Friday, May 28, 2010

Justice, mercy, and the death penalty

What should Catholics think about the death penalty?

Unlike the issues of the morality of torture, abortion, and euthanasia, the death penalty is an issue that Catholics can disagree about in good faith. It must be said from the starting point of any discussion about the death penalty that the Church recognizes the authority of the State to punish the guilty and protect the innocent, and that in the pursuit of this goal the State may sentence a criminal to die, and carry out that awful sentence.

But I think in our deliberations about whether the death penalty ought to be used, and under what conditions, we'd be remiss to ignore the Catechism, which says:

2265 Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others. The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm. For this reason, those who legitimately hold authority also have the right to use arms to repel aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their responsibility.

2266 The efforts of the state to curb the spread of behavior harmful to people's rights and to the basic rules of civil society correspond to the requirement of safeguarding the common good. Legitimate public authority has the right and duty to inflict punishment proportionate to the gravity of the offense. Punishment has the primary aim of redressing the disorder introduced by the offense. When it is willingly accepted by the guilty party, it assumes the value of expiation. Punishment then, in addition to defending public order and protecting people's safety, has a medicinal purpose: as far as possible, it must contribute to the correction of the guilty party.67

2267 Assuming that the guilty party's identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

If, however, nonlethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people's safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.

Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm - without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself - the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.NT

That last point, of course, comes from Pope John Paul II's encyclical Evangelicum Vitae. The death penalty is addressed a few times in that letter, particularly here:

56. This is the context in which to place the problem of the death penalty. On this matter there is a growing tendency, both in the Church and in civil society, to demand that it be applied in a very limited way or even that it be abolished completely. The problem must be viewed in the context of a system of penal justice ever more in line with human dignity and thus, in the end, with God's plan for man and society. The primary purpose of the punishment which society inflicts is "to redress the disorder caused by the offence".[46] Public authority must redress the violation of personal and social rights by imposing on the offender an adequate punishment for the crime, as a condition for the offender to regain the exercise of his or her freedom. In this way authority also fulfils the purpose of defending public order and ensuring people's safety, while at the same time offering the offender an incentive and help to change his or her behaviour and be rehabilitated.[47]

It is clear that, for these purposes to be achieved, the nature and extent of the punishment must be carefully evaluated and decided upon, and ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society. Today however, as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent.

In any event, the principle set forth in the new Catechism of the Catholic Church remains valid: "If bloodless means are sufficient to defend human lives against an aggressor and to protect public order and the safety of persons, public authority must limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person".[48]

I personally struggled to embrace this view of the death penalty. For a long time I saw it only as a matter of meting out to violent murderers their "just desserts." I ignored tales of innocent people being executed (or released from Death Row years after being convicted), and of the disproportionate justice offered to the wealthy, who could afford expensive lawyers, and the poor, who had not these means to defend themselves against criminal charges. I didn't think about that corporal work of mercy which orders us to visit the imprisoned, or consider the impact on the souls of victims' families when they would publicly demand the death of the criminal as a kind of revenge for their suffering and loss.

Surprisingly enough, it was a purely secular source that led me to rethink my position in favor of the use of the death penalty as it is used here and now, in 21st century America. It was the late Erle Stanley Gardner's book, The Court of Last Resort, that first made me rethink my assumptions in favor of the death penalty. At the time I read this book, I'd been presented with Catholic arguments against the death penalty--I had just rejected them as "liberal" without really thinking about them. Mr. Gardner's book, detailing cases where men were waiting to die when there really was reasonable doubt that they were guilty--and in some cases, abundant evidence that they couldn't possibly be guilty--made me think about the issue in a new way.

Death, after all, is irrevocable. If an innocent man is executed, there is nothing that can be done to remedy the matter. But if a guilty one merely lives out the rest of his life in prison--who, exactly, is harmed? Society is not harmed--because we can't execute prisoners merely to avoid the cost of housing them. Society would only be harmed if the incarceration were lacking and the prisoner continued to hurt or kill people while behind bars--which does happen, and must be addressed.

Let's begin the conversation, respecting each other's views. The death penalty is not something that is morally evil--but is it imprudent, often unjust, and at odds, ultimately, with the Christian idea of mercy?

92 comments:

  1. Gut reaction? Wrong. Death penalty is used indiscriminately, for socially unacceptable reasons (getting even) masked as those with proven invalidity (rehabilitation) which doesn't affect others' recidivism.

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  2. There are many principles that must be looked at before we make blanket statements on Capital Punishment. First of all of the State's rights and duties must be taken into consideration, not just one of them. Keeping the moral order, exacting out just punishment is obligatory for any just State. Cardinal Dulles does a great job of looking at each of the principles involving Capital Punishment. All of them need to looked at in order to determine it legitimate use. In my onion JPII often overlooked the retributive side of things and leaned purely on innocents being safe from the criminal. Given his historical past we can probably deduce why this was the case. Here are some excerpts from the Cardinal's article on Capital Punishment.

    1. Rehabilitation- The sentence of death, however, can and sometimes does move the condemned person to repentance and conversion. There is a large body of Christian literature on the value of prayers and pastoral ministry for convicts on death row or on the scaffold. In cases where the criminal seems incapable of being reintegrated into human society, the death penalty may be a way of achieving the criminal's reconciliation with God.

    2. Defense against the criminal-Capital punishment is obviously an effective way of preventing the wrongdoer from committing future crimes and protecting society from him. (I would add that we need take into consideration the lives of the other prisoners and guards in the prisons as well. If they are not safe then it makes this reason a bit harder to justify in not using the death penalty)

    3.Deterrence- Sociological evidence on the deterrent effect of the death penalty as currently practiced is ambiguous, conflicting, and far from probative."

    4.Retribution- In principle, guilt calls for punishment. The graver the offense, the more severe the punishment ought to be. In Holy Scripture, as we have seen, death is regarded as the appropriate punishment for serious transgressions. Thomas Aquinas held that sin calls for the deprivation of some good, such as, in serious cases, the good of temporal or even eternal life. By consenting to the punishment of death, the wrongdoer is placed in a position to expiate his evil deeds and escape punishment in the next life. After noting this, St. Thomas adds that even if the malefactor is not repentant, he is benefited by being prevented from committing more sins.

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  3. Just for the record, I do not agree with the Cardinal's final analysis in the article, but I think he does a good job of putting together the necessary information concerning the subject. Again I think the mistake is made in thinking that just because the criminal is behind bars that everyone is safe from their actions. This is simply not the case, and again the penal system today may harden a criminal further over many years, rather than having them repent at their hour of death.

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  4. Red:

    RE: Justice and Mercy

    "but is it imprudent, often unjust, and at odds, ultimately, with the Christian idea of mercy?"

    CCC 2447" "The works of mercy are charitable actions by which we come to the aid of our neighbor in his spiritual and bodily necessities.242 Instructing, advising, consoling, comforting are spiritual works of mercy, as are forgiving and bearing wrongs patiently. The corporal works of mercy consist especially in feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and burying the dead.243 Among all these, giving alms to the poor is one of the chief witnesses to fraternal charity: it is also a work of justice pleasing to God:244"

    The Church teaches that the State has, under certain circumstances, a right to execute a convict (a right, the Church also teaches, that should be rarely exercised). This right does not contradict nor prevent our duty to exercise charity to the condemned and his family.

    God bless

    Richard W Comerford

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  5. "This right does not contradict nor prevent our duty to exercise charity to the condemned and his family. "

    Again you have to understand what charity is. This mentality where this life and this life alone is supreme is inherently problematic. In other words, just because a criminal gets to live does not meant that is the most charitable action to take. Spending years in the penal system has proven in a majority of cases to harden the criminal not bring about his conversion to Christ. Conversion to Christ is the aim, not necessarily how long he gets to live. Once again I bring up the forgotten others in prison including prison guards who are not deserving of being exposed to convicted criminals who have committed heinous crimes and who endanger their lives on a daily basis.

    Many have falsely turned retributive just punishment into vengeance, or as being against the law of charity, which is hardly the case. Scripture testifies to this fact.

    In the US there is no serious problem of people being put to death unjustly. From 1976-2008 only 1099 people have been put to death. Contrast that to the many people convicted of murder in the US in that time period. If anything the system is bankrupt in exercising the penalty to those who are sentenced to the punishment, by letting them sit on death row for 30 years. A perfect example is the professed satanist Richard Ramirez who has thus far escaped his just sentence of execution to which the crimes he committed he has never repented for. So far the charitable act of letting him live has not panned for this argument. He is still on death row and has been there since 1989. Ramírez was found guilty of 13 counts of murder, 5 attempted murders, 11 sexual assaults, and 14 burglaries. Tell me where the just punishment is? In my opinion there is no reason not to forgo the just sentence of Capital Punishment in this particular case.

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  6. My argument is that we cannot argue for the complete abolishment of the death penalty. In keeping with all of the rights and obligations of the State, and its authority to carry them out, there is no reasonable argument for this complete abolishment. In my opinion it has to be allowed for the just punishment (not vengeance) of serious crimes against humanity in order to keep the moral order in place.

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  7. RE: What is charity?

    "Again you have to understand what charity is."

    CCC 1822: "Charity is the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for his own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God."

    God bless

    Richard W Comerford

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  8. The key is finding out what is the most charitable thing to do overall, which includes all of the variables I supplied above. The salvation of the convicted souls is our true love for God, as well as the people who were offended. Therefore making the argument that it is more charitable for all parties involved is to keep them in alive in prison vs exacting the penalty, is a false argument. Finding a just punishment that also offers them the best opportunity to convert would be the best method. This is offered in many cases through the use of Capital Punishment. So the premise that keeping someone alive in prison is always more charitable to all parties involved vs the use of the death penalty is false.

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  9. "But if a guilty one merely lives out the rest of his life in prison--who, exactly, is harmed?"

    Have a look at exactly who is harmed (especially those who are innocent but convicted) by being in prison with violent offenders, including murderers, whom the church fantasizes are "rendered...incapable of doing harm":

    http://www.justdetention.org/en/listserv/2010/052510.aspx

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  10. My argument exactly. We need not only look at charity concerning the criminal, but all parties involved.

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  11. Mr. kkollwotz:

    I am not sure exactly who you mean by a "violent offender" but inmates convicted of murder are as likely to murder again in prison as any other convict. This is despite what is often depicted in the movies on this matter.

    I grew up in institutions. I also spent three years as a sworn officer serving on a Special Response Team which covered a prison which housed many violent offenders. In my experience the Church is exactly right in its teachings.

    Also, more importantly, as this is a matter of faith and morals the Church is guided in its teachings by the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity - in other words God.

    God is smarter than either you or me.

    God bless

    Richard W Comerford

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  12. "Also, more importantly, as this is a matter of faith and morals "

    More importantly, the matter of faith and morals concerning Catholicism in this matter is the definitive teaching that the Death Penalty is not inherently evil. Anyone who proclaims that the death penalty needs to be abolished absolutely is going against the Church's teaching, not the other way around.

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  13. I am not sure exactly who you mean by a "violent offender"

    I'm simply including murderers in the larger group of violent offenders.

    "but inmates convicted of murder are as likely to murder again in prison as any other convict."

    OK. I wasn't trying to comment on relative propensities to commit murder in prison, and didn't mean to suggest that.

    I agree God is smarter than me, and didn't intend to suggest otherwise.

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  14. Mr. kkollwitz:

    You, I think, are concerned with the protection of innocents in this matter. That concern is laudable. Indeed at first glance it would appear that the best way to protect innocents from further evil doing by inmates convicted of murder and other crimes is to simply execute the convicted murderers.

    However many, if not most, convicted murderers are model prisoners. Others spend decades on death row where their threat to innocents is greatly diminished. The great threat to corrections officers and other inmates is from gang members (power struggles) and nutters.

    Executing an inmate is expensive (very expensive - cheaper to house him for life). It is also very upsetting to the prison population and often produces more violence. And hanging over all of this is our justice system which in my opinion seldom gets anything right.

    The Church for all of its human faults has (on matters of faith and morals) both a lot of institutional wisdom; and, more importantly, is guided by the Holy Spirit.

    God bless

    Richard W Comerford

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  15. "Executing an inmate is expensive (very expensive - cheaper to house him for life)."

    This is a total untrue statement if the statistics are actually examined. It is not cheaper to house an inmate for life in a maximum security prison than to hang him on the scaffold or give him a lethal injection. The only reason it is more expensive in the system today is that these types of criminals have to be housed in special high security prisons over the course of many years because of their violent dispositions, which costs more money. It is a total misrepresentation of the statistics to say it is more expensive to exact the death penalty than not to. If they would go ahead and execute them after they have gone through one or two appeals over the course of couple of years, the cost would be far less than the 30 plus year stay on death row. The problem again is trying to house such high risk prisoners in a way in which the risks are minimal to both the guards and other prisoners, this is what costs so much money, not the actual exacting of the punishment. Yet another argument in favor of the death penalty in my opinion. This is a liberal manipulation of the statistics.

    Another problem is that the death penalty is not given but to those in the most extreme murder cases, and if it was carried out more liberally and expediently to more violent criminals, then the moral order would be much more stable than it is today. This especially should apply to violent gang members, to which the death penalty should be applied more frequently due to their obstinate wills that are often frequently turned towards committing unjust violent acts towards others both in and out of prison.

    The problem is that people could really care less if another prisoner is raped or beaten in prison. As long as the average joe can go home at night and have a beer and bowl of nachos and watch the ballgame without being disturbed by gunshots, then he doesn't really care if a lesser criminal is getting raped that evening by a violent prisoner. But God forbid that one of those violent criminals gets the just punishment of the death penalty! Then we all have to put on our "save the whale" hats and shirts so we can feel good about ourselves taking part in some humanitarian cause. I don't buy it.

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  16. RE: The Cost of Death

    IIRC back in the Dark Ages it cost the taxpayers about $25,000.00 a year to house an inmate in a medium security prison.

    The cost of executing a convict ran around $5 - 10 million to include the cost of:

    death apapratus
    building death apparatus facility
    maintaining apparatus and facility
    hiring, training and paying killing staff
    medical team and equipment
    over time for correctional officers
    Over time for bosses and their staffs
    PTSD treatment for killing staff
    overtime for outside law enforcement

    Then the death apparatus rarely functioned as advertised. It would have to be rebuilt, tested and the staff retrained.

    This, of course, does not factor in the enormous and seemingly endless legal bills due to challenges and Court reviews. Have to keep those lawyers employed!

    God bless

    Richard W Comerford

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  17. A rope and scaffold doesn't cost much to construct.

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  18. RE: Hanging

    In the USA execution by death by hanging has faced numerous, successful legal challenges under the "cruel and unusual" clause. Only two States still allow hanging and only as a backup procedure.

    God bless

    Richard W Comerford

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  19. Great discussion--but let's all stay civil, please.

    I'd like to direct things back to the Catechism for a moment. The Catechism says, in effect, that if lesser means than execution are sufficient to protect the innocent, those means ought to be employed. I don't think that we can translate that into, "If it's cheaper to kill criminals we owe it to society to take the cheaper option."

    I also think we need to examine the question of why inmates kill, attack, etc. while in prison--are we doing enough to stop these things, or could we do better? In other words, if the inmates in a prison aren't safe from the worst offenders, are there ways to create that safety without needing to resort to execution?

    I think the way the Catechism discusses this invites us to look more deeply at this question than merely to consign the condemned to death. Certainly, the reality that innocent people have, and continue to be, arrested, convicted, and even executed should give us pause when we discuss the execution of prisoners.

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  20. I personally do not think the fact that a very small percentage of innocent people are executed by mistake is a strong argument for not having the death penalty. There are even a larger number of innocent people serving long term prison sentences. This hardly warrants us abolishing long term prison sentences. No legal system is ever going to be perfect, or 100% in its assessment of such things. The larger problem I see is the system in which the death penalty is carried out in the US. It is not efficiently carried out. People should not be on death row for decades. They either need to put the criminals through the process or forget it. Richard Ramirez is able to receive conjugal visits from his prison wedded wife who was a "fan" of his. They either need to kill him and exact the just punishment he deserves to they need to quit wasting tax payer money on him on death row.

    As far as the money goes to keep them in prison, that must also be taken into consideration. We must look at what is just. It is unjust for the innocent people of a social state to have to pay extraordinary costs to imprison hardened murderers who have taken innocent life. Although I do not think it should be a top priority, it should be taken into consideration. Millions of dollars are spent of our hard earned money to house heinous criminals, while that money could go to other purposes.

    As far as the Catechism goes, again I think it is not addressing the rest of the principles involved in any depth. If the only reason to exact the death penalty is for the sake of protecting others, then that might be a good argument, but as it stands the Church herself has laid a series of principles that must all be taken into account, and not just one of them.

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  21. Red:

    RE: Inmate Violence

    "I also think we need to examine the question of why inmates kill, attack, etc. while in prison--are we doing enough to stop these things, or could we do better?"

    Original sin. Convicted offenders found guilty of assault in prison often have a record of assault before they were incarcerated. Currently (so I am told) the bosses handle inmate violence with a combination drugs and isolation.

    Back in the early Dark Ages many prisons were run on the "penitentiary" model wherein prisoners were expected to do "penance" for their sins. A monastic silence was rigidly enforced (the word "cell" derives from this theory). An equally rigid time schedule was maintained. Inmates were expected to do extensive manual labor. Many county prisons had large farms worked by inmates which actually supported and paid for the prison. The prison itself was architecturally designed to produce a communal experience.

    The old prisons were actually psychologically pleasant although often too hot, cold wet etc. The modern ones, although, environmentally controlled, are frightening.

    If you review the old prison disciplinary logs the principal offense was breaking silence. Violence was relatively rare.

    God bless

    Richard W Comerford

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  22. As to R.W.C.'s post on May 30, 4:35 AM m

    The old system was ordered as monastic environment? Was that common? That's very interesting, and I can see why it would be both abandoned and vilified in favor of the new prisons.

    Compare that to Peer I or other similar parole programs that are a union of Kafka and Clockwork orange where the parolees are prepared for the outside world by an insane regiment of nonsensical ordeals.

    The first operates on the dignity of men while the second prepares men to suffer indignities by habituating them to suffering the continuous bizarre indignities so that they won't react when in the world.

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  23. Where did I say anything about "torturing" people to death as demonstrated in the link you provided above? I merely stated what the Church teaches, and that is that the Death Penalty is not intrinsically evil. Therefore it is moral under appropriate circumstances for the State to exact the death penalty. As far as the torture aspect of putting someone to death via Capital Punishment, there is no getting around that fact, hence the reason why all "torture" cannot be intrinsically evil by absolute definition. Anyone who undergoes the Death Penalty will be subjected to some form of mental or physical "torture" (Coercion of the Spirit) before or during the actual event of being executed. This is a fact that is not even contested, so we must be very clear when we start throwing terms around like "torture". So far no one is willing to even discuss this fact. They would rather attack me via ad-hominem rather than rationally looking at the argument I presented.

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  24. love the girls:

    "The old system was ordered as monastic environment? Was that common?"

    Yes; but I do not think universal. The old prison we covered was built around 1880 on these principals. Every inmate had his own "cell". Silence was the rule except for recreation. Each cell had a window facing outside and the cell door faced to the interior and the other cells creating a communal effect.

    Manual labor was required of every prisoner according to his abilities. The inmates subsisted on food they produced. The large prion farm and other projects paid for the prison.

    The new prison, which was built while I served on the SRT, is literally sealed like a spaceship. It is modern, efficient and inhuman.

    God bless

    Richard W Comerford

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  25. Matthew, I want to address what you wrote above. It seems like you are making an argument that says:

    a. Torture is that which coerces body, mind, and spirit.

    b. The death penalty involves the coercion of the body, mind, and spirit.

    c. The death penalty is morally acceptable (under some circumstances).

    d. Therefore, torture must be morally acceptable, and not intrinsically evil.

    I think there is a flaw in that reasoning, particularly as regards point "a." Many things which involve the coercion of the body, mind, and spirit are not necessarily torture. A person undergoing a battlefield medically-necessary amputation will experience all of these things; he may even need to be physically restrained, and he may shout "No, no!" in the depths of his pain. But he is not being tortured, not if the *purpose* of the amputation is to remove a hopelessly damaged limb in an attempt to save his life.

    With the death penalty, the situation involves the state's legitimate right to punish up to and including death, AND the state's legitimate interest in protecting society. Torture that is directly willed for its own sake, used against persons who have had no trial and been convicted of no crime is an abuse of the state's authority, and the compelling interest to protect society does not apply when the threat posed by the torture victim has not been legally ascertained.

    To look at a similar line of reasoning in regard to abortion, consider that some abortion proponents would argue:

    a. Abortion is that which ends the life of a developing human being.

    b. Removal of a cancerous uterus can and sometimes does kill a developing human being.

    c. Yet the Church permits the removal of a cancerous uterus even if the woman is pregnant.

    d. Thus, the Church permits abortion in *some* circumstances.

    e. Therefore, abortion is not intrinsically evil, but may be moral in some circumstances.

    In this example, again, it is the definition which is too broad; in fact, this definition would include miscarriage as a category of "abortion" (and medically speaking it is even called "spontaneous abortion"). If we start with a working definition that says that abortion is the direct, intentionally killing of an innocent human being in a state of early development at some point prior to birth we will come much closer to the truth.

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  26. Thanks for your thoughts Red,

    Red says, "Many things which involve the coercion of the body, mind, and spirit are not necessarily torture"

    John Paul II defined it that way in his encyclical Veritatis Splendor, "physical and mental torture and attempts to coerce the spirit" that you keep using. This is the problem, there is no sound working definition in the Thomistic sense for what does and does not constitute "torture" in the Catholic Church. All we have are specific examples that the Church has given like the abuse of prisoners and so forth, not a specific definition of the word "torture". The examples I have given in earlier posts, where the State defends an innocent life by an action of self defense, to my knowledge has never been given by the Church as an example of "torture." If you are going to use JPII's encyclical as an infallible rule for banning all torture, then you have to use his definition that he clearly stated in his encyclical as well, and you and I both know that his definition is not specific enough to ban all "torture".

    Remember, it is not the intention that makes something intrinsically evil or not, it is the actual action itself. So, abortion (the direct killing of innocent life) is always intrinsically evil. The Church does not permit abortion under any circumstances, in that you are wrong. For example, a tubal ligation is not an "abortion" and it is not an action of an abortion, the loss of the innocent human life is simply a consequence of double effect, or as in your example above, "Yet the Church permits the removal of a cancerous uterus even if the woman is pregnant," but the death of innocent life was never intended, and so the act of an actual abortion never took place by definition.

    The death penalty is not a consequence of double effect. Its end result is intended. When the Death Penalty is exacted it is for the intended killing of a guilty person for the just punishment of their actions. When a tubal ligation is performed it is not done for the intended killing of an innocent. So the two examples cannot be compared in the manner that you did so above.

    In order for double effect to be used these 4 principles must be followed.

    1. the action to be performed must be good in itself, or at least indifferent. (So here we see that abortion is never justified, while the Death Penalty is justified.)

    2.The evil effect must not be directly intended for itself but only permitted to happen as an accidental by-product of the act performed. (So the loss of the fetus in a tubal ligation happens as an accidental byproduct of another intended direct action, the removal of the cancer. This is not what happens when the death penalty is used, death and all that comes with it is intended.)

    3. The good intended must not be obtained by means of the evil effects. (So again, you cannot do an evil so that a good may come from it. You cannot intend to kill a fetus, while you "the State" can intend to kill a guilty person.)

    4. There must be a reasonably grave reason for permitting the evil effect. (The cancer of the uterus is going to kill the person for example.)

    So it is my argument that "torture", "physical and mental torture and attempts to coerce the spirit" is justified in and cannot be intrinsically evil as defined by JPII. It can be used by the State for certain purposes. The Death Penalty and Self Defense are two such intended purposes in which I believe it can be done. This is my position until I can find a real Catholic Thomistic scholar to argue soundly otherwise. As always, I am open to hearing objections.

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  27. To understand my argument I recommend checking out this Thomistic course given by a Thomistic scholar on this very topic. It is a 3 hour course in MP3 form and its only 15 bucks. It is worth every penny. If you really want to dig into these types of subjects you have to understand some basic principles. I do not claim to be an expert on this stuff, I am still learning.

    Scroll down to the course,
    Thumbscrews and Guillotines: on the morality of torture and the death penalty.

    http://www.sapientisinstitute.org/crashcourses/pastcrashcourses.html

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  28. A reader pointed out via email that I was careless when I wrote the following:

    "Torture that is directly willed for its own sake, used against persons who have had no trial and been convicted of no crime is an abuse of the state's authority, and the compelling interest to protect society does not apply when the threat posed by the torture victim has not been legally ascertained."

    I in no way meant to imply that it's fine to torture a convicted criminal under a TTB or any other scenario. I was simply addressing the usual rationale for torture (e.g., we need info from some suspected terrorists who have NOT been properly arrested or charged with anything, and are NOT being considered prisoners of war and thus protected, etc.). In other words, the protections of due process don't permit torture, and I don't think they ever should.

    What I should have said was simply that whatever coercion of the spirit, mental or emotional pain, etc. caused by incarceration is not torture, and trying to conflate the two is problematic to say the least. We can say that torture is intrinsically evil without defining torture as *all* pain or coercion caused to a prisoner or detainee; we can also say that *all* abortion is intrinsically evil without defining abortion in such a way that precludes the removal of a pregnant woman's cancerous uterus.

    Hopefully that is clearer.

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  29. I agree with many things Matthew says. For example, I think that the State (and its agents, e.g. the prosecutor, judge, and executioner) most definitely intend the death of the guilty party when the death penalty is carried out, and therefore the principle of double-effect does not apply. That is OK: that is how it is and ought to be. Some people do argue otherwise; I think their arguments strain credulity, to say the least, and are just the sort of thing that give some kinds of Catholic casuistry a deservedly bad name. Executing the guilty is not intrinsically immoral, because the basic principle is that it is always and intrinsically immoral for even the public authority to kill the innocent, that is, those who have not chosen attacking behaviors.

    Sometimes, it is morally permissible for the public authority to kill the guilty - those who have chosen attacking behaviors - on purpose. Doing so is not intrinsically immoral.

    I also agree that "it is not the intention that makes something intrinsically evil or not, it is the actual [chosen] action itself." Far too many people, including whole schools of modern moral theology, make strained attempts to avoid this fact: I reiterate my comment about casuistry.

    A few observations, though:

    1) The church does not provide a single, authoritative, precise and complete definition of torture.

    2) On the other hand, the Church also does not provide a single, authoritative, precise, and complete definition of abortion. That is what gives rise to, for example, this recent discussion, and many, many others like it.

    3) Despite (2), the Church nevertheless clearly teaches the intrinsic immorality of abortion.

    4) Despite (1), the Church nevertheless clearly teaches the intrinsic immorality of torture.

    5) (1) does not prevent us from concluding without any doubt that some of the things done by the US in the "war on terror" were in fact deliberate intrinsically immoral acts of torture.

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  30. "1) The church does not provide a single, authoritative, precise and complete definition of torture."

    I agree with this statement.

    "2) On the other hand, the Church also does not provide a single, authoritative, precise, and complete definition of abortion. That is what gives rise to, for example, this recent discussion, and many, many others like it."

    I do not agree with the above statement. One, the Church defines abortion as the direct action of taking an innocent human life before that innocent life is born. "In it the fetus dies while yet within the generative organs of the mother, or it is ejected or extracted from them before it is viable; that is, before it is sufficiently developed to continue its life by itself." Henceforth any direct actions that causes this to happen is an abortion. The people arguing in that article did not understand the principle of double effect, which is an unintended consequence of another direct action. As I outlined above, this principle is also clearly defined and not every action that saves a mother's life that results in the innocents death can be classified as the byproduct of double effect. Remember, the direct action that causes the death of the innocent life would qualify under the proper definition, even if the action saved the mother's life.

    "3) Despite (2), the Church nevertheless clearly teaches the intrinsic immorality of abortion."

    Yes it does because any direct action that causes the loss of innocent life is intrinsically evil, and therefore cannot be done.

    "4) Despite (1), the Church nevertheless clearly teaches the intrinsic immorality of torture."

    It does if we can find out what that is. I cannot find out what that direct action is that is supposed to be defined as being intrinsically evil. To say that torture is intrinsically evil leaves us in a state of having to define what "torture" actually is. If something is intrinsically evil, then by definition any direct execution of that actual ac cannot be done. Is it an inordinate amount of physical or mental pain inflicted on someone by another in every circumstance the action that cannot be done? I do not think we can use that definition. What about JPII's definition of it being a physical or mental coercion of the spirit? Again it is too broad ranging and problematic. Is it more likely a coercion that is done unjustly? Now I think we are getting closer, we just have to find out what would be the just and unjust use of this coercion. I think Thomistic reasoning gives us those answers.

    "5) (1) does not prevent us from concluding without any doubt that some of the things done by the US in the "war on terror" were in fact deliberate intrinsically immoral acts of torture. "

    I agree with this statement because I think we could deduce that immoral acts of physical or mental coercion were used by the US. Two principles it seems were violated, 1: It seems they used this coercion on people who were not known to be guilty and 2: who were not in the actual act of actually carrying out or had not put into play, an attack against innocent lives that the State had a duty to protect against.

    Again, if you are truly interested in this subject I cannot recommend the course to you enough that I posted the link to above. I think it will clear things up a bit for everyone. In order to rationally discuss these fine points of moral theology I think that St. Thomas offers the best means to arrive at the conclusions we are all looking for.

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  31. I had written a longer reply which, alas, got lost in the ether; so this will have to do, I'm afraid:

    I do not agree with the above statement.

    Shelves full of books and papers discussing abortion 'hard cases', as well as deafening Magisterial silence on the particulars (e.g. salpingostomy/salpingectomy, etc) despite some theologians' attempts to claim that "the Church teaches" their opinons, beg to differ.

    There is no single, authoritative, precise, and complete "definition" of abortion which manifestly settles every conceivable hard case.

    Furthermore, the use made of endless quests for such definitions in these kinds of discussions is in my view misguided; I refer to the dysfunction which motivates such quests as Magisterial positivism, or the appeal to finer detail.

    And while I appreciate the suggestion of some particular video course for $15, I respectfully decline. I'm a book guy - I've read many books and papers on this and related subjects, as well as participated in many discussions on the subject. Videos drive me crazy, because I have to follow along at whatever snails pace the presenter provides. And while it is certainly possible that there is some unique insight in the video that I haven't seen before, I'll still probably do the opposite of the usual modern thing and wait for the book.

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  32. Zippy, I appreciate your comments here so much; I had wondered about the application of double effect to self-defense, the death penalty, and even just war, and what you write clarifies the matter tremendously.

    As I see it, one difference between the death penalty and torture is this: it is not, as you write, intrinsically immoral for a legitimate State authority to carry out the death penalty--but it may still be immoral in specific instances (e.g., if the State has not duly considered the suspected criminal's guilt or innocence, or if the State executes criminals indiscriminately or for offenses that are not particularly grave, etc.). It is, however, immoral for the State to torture someone, because torture is intrinsically evil and can never be moral.

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  33. "There is no single, authoritative, precise, and complete "definition" of abortion which manifestly settles every conceivable hard case."

    Not true since the actual of taking an innocent life directly is always wrong, period. That is what makes it intrinsically evil. The action can be clearly defined here. Not so with torture.

    Torture cannot be intrinsically evil unless you can tell me what that actual act is that is intrinsically evil. Again, is it extreme physical or mental violence? You have to be able to tell me what the actual act is that is intrinsically evil in order for it to be evil in all circumstances. If abortion equals the taking of an innocent life by a direct act, (The loss of before it is born) then it has been defined far enough to know what the actual act is that is intrinsically evil, (the taking of innocent human life). This is simple. That act is wrong in all circumstances period. Double effect is not the direct taking of a human life and so it does not fall into the same definition. So here to make it easy for you..taking of innocent human life = intrinsic evil act and cannot be done. Please give me a similar equation for torture.

    In order to say that torture is evil you would at least have to define it to a point to where someone knows what the actual act consists of. Again is it all extreme physical and mental coercion? Yes or no? As we have seen the answer is no, so that in and of itself is not intrinsically evil. There are circumstances which govern whether or not it is moral or not, and so I see here no one action that can be defined as being intrinsically evil. It is completely circumstantial as to whether or not it is moral, not depending on secondary action. As far as logic goes this seems to defeat the definition of it being intrinsically evil.

    Red says, "It is, however, immoral for the State to torture someone, because torture is intrinsically evil and can never be moral. "

    Then you have to define torture Red because as I have proven, a man walking to the gallows or to the electric chair is going to suffer greatly in both respects physically and mentally and it is not falling under the laws of double effect. It is an intended action. So here is the question, to which many others have been cursed at for asking. I will not mention names. Give me the definition of what torture is that makes it intrinsically evil. What is the actual act that can never be done? Just saying "torture" and quoting an Encyclical does not work. There has to be a certain action defined that is always wrong under every circumstance, like "the taking of innocent human life." For example it may be defined as, "the physical or mental abuse of innocent human life," or something of that nature. Then we can move on further.

    Zippy wrote, "And while I appreciate the suggestion of some particular video course for $15, I respectfully decline."

    I never said it was a video, I said it was an MP3. You can download it and listen to in your car. If you want a Thomistic view of the issue and you want to be informed about it then I would check it out because I do not know of any books, and I have a ton of them, that deal with this issue as in depth as the MP3 class does.

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  34. Matthew:

    Again, your whole approach rests on several false premises:

    1) that there is a single, precise, authoritative, complete chunk of text (definition) for abortion which renders every hard case immediately perspicuous; (you keep saying that there is one, but the one you keep asserting - without citing the Magisterium - is manifestly incapable of distinguishing between hard cases e.g. salpingostomy/salpingectomy, which by the way can themselves be broken down further)

    2) that while there is one of these things for abortion there isn't one for torture;

    3) that it is impossible for a concrete act of a person to be intrinsically immoral absent the chunk of authoritative text which performs the function you say it performs.

    All of these premises are false.

    Obviously, since I disagree with your whole understanding and approach to the issue it doesn't help to just repeat yourself.

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  35. My whole approach is resting on the principles of Thomistic reasoning, so no it is not based on a false premise. It is intrinsacally evil to directly take the life of an inocent human being, that is always wrong, hence abotion is wrong, period. The exmaples you used above pertain to Double Effect, not whether or not taking an innocent life is always wrong. That is clearly defined. I am repeating myself becasue you do not seem to grasp these basic principles needed to define moral and immoral acts.

    Secondly I made the mistake of allowing self defnse to be used as a reason for the Death Penalty. This is false since by definition self defense pertains to stopping an unjust attack that is actually taking place. The death peanlty does not fall into that definition. It is done for just retributive punishment, to keep the moral order of society and to stop further agrression by a person already guilty of grave crimes in the past, which is not self defense. You can disagree with me, and that is fine, but I do not see a definition of what is intrinsicaly evil concerning torture. Unless you can give it some sort of intelligible definition then it is impossible to classify it as being intrinsically evil. The State can inflict extreme physical or metnal pain for the sole purpose of just punishment, this eliminates physical or mental coercion in and of itself as being intriscally evil. Torture has to be defined as something other than that.

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  36. My whole approach is resting on the principles of Thomistic reasoning, so no it is not based on a false premise.

    Well, now you are just attempting to appropriate St. Thomas prestige for your own arguments, it seems to me. Even if St. Thomas had made the precise kind of comparative epistemic argument between abortion and torture that you are making, which he didn't, his prestige wouldn't make a bad argument into a good argument.

    Your whole approach depends on there being a categorical difference between the epistemic status of - our capacity to recognize - acts of torture and acts of abortion: on the former being an ineffable mystery, while the latter is defined in a single, authoritative, precise, and complete way which makes all supposed hard cases perspicuous.

    That premise is, indeed, false.

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  37. No it is not false. No rational argument can be made in defining an act as being intrisically evil without defining what the actual act is. That is proposterous, and no one in their right mind can make such an argument. What is torture? Please define that actual act that is intrisically evil. Abortion equals the direct taking of an innocent life which is always wrong. What is the wrong being defined in the act of "torture" that is always wrong in every circumstance?

    First of all it seems that when someone hears the word torture they already have preconcieved ideas of what torture is. You have to define an act before you make claims defining the act as being intrinsically evil. So far none of you have defined it. Is any act of physical or mental suffering imposed upon someone against their will, defined as torture? Again, no. This however is the definition the UN uses which has been adopted by some in the Church. If you can't recognize what the act is and define it in some reasonable way, then you cant say its always evil. This is common sense.

    Torture is usually defined as a physical or mental coercion of the will inflicted against someone who cannot defend themselves from it. Are you going to say that that act is intrisicalaly evil? I don't think you want to go there. Causing pain is not an intrinsic immoral action. When someone is incapable of being persuaded by reason, then other means such as pain or physical means can be used. Hence putting someone in the hole for 60 days for the refusal to refrain from physical violence in prison is justified physical coercion. Since all punishment given by the State involves some sort of involuntary coercion of the will then that cannot be intrinsically evil. The State's right to punish allows the above definition to be permitted under certain circumstances, hence under this basic definition I gave above, torture is not intrinsically evil.

    Also the State can use the same type of physical or mental coercion to stop an action already put in motion by an apprehended guilty person who is actively putting the lives of innocents at risk. Again, please listen to the MP3 I referenced above if you really want to understand where I am coming from. It is the best 3 hours you can spend if you want to actually discuss this issue from a traditional Thomistic viewpoint. It does not seem like you are understanding my postion, or I am not explaining it well enough.

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  38. This specifically:
    The exmaples you used above pertain to Double Effect, not whether or not taking an innocent life is always wrong.

    ... is also just wrong. The reason I raised the (classic in moral theology texts) salpingostomy/salpingectomy distinction in treating ectopic pregnancy is precisely that in the opinion of many (though far from all) moral theologians, double effect doesn't apply to the former, since it is an intrinsically immoral abortion, and does apply to the latter, since it isn't; and that, despite researching and debating the subject for many years now, nobody has ever produced an authoritative Magisterial adjudication of the question.

    (My own view on the specific question, FWIW, is that many are far too quick to accept salpingectomy as morally licit pretty much any time an ectopic pregnancy is detected: that it is probably, in my view, not morally licit until rupture occurs and the child is already dead. I don't claim Magisterial warrant for my view, though, because there isn't any Magisterial source which adjudicates between my view and other views).

    More generally, I think there are things we can say which will positively identify torture or abortion, but which do not exhaustively define all possible instances of torture or abortion. So, for example, any act which deliberately tears the living body of an unborn child to pieces and kills her is an abortion; any act which deliberately inflicts extreme torment on a prisoner repeatedly, with as far as the prisoner knows no end in sight until he relents and gives up information, is an act of torture. Any act positively identified by those criteria is an act of abortion and torture, respectively.

    However, neither of those are exhaustive definitions: there are unquestionably acts of abortion and acts of torture which do not meet those specific criteria. When it comes to exhaustive definitions which perspicuously settle every hard case, well, we don't have any. I'm personally inclined to think that they are not possible: that it is in the nature of descriptive language to be incomplete. Which is to say, I am not a positivist, a believer in sola scriptura or sola dictionary or sola summa or anything like it.

    But whatever one's linguistic and epistemic views, the fact is that, whether they are possible in principle or not, we don't actually possess a single, authoritative, precise, and complete definition capable of perspicuously resolving every hard case for either torture or abortion.

    So any argument premised on possessing such a thing for abortion and and not possessing one for torture, rests on a false premise.

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  39. Matthew: FWIW, I think you and I agree about a lot of things. The discussion naturally focuses on what we disagree about; but that doesn't mean we don't agree about a great deal more than we disagree about.

    There is a fundamental mistake in your methodology, though, when you claim, in effect, that X (in this case torture) cannot be intrinsically immoral unless we are first in possession of a single, authoritative, precise, and complete definition of X. Even if reality worked in a way which made that kind of claim coherent - which I don't think it does, FWIW - the actual facts don't support the claim. We don't have such a definition for either abortion or torture.

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  40. I suppose I should mention that this claim of mine:

    any act which deliberately tears the living body of an unborn child to pieces and kills her is an abortion

    ... is disputed by reputable moral theologians. Grisez, for example, claims that performing a craniotomy on a live infant is not in every case an abortion. That is the sort of thing I am referring to when I talk about the sort of Catholic casuistry which justly gets a bad name -- I am tempted to just shake these people until they look up from their desks and pay attention to what they are actually saying.

    But that's just me.

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  41. I don't know if this will help or hinder the discussion. :) But when we speak of intrinsic evil, there are some which are not defined solely by the act, are there not?

    I am thinking, for instance, of rape and incest, which the Catechism specifically says are intrinsically evil. But what is the act? It is an act or acts of sexual contact, including (but not always) intercourse. Rape is often forcible--but not always (e.g. statutory rape) while incest may or may not be forceful at all, so merely referring to the force of the act is not enough to determine its morality or immorality. Some instances of rape or incest involve acts which, if they are engaged in by lawfully married couples, are not sinful at all; other instances of rape or incest may involve acts which are unlawful regardless of who is engaging in them.

    So if the intrinsic evil of a thing refers only to the *act* itself, regardless of external circumstances etc., how can the sexual contact of rape or incest be sinful, while the same sexual contact between lawful spouses is not? And what about a situation in which a woman is raped by her husband--or does the moral law, recognizing sexual activity between spouses as lawful, forbid the possibility that a wife could ever be raped by her husband?

    In other words, how do we define "rape" or "incest" in such a way that we are focusing on the act itself, without declaring legitimate sexual contact between spouses intrinsically evil? The Catechism really doesn't offer a thorough, exhaustive definition of either that would account for the hard cases (e.g., non-forcible rape, incest by people other than parents, etc.).

    If we can't come up with a definition that refers to the act in such a way as to make it clear, regardless of any circumstances, what it is we are talking about, and if we can't do so further in such a way as to distinguish clearly between married sexual activity and rape/incest, and if we can't account for all the hard cases that might not fit our definition (e.g., the rape of a mentally handicapped person which does not involve force, say, or the act of incest committed between first cousins who are unaware of the relationship)--well, then can we really call either rape or incest "intrinsically evil" as the Catechism quite clearly does?

    Frankly, I think most people would answer that they don't need some sort of exhaustive definition--that they *know* what constitutes rape, and what constitutes incest, and are able to condemn both as intrinsically evil. So how is it different for torture?

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  42. In other words, how do we define "rape" or "incest" in such a way that we are focusing on the act itself, without declaring legitimate sexual contact between spouses intrinsically evil?

    My response, FWIW:

    It is important, when considering the objective facts about an act, not to inadvertently take a physicalist approach to what we mean by facts. The fact that the rape victim is unwilling is an objective fact, known to the acting subject when he chooses his behavior: not a physical fact, but a fact nonetheless. The fact that the adulterous liason is not with his spouse is a known, objective fact. And the fact that he is related to his incestuous partner is a known, objective fact. Physical facts are only one kind of fact.

    Distinguishing between known facts and intentions seems to me to be pretty straightforward: the object of the act is made up of known objective facts about the behavior chosen, independent of goals or intentions.

    The trickier thing for me is distinguishing between circumstantial facts and intrinsic facts.

    I can come up with examples I think are pretty clear. The fact that the enemy is on the other side of the hill is a circumstantial fact when the officer orders his men to charge, so even though he knows some of his men will be killed by the enemy he doesn't choose for them to be killed: the enemy on the other side of the hill is a circumstantial fact with respect to his chosen behavior, ordering his men to charge. When the abortionist hacks the living body of the child to pieces the presence of the living child is an intrinsic fact to the behavior the abortionist is choosing. So I can look at particular cases and often it is clear that some facts are intrinsic while others are circumstantial. But I don't have a general rule for determining which facts are intrinsic and which are circumstances.

    (There is also the matter of formal cooperation with evil, which is intending an evil act which is itself - the evil act - performed by someone else. This is just as morally wrong as performing the evil act onesself, and often the distinction isn't made: hiring a hit man is technically formal cooperation with murder, but we would generally just refer to the person who hired the hit man as a murderer).

    In general though partisans tend to - consciously or otherwise - treat issues like these tendentiously: when completeness and certainty serve the partisan end they are overstated; when ineffable mystery serves the partisan end it is overstated. Thus, in this discussion, abortion is presumed to be defined with completeness and certainty while torture is an ineffable mystery.

    In reality of course all of life is part mystery and part vivid certainty, though even then certainty doesn't mean "completely defined in a language".

    So at the end of the day, I very much agree with this summation:

    ... most people would answer that they don't need some sort of exhaustive definition--that they *know* what constitutes rape, and what constitutes incest, and are able to condemn both as intrinsically evil [without a single, authoritative, precise, and complete definition which perspicuously resolves all hard cases].

    Sometimes deliberately and sometimes unconsciously, mystery or knowledge is selectively overemphasized because of the conclusions which that overemphasis supports.

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  43. "There is a fundamental mistake in your methodology, though, when you claim, in effect, that X (in this case torture) cannot be intrinsically immoral unless we are first in possession of a single, authoritative, precise, and complete definition of X. "

    You have to at least grant a fundamental definition for torture. It cannot be some nebulous vague idea floating around in the universe as if we will know it when we see it. The example you brought up pertaining to salpingectomy is a debate over when the act of taking the fallopian tube out is morally acceptable, not whether or not the fundamental definition of killing an innocent human being is up for grabs, there is the fundamental difference. The direct act of killing an innocent human being is not debatable, when another direct act that has a consequence by double effect as to when it can be done is not part of the definition of the direct act. At this point you have not even given a partial definition of what constitutes the intrinsic immoral act of torture.

    "... is disputed by reputable moral theologians. Grisez,"

    Grisez is a "New Natural Law" theorist, and lacks some serous principles of traditional natural law. The New Natural Law guys, while they have some good things to say are not solid in their reasoning concerning the moral act. They have caused more confusion for people than they have been an agent for solid moral teaching and they were as a majority overturned by the Church recently when the debate was settled concerning embryo adoption for frozen embryos. The traditional Thomists got it right, and the Church sided with them, the majority of the New Natural Law guys got it wrong.

    Red, rape by definition by the Catechism is "the forcible violation of the sexual intimacy of another person." So it is pretty clear cut. You still have to apply moral principles to each case to determine if the act was by force or not. This would be the qualifying factor. Again, all I am asking for is a similar definition for torture, and I have yet to get anything even close. It has to do with mental and physical coercion, but there has to be a determining factor that makes it immoral or not. I believe that the just or unjust use of this coercion is the determining factor, but I cannot get anyone here to admit this as of yet. Once we get that far then we can use Thomistic principles to further determine when and how this coercion can be used justly, and when it is unjust.

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  44. So, Matthew, if a male hospital orderly non-forcibly has sexual intercourse with a comatose female patient, that's not rape, and thus not intrinsically evil?

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  45. Red,

    How is that relevant?

    Thanks

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  46. The act of sexual intercourse must contain informed consent, otherwise it is an act of force.

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  47. Obviously the comatose patient is being forced into the sexual act without her consent, so it falls into the category of force since there is obviously no consent. It would be the same with someone under the age of consent, the opposite of consent is force.

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  48. When you have an actual definition to work with you can use sound Thomistic reasoning to figure these things out, when you don't, you can't.

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  49. Ah, so, wait--we said that rape is forcible sex, and now we're saying that "force" means "lack of consent?"

    I've never seen "force" defined that way. Are you sure that's the proper Catholic definition of "force?" And if it isn't, why, how can we ever possibly know what rape is?

    (Yes, slight sarcasm here.)

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  50. Yes, by definition if someone does not consent to an act then it is forced. Again, the Church has given a plausible definition of rape, can you give a similar one for torture? This is the question.

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  51. You have to at least grant a fundamental definition for torture. It cannot be some nebulous vague idea floating around in the universe as if we will know it when we see it.

    I do grant that; just as I have and would grant fundamental definitions for, say, pornography, the production of which is also intrinsically immoral.

    In a previous comment I went beyond that and stated how to identify certain acts as definitely torture. Your insistence that you just haven't been given anything to work with is becoming a wee bit ... strained.

    ... the Church has given ...

    There is a whole lotta "the Church has given" in this discussion without any actual citation of the Magisterium.

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  52. "So I can look at particular cases and often it is clear that some facts are intrinsic while others are circumstantial. But I don't have a general rule for determining which facts are intrinsic and which are circumstances."

    You have to have principles to determine which are and which are not immoral acts. I think we can determine that there are certain times that the State can exact physical or mental pain upon someone who cannot defend themselves for a particular just reasons, they are for just punishment and for self defense. It is in this respect that either torture as defined in this manner (physical or mental pain and coercion against a person who cannot defend himself) is not intrinsically evil, or torture is defined as something other than that.

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  53. What is Torture?

    The 1949 Geneva Conventions provide in exhaustive detail protections to both soldiers and civilians. Both the Vatican and the USA are signatories. The Conventions also provide the groundwork for US Army Field Manual 34-52 which forbids the mistreatment, torture (to include water boarding so beloved by every tuff guy) and inhumane treatment of prisoners. In case of doubt FM 34-52 counsels soldiers to treat enemy prisoners the way they would like to be treated if the roles were reversed. The Catholic Church, based on the divine command to love our enemy, requires the faithful to treat prisoners humanely.

    (It is interesting to note that Catholic advocates for the other intrinsic evils of sodomy, abortion and artificial contraception also, like the advocates of torture, play words games with definitions.)

    God bless

    Richard W Comerford

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  54. So it applies only to the mistreatment of prisoners? If that is the case then torture is not off limits in all cases, only when prisoners are abused. I don't think that definition will work unless you want to confine it to that setting alone. If we do that then we can physically coerce someone in self defense since that is not an abuse of a prisoner. Is that the definition we all want to go with?

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  55. "(It is interesting to note that Catholic advocates for the other intrinsic evils of sodomy, abortion and artificial contraception also, like the advocates of torture, play words games with definitions.)"

    It is interesting to note that when someone does not have an argument, they resort to ad-hominem fallacies to make themselves feel better.

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  56. Matthew:

    Since the Church teaches that torture is intrinsically immoral -- I provided a link to an article riddled with Magisterial citations above -- if you are having problems understanding it as such, those problems most likely mean you ought to re-think your approach.

    On the other hand I gave you very concrete criteria above:

    any act which deliberately inflicts extreme torment on a prisoner repeatedly, with as far as the prisoner knows no end in sight until he relents and gives up information, is an act of torture

    There are, of course, other kinds of torture which fall outside this criteria: sadistic torture, for example. But this criteria definitely and always identifies an act as torture.

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  57. "any act which deliberately inflicts extreme torment on a prisoner repeatedly, with as far as the prisoner knows no end in sight until he relents and gives up information, is an act of torture"

    That definition cannot stand as being intrinsically evil. It fails because the just acts of punishment and self defense by the State both fall into this category. I have confirmed the following with a Thomistic scholar as being a legitimate act of self defense.

    Scenario: Joe is pulled over by highway patrolman. The officer finds that he has a girl in the car with him that has recently gone missing. They take Joe to the police station where Joe admits to the state authorities that he has kidnapped several girls, and he admits that he has another girl in an undisclosed location who is locked in a closet with no access to food and water. Can the state authorities use physical or mental coercion on Joe, until Joe decides to tell where he has the other girl who will certainly die unless found?

    The answer is yes the State can. They can use coercion of pain if the coercion of the reason cannot be obtained from the guy who has his immediate will set upon the harm of an innocent. The pain however can never exceed the point of taking away a persons rational faculty. Otherwise torture in this situation is completely moral. So your definition does not hold.

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  58. Argument:

    "Love thy enemy."

    The word games played by the advocates and apologist for evil go back to the Garden of Eden. The great evils which plague our society today are protected by (to borrow from Churchill) "a bodyguard of lies". The bodyguards insists that they do not know when life begins, or what constitutes the gay lifestyle, or what is torture.

    Strangely, back in the Dark Ages, teenage paratroopers had no problem understanding what is torture.

    God bless

    Richard W Comerford

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  59. "The bodyguards insists that they do not know when life begins, or what constitutes the gay lifestyle, or what is torture. "

    It sounds like you have personal problem there to work on. I hope you fair well in your endeavors.

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  60. I have confirmed the following with a Thomistic scholar as being a legitimate act of self defense.

    Well, that settles it then. /irony

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  61. Matthew, while I don't consider the Catechism's description of torture to be a full, exhaustive, complete definition of what torture is, it's still worth looking at it:

    "Torture which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity."

    Now, since you've defined "forcible" to mean "occurring without consent," it occurs to me that perhaps you also define "violence" as "anything which happens contrary to a person's will." If that is the case, then I see the reason for your confusion regarding torture: prisoners are usually arrested against their wills, incarcerated against their wills, executed (when the State resorts to that extreme punishment) against their wills--so are all these things "torture?"

    But just as I don't think you can define "forcible" as "taking place without expressed consent," I also don't think you can define "violence" as "coercion." Legitimate acts of coercion which take place in the course of punishment for crimes sill respect the inherent human dignity of the prisoner, while violence, whether physical or moral, directed against him does not.

    If a police officer wrestles a person he is arresting to the ground with such force that the person is injured, the officer can be charged with an act of brutality--unless he can show that the person was resisting to such a degree that the level of force was absolutely necessary to conduct the arrest. I would call "violence," then, physical or mental force employed in the absence of an immediate physical threat by the prisoner (or person under the aggressor's control)--at least as a start.

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  62. RE: Personal Problem

    My personal problem is called Original Sin which I will endeavor to work on until the moment I die.

    Original Sin, among other things, weakens the intellect and will. This is why it is so important for both knuckle draggers intellectuals to listen to the Vicar of Christ when he teaches us on matters of faith and morals.

    The Vicar of Christ teaches us that torture is intrinsically evil. He also teaches us to love our enemy. In specif he teaches us that we should treat prisoners humanely. Failure to heed Christ's Vicar on such matters removes us from full Communion with his Church.

    God bless

    Richard W Comerford

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  63. Well, it falls into the State's right and obligation to the self defense of innocent lives. Unless of course you believe the State has no right to such things. You could argue against that I guess. I have given an example which I believe demonstrates that the definition is not a sound one. If you disagree, then I would ask why you disagree with my example and my conclusion. Human dignity would not be violated in the above case since his will is immediately set against an innocent person.

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  64. In your scenario, if Joe has admitted (openly, in a chatty way, in fact) to having a girl locked up as you describe, what would stop him from further disclosing the girl's location?

    Even if he didn't several things could be true, here:

    Joe could be lying about the whole thing (delusional or mad).

    Joe could be telling the truth, but omitting to tell the police the girl is already dead.

    Joe could be telling the truth, but the girl could have managed to escape.

    Joe could be telling the truth, but then could lie under the pain of torture about the girl's location--and do so repeatedly until the time for the unfortunate girl runs out.

    Joe could be telling the truth, but fail to tell the police that there are actually ten girls in the situation he describes, each in a different location. While the police are congratulating each other for beating the location of "the girl" out of Joe, the other nine girls die.

    I mention all of these scenarios to show how torturing Joe fails at least one huge measure of self-defense (besides the "evil" aspect, of course): there is no realistic expectation that torturing Joe will, in fact, "defend" the girl (who may, after all, be a figment of Joe's diseased imagination). In a way, this is no different than shooting every person who approaches one's home, because one of them might mean harm.

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  65. "Original Sin, among other things, weakens the intellect and will. This is why it is so important for both knuckle draggers intellectuals to listen to the Vicar of Christ when he teaches us on matters of faith and morals. "

    I agree Richard, good luck on your endeavors. Now let us get back to the discussion at hand without more diversions in between.

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  66. RE: Does torture Work?

    "They can use coercion of pain if the coercion of the reason cannot be obtained from the guy who has his immediate will set upon the harm of an innocent."

    The Pentagon, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, among others, all disagree with Mr. Bellisario. Torture as an interrogation tool is counter productive. The standards for all US Agencies are now found in FM 34-52.

    God bless

    Richard W Comerford

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  67. RE: Authority

    The Vicar of Christ teaches us that torture is intrinsically evil. Mr. Bellisario teaches that the State can use torture.

    The Holy Father;s authority comes from God. Where does Mr. Bellisario's authority come from?

    God bless

    Richard W Comerford

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  68. Red, your argument fails because I can flip the scenario on you. If a guy with a gun runs out a bank waving it at the police threatening to shoot them, should the police wait to see if it is real before they take violent action? Maybe its toy gun! I think not? The police would be justified in shooting the guy. There is never absolute certainty in any case even when it goes to trial. Does that mean we stop all imprisonment and all punishment? No, it does not. The authorities in charge at the time have to discern as best as he can based on the scenario. My scenario stands as an example of just self defense.

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  69. Red can we continue the discussion without Richard adding ad-hominems, which are not contributing to the conversation? I thought things were going fairly decent until he decided to cloud things up in the combox.

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  70. RE: Police Academy 101

    "If a guy with a gun runs out a bank waving it at the police threatening to shoot them, should the police wait to see if it is real before they take violent action?"

    And if the guy waving the gun is the bank guard?

    Answer: Yes

    God bless

    Richard W Comerford

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  71. ... it falls into the State's right and obligation to the self defense of innocent lives. Unless of course you believe the State has no right to such things.

    The State's right and obligation does not extend to committing intrinsically immoral acts, so the "unless" doesn't follow. Suppose the only way available to get the prisoner to disclose information was to commit an intrinsically immoral act: an act that you agree without equivocation is intrinsically immoral. Does the State have the right to do that?

    The Church teaches that torture is intrinsically immoral. Does the State have the right and duty to torture?

    I guess I'm about finished with this discussion now, since it has officially jumped the shark from the Puzzled Newbie Inquirer stage to the Endless Rehash of the Same Old Crap.

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  72. Richard, the adults are talking here, please.

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  73. "The State's right and obligation does not extend to committing intrinsically immoral acts, so the "unless" doesn't follow. Suppose the only way available to get the prisoner to disclose information was to commit an intrinsically immoral act: an act that you agree without equivocation is intrinsically immoral. Does the State have the right to do that?

    The Church teaches that torture is intrinsically immoral. Does the State have the right and duty to torture?

    I guess I'm about finished with this discussion now, since it has officially jumped the shark from the Puzzled Newbie Inquirer stage to the Endless Rehash of the Same Old Crap. "

    Again what I stated above does not fall into the Church's definition. It is obviously not intrinsically immoral for the State to exact physical or mental pain in certain situations. Thanks for your ending insult, rather than addressing the issue. There is an apparent contradiction here that you are not willing to explore. What you defined as torture is not intrinsically immoral. Thanks for your time in discussing this.

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  74. RE: Adults

    Christ commanded us to be like little children. He has given us a Holy Father to teach us our faith and morals. Like children we should listen to our Holy Father and obey.

    God bless

    Richard W Comerford

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  75. "It is obviously not intrinsically immoral for the State to exact physical or mental pain in certain situations."

    No. It is not obvious.

    God bless

    Richard W Comerford

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  76. RE: Authority and Deception

    "Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?

    And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden:


    But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.

    And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:

    For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.

    And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat."

    There are two morals to this story:

    1: Do not eat the healthy diet food your wife hands you...

    2: Do not listen to tempters who would separate you from the Vicar of Christ.

    God bless

    Richard W Comerford

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  77. It is obviously not intrinsically immoral for the State to [inflict] physical or mental pain in certain situations.

    I don't know of anyone who has claimed that it is though. I don't think I've ever seen anyone claim it other than folks like you setting it up as a straw man, and the occasional radical pacifist.

    I don't know at this point if you've been down this road a thousand times before, as I have, but I see no reason to go down it yet again myself. Your inquiries have been answered; you don't like the answers, and attribute your personal opinions and opinions of unnamed "Thomistic scholars" to "the Church" without citation; etc etc. You ignore whatever is inconvenient to the POV you are expressing -- e.g. that the Magisterium teaches that torture is intrinsically immoral, so if you have a problem with the intrinsic immorality of torture you have a problem with the Magisterium not merely with some fellow combox critters.

    It is entirely possible, I suppose, that this whole discussion really is just brand spanking new to you, which is why you keep repeating the same old endless tropes the rest of us have seen and answered a thousand times before over more than half a decade. If so, I apologize, but I don't see any point in going over the whole thing from scratch with someone who obviously isn't interested in certain kinds of answers, even though those answers happen to be, you know, true.

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  78. Okay, Richard and Matthew, be nice. Richard, you do have good points to make, but I think Matthew will hear you better if you engage in the discussion a little more.

    Matthew--in your "police/guy with gun" scenario there are some
    things to consider: first, is the guy, as Richard suggests, a bank guard?

    If he is clearly not, then the police are, as far as I understand, *required* first to tell him to put the weapon down or they will fire, and then they may shoot him if he does not comply. "Stop, or I'll shoot!" is not merely a movie cliche.

    How is that unlike the situation you describe? Simple: self-defense scenarios require both that the person being defended be in immediate harm, and that the force or violence used will *directly* end the harm. Thus, you may shoot a man who bursts into a class of kindergartners waving a gun and threatening to kill them all; you may NOT shoot his child in front of him to get him to stop, nor may you arrange for his wife to be raped unless he releases his child-hostages, etc.

    To go back to Joe: suppose he withstands the torture. How far are you allowed to go? Can you cut off his fingers or toes (the same Catechism passage which forbids torture would seem to forbid that under a separate section on amputations, but you've already thrown out the Catechism on this one). Can you break his legs, or shoot him in the kneecap? Can you arrange for a dozen large male prisoners to rape him? After all, the girl is still in danger!

    If the State may not employ evil acts in pursuit of self-defense, then it may not employ them, period, end of sentence. If, however, the State's right to defend citizens means that the State can ignore the morality of torture, then by that logic the State should be able to ignore the morality of permanently injuring a man, having him sexually abused, or otherwise violating the moral law to force his cooperation.

    As to the girl: remember, the police don't really know if she is in imminent danger (the rationale used to excuse their recourse to torture). On the one extreme, she could be dead; on the other, Joe might have given her water today, in which case she has at least three days before survival becomes problematic. I think the police have plenty of other options to discover the girl's whereabouts in that time period without having to break the moral law.

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  79. Red:

    I have been nice. If you review the posts I have not called Mr. Bellisario names, nor inferred that he has mental health problems, nor called him "son". I have been very careful to address him and the other torture advocates politely. One thing I have noticed over the past 7-years is that torture advocates (like the advocates for sodomy, abortion and artificial contraception) are notoriously thin skinned; and whine whenever someone dares to disagree with them.

    Ultimately this is a matter of authority. Mr. Bellisario has none. The Vicar of Christ, guided by the Holy Spirit, has divine authority. Mr. Bellisario's, and others, souls are at risk. Intellectual discussions just go around in circles. This is why any argument must in the end be based on divine authority.

    In any case I wish you well in your worthy endeavor here. I will withdraw from your blog.

    God bless

    Richard W Comerford

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  80. I’m sure that you are amused by your own chest-thumping, but I’m not.

    Since you have mastered this discussion before, then it should be easy for you to clarify (Coalition for Clarity) why the apparent contradiction and inconsistency is not so. I could care less if you imagine to have thoroughly squashed these arguments before. At this point in this thread, you have not done so. If it is enough to have thoroughly answered all these objections before, then why the inconsistency in having the present blog? From what I have read on the topic for the past several years, no one has answered these objections. Either they falsely make appeals to authority (the Pope says so), or they attack a straw man, throw out a red herring, or make some other fallacious attempt to pretend that they have addressed the issue. When further objections are raised, they complain because we do not suspend all disbelief by accepting their arguments at face value. “I have answered your argument before, and you just don’t want to accept it.” Well, there are reasons why we do not accept it, and those reasons have been expressed. If you can reason through these reasons for purposes of clarity, then great; if not, then don’t complain that we just will not bow down to your feet and submit to your irrational decrees on the matter. Quite frankly, we believe that you are misusing the Church’s teachings concerning this issue, and we are attempting to defend why we believe this to be the case.

    You have supplied your definition of torture.

    Matt has argued why that definition leads to contradictions.

    Deal with the argument at hand.

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  81. Matt has argued why that definition leads to contradictions.

    No, he hasn't. He cited an unnamed "Thomist scholar" as approving as "self defense" a scenario which deliberately avoids some of the specific criteria I gave. And continues to ignore the fact that the Magisterium, as cited extensively and explicitly, condemns torture as intrinsically immoral. And, and, and, and...

    And have a nice day.

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  82. first, is the guy, as Richard suggests, a bank guard?

    This question is moot, really from the get-go. It doesn’t matter if the guy with the gun is a bank guard or not. In Matthew’s scenario, whoever it is, they are “threatening to shoot them.” I don’t much think the police would care who the guy is.

    ...and then they may shoot him if he does not comply.

    Suppose that he doesn’t? Suppose that it is a plastic gun, and he just has a death wish. Point is, the police will never have perfect certainty when engaging an aggressor.

    Simple: self-defense scenarios require both that the person being defended be in immediate harm, and that the force or violence used will *directly* end the harm.

    There is no certainty at the point when the determinate will proceeds to the act that the act taken will be successful. Likewise, when the police proceed to inflict proportionate physical coercion on an aggressor whose act of aggression is still in the process of being carried out, would not be able to do so with perfect certainty. The same applies to the police who choose to act by taking a shot at the guy coming out of the bank threatening them with a gun. Their shot might not be successful in stopping him from shooting them, but their act is proportionate and prudent given the circumstances at hand.

    ...you may NOT shoot his child in front of him to get him to stop, nor may you arrange for his wife to be raped unless he releases his child-hostages, etc.

    Straw man. No one has proposed acting against an innocent bystander.

    To go back to Joe: suppose he withstands the torture. How far are you allowed to go?...After all, the girl is still in danger!

    You are getting ahead of yourself here. We are only concerned at the time being with whether or not the initial act of proportionate physical force is permitted. Whether or not in the end it is successful, which is impossible for someone without knowledge of the future, is not the issue.

    If the State may not employ evil acts in pursuit of self-defense, then it may not employ them, period, end of sentence.

    You have not justified your premise that the acts in pursuit of self-defense, or defense of the common good, are evil per se. This is the issue at hand.

    If, however, the State's right to defend citizens means that the State can ignore the morality of torture, then by that logic the State should be able to ignore the morality of permanently injuring a man, having him sexually abused, or otherwise violating the moral law to force his cooperation.

    Again, the dispute is over whether or not the act is evil. No one has argued that the State can do evil so that good may come from it. That what the State is doing is evil is what is under dispute.

    As to the girl: remember, the police don't really know if she is in imminent danger (the rationale used to excuse their recourse to torture). On the one extreme, she could be dead; on the other, Joe might have given her water today, in which case she has at least three days before survival becomes problematic. I think the police have plenty of other options to discover the girl's whereabouts in that time period without having to break the moral law.

    Nor do the police really know whether or not they are in imminent danger when the guy running out of the bank threatens to shot them. They act to the best of their ability constrained with the knowledge they have at hand. There is always a certain degree or level of ignorance at play. If it is necessary, we can discuss the various levels of ignorance which distinguish culpable from the non-culpable.

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  83. No, he hasn't. He cited an unnamed "Thomist scholar" as approving as "self defense" a scenario which deliberately avoids some of the specific criteria I gave.

    What criteria did he ignore? What did I miss?

    And continues to ignore the fact that the Magisterium, as cited extensively and explicitly, condemns torture as intrinsically immoral.

    No, he disagrees with how you have construed the teachings of the Magisterium, which in our opinion has led to contradictions. Big difference!

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  84. Perhaps you hope that we should accept your representation of the Magisterium's teachings at face value???

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  85. Also, FYI, I'm just a combox critter here, not a contributor. I support Erin's and Roberts' and Mark's efforts at bringing more clarity to this issue; but the notion that I haven't already done an enormous amount of work to bring clarity to this issue over the past six or seven years is just ridiculous.

    You wanna comment on something at my place, knock yourself out. But you folks aren't entitled to anything from me, especially when you engage in such manifestly selective discussion. If you want to engage my interest, engage the whole discussion. If you don't, don't. Either way, deal with it.

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  86. What did I miss?

    A great deal, apparently. Impress me by finding it yourself.

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  87. Alexander (and Matthew, too, by the way), let me ask you this: do you accept that the Church has the authority to define which acts are good, and which evil? Do you further accept that in doing so the Church is (rightly) concerned with the larger picture, not with parsing every possible scenario someone might create in an attempt to call what is evil, good?

    If you accept those premises, then how do you get by with totally ignoring that in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and other documents which are part of the Church's Magisterium torture is clearly mentioned, and clearly called gravely evil?

    Do you simply shrug and say, "Well, the Catechism is wrong about this."?

    Do you argue that the Church has changed a clear and long-standing teaching that not only permitted but encouraged torture as a moral act (on the part of the State) and that this clear and long-standing teaching somehow overrules the present teaching?

    Do you insist that torture must be defined in such a way that makes it evil only for individuals, but morally permissible to the State?

    All of these objections, and many others, *have* been dealt with many times before, by Zippy, by Mark Shea, and by half-a-dozen others who have investigated the matter. If you have some new exception (other than to insinuate that St. Thomas Aquinas would definitely be in the pro-torture camp, and would actively encourage people to ignore the Church's teaching as spelled out in the Catechism), please do state them. I'll even put a new post at the top of the page to make it easier.

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  88. Alexander (and Matthew, too, by the way), let me ask you this:

    Of course I can only speak for myself. I think that our views are not exactly the same.

    do you accept that the Church has the authority to define which acts are good, and which evil?

    Yes.

    Do you further accept that in doing so the Church is (rightly) concerned with the larger picture, not with parsing every possible scenario someone might create in an attempt to call what is evil, good?

    Have I stopped beating my wife…right? What a loaded question! Were you intentionally trying to commit the plurium interrogationum fallacy? I disagree with the many presuppositions contained in your question. When the Church concerns herself with the “larger picture,” she does so by giving her faithful principles to work with in their deliberations on how to act. In this way she addresses both the “larger picture” and each possible scenario by giving us the means of deliberation whereby we can deduce what sort of act is evil. Secondly, you are making the assumption that the Church is not concerned with all the relevant circumstances which might change the nature of the act. Of course there are moral absolutes, but the details are important. For example, the Church can come out and say that the use of non-abortifacient contraceptives within the sexual act as a means of pregnancy prevention is intrinsically immoral. That is, "every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible is intrinsically evil.” All is well and good. The essential nature and constitution of the sexual act prohibits the artificial separation of the unitive from the procreative ends of the conjugal act. Contraceptives are immoral. However, we would be remiss not to place this teaching in its proper context. Suppose there is an invading army coming up the street, rapping women as they pass by. Can an ovulating woman whose house is in their path therefore take a non-abortifacient contraceptive in order to prevent pregnancy? This is hardly consequentialism or situational ethics. At this point, we will need to take a closer look at what the Church and Natural Law is saying when it discusses the nature of human sexual intercourse, etc.

    Matthew and I are attempting to make a similar point on how “torture” (and I do have a variant take on this) is being construed by the opposition found here. Sure Zippy just wants to dismiss us and claim that we are engaging in a “manifestly selective discussion.” Which this is nothing more than an assertion backed up by more chest-thumping.

    (cont.)

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  89. If you accept those premises, then how do you get by with totally ignoring that in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and other documents which are part of the Church's Magisterium torture is clearly mentioned, and clearly called gravely evil?

    Petitio principii. Here you are begging the question. Does the Catechism “clearly” spell all this out in the way you have construed it?

    Do you simply shrug and say, "Well, the Catechism is wrong about this."?

    Do you argue that the Church has changed a clear and long-standing teaching that not only permitted but encouraged torture as a moral act (on the part of the State) and that this clear and long-standing teaching somehow overrules the present teaching?

    Do you insist that torture must be defined in such a way that makes it evil only for individuals, but morally permissible to the State?

    We state only that the State can engage in certain acts which individuals cannot. For example, the State can intend death, whereas, an individual cannot.

    All of these objections, and many others, *have* been dealt with many times before, by Zippy, by Mark Shea, and by half-a-dozen others who have investigated the matter.

    Then it should be easy for you to provide clarity here. Stating that these objections have been dealt with and demonstrating that they have been dealt with are entirely two different things. I can say that I have shot down every objection you folks have made, and you can google it, but that would likely mean very little to you as a means of substantiating my claim. If you are not prepared to engage the discussion, then why pretext of having a forum?

    If you have some new exception (other than to insinuate that St. Thomas Aquinas would definitely be in the pro-torture camp, and would actively encourage people to ignore the Church's teaching as spelled out in the Catechism), please do state them. I'll even put a new post at the top of the page to make it easier.

    The problem might reside in the possibility that none of you have given the objections raised any serious thought. As far as I can see, these objections have not been dealt with outside of any circular argumentation and fallacious appeals to authority.

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  90. Also, just to be clear, I am not prepared to state that the type of proportionate force used in my reasoning is torture per se. I am arguing in favor of proportionate coercive physical action by the legitimate authority in order to prevent an act of enacted aggression. Depending how everything is defined, you might not find what I am arguing for to be torture.

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  91. Okay, Alexander. Let's see if I'm understanding you correctly:

    1. The Church can define what is good and what is evil.

    2. The Church does *not* tend to look at the big picture (e.g., saying abortion is evil, without getting into a long list of all the arguments brought forth in every hard case ever imagined). Rather, if the Church hasn't defined something to the nth degree, the morality of that thing is uncertain (am I reading you correctly, here? I admit I don't have a clue what you're trying to say there).

    3. You disagree that the Catechism or any other Church document has ever condemned torture in a clear and unequivocal way, and call it "begging the question" when I say she has.

    4. There is no argument that the State can carry out the death penalty or wage just war. The Catechism says they can. You say that therefore they can also torture. I'm not convinced by any argument you've advanced in this regard.

    5. After all that, you say that you might not actually be arguing in favor of torture, but only of those acts that tiptoe right up to the line of torture without actually being torture.

    I'm confused as to what you think your arguments actually are, Alexander. But in any case, can we move this discussion to the top of the page? The number of comments here is making this unwieldy.

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