Rockets & Ethics

English: A Qassam rocket fired from a civilian...

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In a repeat of events in 2008 (and earlier) Hamas stepped up its rocket attacks from Gaza against Israel. Israel, not surprisingly, responded with attacks of its own. In addition to the political and humanitarian concerns, this matter raises numerous ethical issues.

One issue of concern is that Hamas generally locates its launch sites close to or in civilian areas. As such, Israel runs the risk of killing civilians when it attempts to destroy the launchers. This raises the general issue of launching attacks from within a civilian population.

On the face of it, this tactic seems to be immoral. To use the obvious analogy, if I am involved in a gun fight and I grab a child to use as a human shield, I am acting wrongly. After all, I am intentionally endangering an innocent to protect myself. If the child is hurt or killed, I clearly bear some of the moral blame. While my opponent should not endanger the child, I would rather limit her options if I kept attacking her while hiding behind the child.  Naturally, if I was shooting at her innocent children while using a child as a shield, I would certainly be acting very wrongly indeed.

One possible counter is that the analogy is flawed. In the child example, the child is coerced into serving as a shield. If the civilians support Hamas and freely allow themselves to be used as human shields, then Hamas would not be acting wrongly. To use an analogy, if I am in a gun fight and people volunteer to take bullets for me by acting as human shields, I would seem to be acting in a way that would be morally acceptable. As such, as long as the civilians are not coerced or kept in ignorance (that is, employed as shields by force or fraud), then it would seem that Hamas could be acting in a morally acceptable way.

There is, of course, a rather obvious concern. To go back to the gunfight analogy, suppose my fellows volunteer to serve as human shields while I shoot randomly at my opponent’s friends and family. If my opponent returns fire and hits one of my shields while trying to stop me, it would seem that my opponent would not be acting wrongly. After all, she is not trying to kill my shields—she is trying to stop me from shooting randomly at her friends and family.

This, of course, leads to another point of moral concern: Hamas fires rockets into populated areas as opposed to aiming at military targets. That is, Hamas seems intent on hurting random Israelis. One main argument in defense of Hamas is that the rockets are being fired in retaliation for Israeli wrong doings. As such, the rockets are intended as retribution for wrongs. In general, punishing people for their misdeeds is morally acceptable and can be argued for in terms of deterrence and retribution. Of course, it must be shown that Israel has done wrong and that the retribution is proportional and justified.

However, the fact that Hamas is shooting rockets that randomly hurt people seems to remove the retribution justification from Hamas’ attack on Israel.  After all, punishment is something that should be directed at the guilty party and not randomly inflicted on whoever happens to be at the receiving end of a rocket. After all, to punish the innocent would simply be to commit a crime against them and would not be an act of justice.

One stock reply is that the people hurt by the rockets are (usually) Israelis and hence they are not innocent.  That is, they are fully accountable for whatever wrongs Israel has allegedly committed. However, being a member of a large group seems to be a rather weak basis for justifying such random retribution. To use an analogy, imagine that professor Sally is fired from her job at Big University so that the president of the university can give her boyfriend Sally’s job. Now suppose that, in revenge, Sally starts randomly slashing the tires of students’ cars and that she defends her actions by pointing out that the students are associated with Big University and hence just targets of her retribution.

On the face of it, Sally’s justification seems absurd: the students are hardly accountable for the doings of the president. Likewise, one might argue, random people are unlikely to be accountable for any alleged misdeeds attributed to Israel.

One obvious counter is that being a citizen comes with moral accountability that would not hold in the case of students. A citizen of a democratic state, it can be argued, is responsible for what is done by her nation. After all, a citizen of a democracy has the right to elect officials and make decisions regarding the actions of the country. So, the rocket attacks could be just retaliation provided that the actions of the Israeli state warranted such retribution.

The obvious reply is that while citizens of a democratic state do bear some responsibility for the actions of their nation, such random attacks fail to take into account important distinctions. To be specific, it seems clear that every citizen does not bear the guilt of every misdeed (or perceived misdeed) of a nation. For example, a random rocket attack could kill an Israeli who opposes violence or it could murder a child. Surely such people do not deserve death, whatever the alleged misdeeds of the country.

Obviously, it could be argued that collective guilt somehow overrides all other normally relevant aspects (such as past actions).  However, the burden of proof seems to be on those who would make this claim.

As such, these random rocket attacks fired from within civilian areas seem to be morally wrong.

Naturally, a similar sort of argument can be applied to any cases in which Israeli attacks kill random people in Gaza. Or random attacks kill anyone anywhere.

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81 Comments.

  1. If Hamas were to openly attack Israeli troops in anything remotely similar to conventional warfare, they would be destroyed, since Israeli military strength, in terms of technology, weapons and military capacity, is many times that of Hamas.

    So to attack Israel with some measure of success, Hamas has to fight dirty, putting the lives of civilians on both sides in danger.

    One solution would be for Hamas to give up the use of violence and to use non-violent forms of protest against Israel. That would be the ideal solution.

    By the way, it is important to emphasize that Hamas (as the democratically elected representative of the Palestinian people in Gaza) has legitimate grievances against the state of Israel, since Israel illegally occupies Palestinian territory and has done so since 1967, in spite of UN resolutions declaring the occupation to be illegal.

    It may be that from a certain point of view, Israel, by disregarding UN resolutions, has set a precedent for “fighting dirty” and that given Israeli lack of respect for international law, Hamas merely responds in kind.

    Nevertheless, even if Israel has violated international law, Hamas has no justification to put the lives of civilians on both sides in danger, without giving very good reasons to do so, which is not the case in this situation.

    Therefore, I would say that the rocket attacks are morally wrong, as is the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory.

    Given the amount of hatred, religious fanaticism, and racism on both sides, I don’t see any happy ending to this drama.

  2. The analogy you gave about the slashing of student’s tires is very persuasive. What you have illustrated is the difference between retributive justice which is morally justifiable and revenge which is not morally justifiable.

    Retribution has two major limiting principles; distinction and proportionality. The target of the retributive act must be the guilty party alone. The guilty party may only be punished to the extent that it remains proportional to their culpability.

    For the purposes of an armed conflict, retribution for the actions committed by the other side does not justify violations of the laws of war.

    Targeting non-combatant civilians is expressly prohibited by article 51 of Protocol 1 of the Geneva Conventions:

    “2. The civilian population as such, as well as individual civilians, shall not be the object of attack. Acts or threats of violence the primary purpose of which is to spread terror among the civilian population are prohibited.”

    Tu quoque is not a valid argument for failure to observe this obligation.

    As the International Tribunal For Violations of International Humanitarian Law of the Former Yugoslavia ruled:

    “tu quoque argument is flawed in principle. It envisages humanitarian law as based upon a narrow bilateral exchange of rights and obligations.

    Instead, the bulk of this body of law lays down absolute obligations, namely obligations
    that are unconditional or in other words not based on reciprocity…

    After the First World War, the application of the laws of war moved away from a reliance on reciprocity between belligerents, with the consequence that, in general, rules came to be increasingly applied by each belligerent despite their possible disregard by the enemy…

    Unlike other international norms,such as those of commercial treaties which can legitimately be based on the protection of reciprocal interests of States, compliance with humanitarian rules could not be made dependent on a reciprocal or corresponding performance of these obligations by other States. This trend marks the translation into legal norms of the “categorical imperative”
    formulated by Kant in the field of morals: one ought to fulfil an obligation regardless of
    whether others comply with it or disregard it.”

    http://www.icty.org/x/cases/kupreskic/tjug/en/kup-tj000114e.pdf

    Page 201 onwards.

    I think this formulation reflects the absolute moral obligation not to intentionally target non-combatant civilians.

    What Hamas is doing is immoral. However, that doesn’t mean that what Israel has been doing in the past is morally justified either. Israel has violated the Geneva Conventions multiple times.

    In terms of responding to Hamas’ attacks as long as Israel is just trying to neutralise the threat then collateral civilian deaths in Gaza are justified as far as they are necessary and proportional in the circumstances.

  3. If the military attacks were instigated by Israel, then they would be responsible for all moral and ethical behaviors. Obviously, the Arabs, in attacking Israel, knew that the Jewish response would be of a severe nature.

    In that case, then the Arabs were responsible, because they were aware of what was likely to result. What they may have hoped was that world pressure would have limited the response, but if that was the fact, they badly underestimated Israel’s resolve.

    Of course, the questions could easily morph into a theoretical appraisal of the just war concept.

    Having first-hand, engaged in the art of war, I can tell you that virtually nothing is fair or clean about war and destruction. It is contrary to man’s search for happiness.

    The right to survival seems to be of greater hierarchical importance, than other questions. Perhaps it is why we say that any American can use deadly force to save or preserve life.

    Negotiation is always the best way to settle country level issues on a proactive basis. If not, I am of the belief that says that reactive responses may be as severe and harsh as necessary to stop the fighting.

  4. @ Timrford

    “If the military attacks were instigated by Israel, then they would be responsible for all moral and ethical behaviors.”

    On what basis? You appear to be confusing jus ad bellum (justification for engaging in hostilites) with jus in bello (international humanitarian law aka law of armed conflict).

    Article 51 of the UN Charter is a reflection of jus ad bellum insofar as it recognizes the “right” to self-defense of states. Therefore, there is no doubt that if Israel was attacked or threatened with imminent deadly force that they are justified in engaging in hostilities against Hamas.

    However, the fact that Israel is acting in self-defense and thereby satisfies the jus ad bellum requirement does not give them a free pass to violate the principle of jus in bello as reflected by international humanitarian law.

    Each party to the hostilities is responsible for their violations of international humanitarian law. This includes the use of prohibited chemical and biological weapons, tactics such as total war, intentional targeting of non-combatant civilians etc.

    Just because you are permitted to engage in hostilities does not mean you are permitted to do as you please within the hostilities and shift the blame back to the instigator of hostilities.

  5. I am curious, just what is the UN Charter to you? It means as much to me as International Law. What makes the UN Charter the standard of morality and ethics.

    The truth is, while I support the efforts of non-violence, I am neither a stranger nor am I opposed to the use of violence.

    It seems simple to me, if you punch me in the nose, my response will put you in the hospital. If you shoot up my house, I will come for you myself.

    My point is not that I am one of those people you should never threaten (although I am)–but IF you choose to perform some actions that require a response from me, and that if your poor choice makes it necessary to react violently, it is you who have done it, not me. It is always my choice not to hurt anyone. I have seen men, women, and children shot, napalmed, and maimed. The children are the hardest. If your actions result in Jewish children and innocents being killed, and Arab children and innocents being killed, it is the initial aggressor who is responsible for both.

    Let the Arabs attack military sites only, and you would have some argument, but when civilians are indiscriminately rocketed, the gloves must come off, and the response proportional for retribution and punishment.

    Why do I say that? Because you have chosen and forced my responses, by your poorly thought-out choices. Ergo, you are fully responsible for what happens. I am merely the instrument you have set in motion by your actions.

    The primary natural right of man (and woman), is the right to life, because without the right to life, there can be no pursuit of life, liberty, and or happiness, as our Declaration of Independence says.

    I do not know if your use of “permitted” is correct, more like “required,” seems more appropriate.

    Perhaps speaking softly, and if that doesn’t work, then the application of a large stick will. I am not a particular fan of Israel, but the moment a rocket kills a child, you have shown yourself unworthy of being regarded with any respect.

  6. Where did I say the UN Charter is THE standard of morality and ethics? I said that article 51 of the UN Charter is a reflection of jus ad bellum which is a moral principle. If you disagree you can attempt to argue against the principle of jus ad bellum. Good luck.

    “It seems simple to me, if you punch me in the nose, my response will put you in the hospital. If you shoot up my house, I will come for you myself.”

    In what way is this analogous to the Israel-Hamas situation exactly?

    What you said is that Hamas is morally responsible for all behaviour including that of Israel.

    So basically the accurate analogy would be I punch you in the nose and you go crazy and injure me as well as intentionally punching bystanders. If your reaction was disproportionate it is no good claiming “self-defense”. You were morally permitted in neutralizing the threat to yourself i.e. me. You were not morally permitted in going so far as to intentionally harm bystanders. If you do that you are going to be justly punished for assault.

    “I do not know if your use of “permitted” is correct, more like “required,” seems more appropriate.”

    Self-defense itself is a liberty i.e. it is morally permissible to engage in it. It is not morally imperative or required to defend your life, you can take the hits and die if you so choose.

    Defense of others i.e. innocent civilians is arguably a moral imperative if you have the ability to aid them and it is with acceptable risk to yourself.

    However, that doesn’t mean you can act disproportionately to the threat to either yourself or others.

  7. Mike, you seem to throw the word ‘moral’ around a lot as if we’re all in agreement with what it entails/contains/means, assuming we even admit to it being real at all.

    I would suggest you say what you mean rather than use loaded, culturally biased and generally confusing terms.

    e.g. Para 3: “On the face of it, this tactic seems to be unnecessarily endangering the lives of non-combatants in order to reduce the likelihood, intensity and speed of retaliations. This is a trade-off that most nations consider unreasonable and antithetical to the stated aims of most wars, i.e. to reduce casualties on their own side.”

  8. “Naturally, if I was shooting at her innocent children while using a child as a shield, I would certainly be acting very wrongly indeed.”

    There is no situation you can imagine where this would be the ‘right’ thing to do? I can think of a few and if that’s the case then your certitude is misplaced.

  9. We are closer on some things than I thought, but the Arabs (there is a reason I do not attritribute everything to Hamas)punched the Jews in the nose. The fact that they are now getting the crap knocked out of them now is their responsibility.

    Asfar as blaming Hamas alone, I do not. The Palestinian authorities share on the responsibility for allowing this to happen.

    The situation is extremely complex. The Palestinians also have the right to exist, but they are almost powerless and fear the more extremist groups within their boundaries. We might even return to the question of whether we should have created an Israel out of Arab lands, although it is a done-deal, and we must deal with the aftermath.

    As for the UN, it is a joke. Used to be the Soviets and the Chinese refused to cooperate unlesss it was to their benefit. But we Americans learned quick, now our government pays no attention to them. I think we are doing the right thing in not paying other than lip service to them, however, for the UN members’ agendas hardly reflect what is always good for the planet or this country.

    “Defense of others i.e. innocent civilians is arguably a moral imperative if you have the ability to aid them and it is with acceptable risk to yourself.” Really? “Arguably”? Did you ever put your A on the line for anything?

    If I understand this, you go into a mall, see a man beating a woman to death, and you reason to yourself 1. If I get involved, what is my risk? Do I have a moral imperative to get involved? By the time you reason, weigh the choices and benefits, the woman dies, you have incurred moral culpability, for your failure or inability to act.

    If Israel refuses to react with whatever force they deem necessary, then they share in the culpability.

    Apparently you understand some philossophy, but not humanity, but I suspect you can solve these inconsistencies by a visit to the local Marine Corps recruiter would help complete your education.

    Who are you to tell me what is disproportional? Proportional is whatever it takes to put an end to the hostilities of an agressor. If Israel punishes the Arabs sufficiently (you might say dis-proportionately) the hostilities will cease for a time.

    If a fella wants to discuss things,instead of getting violent, I am great with that, but if I am attacked, I will put my 6’6″ 340 lb frame into action, and by the time I am through, he will never make that choice again….Is that dis-proportional?

    Semper fi…..

  10. With what ease do human beings speak of killing. Yes killing babies is terrible but that is soon forgotten other than by those who were attached to the child. Killing runs in our veins so it seems we even watch films of it for entertainment and play killing games on our computers. It is an innate propensity with its origin in the evolutionary principle of survival, which we often glorify even awarding medals. I am not disparaging those who laid down their lives to save others in fact I was trained so to do, and would have had no compunction about Shooting, Poisoning, Bayonetting, or blowing my fellow humans to pieces, or killing with my bare hands. Fortunately my skills were not called upon in that particular connection, but I remember one occasion where I was tempted, in a foreign land, just for the hell of it, to shoot from a distance, a civilian. I must have had some human decency left in me at that time, as I eventually decided not to proceed. I now look back on that instance and wonder what the hell was I thinking about, what kind of monster had I become. Any body who has been on a live, or recently live battlefield will know what a sickening sight it is: man’s inhumanity to man is astounding.
    There is a cease fire at the moment between Israel and Palestine but how many of us look back and really regret and despair of the terrible loss of life which has occurred recently between those two countries and for what purpose? There has been cease fires before and still they return to killing. The value which is given to human life varies in accordance with culture, ethnicity, religion, psychology, education, racism etc. Winston Churchill is quoted as saying “To Jaw Jaw is better than To War War” Right or wrong, you can get the better of anybody provided you are the stronger and so often brute force unjustly prevails.

  11. You are fortunate, the ones I killed, with a great deal of personal malice, all ages, visit me at night. No names, just faces.

    To kill is unbelievably intense, and there is a terrible price to pay.

    Don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining, it simply is what it is.

    As Americans, we often confuse force with power….

    Churchill was right…..

  12. Swallerstein,

    You make an excellent point in noting that Hamas could not stand up to Israel in an open fight. Even the professional armies that fought Israel (and in other wars, Coalition forces) tended to do very poorly.

    This does raise a moral question about whether or not organizations and/or countries that cannot mount an effective military offense or defense can engage in “dirty” fighting (such as murdering noncombatants and children with terrorist attacks or launching attacks from within civilian populations).

    Some people do favor an ends justifies the means approach. Of course, this requires that the end is just. Like you, I prefer non-violent solutions. While I do not subscribe to pacifism or peace at all costs, peace can be worth the price. Of course, sometimes it is not.

  13. Dan,

    Good points. I certainly do not claim that Israel is morally pure in this situation. Since I know people on both side of the conflict and have friends with relatives in the region, I always worry for them when things heat up. No matter what, innocent people die and that is never a good thing.

  14. Timrford,

    An attacker does not assume responsibility for all the behavior. While they do bear responsibility for attacking (which might be justly provoked), the defender does not gain carte blanche in terms of what they can do. After all, if Israel was provoked by rockets and attacked Hamas by nuking Gaza into radioactive ruins, it seems absurd to say that Hamas would be morally accountable for that.

    I do agree with you about negotiation-better to talk things out rather than killing things out. In general, at least.

  15. Keddaw,

    I do throw the word around a lot-but with due care not to put anyone’s eye out. That would be wrong.

    “Moral” and “immoral” seem to be a perfectly good terms and I mean what I say (and say what I mean). In the case of murdering children with rockets or airstrikes, I think sane and rational beings would agree that this is wrong. Now, someone might contend, perhaps on utilitarian grounds, that such killings can be justified in the “big picture.”

    However, I would challenge you to present an effective argument that shows that blowing up children is not a negative.

    As a philosopher, I am intellectually obligated to give any adequately supported position a fair assessment. However, as a person I am certain that blowing up children is a bad, wicked thing.

  16. Keddaw,

    There is no situation you can imagine where this would be the ‘right’ thing to do? I can think of a few and if that’s the case then your certitude is misplaced.

    Well, I do write sci-fi and horror for extra running shoe money, so sure I can imagine cases in which killing child shields would be okay:

    “Captain, I understand your reluctance to napalm the area. After all, those children are standing there around the Reblios nest. However, the entire population has been taken over by the Reblios parasites and they will spread the plague across the country unless we kill them all and burn out the nest.”

    “Is there no way to save them?”

    “It takes 16 hours of complicated surgery to remove a parasite, with the surgical crew risking infection every second. We lost six teams before I ordered that the attempts stop. We had one success.”

    “Very well. I’m ordering the strike.”

    But, I am hard pressed to think of normal cases in which shooting innocent children would be okay. Perhaps you can present some?

  17. “I think we are doing the right thing in not paying other than lip service to them, however, for the UN members’ agendas hardly reflect what is always good for the planet or this country.”

    Well the UN is only part of the equation. The UN Charter deals with jus ad bellum mostly but international humanitarian law is customary international law which has been partially codified by the Geneva and Hague Conventions amongst others. If you reject all international law that’s fine but it appears you may be letting your view of the UN color your view of all international law.

    International law has many benefits for states and individuals outside of the hostilities paradigm too. It makes treaties enforceable between nation states, it establishes rules that break down trade barriers and promote free trade (see WTO), it resolves jurisdiction problems over criminal acts committed in international waters and airspace etc.

    “If I understand this, you go into a mall, see a man beating a woman to death, and you reason to yourself 1. If I get involved, what is my risk? Do I have a moral imperative to get involved? By the time you reason, weigh the choices and benefits, the woman dies, you have incurred moral culpability, for your failure or inability to act.”

    In those circumstances I would be obligated to act due to my ability to intervene and the level of risk to myself. In reality all that would be going through my mind is “someone is in danger” and provided I honestly believe that and use the necessary and proportional force to neutralize the threat then that is sufficient to avoid any culpability.

    The test I presented is more a way to objectively determine when someone would have a moral obligation to intervene, it is not an equation they have to make in order to avoid culpability because it is already morally permissible to intervene just as it is morally permissible to defend yourself from harm. What we’re arguing about is whether it is morally imperative to act. For example a paralysed person in a wheelchair would not be obligated to physically intervene but they would be obligated to call for help if they have the ability to. To argue that they are culpable for their inability to physically intervene is absurd.

    I would not have to intervene if the man was instead shooting up the mall and I was unarmed. It would obviously be morally permissible for me to intervene and certainly praiseworthy if I chose to intervene and put my life in mortal danger to save others but it is not obligatory.

    “Apparently you understand some philossophy, but not humanity, but I suspect you can solve these inconsistencies by a visit to the local Marine Corps recruiter would help complete your education.”

    If I chose to sign up and put my life on the line then I would be obligated to put my life in mortal danger for others. But until I make that choice it is morally permissible and praiseworthy for me to put my life in mortal danger for others but it is not obligatory.

    “Who are you to tell me what is disproportional? Proportional is whatever it takes to put an end to the hostilities of an agressor. If Israel punishes the Arabs sufficiently (you might say dis-proportionately) the hostilities will cease for a time.”

    You’re confusing neutralizing a threat with punishment. I can neutralize a threat irrespective of the culpability of the target. If a sleepwalker came at me with a knife raised I can use whatever force is necessary and proportional to neutralize the threat that I honestly believe they present. Their moral innocence is irrelevant.

    However, your argument appears to be one of deterrence i.e. that they will never do it again. It is true that if you nuke Gaza and turn most of it into a radioactive wasteland I’m sure that what’s left of Hamas will think twice.

    Your argument seems to be it is a proportional response because it works; that’s self-validating.

    An effective deterrent is not morally justifiable if it is disproportional and/or indiscriminate.

    For example I could deter someone from speeding by beating them to a pulp and putting their A in hospital. That is an effective deterrent but it is grossly disproportional.

  18. Mike,

    I would like you to consider that culpability and responsibility occur at many levels.

    Consider the “good ole boy” drunk driving crime in which someone is killed. Even though it is technically an accident, the legal system community now acknowledges that the offender must be punished for choosing to drink and drive, resulting in property or life loss.

    When a man (or woman) chooses to drink and drive, they have elected and chosen to perform dangerous actions. The fact that they are totally drunk and no longer responsible for their choices, they are held accountable for death and property destruction.

    They are still responsible.

    There seems to be a hierarchy throughout all life. I liken it to Porphry’s Tree. The fact that being drunk does indeed remove some responsibility for the unplanned crime, it doesn’t mean all of it is dismiss-able as a “good ole boy” action.

    What I would like you to answer for me is “do you think culpability is in degrees, or levels”?

    2. If your choices or actions bring about any changes to the present situation, would you have any share in the responsibility for those changes?

    When I enrolled at UNM (after 2 other degrees), I started in basic logic, which was a horrible course. We learned nothing except to take tests, and use textbooks that should have been retired. I left the university, and enrolled in another school on the Master’s program in Philosophy, this time concentrating in Scholastic and Classic Philosophy.

    Two department chairs could not believe I had signed up at UNM, and they both tried to get me into another program. But I, being somewhat bullheaded ignored their sound advice, and then found out after 6 months, they were not only correct, they had understated the situation. I even had a complete scholarship, so I was paying nothing.

    I took of another 6 months and spoke with as many philosophers that would talk with me about their experiences and recommendations. I have since found a solid program in which the philosophy study is highly respected and demanding.

    I bring this up because almost universally, everyone admitted that philosophy no longer enjoys the prestige and respect that it used to. Even in academia, philosophy is regarded the bailiwick of the hippy. Now I think I am unwilling to accept that, but it does appear philosophy has fallen in importance and value to the human race. Can you give your evaluation, either way?

    Dan, if the fella you beat to a pulp was carrying biological agents for terror purposes, then beating their A would certainly not be disproportional.

  19. Timrford:

    Is it bad or a sign of a lack of virtue or a lack of wisdom to be a hippie, in your opinion?

  20. Very funny…

    Actually, it depends on what you mean by “hippy.” As Socrates used to say, please identify what precisely constitutes a hippy!

    The presence of virtue in ANY man is what determines not who and what he is, but what his mettle is. The greatest of all virtues in a philosopher, is true humility. And this goes for all men (generic) as well.

    Incidentally, I have not shaved or had a haircut in over a year, wear a ponytail, but am definitely not a hippy. According to my friends at UNM, the hippy label refers to some rather unorthodox thought processes. Not highly regarded by other faculty members–but maybe there is some jealousy.

    Is it time for your mushroom fix?

  21. Re:- Mike LaBossiere November 22, 2012 at 2:03 pm
    “However, as a person I am certain that blowing up children is a bad, wicked thing.”

    Why just children? The Humans on this planet will make better progress when they understand blowing up anybody is a bad and wicked thing. Sometimes we in extreme circumstances, have to do bad and wicked things, but let us not glorify them; just consider them as a loathsome part of Human Nature never to be admired.

  22. Because children are the most vulnerable of humans, they need to be taken care of, as they cannot do it themselves

  23. Timrford,

    I agree that culpability and responsibility occur at many levels. And in various degrees. For example, as the unit facilitator I have responsibility for the actions of those under me, to the degree that I can actually control/influence those actions given my level of authority (which is extremely low).

    2. If your choices or actions bring about any changes to the present situation, would you have any share in the responsibility for those changes?

    In general, yes. The work in legal causation by Honore and Hart does a good job laying out legal accountability and this could be tweaked a bit to serve as theory of moral accountability. Roughly put, I’d accept that to the degree that my free actions contribute to X, I am responsible for X. Naturally, ignorance and such can factor in here as well. For example, if I pick up a lost cell phone and accidentally open an app that triggers a nuclear bomb planted in Justin Bieber’s house, then I would be a causal factor but I would not regard myself as morally accountable. After all, picking up lost phones is usually a good thing (I return them) and rarely results in the vaporization of pop stars.

    I bring this up because almost universally, everyone admitted that philosophy no longer enjoys the prestige and respect that it used to. Even in academia, philosophy is regarded the bailiwick of the hippy. Now I think I am unwilling to accept that, but it does appear philosophy has fallen in importance and value to the human race. Can you give your evaluation, either way?

    I wrote a post or two on the value of philosophy, but I’ll focus on your concern with the prestige and respect.

    The easy answer is that it varies. However, I would say that this is (at least in the states) not a golden age of respect for philosophy or philosophers. That said, I would say that we get the respect we earn, at least most of the time.

    In my own case, I am well respected-at least in terms of being relentlessly assigned to critical university and statewide committees. I assume that their respect is tempered with hate. :)

  24. Don,

    I didn’t say that it applies just to children-but this was the subject being focused on. In general, I’m against anyone being blown up. However, I can imagine many scenarios that would morally warrant blowing up adults, mainly because adults have a level of moral accountability that children lack.

    In the case of children, they are generally not capable of engaging in acts that would warrant their being blown up. One key part of this is their cognitive abilities-this is why we treat children differently from adults.

  25. Sadly, in a war there are no innocent civilians. If your government (which governs in your name, on your behalf) sends your soldiers to attack my country then every citizen of your country becomes my enemy. I will strike at any of your citizens, by any means, without a second thought, and call myself a patriot, not a terrorist. All of you are my enemies, not just your soldiers. To say otherwise is to assume that your government does not represent your people, or that your army is out of your control.

  26. War has taken a turn for the worse as a consequence of new technology. Consider…

    New technology for warfare does not necessarily make us safer. It can destabilize the conduct of war, reducing the human decision in the loop, under the delusion that war can be made precise and clinical.

    We are drawn into :

    a) asymmetric response (killing without quarter on the basis of suspicion) and,
    b) asynchronous response (pre-emptive and revenge attacks).

    Both are problematic ethically.

    See…
    http://io9.com/5962570/how-modern-technologies-made-the-fighting-in-gaza-even-worse
    And…
    http://icrac.net/

  27. The case for keeping a man in the loop:

    “The man, (on the screen of the drone’s operator), was a known Hamas terrorist. The neighborhood, a militant haven. So when the black blotch of a man stepped out into the alley, and began to fiddle with dark strings that looked suspiciously like wires, Gil’s (the operator) Colonel gave the order to a second aircraft, flying nearby: Take this man out. He’s setting up a booby trap for our soldiers.

    The double-tailed, 40 foot-long Heron spy drone banked over the Gaza rooftops, and zoomed in on the man, to get a better look at the now-designated target. The man was tying the wire at about eye-level, from one home to another. It was an odd location for a booby trap. But a perfect place to hang clothes. Gil, his voice rising, told everyone to stop. “Don’t attack! Don’t attack!” he yelled. “The man, he’s doing laundry.””

    The point: Developing an automated decision maker for kill/no-kill can easily miss the human context of hanging out the laundry. It does not have the generic intelligence of a human being who can fathom the depth of human intention.

    http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2009/01/inside-israels-2/

  28. The world and culture that Hamas resides in seems to put a much smaller value on human life. We can see this throughout the region. So naturally it goes with the territory, of putting armaments in civilian areas while having civilians being complicit as human shields.

  29. Re:- Mike LaBossiere 2nd Nov.
    “I can imagine many scenarios that would morally warrant blowing up adults”
    I am not clear on what moral code would permit blowing up adults. I do know that some people adhere to a code of moral behaviour which does not permit killing ‘Thou shalt not kill’ I do not want to get into a discussion of Moral Particularism, but my own views do embrace the thought that there are no defensible moral principles. I am wondering if you could give me an instance where it is warranted morally that adults may be blown up. I can give you an instance where it is the best thing to do for all parties involved, the only apparent alternative, but this may vary from similar instance to similar instance.
    Suppose a situation occurred wherein in order to save two thousand people from impending death, a mixture of males females and children the only alternative being the prompt death of one specific child who was although on hand, not a member of the threatened crowd. Would you consider it just, best, and only thing to do. Additionally would you be prepared to do the act yourself? You are one of the two thousand, and cannot delegate whatever you decide to do. Make it a bit harder/easier, you mother is one of the crowd.
    I remember as an undergraduate putting this question to a professional philosopher who had been lecturing us on the evils of Utilitarianism and the sanctity of human life. After much shuffling evasions, even considering his mother was also in the crowd he ended up rather lamely saying he just did not know, he could not kill a child, he seemed in a state of stasis.

  30. Philofra:

    What exactly do you mean by the “world and culture Hamas resides in seems to put a much smaller value on human life”?

    That seems like a rather sweeping and dangerous generalization.

    Are there any serious empirical studies by impartial observers about the value placed on human life in the world and culture Hamas resides in?

  31. Mike,

    Although I find that we are at the opposite ends of the spectrum in some areas of philosophical reflection, your writing is very interesting and thought provoking.

    1. Now that I have purchased 4 of your collections, will you move to Belize and retire in the manner you wish to be accustomed?

    2. Since your bios was limited, I would like to know which philosophers have had the most effect on your thought. This would be useful to me in reading the essays, for the purposes of personal research, should I be so inclined.

    I would have sent this offline, but could not figure out how to do it–the curse of getting older.

  32. Re: Mike LaBossiere, November 22, 2012 at 7:55 pm
    “The work in legal causation by Honore and Hart does a good job laying out legal accountability and this could be tweaked a bit to serve as theory of moral accountability.”

    Some of the work by Hart and Honore used a vague concept called proximate cause to prove legal accountability. Whatever proximate cause is, it is not precise. In the specific example, there is a confusion that it more morally wrong to kill innocent children than to kill innocent adults, which seems to go a bit too far in a moral judgement. In any case, the Gaza situation is not a legal dispute.

    “Roughly put, I’d accept that to the degree that my free actions contribute to X, I am responsible for X.”

    The tweak is questionable. In the article, you are not judging your actions. You are judging someone else’s actions with the same moral methodology – Israel and the Hamas. The commentary indicates the issues are not nice and not comfortable. However, discussion of morality is unlikely to resolve the problems. Swallerstein’s comments have been more helpful in understanding the problem.

    I remember reading that the explanation for the existence of philosophy was an invention to thwart warfare. The Ancient Greeks were tired of the Peloponnesian wars, and sought a diplomatic method of ending the conflict. If so, has the use of Greek philosophy been successful, or has it made no difference, or has it made matters worse? I would say it has at least made no difference in preventing war. However, it may have added a new language of respect, honour, medals, courage and fortitude to the human language. If philosophy can contribute anything new to the resolution of conflict, it will not be found from historical examples or past philosophical patterns and rhetoric.

  33. Re:- swallerstein November 23, 2012 at 11:52 am

    This is interesting. I am wondering, I am sure you know better than I, if any serious empirical studies were made of Nazism prior to the end of WW2. I am assuming not; however observations of the activities of Herr Hitler and his followers soon spread by word of mouth and other leakages of damming information from that country and regime. People made up their minds from what they saw read and heard. No scientific studies just what was seen and heard.
    In this connection there are certain cultures which are to my mind are such that they put a smaller value on human life and history does reveal that the tendency to go to war and also commit gross and vile acts, varies between cultures.
    If my life depended on giving a correct answer to the ‘World and culture of Hamas’ either a Yes or No, I would reply in the affirmative, don’t ask me why. It is like science one observes phenomena carefully makes an hypothesis, and then seeks by the experimental method to verify it. As you say this does not seem to have been done in the world and culture Hamas lives in, but surely we have a right to express our hypotheses.

  34. Don:

    Actually, from seeing the grief stricken reactions of Palestinians to the Israeli attacks, I would say that they value the lives of their loved ones as much as “we” do.

    Let’s see. I suppose that one might generalize from Muslim suicide bombers, but there are between 1.6 and 1.7 billion Muslims today and a very very small percentage of them commit attacks of suicidal terrorism or of terrorism in general. To generalize from Muslim suicidal bombers is more or less analogous to generalizing about U.S. homicidal tendencies from the case of young men who kill their classmates in U.S. schools or universities.

    Hamas kills Israeli civilians, yes, but in this case, the Israelis have killed more Palestinian civilians than Hamas has killed Israeli civilians, but I would not say that Israelis put a lesser value on human life.

    Now, here’s a list of homicide rates per country. Note that the Arab nations tend to have a fairly low rate of homicides.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_intentional_homicide_rate

    So the only thing that seems clear is that Hamas is less careful about protecting the Palestinian population from civilian casualties than Israel is from protecting the Israeli population from civilian casualties.

    That hardly means that the world and culture which Hamas is in (Islam? the Arab Middle East?)
    puts a lesser value on human life in general. It only says something about the military strategy which Hamas uses and about their lack of scruples in this respect, but to generalize about a culture from that data might be like generalizing about Latin American culture from
    some newspaper articles about the FARC (Colombian irregular forces which sell drugs and kidnap).

  35. Re:- Swallerstein,Nov 23.
    Thanks for your reply. Re your comment ” I would say that they value the lives of their loved ones as much as “we” do.”
    You might like to read ‘Honor Killings’ In Wikipedia. Additionally http://www.worldandi.com/newhome/public/2003/may/clpub.asp goes into greater detail concerning treatment of children in Palestine. I cannot of course vouch for the accuracy of what is written in those sources but such information as this is what urges me to reply yes to the question I posed myself in my last post.

  36. Don,

    Many moral codes allow the killing of adults. The obvious cases would be self defense-if adults are trying to murder me and I happen to have a grenade, then it would be morally acceptable for me to blow them up. Now, if we specify that the adults are on par with children (that is, lacking the adult capacity for moral responsibility) then it would be much harder to warrant it. Such cases, as you note, usually involve having to kill some to save many.

    Lets take a scenario like this: A jetliner has been hijacked (as per 9/11) and it is nearly full of fuel. The hijacker are attempting to crash it into a major urban center and thousands could well die. There are many innocent people on board. I would accept that downing the airliner over the sea or a open field would be acceptable. Even if I or my family were on board. After all, we’d die anyway and it is better to die saving many than to perish while many more die.

    Could you present some details of the scenario that requires me to kill one child to save many? Is it that someone is demanding the child be killed or they will kill the many? Is the child infected with some terrible disease that he carries but is immune to?

    In general, if killing one would with absolute certainty save 2,000 non-evil people from death, I would do it. Even if that person was myself. If I failed to kill myself, that would be rather selfish of me. After all, I can hardly claim that my life is worth more than so many. Heck, I’ve risked my life to help one person.

  37. Timford,

    Thanks-now I can retire, but to a summer home in Maine and a winter home in Florida. Plus a castle somewhere. Just because I’ve always wanted to stand on the battlements of my own castle and gaze out at the world in defiance.

    The most influential would be: Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Descartes, Leibniz, Hobbes, Locke, Mill, Confucius and Lao Tzu.

  38. Dennis Sceviour,

    I would say that, in general, the addition of ethics into war (in the form of laws and rules) has been generally positive. I do think that ethical concerns are quite real and do impact actual behavior. That is, soldiers do or do not do things in at least some cases based on ethics. Also, ethical violations (war crimes) are taken seriously at times.

  39. Don Bird,

    Oddly enough, Mussolini’s essay on fascism includes the claim that the fascist loves life. He also claims they are for war and against peace.

  40. Don:

    The honor killings are horrible.

    However, if you take a look at the homicide statistics, the homicide rate for Palestine is slightly less than that of the United States.

    So while in Palestine, people may be more likely to kill someone out of “honor”, in the U.S. people kill others for other reasons: over money, because one car ran into another, because they are drunk or on drugs.

    Probably a Palestinian who learns that people in the U.S. kill each other over money considers them to be barbaric, just as people, who routinely kill for money, see honor killing as barbaric.

    Incidentally, the U.K. where you reside, as far as I know, has a much lower homicide rate than the U.S. or the Palestinians, as do Arab countries such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, both of which have approximately the same rate as the U.K.

    Chile, where I reside, has a homicide rate less than that of the U.S. (and the Palestinians) and greater than that of the U.K. and Saudi Arabia.

    Israel, by the way, has a homicide rate half that of the U.S. (and the Palestinians) and twice that of the U.K. (and Saudi Arabia)

  41. Thanks Mike,

    I am enjoying the readings, your selection of philosophers less clear in some respects to me.

  42. @ Steve Merrick:

    “Sadly, in a war there are no innocent civilians. If your government (which governs in your name, on your behalf) sends your soldiers to attack my country then every citizen of your country becomes my enemy.”

    You’ve made a number of assumptions:

    1)Not every government is derived from democratic elections. What about a dictator who kills in the name of the people he rules over?

    2)You’re assuming everyone has the capacity to cast a vote or else for some reason you don’t view the incapacity of young children to cast a vote as relevant.

    3) Even in the case of governments that are derived from democratic elections, not every citizen on voting age votes them in. How can you condemn the entire voting citizenry of a country based on the fact that over 50% who turned out on election day voted in the current government?

    4) You assume that the government was voted in based on a stated policy to go to war. What if that policy was never stated to the people? What if they got elected based on their economic policies and then instigated an unjustifiable war with another country?

    “I will strike at any of your citizens, by any means, without a second thought, and call myself a patriot, not a terrorist. All of you are my enemies, not just your soldiers. To say otherwise is to assume that your government does not represent your people, or that your army is out of your control.”

    You can call yourself whatever you want, but you’re still a terrorist or war criminal if you intentionally or indiscriminately target innocent civilians.

    As opposed to assuming that everyone has a vote and is therefore accountable and that they knew the government would instigate an unjustifiable war with another country?

  43. @ Steve Merrick:

    I thought of a perfect example: the war in Iraq. It was clearly an unjust war. Would you accept that it would be justified for Iraqis to indiscriminately kill every American citizen?

    If you do I will at least admit that you are consistent.

  44. Timrford,

    Maybe influences are like family-most often you don’t pick them, you just have them.

  45. Re:-Mike LaBossiere November 23

    What is best to do given the circumstances in which one finds oneself. Unfortunately we never know how we will behave until we become involved in a real life situation. I do not know whether at heart, I am brave or cowardly, in fact I could be brave in some situations and cowardly in others. So far in life without the aid of any moral code or religion I have attempted to do what seems best all round, in any situation. Sometimes it has not been to my own benefit, others have had in my opinion, a better claim. I am aware that self preservation is a natural urge of nature. I am not sure any of us know how we would have behaved on say, the Titanic.
    Your example of the jetliner is interesting for the simple fact that common sense seems to indicate that the innocent people on board will have a better chance of survival if the aircraft ditched in the sea or an open field. There would be no chance whatsoever were it to impact a major Urban centre; so irrespective of the massive loss of life were it so to do we, i.e. those on the aircraft, would much prefer the sea or a field rather than a built up location. In this connection I have noticed that newspapers often describe pilots in charge of craft partially out of control as brave because they steered the plane away from built up areas, well they surely would wouldn’t they? Bravery would be not using an ejector seat until the craft was clear of buildings.
    Concerning the child I can think of a bizarre scenario. You are a security man in a large building which is packed with people going about their business. Suddenly you become aware looking out of a window that a child is on the point of pushing a plunger which will cause a massive explosion demolishing the building. You are a good shot and are pretty certain you can hit the child causing instant death; what do you do?
    My original point in replying to this particular blog was to try to convey my feeling that killing especially in war is regretted, but accepted and soon forgotten especially by, I think politicians, the old sending the young to their deaths. How often do we who have not been deprived of loved ones in Afghanistan give any real consideration concerning all deaths there which have taken place. In UK we bring back our dead with great organised ceremony but far less attention is given to those who still live but have to endure for the rest of their lives horrific injuries both physical and mental.
    I wonder if Mr Blair and Mr Bush gave any consideration whatsoever as to the number of deaths, and injuries on all sides, which would occur by invading Iraq. none at all I guess, and they are both supposed to be some sort of Christian people. How Blair lives with himself I cannot imagine.

  46. “Concerning the child I can think of a bizarre scenario. You are a security man in a large building which is packed with people going about their business. Suddenly you become aware looking out of a window that a child is on the point of pushing a plunger which will cause a massive explosion demolishing the building. You are a good shot and are pretty certain you can hit the child causing instant death; what do you do?”

    Sometimes difficult scenarios define themselves.

    From a moral standpoint, I would look at this from a different viewpoint. You have two options, at least. Changing the scenario, obviously changes the options.

    1. Kill the child and save the people.

    2. Save the people, and in the process, causing the undesirable death of the child.

    I believe it is called the Law of Double Effect, or something along those lines.

    You choose the best good choice you can, because you have very limited time, and if you choose option 2, you regrettably do cause the death, but it is not your primary choice. Since the intent is of paramount importance in any decision, this would change the guilt.

    As for the guilt of Mr. Blair or Bush, or Nixon, etc., you must keep in mind that they were far removed from the killing fields. For those of us who were active participants, delivering death was very personal, because it was up close and remains with me today.

  47. Are ethics and rockets a contradiction in terms in this situation? What would you do if you were told that you had to make a living teaching rocket science to these people?

  48. “Lets take a scenario like this: A jetliner has been hijacked (as per 9/11) and it is nearly full of fuel. The hijacker are attempting to crash it into a major urban center and thousands could well die. There are many innocent people on board. I would accept that downing the airliner over the sea or a open field would be acceptable. Even if I or my family were on board. After all, we’d die anyway and it is better to die saving many than to perish while many more die.”

    I agree with this analysis but not for utilitarian reasons.

    I think that it is based on the moral permissibility of neutralizing an imminent threat to yours or someone else’s life.

    Yes the people on the plane are morally innocent and certainly do not deserve to die but if we honestly believe the terrorist hijackers are flying it into a built up area then we are morally justified in taking all proportional steps to shoot it down. It is an absolute tragedy that innocent people were killed but that does not make the people who shot the plane down responsible.

    Taking a more extreme example, let’s say a single person is trapped on a strip of land over a canyon. As ridiculous as it sounds a plane is coming in for a crash landing onto that strip of land and you have an RPG just because. The crash landing will kill a handful of people including you but hundreds will live if you do not fire upon it. I think despite the numbers of lives saved, what matters is whether you honestly believe there is an imminent threat to yourself and you’re using the force proportional to neutralize the threat. Sadly that force is to fire the RPG thereby diverting the plane and killing everyone on board.

    It sucks but there is no moral obligation to stand there and die even if it would be praiseworthy to make that choice.

    “In general, if killing one would with absolute certainty save 2,000 non-evil people from death, I would do it. Even if that person was myself. If I failed to kill myself, that would be rather selfish of me. After all, I can hardly claim that my life is worth more than so many.”

    The trouble I have with this is that there is no limiting principle besides showing that I saved more than I killed.

    Why not kill a tramp and harvest his organs to save 6 people?

    I can agree that it would be selfish and therefore certainly criticism-worthy if I am not killing myself to save many but I am not convinced that it is reasonable to infer that it must therefore be morally obligatory.

    I think that within the margins of liberty there is plenty of conduct that is criticism-worthy but that is why it is how we exercise our liberties that indicates whether or not we are praiseworthy people.

    I am not praiseworthy because I do not rape children. I am not praiseworthy because I do not rob people. If I did those things I would deserve to be condemned and punished but just because I am not breaching my moral obligations doesn’t make me a good person.

    However, if I gave money to the poor to the point where I am putting myself into a position where I am sacrificing my comfort then that could be praiseworthy because I have exercised my liberty to assist others and caused a burden to myself. This sacrifice is not morally obligatory, it is part of my liberty.

    Being jealous is neither praiseworthy nor is is condemnable and worthy of punishment as the Bible might have us believe. The concept of sin is one of the greatest encumbrances upon individual liberty. I am free to be jealous of my neighbour, I am free to disrespect my parents etc.

    These thoughts may lead to immoral conduct e.g. my jealousy of my neighbour motivates me to steal from him. However, the fact I have behaved indecently does not automatically entail that I have behaved immorally.

    To draw this back to the moral obligation to kill oneself; I may be behaving indecently by refusing to kill myself to save others but it does not indicate that I had a moral obligation to sacrifice my life and have thereby acted immorally through my failure to do so.

    It is within the margins of my liberty to choose to kill myself or not to.

  49. Btw in terms of human shields I guess there will be situations where it is justified to shoot knowing that you’re killing innocent people.

    There are many factors to consider but if there are no reasonable alternatives and you honestly believe your life or someone else’s is in imminent danger from a militant or terrorist then you are justified in shooting with the knowledge that you are also killing the human shield.

    It is no different from shooting down the hijacked plane.

    It is always a tragedy but it does not mean you are guilty and deserve to be punished.

  50. Just a side note on ‘double effect’ as mentioned upstream by Timford: the killing of the child would have to be a side-effect of an act intended to save the many – not the means by which the many were saved – in order for it to be justified by appeal to the principle of double effect.

  51. A useful, level-headed analysis of an issue too often fraught w/ emotion and muddled reasoning. Thank you.

  52. Here is a variation of killing one person to save say 2000. You are solely responsible for the act of killing one person of your choice including yourself. You are in your late 20s married with two children. You have so far been highly successful in your chosen career and are presently travelling to a conference where you are to give a paper on the latest progress in cancer research in which you are involved. The question is do you kill yourself or do you look around the 2000 people and see amongst them a few extremely aged people one or two quite fragile, additionally some mentally handicapped people, who seem virtually unaware of what is going on. Do you decide to select from these unfortunates, whom, you will kill? To make this more ‘watertight’ assume that none of the survivors will ever know that you were instrumental in a death, and you are not permitted to ask for volunteers?

  53. In the end the author remained neutral. However, it was biased to say Hamas took shelter of Civilians. Suppose, I robbed your lands and houses, would you still be waiting for me to plunder the rest of your territories? Hamas have neither army nor high tech weapons. If the intention was to kill civilians of Israel, they would have done it so. USA seem so interested in this matter, why do US give monetary support to Israel? Why not to Palestine? Even a blind can understand the intentions behind this scheme. If you give me my rightful lands then why would I even dare to fight you? Have we forgotten what US did to Indians? Same thing Israelis doing to Palestine, by expropriating from their own land. And you call Hamas terrorist? If asking which is legally mine is defined as terror activity then I think no one should seek justice.

  54. Dan said: “What about a dictator who kills in the name of the people he rules over?”

    It isn’t possible to make a statement, in advance, that correctly anticipates all real world occurrences of a particular thing. So there will, must, be circumstances where such a statement won’t be correct. This is surely one of them. Common sense required.

    “…for some reason you don’t view the incapacity of young children to cast a vote as relevant.”

    It isn’t. Children are represented by their parents or guardians.

    “How can you condemn the entire voting citizenry of a country based on the fact that over 50% who turned out on election day voted in the current government?”

    You vote as you see fit, but you accept the winner even if you didn’t vote for him. That’s how that type of democracy **has to** work.

    “You can call yourself whatever you want, but you’re still a terrorist or war criminal if you intentionally or indiscriminately target innocent civilians.”

    As I said, there are no *innocent* civilians for me to target, only guilty ones. [Accepting the caveats above.] I am not a terrorist, just a citizen of some country, fighting a war.

    [Obviously when I say "I" in this discussion, I mean to refer to any one of us, not just me personally.]

    “Would you accept that it would be justified for Iraqis to indiscriminately kill every American citizen?” While the two countries were at war, yes, I would accept that any Iraqi citizen would be justified in attacking any American citizen, and vice versa. That’s what war is: a conflict between two or more groups, who fight each other until one ‘wins’. [Obviously, no-one wins; even the winner loses.]

  55. War is not a form of civilised behaviour, it is a **total failure** of civilised behaviour. Trying to isolate particular behaviours, and pronounce them unacceptable, is way too subtle. War is terrible; every sane person involved in a war is subject to its terror.

  56. @Steve: “It isn’t. Children are represented by their parents or guardians.”

    Parents represent their child’s welfare and best interests not political preferences.

    Furthermore, you won’t be able to show me that the Palestinians use a voting system where children are given a vote by proxy.

    “You vote as you see fit, but you accept the winner even if you didn’t vote for him. That’s how that type of democracy **has to** work.”

    You accept that the winner is in power and can make lawful decisions; you do not accept that you lose your protected status under the Geneva Conventions and the fact is you don’t.

    You still haven’t answered this:

    You assume that the government was voted in based on a stated policy to go to war. What if that policy was never stated to the people? What if they got elected based on their economic policies and then instigated an unjustifiable war with another country?

    :As I said, there are no *innocent* civilians for me to target, only guilty ones. [Accepting the caveats above.] I am not a terrorist, just a citizen of some country, fighting a war.”

    Ah yes innocence is very subjective; you got me there and besides that’s not the test for whether you are a war criminal so I’ll rephrase:

    You can call yourself whatever you want, but you’re still a war criminal if you intentionally or indiscriminately target non-combatant civilians.

    “That’s what war is: a conflict between two or more groups, who fight each other until one ‘wins’. [Obviously, no-one wins; even the winner loses.]”

    That’s descriptively correct but it doesn’t prove that breaches of international humanitarian law aren’t punishable. They are so you don’t cherry pick the descriptive arguments you like and ignore the others.

    Intentionally targeting non-combatant civilians is a war crime and it should be.

    Your “they voted for it” argument is not an exculpatory factor and you have not adequately substantiated why it should be.

  57. “Trying to isolate particular behaviours, and pronounce them unacceptable, is way too subtle.”

    I disagree. You only have a license to kill those who are part of the game. If you incidentally kill those who are not part of the game you have to justify why their death was necessary in the circumstances.

    Whilst you can kill those who are part of the game you are restricted in the methods you employ to kill them. You may not use weapons that will cause unnecessary suffering e.g. mustard gas, expanding hollow points. This makes sense from a moral standpoint since they have waived consideration of their interest in life but they have not waived their interest in not unnecessarily suffering.

  58. “Intentionally targeting non-combatant civilians is a war crime and it should be. ”

    Can I continue your logic to say that the choice of Nagasaki and Hiroshima (civilian targets) instead of Japanese military targets–that admittedly could have also achieved cessation of the hostilities, was a criminal action?

  59. “Can I continue your logic to say that the choice of Nagasaki and Hiroshima (civilian targets) instead of Japanese military targets–that admittedly could have also achieved cessation of the hostilities, was a criminal action?”

    Yes you could. I see no good reason why the allies should have got a free pass but I guess that’s victors’ justice right.

    I think that we should demand more of the “good guys” than the “bad guys”. We expect “bad guys” to commit mass murder.

  60. yes, regrettably we are in complete agreement.

    The problem is, that good guys do not commit mass murder, bad ones do.

    Good guys make mistakes, sometimes do bad things, but regardless the enormity of the crime makes me shudder.

    I think some people I know would argue with the use of the word murder, and instead call it killing (which normally is differentiated by intent). Either way, the intent is wrong.

  61. Co-lateral damage, is a good euphemism at times, for murder.

  62. Dan said “You only have a license to kill those who are part of the game.”

    I disagree. War is not a game. It is the most profound failure in diplomacy that can be. When war happens, atrocities of all kinds, from a personal to a national level, happen. War *is* an atrocity; war *is* terrorism.

  63. Perhaps war is much more than just atrocity, barbarism, terrorism, and chaos. It would seem to me that the politicians spin whatever reasoning they want to use to justify going to war.

    There are some good things that happen during and after a war, but I do not believes it justifies the carnage.

    Weapons of mass destruction? Really?
    Don’t know what happened in Egypt? Yeah, I believe that.

    What might be interesting is for a philosophical think tank to be started, unaffiliated with liberals and conservatives–like the other think tanks, so that we could have some unofficial check and balance on Congress and the Presidency, and even the Court system.

    In principle, it might be good, but since the majority of Americans are of the “vulgar” group as Aristotle says, they probably do not want the truth.

  64. I happen to agree with you that war itself is an atrocity and should be avoided wherever possible.

    However, we are discussing the moral guilt of the participants and bystanders. In that respect it is like a game. You may intentionally target the participants but you must not intentionally or indiscriminately target the bystanders.

    The real issue it seems is who are the participants and who are the bystanders.

  65. I think when we are at war be it on active service or as a civilian the overall gut feeling is “might is right, and all’s fair in love and war”. Off the battle field we realise the horror, but this never seems to stand in the way of going to war again. We must be genetically disposed to be warring creatures, it is one of our survival mechanisms.

  66. I have been uncomfortable with this thread, because I see a “non sequitur.”

    We almost, to a T agree that it is wrong to kill the innocent, those who are non-combatants or innocents.

    This seems correct and reasonable to me.

    Yet we kill innocent humans daily so that we can have better cars, houses, etc.

    Is it possible that we can kill anyone for certain reasons, profit or financial gain? Can we whack uncle Fred because he is old and senile?

    Is it ever justifiable to kill for this reason?

    If LIFE is the basis from which all freedoms flow, why are we so focused on “my” rights, and not life?

    One could answer this from a religious viewpoint, but i WOULD LIKE A PHILOSOPHICAL-BASED RESPONSE.

  67. Timrford:

    I’m not aware of killing innocent people daily in order to have a better house or car (actually, I don’t have a car).

    Now, if you mean that in order to have, say, cheaper computers, workers in China and other lands are exploited and work under terrible labor conditions, that is true, but they are not being killed or even literally worked to death (as in the Gulag) as far as I know.

    In any case, I would be willing to pay a bit more for my computer (and blue jeans, etc.) so that workers who manufacture them could earn a decent living.

    In fact, I would welcome a society in which computers were sufficiently expensive that I and others would not feel pressured into buying a new one every couple of years, producing infinite waste.

  68. Timrford: It depends where your starting point is, who has the burden of justification, and what are sufficient justifications.

    I propose that the starting point is to assume people have an interest in their future experiences insofar as they may value them.

    The initial burden should lie on those justifying a deprivation of future experiences rather than requiring others to justify why they should not be deprived of their future experiences.

    Therefore, if someone were to say “I can kill him” they would need to provide a justification. For example; it is profitable.

    Weighing the interests of one person being allowed to continue their future experiences against someone making some profit and it appears that profiteering falls short of a sufficient justification unless a utilitarian argument is invoked e.g. the person profiting will gain far more utility than anyone could lose by being deprived of their future experiences.

    A more common example is that they deserve to die as punishment for a crime they committed and some would argue that this justified as long as it is proportional to their culpability e.g. kill the murderer. Whilst this is logical, I disagree that proportionality justifies killing. Rather I see proportionality as a limiting principle to the extent of the punishment rather than justifying the numerous methods of punishment. If it were the case that proportionality also justified all methods of punishment then we could punish people by torture, provided the degree to which we torture them remains proportional to their culpability.

    In any event it would not even be logical to argue that a person deserves to die as punishment notwithstanding the fact that they have not committed any crime at all. However, disproportionate punishment could be argued for on pure deterrence grounds as we discussed earlier. It runs into the problem that there is no limiting principle besides efficacy so we could justify the killing of someone who steals a loaf of bread.

    I think in reality threat-based justifications are the only convincing reasons we can kill people. This avoids complications as to their moral guilt or innocence and focuses solely on whether we did honestly believe that they were a danger to the lives of others.

    I am also open to the view that we could voluntarily waive any moral consideration of our future experiences by participating in hostilities whether as a member of the armed forces, an organised armed group or a civilian who bears arms in a combat zone.

    I feel confident in arguing that deliberately killing non-combatants is always morally wrong. I also feel confident in arguing that deliberately killing unarmed captives is morally wrong despite the fact that they may have participated in hostilities or may be guilty of a grave crime.

  69. Re Timrford Dec 1st.

    “Is it possible that we can kill anyone for certain reasons, profit or financial gain? Can we whack uncle Fred because he is old and senile?”
    “Is it ever justifiable to kill for this reason?”
    How about killing a person for the reason that he/she is a menace to society is a dedicated bullying, underachieving hooligan, who has caused despair, misery, distress, to many. Additionally drunk driving in a stolen car without a driving licence and insurance has resulted in death and injury of others. Prison sentences, fines, educational courses to remedy all the failings, have themselves failed. The person is in effect a useless brainless dangerous blot on the world, who also endeavours to induce others with the aid of his/her bullying attitude to follow his/her bad example.
    To kill such a person could very well result in profit and financial gain. The profit would lie in the fact that society, which the person in question inhabits, would be free of the misery he/she causes. Financially there would be an improvement as repairs to the damage he /she causes would be extinguished. Additionally the cost of containing the person in a prison would be also be extinguished, together with any state benefits he/she may have been claiming as a result of never being legal employment.
    The big problem is how are they to be killed, who is to do it, is it to be State sanctioned? Would the killing be justified. In my opinion I tend to the affirmative in my reply.

  70. Dennis Sceviour

    Re: Don Bird, December 2, 2012 at 5:46 pm
    “…a useless brainless dangerous blot on the world…”

    It is disappointing to read how callous you are to those less fortunate than yourself.

  71. Dan said “we are discussing the moral guilt of the participants and bystanders. In that respect it is like a game.”

    Still I cannot agree. Determining the moral guilt for the deaths of others cannot be a game. Life is something to be taken seriously.

    Dan said “You may intentionally target the participants but you must not intentionally or indiscriminately target the bystanders.”

    Bystanders are those whose country is not involved in the war. When George W Bush lead America to war on Afghanistan, every American citizen marched to war with him. And they made war on every Afghani, not just soldiers, and maybe politicians.

    No matter how hard you try, you cannot fit a civilised veneer over war. War is terrorism; terrorism is war. Things like the Geneva Convention are a terrible pretence. It’s not that I excuse terrorism, it’s that I don’t excuse war!

  72. @Steve Merrick,

    What utter, utter bollocks.

    Because I had the (mis)fortune to be born in geographic area A, which happens to fall within the arbitrary borders of some collective known as country X, and am forced to fund the ‘leaders’ of that country with threat of imprisonment, then I am somehow the mortal enemy of person B who was born within arbitrary country Y because the leader of X has an irreconcilable difference with the leader of Y?

    Sorry, that just doesn’t fly.

    You try and kill me then expect me to try and kill you. Someone takes money off you by force disagrees with someone who takes money off me by force – I’d suggest we have more in common that otherwise and should band together to fight oppression.

  73. Sorry it took so long to respond, I spent the weekend with PTSD, flashbacks, and bipolar. When I get hit with the meds, I am rather incapacitated.

    Let me illustrate my comment with my experience. My first degree was in biomedical. Many times, I had to gown down, go into the Operating Room and look at a surgical case and the reports of malfunctioning equipment. There were all kinds of surgeries, from prostate to bone surgery, to abortions, and the alphabet between.

    Human body parts of little ones would occasionally block the tubing of a vacuum curettage. You could watch the hands and feet, etc., hit the bottom of the jar. This caused a great deal of conflict with me, and after speaking with several of my friends who performed these procedures, one of the admitted that it was human.

    Is there any other animal that routinely kills it’s own for convenience?

    That’s not all.

    When Uncle Fred lies comatose, if they suspect brain death, even though there have been repeated instances of “brain dead” people living and regaining sentience, but many are tagged with DNR (Do Not Resuscitate), and no attempt is made to see if his life can be meaningfully prolonged. It is simply a guess.

    When Aunt Sophie, next to Uncle Fred, does not dies when she is not resuscitated, the doctors come in and ask the family to approve starving her to death, when we simply don’t know for sure if she feels pain. This is humane?

    I believe in New York, when they examined those on death row, they found that approximately 10% of those there were proven to be innocent. While I am a supporter of the death penalty, I am opposed to killing off those who are innocent. I cannot support the death penalty until they make this better, though.

    There is no freedom for anyone killed when they are not guilty of any atrocities.

    Contrast that with a man who kills a woman who is pregnant, and he is charged with 2 murders, while if she kills her child, it is a matter of choice.

    I would just like to see some rationality in this….

  74. Re Dennis Sceviour Dec 2nd:-

    “It is disappointing to read how callous you are to those less fortunate than yourself.”

    Not so callous as my imagined, but based on real life, hooligan. I think if you were to ask his/her victims of their opinion of him/her you may well find a higher degree of callousness emanating from them. Don’t take what I wrote too seriously, it does not represent how I might behave in a true life scenario. It was written in the main to elicit a reply. Plato argued from the just man to the just state. What I wrote is similar, the unjust man to the unjust state. Although I did not mention that, the inference is, I think, quite possible. You could possibly consider Nazi atrocities in that connection; are we callous to condemn them, as has so often been done?

  75. I think in philosophy, that one should scrupulously avoid all appearances of personal attacks.

    I am in agreement with ST. Augustine of Hippo, who said that we are all a mixture of good and bad, that none of us is completely good or bad, since the fall.

    It is also my belief that the subjects generally discussed here are of sufficient import to avoid those comments which suppose to reduce the discussions to personal attacks on those traits and behaviors that all of us have, as reasoning animals.

    I do like a spirited encounter, though……

  76. I’ll give it my best shot.

    “When Uncle Fred lies comatose, if they suspect brain death, even though there have been repeated instances of “brain dead” people living and regaining sentience, but many are tagged with DNR (Do Not Resuscitate), and no attempt is made to see if his life can be meaningfully prolonged. It is simply a guess.”

    I would argue that this is a question of how far the duty to save extends. If they are irreversibly brain dead they are not people and killing them cannot be morally wrongful.

    If there is a chance they could regain consciousness and we had limitless resources then I see no issue keeping them on life support just in case.

    “When Aunt Sophie, next to Uncle Fred, does not dies when she is not resuscitated, the doctors come in and ask the family to approve starving her to death, when we simply don’t know for sure if she feels pain. This is humane?”

    Passive euthanasia is at best needlessly prolonging suffering. The doctors that advocate this practise whilst labelling active euthanasia practitioners overseas “murderers” need to take a good look at what they’re actually doing.

    Let’s look first at causation. In both passive and active euthanasia the doctor is knowingly causing the death of the patient. The only difference is that active euthanasia is more immediate than passive euthanasia.

    This time difference does not change the causative link or knowledge of the doctor and if the passive euthanasia doctor was genuinely wishing to alleviate the patient’s harm why not kill them instantly? Why prolong their suffering at all?

    When we know that a person does not value their current and future experiences, it is not just morally permissible to kill them.. we arguably have a moral obligation to kill them.

    “There is no freedom for anyone killed when they are not guilty of any atrocities.”

    Even worse when the state convicts the wrong man, the real criminal is still on the streets.

    “Contrast that with a man who kills a woman who is pregnant, and he is charged with 2 murders, while if she kills her child, it is a matter of choice.
    I would just like to see some rationality in this….”

    Well the “rationality” behind this is that the state cannot criminalize abortions that a woman has voluntary elected but it can criminalize all other killings of the unborn since there is no constitutional right limiting the state’s power to define criminal acts.

    However, morally speaking, it is problematic. I guess it depends if you believe that the freedom over what is in your body always trumps the unborn’s interest in life. This ultimately comes down to a value judgement.

  77. I think I’d better clarify one point

    “When we know that a person does not value their current and future experiences, it is not just morally permissible to kill them.. we arguably have a moral obligation to kill them.”

    Its more like their current and future experiences will consist of needless suffering. I qualify this because the suicidal clearly do not value their current and future experiences, at least at the point in time when they’re suicidal.

  78. Hi,

    “Well the “rationality” behind this is that the state cannot criminalize abortions that a woman has voluntary elected but it can criminalize all other killings of the unborn since there is no constitutional right limiting the state’s power to define criminal acts.”

    The problem is of several dimensions.

    By giving special death dealing prerogatives to doctors, nurses, crooked cops and prosecutors, and pregnant women, you take away the freedoms of some and give them to others.

    Forget the courts and legal system. Since when did they make laws based on anything other than utility?

    The wrong people are in charge.

    In the animal kingdom, no species of female animal will kill her young for convenience or financial gain, except man.

    My point was that what reasoning we use to justify departure from the natural law, simply do not appear to hold water.

    I have spent 65 years watching animal activists treat the lower animals with more dignity and respect than the one reasoning animal, the highest of the entire animal kingdom. This, even though we know part of natural selection had already caused more than 99% of all animal species to pass away.

    Do you think our court system does justice to us as human reasoning animals?

  79. RE Timrford
    “The wrong people are in charge.”

    OK, then who and where, are the right people?

  80. I would like to offer two ideas, one from Aristotle, and the last from Augustine, philosophers (among other things).

    Aristotle, in “The Proper Function of man….” says
    There are three classes of people.

    The common people, whom he referred to as the vulgar. There are MANY of these! They represent the sensual life, the seeking of pleasure is of paramount importance to them.

    The second group is composed of those Aristotle referred to as political. This is a smaller group of people, and to these people, honor seems to be the greatest common goal.

    The last group is what Aristotle called the speculative, To the speculative, virtue is superior to honor.

    Who is the best? Group three, of course.

    Who is in power, in Congress and the White House? Groups 1 and 2. Judiciary, not so clear, but 2 seems to the correct grouping for them. But they are the group 2 untouchables.

    It would be interesting and advantageous to read the early philosophers’ ideas of Utopia, and what kind of leaders should be selected.

    Go forward several thousand years to Augustine of Hippo, who warned mankind, that we should never expect perfection from our leaders.

    Consequently, while we understand that all of us are imperfect, this does not relieve us from the responsibility of selecting a politician, possibly based more on their upbringing and past actions, than the 30 second bits we saw on TV for the interminable weeks before the election. The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.

    I don’t think we always get a good man, or the best man, but we get what we deserve. Democracy is the most admired form of government, but it is very messy.

    Look at the history of Rome, it grew so big that it was split into two empires, with 2 emperors. It made sense, because the bureaucracy was crushing the empire.

    Problem was that the emperor of the west determined not to be a co-emperor, so he ousted the guy in the east.

    Rome adopted multiculturalism, and lost their identity.

    Sounds like the US, doesn’t it? Our country is too large to administer.

    To fix the situation?

    I think you go back to the basic building blocks of society, and support the family and marriage, anything else simply treats the symptoms of the social illnesses, and delays the total collapse, at best.

    We need different values than the ones we profess as a nation.

  81. I seem to remember although I do not have time to check the accuracy, that Plato suggested the best leaders were those, whom due to some reluctance had to be prevailed upon to take office. That way you exclude those who wish to line their own pockets and/or are merely eager for power.

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