Monday, January 13, 2020

Double Effect and (narrow) pacifism

Suppose I see a sniper sniping at innocents, and if not stopped, she will kill a dozen innocents. Near the sniper are three enemy personnel who are standing around. I have two weapons, a precision rifle and a rocket-propelled grenade, and I can stop the sniper in one of two ways: (a) shoot her in the head or (b) fire the RPG.

Suppose that I hold this combination of views:

  1. Narrow Pacifism: It is always wrong to intentionally kill.

  2. The Principle of Double Effect is true.

  3. Broadness of Intention: Shooting the sniper in the head would be an intentional killing.

Then I am not permitted to to use the rifle to stop the sniper. But here is a paradoxical consequence: a strong Double Effect case can be made that I am permitted to use the RPG. For in firing the RPG, I can be credibly intending to destroy the sniper’s rifle, which is a legitimate target even for a (narrow) pacifist. (I am assuming that I couldn’t destroy the sniper’s rifle with my rifle shot, perhaps because my aim isn’t good enough, or because it’s protected by a sandbag.)

So, here is an odd dilemma for the narrow pacifist who accepts Double Effect. Either the narrow pacifist accepts Broadness or rejects it.

Acceptance of Broadness, together with the above argument, leads in a number of cases to significantly more violence: the RPG will not only kill the sniper but also her comrades. Note that this is not an issue that comes up just in “small” cases involving snipers and RPGs. Narrow Pacifism plus Broadness would lead to a perverse preference to shoot a tactical nuke at the area occupied by enemy infantry—of course, just in order to destroy their weapons—over a conventional infantry attack.

Rejection of Broadness, on the other hand, means that the narrow pacifist need not actually be all that pacific: she can allow soldier to lethally shoot the enemy as long as they intend to stop the enemy rather than to kill. The narrow pacifist who rejects Broadness is a very narrow pacifist indeed.

Objection: If one accepts Broadness, one will also think that firing the RPG is an intentional killing.

Response: Thinking that firing the RPG is an intentional killing seems to me to be rejecting the central ideas behind Double Effect. The point of Double Effect is to distinguish the target of the action from side-effects. It seems perfectly reasonable to take the sniper’s rifle as one’s RPG target. Unlike in the case where one aims at the sniper’s head, there is no intention to impose any harm on the sniper, or even to physically affect the sniper’s body in any way. There is simply the intention to destroy the weapon which the sniper is using. Unfortunately, the explosion that will destroy the weapon will also kill the sniper.

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