Monday, July 6, 2015

Attempted murder

Every wrong act is wrong because it wrongs someone or something. Say that an act is fundamentally self-wronging provided that it is wrong because it wrongs oneself. It's controversial whether there are fundamentally self-wronging acts, but I think there are. However, attempted murder (as long as it's not attempted suicide) is not a self-wronging act. But now imagine that Bob is the only contingent being in existence, and Bob attempts to murder someone else (of course, to do that he will presumably have to have a false belief that there is another contingent being). Bob commits attempted murder, which is not a fundamentally self-wronging act. Hence it wrongs someone or something other than himself. Only concrete beings can be wronged. So there is a concrete being other than Bob. Since Bob is the only contingent being in existence, there is a concrete necessary being.


Alex Marsh said...

Could I suggest that, in attempting to murder someone, Bob does harm himself? One might well think that by directing one's will toward a wrongful deed, one harms oneself by making oneself a worse person (here I'm thinking of something like Aristotle's understanding of virtue and vice as habits). A natural law theorist would have even better grounds for saying that Bob harms himself through attempted murder because they would argue that, in doing so, he frustrates his natural ends as a rational animal, regardless of his impact on another existing person.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Mr. Marsh above, since I take it to be self-evident that Bob would be harming himself. Think of the duties we owe ourselves, including the duty to rightly form our conscience (at least insofar as this is feasible for us) - clearly Bob wrongs himself when he acts in such a way as to lead to the malformation (perhaps deformation) of his conscience. Acts which are wrong do lead to a disfiguration of conscience, and (to avoid begging the question) we can say that acts which help to (or tend to) form the habits we call vices are themselves wrong (on virtue-ethical grounds), just as (and for the same reason that) deliberately putting oneself in the near occasion of sin is itself a sin.

On the other hand, suppose you found an uncontroversial example of Bob doing something wrong without harming himself (where Bob is the only contingent concrete being), the argument could work as long as God can be called concrete (even though he stands in no real causal relations if divine simplicity holds).

Unknown said...

Can you explain what it is to wrong something that is not a someone? I think the more straightforward objection is to deny that all wrongs involve wronging (with a direct object).

Alexander R Pruss said...

If one can't wrong something that isn't a someone, then the argument extends to the conclusion that there is a necessary someone. :-)
I don't know what it is to wrong someone. But I know cases of it. And it seems to me that some cases of harming animals that aren't someone are sufficiently similar to cases of wronging a person that it is implausible that there be wronging in the latter but not the former case.
I'm tempted to say that wronging x is doing an action that's wrong because of harm to x (perhaps "only" to x's extended well-being), but of course this requires an "in the right way" constraint, and probably is subject to counterexample.
I know that people sometimes talk of wronging as the sort of action that generates a claim by the victim against the agent. I have a hard time understanding this "claim". (Except in the sense of generating a duty of restitution, I guess. But if I'm cruel to a dog, I should try to compensate the dog, too.)

Alexander R Pruss said...

It's no worse to unsuccessfully try to kill someone who doesn't exist than someone who does. But the latter wrongs someone. If the former doesn't, we'd expect it to be less wrong. But it's not, is it? (It's just less harmful, as one fewer relationship is disrupted.)
(It's false that wronging more people is always wronger, but ceteris paribus wronging is wronger than not wronging.)
My argument isn't meant to depend on the claim that all wrong actions wrong something or someone. It's specific to the case.