for a way to seize the crown for her younger son, Gaston. Louis XIII was childless and Gaston the presumed heir. The Queen Wife, Anne of Austria, would not conceive Louis XIV until 1638.

The other execution was that of Henri de Montmorency, a Catholic nobleman who successfully led troops against Protestant forces. Nonetheless, he threw is lot in with Gaston’s rebellion and was captured in battle. The charge of treason was clear, but whether to execute was not; an act of clemency could have taken the wind out of the sails of the rebellious nobility. Both the king and his chief minister agreed on the death sentence.

James, thanks for elaborating on this case.

>>Richelieu sought the execution to send a signal to Louis XIII’s mother, Marie de Medici, of what would happen to anyone who conspires against the king.<<

It seems that, at least in this case, Richelieu’s position on the death penalty is the consequentialist view that the DP is justified by the end of deterrence.

I inclined toward a non-consequentialist position on the DP: it’s justified in cases in which it fits the crime. It’s not justified as a mere means to the end of deterring threats to one’s rule –- especially for relatively minor crimes.

Bill and Elliott,

Raymond Tallis says using art to tackle political issues is like 'taking a scapel to cut down a tree'. It's notable that very few art works have made any difference politically - 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' or Chernyshevsky's 'What is to be Done?' are rare examples of politically influential art and, perhaps signficantly, both are nineteenth century novels. Neither of them are good. As for art in the service of political regimes, Jacques-Louis David is unusual in being something like a propagandist at times for the French Revolution and Napoleon, whilst having a major position in the history of art. There's also the films of Riefenstahl, Vertov and Eisenstein. Walter Benjamin called fascism aestheticised politics - I think he meant something like the emptying out of the moral content of the political for the sake of an almost art for art's sake 'spectacular' politics of image - and there is certainly more than a whiff of this aestheticism in Hitler's diletanttish views on art, especially his attitude to Wagner, which I'd argue is necessary to understand in order to correctly grasp his moral character.

I'd argue that the aesthete's moral and perceptual corruption stems from his corrupted view of art - which is a false view. The aesthete, unlike the philistine, is capable of perceiving the transcendent value in art, but rather than grasping the transcendent he stops short and admires himself for his profound sensitivity and feelings - this pride is the source of his corruption (this is related to the Leftist's self-admiring view of his own purported moral sensitivity - this is part of the connection you mention Bill). The artwork ends up being valued by the aesthete only for this opportunity for self-indulgence. Dietrich von Hildebrand's 'Beauty in the Light of the Redemption' is good on this subject. He argues that the perception of transcendent value in beauty points to the wider world of value - of which morality is part. So living one's life 'as an artwork' seems to me to miss something profoundly important about art, which is in itself non-moral in its value, but not therefore excluded from moral judgment. The aesthete brackets out from his experience the moral and other dimensions of value and so dangerously narrows his relation to the world of values, ultimately emptying even beauty of its transcendent value.

I'm out of my depth on the PDH itself, but you discuss the Abraham and Isaac episode of Genesis - perhaps an even more salient example from the OT would be 1 Samuel 15, in which God is said to command a genocidal attack on the Amalekites. What are we to make of this?

Relatedly, if God allows natural evils such as earthquakes to kill innocent people, and those deaths are a justifiable part of a divine plan which will bring about ultimately good ends, isn't this a similar problem to the PDH? I suppose the issue is whether God is a moral agent and whether God 'allows' or 'wills' these evils.

Bill, I was finally able to piece together a response to your comments from Nov. 9 at 11:21 AM. I apologize for the length. I’ll divide my reply into two posts.

I reply to some of your main points and questions. My responses are in [brackets]. I’m afraid I’m only scratching the surface of an issue that requires more discussion.

------------------

--Thanks, Elliot. Do you know the literature on the PDH? I am only marginally familiar with it. [I’m familiar with some of the literature, but I suspect there’s a lot I haven’t read.]

--This is not the PDH as I understand it. If there are any just wars at all, then one has to admit that it is morally acceptable to allow for the death of innocent civilians. [I agree. I might well not yet understand the precise nature of the PDH. I wonder if it is a cluster of related problems. But I agree that, in just war, one has to admit the moral acceptability of permitting civilian death. But there are limits, such as the proportionality condition of the doctrine of double effect.]

--The page before, Anscombe makes some claims that strike me as correct. "Choosing to kill the innocent as a means to your ends is always murder." [I agree. This is the “no bad means” condition of the DDE.] The same goes for killing the innocent as an end in itself. [This is the proper intention condition of the DDE.] But it needn't be murder if the leader orders an attack that is "statistically certain" to kill the innocent. ". . . if you attack a lot of military targets, such as munitions factories and naval dockyards, as carefully as you can, you will be certain to kill a number of innocent people; but that it not murder." [Agree. There is a distinction between intended killing and unintended but foreseeable killing.] ("Mr Truman's Degree" in Collected Papers III, 66-67)

--So I deny that what the leader authorizes is >>categorically wrong.<< I take it you mean 'intrinsically wrong,' wrong as the very type of act that it is, regardless of any and all good consequences. [Yes, what I have in mind is intrinsic wrongdoing that is absolutely wrong in the sense of there being no exception. Suppose a leader authorizes a bombing in a “supreme emergency” (in Walzer’s terms from Just and Unjust Wars, Ch. 16). The bombing is such that it will destroy the evil threat but cause of large number of unintended though foreseen civilian deaths, and the deaths are not proportionate to the good effect caused by the bombing. I.e., the badness of the deaths of the civilians outweighs the goodness of the destroyed threat and its good consequences. One might think that, if the leader authorizes the bombing, he wrongs the civilians to protect his citizens; if the leader does not authorize the bombing, then he wrongs his citizens (because he violates his oath to protect them) but does right by the civilians. Either way, the leader acts wrongly.]

--I take it that we agree that there are just wars and that there are unjust wars. (We both reject pacifism.) [We agree. I’m not a pacifist, nor am I a so-called political realist who claims that the requirements of morality are suspended during war. There are just wars, and there are unjust wars.]

Here is Part 2 of my response:

------------

--The PDH, then, as I see it, is a very specific problem: The leader is obligated (in some sense or other, a non-moral sense) to defend his state. [Here’s where I have questions. Is the PDH a conflict between a non-moral obligation and a moral obligation, or is it a conflict between moral obligations? More on this question below.]

--The PDH then can be boiled down to an antinomy:
There are no norms of human behavior that trump moral reasons.
There are some norms of human behavior that are extra-normal and do trump moral reasons. ('Reasons of state' if I understand that phrase.)

[Yes, I see your antinomy. And I have seen it articulated this way in the literature. (E.g., “Reconsidering the Supreme Emergency Argument” in Conscience, Leadership and the Problem of 'Dirty Hands' – 2016) The PDH is a tough problem. I might be misunderstanding it. I took the problem, or at least one version of it, to involve a dilemma. In certain situations (say, supreme emergencies of warfare), either:
1. The political leader violates a moral duty because he meets his obligation of state, or
2. The leader violates his obligation of state because he meets his moral duty.

My question is this: Is this a conflict between two moral duties, or is it a conflict between a non-moral duty of state and a moral duty?
In my reading, it seems some authors assume the former and others the latter. For example, in War and Massacre and Just and Unjust Wars, it seems Nagel and Walzer (respectively) are thinking about a conflict between two moral intuitions: utilitarian and non-consequentialist/deontological absolutist. And in Problems of Dirty Hands as a Species of Moral Conflict (The Monist, 2018), Kramer argues that the PDH is a conflict between moral obligations. Yemeni also articulates such a position in Conflictual Moralities, Ethical Torture: Revisiting the Problem of “Dirty Hands” in Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, 2014)

But Coady seems to frame the PDH as a conflict between a non-moral necessity and moral duty. (See Politics and the Problem of Dirty Hands, in Singer’s A Companion to Ethics, 1995. See also Coady’s article in the SEP.

For example, Coady: “Dirty hands problems do not arise within morality but rather when morality clashes with some other rational necessity of a profound kind that correctly overrules it. The overruling must inspire regret, possibly remorse, but it is nonetheless clear that the overruling is in order, indeed required… If we allow that non-moral “oughts” can sometimes trump moral ones then the dirty hands position may be restated as holding that, in circumstances of extremity, reasons of “necessity” (or whatever) defeat important moral reasons. This seems to be one plausible construal of Machiavelli when he talks of the necessity that rulers must learn how not to be good.”

https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/dirty-hands/#ConWitMor ]

Hector,

Thank you for your superb comments above and in the other thread. I find nothing to disagree with. I recall that aesthetics is your main philosophical interest. I myself haven't gone that deep into it. But I hold that ens, verum, bonum et pulchrum make for a sort of metaphysical 'package deal.'

As for 1 Samuel 15 and the OT generally, what I find off-putting is the particularism of closely Bible-based Christianity. It does not sit well with the Athenian side of Christianity. The great Aquinas tried to synthesize the Athenian and Hierosolymic (sp?) but then Luther and the boys came along to break them apart.

"How odd of God to choose the Jews." Here is one root of the insane Jew hatred of Muslims. Tribalists themselves, they can't stand it that some other tribe is the chosen people.

>>Relatedly, if God allows natural evils such as earthquakes to kill innocent people, and those deaths are a justifiable part of a divine plan which will bring about ultimately good ends, isn't this a similar problem to the PDH? I suppose the issue is whether God is a moral agent and whether God 'allows' or 'wills' these evils.<<

That is something Elliot and I need to think about. There is the temptation to say that anything God allows he also wills given his sovereignty and foreknowledge. But that leads to trouble. Trouble also arises if you deny that God is a moral agent in a sense of 'moral agent' understandable in human terms.

Bill,

I agree about the 'package deal'. Aesthetics is my main philosophical interest but I have found it increasingly difficult to consider beauty as a comprehensible phenomenon if it is separated from wider philosophical and theological issues (and to an extent politics in the broadest sense, a sort of Frankfurt School Kulturkritik sense). Otherwise it just devolves into a sort of subjectivist nit-picking, which usually collapses into relativism. And in that case, as Bentham said, 'quantity of pleasure being equal, push-pin is as good as poetry' - a conclusion I find abhorrent.

And I agree about exaggeratedly Bible-based Christianity. I don't lose sleep over passages like this - my own view is that it's most likely a convenient post-hoc justification by the ancient Hebrews for their actions. But it seems that God's command is in contradiction of basic moral principles of warfare held by the RCC and I wonder what the Church's explanation of this and similar passages would be, holding as they do the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy.

Quite by chance I was reading Abelard's 'Ethics' last night and he discusses the Abraham-Isaac episode. His resolution is that God's commands are not always intended to be followed - that God can command things that are bad because his intention behind the command itself is good. So that the purpose of the command in this case is to bring about a demonstration of His mercy and Abraham's virtue which is a good, rather than a desire that Abraham will sacrifice his son which is bad. So, Abelard argues, God's true intentions in issuing a command are more important than the command itself. I'll email the passage to you.

Bill,

You aptly referred to “intellectually immature people who cannot live without subjective certainty. So they manufacture a fake objective certainty …”

I suspect that this is a psychological vulnerability of the human condition which shows up in religion but also in other important areas, such as politics and the sciences. I’d be interested in hearing from a psychologist who has thought about this matter.

Most of the folks I have known who (seem to) succumb to this vulnerability probably don’t realize it, and likely have no idea that there is a difference between subjective and objective certainty. For them, the feeling of subjective certainty is sufficient for infallible knowledge. They take “I feel passionately about x” as sufficient for, or maybe identical to “I know infallibly that x.”

It seems that the honest and committed practice of philosophy in the Socratic tradition can help people to overcome this vulnerability. But there have been dogmatic philosophers, too. Maybe some dogmatic thinkers are motivated not by the Socratic injunctions to live the examined life, admit one’s ignorance, and follow the argument wherever it leads, but rather to manufacture fake objective certainty as a means to generate a (false) sense of subjective certainty.

Hector,

You say that the RCC posits Biblical inerrancy. Surely the RCC maintains inerrancy with respect to faith and morals which are matters pertaining to man's salvation. That is a defensible position. Much less defensible to my mind is the view of Leo XIII and traditionalists that the Bible is inerrant in all particulars. I find that preposterous as I think you do as well. But that is the mainstream trad Protestant position as well. Bibliolatry?

Of course it can't be bibliolatry if the Christian Bible is identical to the Word of God, and the Word as expressed in the pages of the Bible is identical to the Second Person of the Trinity!

We are getting in deep.

https://www.catholic.com/magazine/print-edition/is-scripture-inerrant

Something to discuss!

I'll check my e-mail for the Abelard passage. Thanks.

Elliot writes,

>>For them, the feeling of subjective certainty is sufficient for infallible knowledge. They take “I feel passionately about x” as sufficient for, or maybe identical to “I know infallibly that x.”<<

True, although I find it hard to believe that people could be that stupid. It might be better to say that they are not inherently stupid but have been stupefied by the relativist culture around them. Dogmatists, though, exacerbate the problem by pushing fake absolutes against which people react by going relativist.

>>It seems that the honest and committed practice of philosophy in the Socratic tradition can help people to overcome this vulnerability.<<

It can, but very few are amenable to the Socratic therapy, and certainly not the average student you will encounter in a so-called 'university' or institute of 'higher learning.' The 'universities' of the land are now venues of the Higher Infantilization.

Elliott,

Jordan Peterson writes about the psychology of value formation and ideology and over-belief in 'Maps of Meaning'. Might be worth a look!

I think there might be a further distinction: between profound, unshakeable conviction of truth where it is not warranted and fanaticism. What is interesting about many fanatical despots, such as Hitler, Mao or Stalin, is that they are often very cynical people. It seems contradictory that someone could be a fanatic and a cynic at the same time (even in his approach to his fundamental beliefs) but nevertheless it is not an uncommon phenomenon. What explains this?

Hector,

Thanks for the recommendation of Peterson’s book. I’ve heard of it but haven’t read it.

Regarding the possible link between fanaticism and cynical attitudes, I don’t know what the explanation might be, though I’m curious to learn more. I’m very interested in psychology, but it’s not my field.

Elliott,

I don't know if any psychologist has written about it. It's just something I've noticed from reading biographies of tyrants. My own reading in psychology has mostly been limited to Freudian texts (of which I am very sceptical as I believe Freud was a charlatan); and Jungian texts, which I find very interesting.

Bill,

As that useful article to which you linked indicates, there appears to be some confusion now within the Church concerning the meaning of 'inerrancy'. I was using it in the sense you described - inerrancy in relation to faith and morals - which is my own view. To defend the traditional view - 'unrestricted inerrancy' - I think one would have to argue that the Bible is free from error as long as what appear to be errors of fact are in fact not errors when the correct hermeneutic reading of the passage in question is adopted. Therefore it is free from error when interpreted in the correct manner. I'll have to read the encyclicals and documents mentioned in the article and see what is said in more detail. Phrases such as 'every error' or 'in all particulars' do suggest an unambiguous view of literal factual truth, but it seems hard to imagine anyone could think that the extensive use of metaphorical language could be read as factually true. Is the literary use of an acrostic form in a Psalm true? In what sense of 'truth'? I don't think a metaphor like 'I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys' has the same truth status as a (purportedly) factual statement like 'Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers'. And I don't think mythic passages such as the Genesis creation narrative(s) can be held to be 'factually' true by any honest educated person. Indeed, I find it impossible to conceive how I could find some passages of the Bible 'literally' true.

I meant that even under the more restricted sense of inerrancy I think it'd still be an issue to see how to reconcile why God would have 'allowed' that passage which seems to be very dubious in relation to faith and morals. We're back in the problem Abelard discusses of command and intention. What would the intention of God be to allow that passage to be present in the Bible? Or are we to believe that only those passages which explicitly deal with faith and morals were willed by God? In which case, how do we tell which ones these are? And why would he allow erroneous passages which are damaging to faith and morals to be in the Bible?

>>Of course it can't be bibliolatry if the Christian Bible is identical to the Word of God, and the Word as expressed in the pages of the Bible is identical to the Second Person of the Trinity!<<

That hypothesis would make Christ and scripture something like the Koran in Islam. Would that mean Christ was/is physically present on earth in at least three ways, through transubstantiation, during the incarnation, and as scripture itself? Pavel Florensky thought the liturgy too was 'discovered' by humanity, not created, and had existed from before time.

Hector,

Plenary inerrancy is a strange idea; I don't see how it could be true. In a Substack article I say this:

If everything in the Bible is literally true, then every sentence in oratio obliqua in the Bible is literally true. Now the sentence 'There is no God' occurs in the oblique context, "The fool hath said in his heart, 'There is no God.'" (Psalm 14:1) So if everything in the Bible is literally true, then 'There is no God' is literally true and the Bible proves that it is not the word of God! Again, at Genesis 3:4 the Bible reports the Serpent saying to the woman (Eve), "You surely shall not die!" So if everything in the Bible is true, then this falsehood is true. Ergo, not everything in the Bible is literally true.

Someone who concedes the foregoing may go on to say, "OK, wise guy, everything in the Bible in oratio recta is literally true." But this can't be right either. For the Bible tells us in oratio recta that light was created before sources of light (sun, moon, stars) were created. The creation of light is reported at Genesis 1:3, but the creation of sources of light occurs later as reported at Genesis 1: 14-17. Obviously, light cannot exist before sources of light exist. So what the Bible reports on this head is false, if taken literally. Furthermore, if the sun does not come into existence until the fourth day, how can there be days before the fourth day? In one sense of 'day,' it is the period of time from the rising of the sun to its setting. In a second sense of 'day,' one that embraces the first, a day is the period of time from the rising of the sun to its next rising. In either of these senses there cannot be a day without a sun. So again, these passages cannot be taken literally.

But there is a deeper problem. The Genesis account implies that the creation of the heavens and the earth took time, six days to be exact. But the creation of the entire system of space-time-matter cannot be something that occurs in time. And so again Genesis cannot be taken literally, but figuratively as expressing the truth that, as St. Augustine puts it, "the world was made, not in time, but simultaneously with time." (City of God, XI, 6)

And then there is the business about God resting on the seventh day. What? He got fagged out after all the heavy lifting and had to take a rest? As Augustine remarks, that would be a childish way of reading Genesis 2:3. The passage must be taken figuratively: ". . . the sacred narrative states that God rested, meaning thereby that those rest who are in Him, and whom He makes to rest." (City of God, XI, 8)

What is to be taken literally and what figuratively? ". . . a method of determining whether a locution is literal or figurative must be established. And generally this method consists in this: that whatever appears in the divine Word that literally does not pertain to virtuous behavior or to the truth of faith you must take to be figurative." (Augustine, On Christian Doctrine, Book Three, Chapter 10)

This method consigns a lot to the figurative. So it is not literally true that God caused the Red Sea to part, letting the Israelites through, and then caused the waters to come together to drown the Pharaoh's men?

I'm just asking.

Bill and Hector,

Regarding the doctrine of inerrancy, consider this statement:

“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” (1 Tim. 6:10)

In what sense is this statement true?

It appears that “all” functions as a universal quantifier. Yet there seem to be counterexamples to the statement. For example, the human moral evils which occurred before money existed were not rooted in the love of money, for there was no money to love at that time. Moreover, it seems that there are various moral evils not rooted in such avarice, such as some instances of adultery, gluttony, sloth, arrogance, etc.

Perhaps the verse is a generic statement like “Birds fly.” The problem is that this interpretation might not do justice to the use of “all.”

Maybe the statement is a bit of hyperbole, and thus poetic and non-literal. But there are problems with that interpretation as well.

Given the previous verse, perhaps 6:10 should be read as follows: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil associated with the desire to be rich.” But this interpretation is not without problems.

Elliot,

I have objected to this NT passage myself. https://williamfvallicella.substack.com/p/radix-omnium-malorum

That's an interesting point about human evil pre-existing money. I suppose one could argue that there was always money in a loose sense because there was always barter. E.g., I'll let you sleep with my daughter if you give me your horse.

Bill, thanks for your reply. I’m just finding the time to respond now.

>>Well then, is it the inordinate love of money that is the root of all evil? Not even this is true. For there are evils whose root is not the inordinate love of money. The most we can truly say is that the inordinate love of money is the root of some evils.<<

Yes, this is the general point that had in mind in my post from Nov. 15 at 7:55 AM. It seems there are many examples of evils not rooted in an inordinate love of money, barter, etc. The fact that there are so many counterexamples raises some degree of doubt about the doctrine of inerrancy.

>>There is a root of all moral evil, namely, the human misuse of free will. Not free will itself, of course; the misuse thereof. We misuse our free will when we fail to subordinate its use to transcendent standards.<<

Yes, I agree. And the evils present in pre-monetary barter seem rooted in the misuse of freedom and the desire to treat persons (ourselves and others) as mere objects rather than persons. I think Kant had it right.

>>Free will is not subject to our freedom.<<

Right. There is much to say about this point. We are thrown into the world, to borrow Heidegger’s term. A line from Chekhov’s Ward No. 6 comes to mind. Chekhov seems to have anticipated Heidegger’s “thrownness” and Sartre’s “forlorness”:

“Life is a vexatious trap; when a thinking man reaches maturity and attains to full consciousness he cannot help feeling that he is in a trap from which there is no escape. Indeed, he is summoned without his choice by fortuitous circumstances from non-existence into life . . . what for? He tries to find out the meaning and object of his existence; he is told nothing, or he is told absurdities; he knocks and it is not opened to him; death comes to him -- also without his choice.”

https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Ward_No._6

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