Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Broad and narrow pacifism

Narrow pacifists (about lethal violence) hold that it is wrong to intentionally kill. Depending on the correct answer to Double Effect questions, narrow pacifism may be compatible with fighting in a war in ways that one foresees to be quite lethal. On the most extreme version, defended by people like Germain Grisez, one can pretty much do any foreseeably lethal warlike activity, such as shooting enemy soldiers in the head, as long as one’s intention is to stop the enemy rather than kill, and killing is a side-effect rather than a means. On less extreme versions, one might have to put some limits on the methods of waging war, but nonetheless one will be able to wage war in ways that one foresees to be lethal. For instance, it might not be permissible to shoot the enemy in the head, but shooting them in the stomach might be acceptable, even if one foresees that a significant percentage of the time this is lethal.

Broad pacifists, on the other hand, will forbid any foreseeably lethal violence, even if the lethality is not intended. Broad pacifism better fits, I think, with what we normally mean by “pacifism”. In Woody Allen’s Love and Death, a character says: “My brother was killed in the line of duty; bayoneted to death by a Polish conscientious objector!” This is obviously funny, and it stays funny if you replace “conscientious objector” with “pacifist”. We do not expect pacifists to lethally bayonet people. Yet a narrow pacifist can do that, at least given what I think are plausible views about Double Effect.

But broad pacifism is mistaken. Here is why.

  1. Either the prohibition on foreseeably lethal violence is specific to violence or not.

  2. A prohibition specific to foreseeably lethal violence is ad hoc.

  3. A prohibition against all foreseeably lethal action is untenable.

Let me start with premise 3. There are many counterexamples to a prohibition on all foreseeably lethal action. The most obvious cases are actions that involve a large number of people. For instance, manufacturing automobiles is foreseeably lethal. A sufficiently large construction project can be foreseen to result in someone’s death. Instituting a policy of pursuing tax frauds will lead to some suicides on the part of those on whom justice is closing. Manufacturing or requiring vaccinations, while saving many lives overall, will result in a small number of deaths due to adverse side-effects.

But perhaps the idea is that what is forbidden are actions that have a probability greater than 1/2 of resulting in the death of a specific person. This surely isn’t right. Sending an armed robot that is foreseen to kill one random enemy combatant is not morally different from sending an armed robot that is foreseen to kill one specific enemy combatant. Yet in the case of the randomly killing robot, the chance of any particular enemy combatant being killed is apt to be less than 1/2.

Let’s move on to premise 2. Suppose we prohibit foreseeably lethal violence but not other foreseeably lethal actions. For this not to be ad hoc, we would need a good moral explanation for why a foreseeably lethal action’s being an instance of violence makes it impermissible, while if it were non-violent, it would be permissible.

Here is what I think the best case is: the cases where foreseeably lethal activity are permissible are ones where consent is given or presumed on the part of those who are victimized by the activity. It is permissible to give painkillers that are expected, but not intended, to hasten the death of a terminal patient. But consent is needed. On the other hand, enemy soldiers do not consent to being killed.

Maybe, but it feels to me like something is off in grounding the impermissibility of lethal action in wartime in the lack of consent given by enemy soldiers. Whether a murderous invader consents to being repelled by lethal force or not seems morally irrelevant. And we can imagine cases of consent: for instance, an enemy might enjoy the “heroism” of fighting against lethal force. It surely makes no difference to the permissibility of lethal self-defense whether one is facing an enemy who consents to lethal resistance or one who does not.

Moreover, if we go back to the counterexampels to prohibitions on foreseeably lethal action, some of these do not involve much in the way of consent. Small children are rightly vaccinated. (It is true that we have proxy consent in that case. But proxy consent is not really consent.) Tax frauds do not consent to being pursued.

Thus, I think broad pacifism is untenable, and narrow pacifism doesn’t give the pacifist what the pacifist wants.

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