Darn! Just changed my mind again!

Okay, I was up this morning at 5:00 pondering your comment, Arthur.

The question of whether we should have gone to war with Iraq is not exactly equivalent to the moral question: "My neighbor appears to be beating his wife--do I intervene with force?" It is equivalent to "My neighbor has beaten his wife. Do I intervene with force to punish him?"

The first question is about stopping an attack in progress. The second question is about retribution, or revenge, or punishment after an attack has finished. But I still don't see an essential difference between individuals joining forces to punish a neighbor and a country going to war to remove a foreign tyrant.

Here are differences I could think of. Are you claiming that one or more of these makes the two questions inherently different?

  1. National war is funded by taxation, which is inherently immoral. I agree completely on the point that taxation is immoral, but I'm not sure that the problem would disappear if different funding were used. If the Iraq war had been directly paid for by private oil conglomerates, do you think it would have been just?
  2. The target of the war was collectively "Iraqis" instead of a specific individual. This isn't the way the war was sold, and this isn't why I think I was wrong to buy it. The objective was to remove Saddam Hussein from power and both overt military power and covert operations were targeted at that objective as specifically as technology could allow.
  3. The guys leading the war were a bunch of morons that made mistakes wiser leaders wouldn't. I don't trust any individual to outsmart reality and avoid unintended consequences. "My gang's smarter than your gang" isn't an effective check against bad decisions.
  4. UN Resolutions and International Law are inherently against our interests. I agree that participating in a crowd encourages you to think you aren't fully responsible for your actions. But this is true both among groups of individuals and groups of nations. And sharing your plans for peer review provides a good check against bad judgment.
  5. No victim raised charges against the aggressor. There were some Iraqis petitioning the US to remove Saddam. It was reasonable to assume that more probably hoped for his removal, but (like an abused wife) were too intimidated to voice their hopes.

I agree that is far safer in the short term and morally unambiguous to never punish an act. Is this the position you hold? Do you hold it on both the personal scale and the national scale? If not, I would be genuinely grateful if someone could show me a way to know when a punitive action (and not just a defensive action) was clearly just and when it wasn't.

Share this

Speaking from a purely neighbor-wife pov...

...I think the Iraq War was justified. Collateral damage is a possibility in any use of force. Just because there's one end of the spectrum in which one life is saved with the loss of 100 collateral ones doesn't mean there isn't another end of the spectrum in which 100 lives are saved with the loss of 1 collateral life. There are many points in between in which collateral damage is justified. Depending on which estimates one believes, Saddam had killed up to 2 million Iraqis over a 20 year reign. Using collateral damage as a justification for inaction gives free reign to hostage-takers and tyrants.

Tell that to the civilians

Tell that to the civilians to die. You would probably react differently if people from your family had been affected.

Accepting the presence of collateral damage when acting gives free reign to bloody tyrants acting for the greater good.

It is wrong to kill an innocent civilian, no matter what your intent is.

While I do make moral differences between terrorism and war using Aquinas double effect principle (using innocent victims as means is worse) I can't see any moral justification for war.

You can claim that any action can make collateral dammage, this is true, but the same goes for many things (standards of proof, imposed risk etc). It merely mean that a huge quantitative difference are also qualitative differences, something you can experience everyday.

So how do you propose defense against any criminal?

Are you a pacifist?

By using targetted force.

By using targetted force.

I am not a pacifist, but Libertarian theory tells us when to use force by severely restricting the cases. When in doubt, one should dwell on the side of pacifism.

There is a way to wage war without the usual collateral victims : target head of states. Of course governments don't do that because the decider implicitely understand that their personal best interest is not to go down that road. I would not have been opposed (apart from tax use) to the US putting a 1B bounty on Saddam's head for example.

 

Doesn't accomplish everything you might legitimately want

Sometimes assassination does what you need done. It doesn't always get done what you need done, however. (and it's not all about territorial expansion - a revolution can be to win freedom.) Moreover, assassination can produce what you were trying to avoid. Remember that the first world war was triggered by an assassination. And until the second world war, that was the worst of all wars in all history - or, if there is a rival, then the rivalry is surely close.

Remember that the first

Remember that the first world war was triggered by an assassination.
And until the second world war, that was the worst of all wars in all
history

While Francois-Ferdinand's assination did technically trigger the war, it'd be foolish to think it made any difference. The war was waiting to happen.

"Targeted Force"

Any use of force has a risk of collateral damage. Cops have to deal with the possibility of collateral damage every day. There's always a chance that someone innocent will get hurt. If you still support the use of force, you're contradicting your own statement, "It is wrong to kill an innocent civilian, no matter what your intent is."

And trials have to deal with

And trials have to deal with the possibility of jailing innocent people. That doesn't mean we shouldn't have jails nor that it is okay to jail innocent people.

 

So then we agree

We both want to minimize collateral damage. We both believe collateral damage is sometimes acceptable.

Not we don't

Collateral damage is no more acceptable than jailing innocent people.

But you just said you'd support...

...actions that could result in collateral damage.

I don't "support" anything

I don't "support" anything here, I am trying to tell who has a legitimate claim against whom.

I for example believe that the families of the innocent victims of the Iraq war have a legitimate claim against the US GIs responsible for their relative's death.

If the US army soldiers had to endorse the full responsability for their actions, the standard of collateral damage would be drastically different.

 

But surely...

... you support cops, even rent-a-cops that are paid voluntarily, no? Or even if you don't, you still "support" self-defense? If a gang came at me, it'd be okay for me to take a shot, right? That could result in collateral damage to an innocent bystander if my finger slipped or one of them got to me just as I fired.

I just refuse to make an

I just refuse to make an ex-ante moral statement about it.

Now, while rent-a-cop will most probably not be evil, I know for sure a war will be.

Also bear in mind that quantitative amounts are relevant to moral statements. I cannot say precisely how, nor where a quantitative limit stand, but the same goes for the amount of particles in a pile of sand... it doesn't mean the concept of a "pile of sand" is meaningless.

I agree

I agree with your general position on harmed third parties.

If you are being attacked, you have the right to defend yourself, even (to some extent which I don't have clearly defined in my mind) if your defense might hurt an innocent third party in the process. If someone is about to shoot you, nobody can blame you for shooting back, even if there is an innocent person behind him. It is of course wrong that he be harmed, but the person upon whom the blame falls is the one that was threatening you.

But what applies in the first person applies in the third person. If somebody else is being threatened, you have the right to come to their aid, and your right extends to doing the things that they have the right to do in their own defense. Therefore you have some (but not infinite) right to harm innocent parties in defending someone else. They have a right not to be harmed, but the evildoer who is responsible for the violation of their rights is the aggressor, not the defender.

This applies at least to some extent not only to self-defense but to retaliation. In fact your right under retaliation derives easily from your right under self-defense - at least, as I said, to some extent. Suppose you are retaliating. You have the right to do that. But suppose that the guy you're retaliating against pulls out a gun. You are now in the same position as the person harming third parties in self-defense.

Furthermore, if you are in the right and your enemy is in the wrong, then the innocents who are killed by the enemy are unambiguously his own responsibility and not your responsibility. And whether the enemy is in some general sense in the right, then at the very least the intentional killing of innocents committed by the enemy is also his fault and not yours (e.g., the car bombs).

However, I opposed the war. Not because it was immoral, but because I didn't think it served the interests of the American people. At the time I expected the war to be fairly quick and following years to be peaceful. Even given that belief, I opposed the war as not serving American interests. It was my position that war should not be fought except as a last and desperate measure.

In principle, though, I don't think it is wrong to kill thousands of people in order to save one person. Here's an example case: one man is unjustly imprisoned by a state. He has a right to be free. I (say, I have a lot of men with guns with me) have a right to walk in and free him. If someone shoots at me while I attempt to do what I have a right to do, I have a right to ensure my safety. From here the war can escalate to an arbitrarily large conflict, without my side doing anything not fully within its rights. At the end, thousands of enemy might be dead. All to free one man.

I'm not a utilitarian, as you might have noticed.

I agree with your example of

I agree with your example of walking in a prison and escalating the issue, but that is not a realistic description of how the wars happen. US soldiers do not shoot only in retaliation.

If you think it is ok to harm third parties to defend someone being agressed, then there is no reason you should not oppose immigration. The state is harming the population by mandating forced integration. You can defend the citizens by shooting at the immigrants.

When you'll reply to that you'll make the distinction that it's okay to harm third parties, as long as it is not the mean by which we help the victim (double effect principle), but you didn't mention it in your post. I'll be back later on that.

Actually...


If you think it is ok to harm third parties to defend someone being
agressed, then there is no reason you should not oppose immigration.

Not necessarily. I pointed out there there were limits. I did not describe what those limits were because I don't really know. But in any case, given that I acknowledge that there are limits, then you can't know that there is "no reason".

My exact words were "to some extent which I don't have clearly defined in my mind." This means that there is some limit but I don't know what it is.

When you'll reply to that you'll make the distinction that it's okay to
harm third parties, as long as it is not the mean by which we help the
victim (double effect principle), but you didn't mention it in your
post.

Well, as a point of minor interest, actually I did mention that in one specific context. I wrote: "And whether the enemy is in some general sense in the right, then at
the very least the intentional killing of innocents committed by the
enemy is also his fault and not yours (e.g., the car bombs)."

What you describe is the intentional killing (or at least threatening) of innocents in order to effect some end (protection from forced integration by the state). But the car bombers are intentionally killing innocents to achieve victory. I pointed out that this is wrong even if their cause (e.g. freedom for Iraqis from foreign domination or whatever) is just.

Now, I don't know whether you have some interesting argument about this up your sleeve. Keep in mind that this answer is not necessary to block your inference, because I acknowledged limitations.

 

First of all, I don't think

First of all, I don't think you have a "right" to come to someone defense,
however, a person being victimized can very well grant you that right,
and - according to custom - this can be implicit. If the victim doesn't
wish to grant you the right to defend her, you have no business
defending the victim. This is not an argument against the Iraq War : at
least one Iraqi was probably willing to let the US army defend him from
his government, and that's more than enough for me.

Obviously, if it is unacceptable to defend oneself while harming third
parties, it is also unacceptable to harm third party by defending
someone else. Since I believe both statement to be true, I might as
well defend the first one which is stronger.

Now, the only consistent way to understand right is - I think - as a set of boundaries. They can be physical, like wire around my property or metaphorical (someone killing me is invading my body, etc)

Where does the right to use force derive from ? It derives from another person crossing limits, infringing on your rights. The very meaning of right is exclusion, you can exclude that person, using force if necessary, but this right to exclusion does not give you a right to incursion.

I can legitimately push an offender outside of my boundaries, doing so will not make me cross any other boundaries, however, harming a third party that is not within my boundaries is akin to going in his, which is not illegitimate.

 

If someone says: shoot that person or I'll cut your hand off, the menace doesn't grant me the right to kill the person.

Ayn Rand had a way to cop out of the question.. can't find the quote but it says something like "Can't you see this is the problem with force, it prevents you from acting morally" (i.e. in your self-interest & respecting other people's right)

But this was the answer you already anticipated

If someone says: shoot that person or I'll cut your hand off, the menace doesn't grant me the right to kill the person.

Yes, but this is the response that you already anticipated from me and that you were supposedly going to answer. You anticipated the following from me:

When you'll reply to that you'll make the distinction that it's okay to
harm third parties, as long as it is not the mean by which we help the
victim (double effect principle), but you didn't mention it in your
post. I'll be back later on that.

In the hand example, shooting the person is the means by which you save your hand. You anticipated me saying that this was wrong - that harming third parties was only okay as long as it is not the means by which you help the victim. So you anticipated that I would say that it's not okay to be the-means-by-which. And that's what you're saying here - that it's not okay to be the-means-by-which (which is what shooting the other person is). So you're saying what you anticipated that I would say. I thought you were going to answer what you anticipated I would say - not merely repeat it yourself.

That said, I want to make a point about how people will actually act. If I were actually in that situation, I might shoot the other person. Selfishness trumps morality. Now, if there were an effective system of justice in place, one that would execute me for shooting the other person, then I would decline to shoot and so I would sacrifice my hand in order to save my own life (i.e., save my neck from the hangman's noose). But a working justice system and war don't tend to coexist. So in war I would be more likely to escape justice, and at the same time I would be facing people who were also more likely to escape justice, should any of us harm the other. I might very well shoot first and shoot indiscriminately.

First of all, I don't think you have a "right" to come to someone defense,
however, a person being victimized can very well grant you that right

I agree. Interpret me as meaning it that way.

 

Oups

The hand example was a bad one, mistake from my part. I'll come up with an example where the victim is not a mean which provokes emotional appeal against the victim. One way to do that is to skew the probabilities and the amount of harm, I'll avoid that as much as I can.

To answer your question

To answer your question Mark, I only believe (5) would make a difference, but as I said in an another comment, I am certain there is at least one Iraqi who would have agreed to transfer his claim against his government to the US army anyway, so that's fine.

Arthur, over here

I just refuse to make an ex-ante moral statement about it.

Why?

Now, while rent-a-cop will most probably not be evil, I know for sure a war will be.

How do you know this? Isn't this what we're trying to see, if there is indeed a difference between the rent-a-cop and a military? It seems you 'know' this already. But I don't. If you're saying, "I know it in my gut", then we don't have much more to argue about. Because I don't know it in my gut, and I think libertarians avoid difficult questions about war.

Also bear in mind that quantitative amounts are relevant to moral statements. I cannot say precisely how, nor where a quantitative limit stand, but the same goes for the amount of particles in a pile of sand... it doesn't mean the concept of a "pile of sand" is meaningless.

I agree. But I just want you to admit that you're okay with a few grains, or even one grain, in certain hypothetical situations.

Let the sand flow through you

But I just want you to admit that you're okay with a few grains, or even one grain, in certain hypothetical situations.

You cannot hide forever, Arthur. Give yourself to the dark side.

Never ! Loses hand Ok, I

Never ! Loses hand

Ok, I have a button under my thumb, is it moral for me to press it? You won't be able to answer that question because you don't know what the button do. Well similarly, "a jugement" is not an action I can morally evaluate, I can only tell you about good and bad jugements.

Which brings serious problems into deontology. Deep inside, I do think we should have trial whith high standards of proofs, and we  shouldn't have wars. I don't know if this is related  or not, as I suggest, to the likelihood of the act turning out evil.

Useless Ethics

Ethics is useless unless it guides our actions. Our actions occur in a universe of uncertainty and imperfect knowledge. All our moral decisions occur prospectively, not retrospectively. It's easier to say, "That was wrong!" in retrospect. It's more difficult to say, "It will be wrong if I do this" about the future.

If your ethics can't tell you beforehand what action you ought to take, then what good is it?

But they tell us, to a very

But they tell us, to a very large extent... otherwise purposeful action would be vain. The meaning of responsability is that you assume the possibility that your act might be wrong.

So why won't you admit...

...that you often knowingly take actions that have a nonzero chance of resulting in collateral damage?

Of course I do. What's your

Of course I do. What's your point ?

You say...

...that of course, you often knowingly take actions that have a nonzero chance of resulting in collateral damage.

Yet you have maintained that collateral damage is never acceptable.

My point: You're being inconsistent. You take actions that you are arguing against in this very thread.

No I don't. I take actions

No I don't. I take actions that may not be morally acceptable. If they turn out not to be, I will accept full moral responsability.

Let's concentrate on this statement

I take actions that may not be morally acceptable.

What does it mean?  Are you an immoral person?  How can you possibly take part in actions that you deem immoral? 

The morality of a person is

The morality of a person is distinct from the morality of his actions as I recently understood. I could take part into immoral action by ignorance (by sentencing an innocent person) or for evil (kill someone to save my life for example).

Do you drive?

If not, what about people who drive, i.e., 99% of all Americans? Are they all being immoral? Every time they drive, they intentionally take the chance of crashing into someone else - other drivers, people on the sidewalk, people in their homes.

I already answered that

I already answered that question in the previous post. Their morality is distinct from the morality of their action.

I am talking about right, which - although connex- is distinct from morality. People have the right to drive but they don't have the right to crash into someone else. 

Someone threatening you is different, there is the notion of clear and present danger that you are trying to evacuate by a beard argument.

Huh?

People have the right to drive but they don't have the right to crash into someone else.

Do you see how contradictory this statement is? Before anyone gets into a car, he knows he is putting others at risk. He has some non-zero chance of killing another person. Even if that chance is as low as 1/10000, if he drives 10000 times, he will kill another person. Change the odds and the argument still holds.

Yet you're saying that he both has the right to kill others (drive 10000 times) but doesn't have the right to kill others. Huh?

There is no contradiction.

There is no contradiction. His action may or may not infringe on someone's rights.

Probability

The same can be said with a bomb. The bomb may or may not kill innocents.

That is correct. Do you

That is correct. Do you however perceive the difference between setting a bomb and driving?

I think the point Jonathan

I think the point Jonathan is aiming at here is that deontological ethics tends to break down when you get into the nitty-gritty details. The difference is better stated in mathematical/economic terms of risk, probability, cost, etc. and once we start speaking in that sort of language as opposed to the language of rights and duties, we have moved away from what is generally considered deontology and moved into what is generally considered consequentialism/utilitarianism.

For what it's worth, I think it's important to keep in mind "the language of X" terminology here, for without it we are implying an opposition between deontology and consequentialism that may not exist. Just as it may be more useful to use the language of, say biology instead of physics when describing certain natural phenomenon, without the implication that biology and physics are necessarily at odds or incompatible with each other. Still noodling over this question...

Sand

Also bear in mind that quantitative amounts are relevant to moral statements. I cannot say precisely how, nor where a quantitative limit stand, but the same goes for the amount of particles in a pile of sand... it doesn't mean the concept of a "pile of sand" is meaningless.

For what it's worth, this is what occurred to me as I finished writing the post. No item in the list definitely distinguishes a punitive war from a punitive action, or just punishment from unjust. The best we can do is throw up enough checks and balances to constrain our decision to go to war that we hope we choose correctly...

Where is Joe Miller when you need him?

Collateral Damage

Roderick Long had some interesting and relevant comments on collateral damage a while back.

While I haven't yet explored the issue in as much depth as I should, I'll point to Randy Barnett's widely-read article in Ethics on restitution being preferable to and worth replacing punishment.

Reset left

That is correct. Do you however perceive the difference between setting a bomb and driving?

Sure, lots of differences. But wrt infringing on others' rights, they are not fundamentally different. Both actions are taken with the knowledge that there's a nonzero chance of harm to innocents.

But wrt infringing on

But wrt infringing on others' rights, they are not fundamentally
different. Both actions are taken with the knowledge that there's a
nonzero chance of harm to innocents.

ANY action is taken with the knowlege that there's a nonzero chance to harm innocents. Fundamental difference derives not from 0 or not 0 probability. One action has an astonishingly high probability of harming innocents, the other astonishingly low. That's fundamental.

Ah, so we do agree after all

ANY action is taken with the knowlege that there's a nonzero chance to harm innocents. Fundamental difference derives not from 0 or not 0 probability. One action has an astonishingly high probability of harming innocents, the other astonishingly low. That's fundamental.

All this time I thought you disagreed with me. ;)

We both agree that there is risk of some collateral damage with any action, and the goal is to minimize collateral damage.

Bombs vs. Driving

Nonsense, one is a deliberately destructive act with the intention of harming others. The purpose of the other is productive without any intention to harm others.

Intention Matters How?

Okay, so how does intention matter here? I agree that it may be a legitimate distinction between the two activities, but I don't see what, if anything, it tells us about the morality of the two activies.

You figure it out

Rather than explain I will let you deduce from two other activities. Setting an explosive with the intention of blasting some coal loose from a seam, vs. driving your car through a college square with the intention of running over infidels.

Your intentions also matter as to whether you get credit for good actions, and whether they were moral in that sense.     Some muslim extremist may chop your balls off because you blasphemed his religion, which might just save your life because you happened to have testicular cancer.    He doesn't get the moral credit a country doctor would under primitive conditions for the same action.   Of course if you really didn't have cancer then the doctor doesn't get credit either and might be liable in a lawsuit.     

Clarification

 

To make myself clear, my other response was with regard to this statement. "But wrt infringing on others' rights, they are not fundamentally different." Which was your response to:

<blockquote>"Do you however perceive the difference between setting a bomb and driving?"</blockquote>

I had replied: "Nonsense, one is a deliberately destructive act with the intention of
harming others. The purpose of the other is productive without any
intention to harm others."

I hadn't read the rest of the thread but was only responding as if you guys were talking about "setting a bomb". There is however a big difference between merely "setting a bomb" and using explosives in a controlled fashion. No such distinction was made so I was responding to that.

"Setting a bomb" is a random destructive act designed to deprive some random person of their rights. It's quite a different thing that bombing a military target. It's a lot closer to setting a mine, which right now I'm tipped slightly towards opposing.

I see a difference between setting bombs and driving wrt infringing rights in that one is intentionally designed to violate rights.

I see a difference between

I see a difference between setting bombs and driving wrt infringing
rights in that one is intentionally designed to violate rights.

Putting my devil's advocate hat on, is setting a mine on one's own property truly a case of intentionally violating rights? Trespassers don't have a right to trespass, do they? Maybe one might object that this sort of response to trespass is excessive, unneeded (given less extreme alternatives), and therefore unjust. But it would be quite a strange claim for a strict deontologist to make that setting a mine on one's own property (with adequate visible warning of property line boundaries) is inherently unjust. One might need to take into account notions like *gasp* consequences, risk, least restrictive means, and so on.

The Angels are Against Mantraps

"Putting my devil's advocate hat on, is setting a mine on one's own property truly a case of intentionally violating rights?:"

Putting my angel's advocate hat on, yes it is intentionally violating other peoples rights.

"Trespassers don't have a right to trespass, do they?"

Not every person who goes on your property without your permission is trespassing, and just because someone trespasses against you does mean you can violate their rights at will. Old men don't get to rape young girls and boys who wander onto their lawns. They can yell, "Get off my grass".

"Maybe one might object that this sort of response to trespass is
excessive, unneeded (given less extreme alternatives), and therefore
unjust."

It is certainly not a proportional response an unjust for that reason, but it is unjust for other reasons. A mine is a very imprecise decision making device. Based on mechanical decision about the presence of a footstep it makes the decision to maim and kill. Problem is that there are many very good reasons for someone to come on your property against your will. These good reasons include personal emergencies, hazards eminating from your property, simple human error, diminished capacity, etc. Your device is designed to harm people who are acting within their rights because it cannot determine when these rightful actions are being taken.

Using a reasonable person test it is clear that your destructive action targets individuals acting within there rights. With regards to these individuals you are as wrong to set up this device on your own property as any other property.

"But it would be quite a strange claim for a strict deontologist to make
that setting a mine on one's own property (with adequate visible
warning of property line boundaries) is inherently unjust."

Signs can be missed. You are still violating the persons rights. You can no more do this than put up a sign "Trespassers will be raped".

"But it would be quite a strange claim for a strict deontologist to make
that setting a mine on one's own property (with adequate visible
warning of property line boundaries) is inherently unjust."

Am a strict deontologist? News to me.

"One might need to take into account notions like *gasp* consequences, risk, least restrictive means, and so on."

Not sure how you think "least restrictive means" or "strict scrutiny" would come into play here. I don't need either concept to see the immorality and criminality of setting mantraps.

Any legal system is going to have to take consequences into account but I don't think that makes one a conseqentialist. After all if the consequence of stabbing people with knives was not death but an increase in longevity we would certainly need to take that into account.