Wednesday, March 26, 2008

A tension about cooperation with evil

It seems pretty clear that we have strong, though perhaps at times defeasible, reason to avoid cooperating in evil activities. Here is something, however, that has struck me, after thinking about material in Wojtyla's The Acting Person (he is explicit about the tension) and correspondence with Mark Murphy. There is a tension between this presumption against cooperating in evil activities and the apparent fact that there is a non-instrumental value in all genuine interpersonal cooperation. There are ways to reduce or remove the tension, but it strikes me as quite an interesting tension. Does the fact that an instance of cooperation is in a bad activity somehow subvert the goods of cooperation?

5 comments:

Heath White said...

It seems to me that in this respect, "cooperation" is in the same boat with "courage" "resolution" "determination" "foresight" and other executive virtues. Namely, that they can be exercised in activities which are, in themselves, either good or bad.

Alexander R Pruss said...

I find this a very helpful point, thanks.

Alexander R Pruss said...

This point nicely fits with an idea Mark Murphy has offered me: that in the case where the cooperation is with evil, the reason against cooperation is exclusionary: it excludes the goods of cooperation from getting weighed at all. Likewise, one can say that the evil of the activity excludes the goods of practicing the executive virtues from getting weighed.

There are two ways of telling this story. The first is that the reason against the action in and of itself annuls the reason for practicing, say, courage in that context. A better way, I think, of telling the story is that the reason that comes from the evil of the action makes considerations of courage not count in favor of doing the action simpliciter, but they still count in conditional contexts like: "If you're going to do the evil deed anyway, you should at least do it with courage rather than cowardice." (This is like: "If you're going to commit murder, you should do it in a painless way.")

Mike Almeida said...

There is a tension between this presumption against cooperating in evil activities and the apparent fact that there is a non-instrumental value in all genuine interpersonal cooperation

I'm either not sure what you mean by 'non-instrumental value' in this context or I am sure that there isn't such value in all cases of cooperation. But my main worry is that it seems perfectly reasonable to cooperate in evil activities if this is either incidental to one's aims or the only way to prevent greater evils. I might find myself purchsing goods from a manufacturer that is doing evil (and in this way knowingly cooperating incidentally in evil) since I might need the goods to produce some good. Or I might cooperate with a group (this is the basis of coalitions) whose goals are nefarious only because a group producing even more evil might thereby be thwarted. These seem perfectly good reasons to cooperate with evil.

Alexander R Pruss said...

I agree there can be good reasons to cooperate with evildoers. But I think there is always a presumption against such cooperation to be defeated. If one can choose between buying the products from a company that will use the profits for evil ends and one that won't, then ceteris paribus one should buy the products from the more upright one, no?