Thursday, August 17, 2006

Funny Gag

A funny gag from Radio 4's The Sunday Format (1999):
I love paradoxes. And at the same time, I hate them too, of course.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Guess the Philosopher

See if you can guess the philosopher from his description by his lover below?

I felt uplifted and flattered that this remarkable man should carry me up with him into worlds of thought that I had not dreamt of. And if only he had been just different in his person, I should probably have been entirely carried off my feet and have flown with him through worlds of thought and sense. But, to my shame, however much I was thrilled with the beauty and transcendence of his thoughts, I could hardly bear the lack of physical attraction, the lack of charm and gentleness and sympathy.

The answer is in the comment section.

Just War

For my part, I tend to think that the Thomistic tradition has got this pretty sewn up; cf., for example, this good (but brief) Web site.

The one thing that I am very unsure about is whether international law applies: I did find a US Christian Web site that argued passionately that there was no justification for saying that the UN was in authority over the US in this regard.

What do others think: is it necessary to have the permission of a supra-national body like the UN for a war to be just?

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

action and intention

Consider the case of Gavrilo Prinzip. He was convicted of the murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. He might have argued in his defence 'all I did was pull a trigger'. Such a defence would have been rightly rejected as being less than the whole story. Even saying that Prinzip killed the Archduke is less than the whole story. We want to say that he committed murder. To say that he murdered him is to say that he killed him illegally and he intended to kill (or, perhaps, cause grievous bodily harm). It is impossible to murder unintentionally. Note how the description of what he did, or what he did itself, is determined in part by his intentions. We cannot work out what he did without taking into account Prinzip's mental states.

Suppose that Prinzip really had just pulled the trigger without even realizing that the gun was loaded. In that case he would still have killed the Archduke but wouldn't have murdered him. Even here it's not the whole story that he 'just pulled the trigger', though it's true that all he meant to do was 'just pull the trigger'; the fact that he didn't mean to murder the Archduke means that he did not murder him.

Imagine things had been very different: imagine that Prinzip had been an anti-anarchist rather than an anarchist, and had spotted an anarchist with a bomb in his hand about to blow up lots of people, and imagine that Prinzip had shot this anarchist in the hand to prevent him detonating the bomb, but the bullet, although it had prevented the anarchist from detonating the bomb, had gone right through the anarchist's hand and hit the Archduke. In this case we shouldn't say that Prinzip had murdered the Archduke because he didn't intend to kill him, even though he did kill him.

Suppose further that Prinzip had realized, in this imaginary situation, that the bullet would go right through the anarchist's hand and kill the Archduke. He still wouldn't have murdered the Archduke even though he would have killed him and known that his action would kill him. This is because, in this imaginary situation, he merely foresaw, and did not intend, the result of the Archduke's death.

It would, of course, have been different had Prinzip intended to kill Franz Ferdinand and the only angle he could get on the Archduke was by way of the hand of the bomb holder. In that case, he would have murdered him after all.

The point of all this is that when we are assessing the morality of people's actions we cannot always do so without knowing their intentions. One's intentions sometimes make a difference to what one does and therefore sometimes to the morality of what one does.

These ideas are one version of the doctrine or principle of double effect. The originator of this idea was propably Aquinas, whose remarks on murder embody this doctrine in embryo.

If you agree please feel free to post below saying why; if you disagree with anything here please feel free to post below saying why.

Friday, May 26, 2006

‘It is no good saying ‘I don’t happen to be logical’. Logic is simply the architecture of human reason. If you try to base your life and hopes on logical absurdities you will go mad. […] People are going mad and talking balls to psychiatrists not because of accidents to the chamber-pot in the nursery but because there is no logical structure to their beliefs.’

Evelyn Waugh in a letter to John Betjeman