Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Murder without an intention of harm

I used to think that every murder is an intentional killing. But this is incorrect: beheading John the Baptist was murder even if the intention was solely to put his head on a platter rather than to kill him. Cases like that once made me think something like this: murder is an intentional injury that one expects to be lethal. (Cf. Ramraj 2000.)

But now I think there can be cases of murder where there is no intent to injure at all. Suppose that amoral Alice wants to learn what an exploding aircraft looks like. To that end, she launches an anti-aircraft missile at a civilian jetliner. SHe has the ordinary knowledge that the explosion will kill everyone on board, but in her total amorality she no more intends this than the ordinary person intends to contribute to wearing out shoes when going for a walk. Alice has committed murder, but without any intention to kill.

In terms of the Principle of Double Effect, Alice’s wrongdoing lies in the lack of proportionality between the foreseen gravely bad effect (mass slaughter) and the foreseen trivially good effect (satisfaction of desire for unimportant knowledge), rather than in a wrongful intention, at least if we bracket questions of positive law.

It is tempting to conclude that every immoral killing is a murder. But that’s not right, either. If Bob is engaged in a defensive just war and has been legitimately ordered not to kill any of the enemy before 7 pm no matter what (so as not to alert the enemy, say), and at 6 pm he kills an enemy invader in self-defense, then he does not commit murder, but he acts wrongly in disobeying an order.

It seems that for an immoral act to be a murder it needs to be wrong because of the lethality of the harm as such, rather than due to some incidental reason, such as the lethality of the harm as contrary to a valid order.

4 comments:

Oktavian Zamoyski said...

I noticed something similar when trying to explain why abortion is murder to people with a pro-abortion stance. I would claim that few people who procure or support abortion are doing so because they have as an end the explicit death of the child. The death of the child is either an effect deemed tolerable or a means to the end of eliminating an unwanted pregnancy (a desire that deserves its own analysis).

To make this perhaps a bit more conspicuous, imagine that we could remove a fetus and place it in an incubator of some kind so that its life is spared and it can develop to term. How many would object to banning lethal abortions if such means were possible? I'm sure some would as the knowledge that a living person resulting from some illicit sexual encounter or whatever is walking around may sit poorly with one's pride. (Even then, the support for lethality is still an attempt at a means to "undo" some state of affairs.) Others might object on the ill-conceived grounds that such bans would interfere with a woman's rights over her body, to borrow feminist parlance. And indeed, if the will cannot strictly speaking intend what the intellect construes as evil, then murder can never be an intended end, but always an intended means.

Alexander R Pruss said...

The pregnancy as such is a reason for abortion in cases where the mother's health is in danger, or where the woman is physically unable to continue working due to pregnancy, or where the financial cost of pregnancy care is too high. But these reasons seem to be a small proportion of actual cases of abortion.

Most cases of abortion (according to surveys of women in the US) seem to concern things like the financial or emotional cost of raising a child or the relationship issues resulting from having the child. Neither of these reasons would be removed by the incubator. I conclude that in fact in most abortions, the death of the fetus is intended.

Oktavian Zamoyski said...

> concern things like the financial or emotional cost of raising a child or the relationship issues resulting from having the child. Neither of these reasons would be removed by the incubator.

Perhaps I should have made this part more explicit, namely, that the option of a incubator allows a woman to part with her child before term without killing her. The biological dependence on the mother has been removed and the mother can now leave the child in the care of others (effective giving it up for adoption). Of course, financial and emotional cost can also be largely avoided by carrying to term as well, so perhaps the difference between having the option of an incubator and not having that option is effectively small, though I would not say that it is nil (9 months vs. ~0 months).

In any case, I may be trying to be unduly charitable by confining myself to the assumptions of someone in that position, but invoking financial and emotional cost already grounds the argument within the logic of such a mother. I.e., I cannot see how one might reason from the prospect of financial and emotional cost to abortion, however fallaciously, with the option of adoption or an especially an incubator that can, in this thought experiment, permit the pregnant mother to cut ties with her child from a very early stage. What is to be ostensibly gained by intending the death, especially given such an option? We may be treading out of logic and into psychology, but then, the more emotion is implicated in moving the will and in a way that obstructs the exercise of reason, the less culpable the mother is for the murder of her child, in which case, is the intention sufficiently manifested since ascent has been undermined? (Again, in the context of the though experiment.)

In other words, are you arguing that most abortions are not the result of amoral reasoning as you've described nor a highly emotionally mental state? And even in the cases where we ascribe malicious intent, is the murder still not the means, rather than the intended effect per se?

ZsoltnagY said...

Having your own theories about "murder" is okay.
But if you are supposedly standing in front of a real and actual judge for some nasty charges, then it is certainly not bad to know, how the judge and the considered legal system is thinking about that very same term "murder" - "Manslaughter vs. Murder: Differences Explained in Simple Terms" by Jennifer Gunner
You know, that's also good to know just in case.