1 David W. Croft Cpt. Rhodes Philosophy 310 14 November 1988 A Critical Analysis of Elizabeth Anscombe's "War and Murder" The thesis of Anscombe's essay is that it is wrong for the government to kill innocents as a means to killing non- innocents. This is never directly stated in her work as she leads up to it by making various assumptions and arguments which are the bases of her final conclusion. I will list these below so that we might examine the fundamental parts of her arguments and judge whether the thesis is valid. THE STRATEGY There are a number of assumptions that Anscombe makes, some of which she acknowledges and some we must derive from her arguments. First, as Anscombe mentions, we must assume (1) that the world is not just a jungle but a place where the reasoning man can be assured that such noble concepts as justice, evil, and good have a place. We assume (2) that "evil" is something which should be stopped or prevented. We assume (3) that "neutral" is something that is not evil yet not the opposite of evil. We assume (4) that "non- innocents" are those who commit evil. We assume (5) that the Bible is the truth. All of these assumptions are fundamental or promote the first of her arguments (a) that
2 some evil can only be stopped by violence, and ultimately, killing. Her basis for this argument is that it is true because history shows that often evil will not be stopped by anything other than killing and that the Bible shows that God limits the power of evil through violence (combined with Biblical history supporting her first basis through the stories of the Old Testament holy wars). An analysis of each of the assumptions and arguments will follow the complete outline of her thesis. Anscombe argues (b) that the government of a people is a competent judge of what is evil. Her basis is that rational beings, of which the government is included, are able to recognize evil. She assumes (6) that the Principle of Double Effect, of which I will discuss in detail, will not allow evil to be committed as a means to achieving good, (7) that it is evil to kill, and (8) that killing in self-defense is concomitant with the good derived. From this, she argues (c) that killing in self-defense is neutral. Her basis is that as killing in self-defense is not the means to the good but rather concomitant with the good, it passes the test of the Principle of Double Effect. This supports her argument (d) that private citizens may only kill in self-defense. She is asserting that since killing in self-defense is neutral, private citizens may practice this act.
3 Because of this, (e) private citizens may not kill to stop evil. As sometimes evil will not be directly aimed at the private citizen, it is not his responsibility to kill the non-innocents as it will not be a case of self-defense. Anscombe assumes (9) that past history reveals that killing non-innocents by the government is an integral part of our society. Assuming (10) that the society of man is geared toward that which is "good" (the opposite of evil), she argues (f) that it is good for, indeed, one of the primary purposes of, the government to kill non-innocents. Her basis is that a good society could not allow anything evil to be an integral part of it. Also, as the private citizen may only kill in self-defense, this leaves only the government to kill those who commit that which should be stopped. She assumes (11) that those humans not engaged in committing the evil are "innocents" and (12) that "murder" is the killing of those innocents without the justification of the Principle of Double Effect. Thus, she argues (g) that murder is evil as it fails the Principle. From this, Anscombe argues (h) that it is evil for the government to kill innocents as a means to killing non- innocents as this would be murder. This is her thesis, and as her thesis is based on the foregoing assumptions and arguments, her thesis may be attacked by weakening or destroying those foundations.
4 THE ASSUMPTIONS I will start out critiquing her thesis by critiquing the assumptions. For form, the following paragraphs will be interspersed with numbers respective to the assumptions discussed. The reader is advised to reference the assumptions described above as he progresses through the analysis as I will refrain from restating them below. (1) This assumption obviously must be granted in order to have an ethical theory. Otherwise, it is pointless to critique such a work. (2) I perceived it to be important to define the fundamental words that we use throughout this analysis in order to be precise about we are discussing before we start to "split hairs." Here, the definition of "evil" is general and expansive enough to include those acts which we think to be wrong but, as we are not the victims, do not put us personally in a position of self-defense. Thus, the government may combat those acts which occur in faraway nations to strangers, with whom we share the common link of humanity but no other obvious relation, justifiably even though that government and its people are not being molested or invaded. An example would be the outrage that is occurring in many countries over South African Apartheid even though the white South Africans might say that since the policy is contained within the bounds of their country, other nations have no right to interfere. (3) This is to distinguish those acts which are not evil, yet a society would not want to promote them over all other alternatives
5 as they are mixed with evil and thus to be used only when no purely "good" act is effective. (4) "Non-innocent" is a term used frequently throughout her thesis. (5) Even though Anscombe is a devout Catholic, none of her arguments are backed by faith alone. This enables even the atheist to accept her work if he agrees with her morality. Whereas she backs this particular argument with empirical evidence, she will primarily use the Principle of Double Effect as the secular element of her later bases. The next set of assumptions are based on the Principle of Double Effect so it will be necessary to do a critical analysis of the Principle before we discuss whether her subsequent assumptions are valid. One of the tests of the Principle of Double Effect is that the good and the evil effect which occur as a result of the action must be concomitant. If the two effects (thus "Double Effect") are not simultaneous, the action is perceived to have failed this segment of the Principle and thus is to be considered evil -- the evil must not be the means to a good. If, for example, you decided to indulge yourself by eating that last slice of pie, you could have reached your decision to do so by two opposing rationales. One rationale would be that, in light of the Principle of Double Effect, doing so would be "good." The other rationale, which would be considered "evil" by the Principle, would be to do so in order to gain a long term benefit. In the former case, you "intend" to enjoy the satisfaction of eating the pie, but
6 "forsee" the evil in gaining weight. As both effects are concomitant, the intended effect is a direct result of eating the pie; it passes that test of the Principle. It is worth mentioning in passing that another test you would weigh as part of the Principle of Double Effect is whether or not the good effect significantly outweighs the resulting evil. This test is the crux of another philosophy, Act- Utilitarianism, where the main question you must consider before every act is whether or not it will maximize the "good" at the expense of the "evil." The second possibility, which goes against the Priniciple of Double Effect, is that you eat the pie in order to gain weight so that you might eventually become so shocked with your state of health you immediately enroll yourself in a rigorous exercise program. While it is true that you may eventually get in better shape than you were before you ate that slice of pie, your intention is to gain weight (an evil) so that you might net a loss of weight (an indirectly intended good) which is using an evil as a means to an end result, the good. That example is ridiculous and obviously favors the Principle. But consider these examples: you bomb Hiroshima in order to save two countries from an additional ten years of fighting and at least ten times the loss in lives; you neuter an animal so that it cannot have offspring that would eventually suffer the effects of overpopulation; you take a philosophy class so that, through an indirect chain of
7 events, you might better defend the Constitution of the United States; or you kill an animal which is diseased to prevent its spread to others. It would seem, then, that the Principle of Double Effect is invalid by virtue of common sense. There is, however, a large body of thought which continues to support the idea of the Principle of Double Effect. What if, twisting a previous example, that "diseased animal" is a man with a threatening idea? From an Act- Utilitarian standpoint, we may consider assassinating this man in order to promote happiness in the long run. The Constitution, however, based on more of a Rule-Utilitarian standpoint, forbids us from the practice of assassination. Also interesting, it is commonly known that that ICBM's of the United States are likely to be launched according to a doctrine which targets military installations, not population centers, although the destruction of the cities may or may not promote a lower casualty rate eventually by defeating the enemy's will to fight or adding to the deterrent value of our forces. Whether these decisions are based on the Principle of Double Effect or not, we can see why Anscombe's Catholic Church would support the Principle. The spilling of blood was considered to be an evil associated with war which all pure clergy were to avoid and condemn. When it came to be realized that good could be achieved through surgery, the Church had to redefine their beliefs -- thus the Principle of Double Effect. One wonders
8 how the response of "It all works out in the end to the greater glory of God" -- to the questions of those victims of "acts of God" and other evils in a world where God reigns supreme -- fits in with the Principle of Double Effect. As I stated earlier, the Principle of Double Effect would seem to be invalid by virtue of common sense. It becomes obvious when given the above examples of the diseased animal and Hiroshima, but even this does not prove exactly why. In general, man strives for the greatest good -- when faced with a personal decision between two acts of which neither is purely beneficial, he will take the lesser of two evils. It is possible, however, to bind his reasoning process with an artificial constraint. We may require that his daily decisions be based on some superstitious beliefs derived from no logical context but a "spiritual" one. Some examples might include that he should not speak ill of the dead, should say something polite to the person who has just sneezed such as "bless you" to the point where it becomes redundant and irritating (originally deriving from an African belief that a sneeze was the escape of the soul from the body which must be coaxed to return with soothing words), and that he should not commit acts which fail the Principle of Double Effect even if they would lessen the "evil" in the world. This is the point: the criteria of the Principle that the evil and good in the act be concomitant is arbitrary. The overbearing criteria should be that the good in the act
9 outweighs the evil -- it does not matter whether the good follows the evil, occurs at the same time as the evil, or even precedes the evil, as long as it occurs. Although the Principle of Double Effect may be popular, I would have to criticize it as being wrong. (6) Continuing our analysis of the assumptions, if we agree with my conclusion about, as I call it, the Principle of Ineffect, this assumption is invalid. Thus, it may be possible to commit evil as means to achieving good so (7) not all killing is evil. (8) It should be noted that she specifically rules out deliberate, pre-planned killing such as the use of poison or assassins in her definition of self- defense -- the killing must be spontaneous to be simultaneous. (9) The only example which leaps to mind which disputes this is the Amish. Their society is based on a theology which forbids killing in all instances. However, they are surrounded by a sympathetic society, the United States of America, which uses killing to protect them from the more flagrant evils. I think that her assumption is valid from a practical standpoint. (10) If society were geared toward "evil," she would not be writing a thesis on ethics. (11) Many hold the theory that, in war, no one is innocent. The proponents of this theory, however, seem to have difficulty when describing just how the newborn infant is guilty of deserving being on the receiving end of a bayonet other than by association (a moral situation put to
10 me by an English instructor). Obviously the combatant is a non-innocent and we might even consider the non-combatant who steadily supplies and maintains the weapons of the warriors throughout the conflict non-innocent. Stretching it even further, we could even consider using food as a weapon against the masses who are engaged in activities that are completely unrelated to promoting the side of the non- innocent warriors. Our logic would be that the war-fighting machine would then have to divert its resources to feeding and maintaining its people. Thus, the people are non- innocent by guilt of omission -- their crime being not actively pursuing the downfall of the government which takes care of their needs. It then becomes our task to decide just which definition of "innocent" we find most plausible, varying from the reasonable to the ridiculous, and then try to apply it to the multitudes of classes of people with varying attitudes and contributions to their "non-innocent" combatant forces. Another option is to apply Utilitarianism. The commander, when considering whether or not to kill a class of people, should consider if the greatest good will be achieved. For an example, he might ask himself, "Would the good derived from the nuclear annihilation of several million people among population centers with no combatant forces, eventually leading to the end of the war, outweigh the evil resulting from the act?" If the answer is yes, the newborn infant has just become, through a less than obvious
11 chain of thought, a "non-innocent." An interesting aside about utilitarianism is that it is not arbitrary -- that is, the happiness of the babies of the other side come into play just as much as that of the utilitarian commander's babies'. Thus, Anscombe's assumption that non-combatants are innocent may or may not be true according to the situation. Even if you believe that babies should never be considered "non-innocents," you would probably grant that the ammunitions maker is a "non-innocent" even though he is a non-combatant. This is one obvious example which shows the need for a redefining of Anscombe's views on "innocence." (12) Here I would alter the assumption by replacing "the Principle of Double Effect" with "Utilitarianism" as the majority of us would grant that there are humans which can be considered innocent and killing which may be labeled murder. THE ARGUMENTS I will now check to see if Anscombe's arguments flowed logically from her assumptions and bases. As I have dismissed some of the assumptions, I will examine whether or not those assumptions were crucial to her arguments. Once I find that an argument has had to be dismissed, I will check to see if it has a significant impact on her thesis (once I have sawed off a number of table legs, I will check to see if the table still stands). (a) As this argument is grounded in empirical evidence, the argument is strong. Some might claim that all evils can
12 be stopped by non-violent means and that the use of force is not necessary if one has a strong will. An example is Gandhi's campaign of passive resistance which drove the British out of India. However, if we analyze why the British were driven out, we can see that passive resistance would not be a successful tactic against all forms of evil. The British were driven out because it became unprofitable and unpopular for them to remain. By refusing to continue to labor for the British, even when "encouraged" with the British machine gun, the Indian people cut off the flow of money to the British homeland -- for it was not the land which was profitable, but the labor of the people. Finally, as the strength of the will of the people became known to the world, the British colonial venture collapsed. Obviously, this "Indian" tactic was not too successful in North America. In this case, the invading white Americans were committing the evil of stealing the homeland from the North American Indian. It was not the labor of the people that they needed, nor did they concern themselves with the impressive strength of will and moral virtue of the Indian. Whereas, in the India of the East, the killing of passive Indians by the British might have shocked the world, in North America, Indian scalps were bringing in a tidy sum. The difference is this: in the India of the East the British tried to take something from the people which could not be taken without their consent (which would be a case of the defeat of the indomitable spirit); in North America, the
13 white Americans wanted the land. This is just one example in an unfathomable number of examples of evil which could not be stopped without the use of killing. For, as is recorded in history, even those North American Indians who pled their case to the "Great White Chief" in Washington, D. C. and conformed completely to habits and ways of Western civilization were doomed -- due to a deeply rooted belief concerning their race held by the whites. Granted, your free will may never be taken from you, but this may not be the evil which is being perpetrated -- the non-innocent may want your life. One wonders how "impressed" the German machine gunner was with the Jews who laid themselves down with silent dignity on top of the corpses of their own people in a ditch. To sum it up, passive resistance will not work against a rapist who is only concerned with your physical body -- your lack of consent will not even inconvenience him. (b) Anscombe admits that a war may be fought for both good and evil reasons so she is not naive or idealistic. But, as evil does exist, it is possible to recognize it or at least be justified in engaging war in the eyes of those who also believe you to be fighting evil. The obvious case is the self-defense against invasion. The argument, if not at least correct, is already used by the governments. (c) This conforms with the world-wide opinion on self- defense. To say that self-defense is evil is to place
14 yourself among a minute minority (of which the Amish are an example). (d) The flaw in this argument is that although self- defense is not evil she overlooks the possibility that other types of killing may not be evil. She is saying that all forms of killing are evil except in self-defense although she has not bothered to test those other forms of defense by the Principle of Double Effect. For instance, the United Nations has mandated that it is the right of the people to overthrow their government whenever it no longer exists to serve them (civil war equates to killing). Euthanasia is a prime example of Anscombe's failure to test killings other than in self-defense by the Principle of Double Effect. Here we have an evil which must be stopped by the private citizen -- the tortured existence of the human mind in a mutilated or spent body. If we apply the the test of the Principle with which we are concerned, that the evil and the good in the act be concomitant, we see that the evil of taking a human life occurs simultaneously with the good of relieving a human from pain. Obviously, Anscombe has been too narrow on her outlook on killing by private citizens. The most commonly associated example of killing by private citizens which is taboo is vigilantism. Although vigilantism is commonly illegal, this is not due to the fact that it is wrong for the private citizen to kill other than in self-defense, but more to Rule-Utilitarianism or a
15 Hobbesian Social Contract Theory. Obviously, the system most likely to fairly distribute justice is the judicial which is established by the government. Because vigilantism is prone either intentionally or accidentally to the frequent miscarraige of justice, most societies have deemed it more practical to discourage the practice. Looking at it from the standpoint of the innocent victim of vigilantes, he has been denied the right of protection from his fellow citizens by the government, whereas he has kept his part of the bargain by making himself vulnerable to attack. (e) This argument is false as it is based on the previous argument. However, if we grant that her previous argument was right but on a false basis (the Principle of Double Effect), the flaw may be considered a weak one. (f) Since we have taken away her former argument, government no longer becomes the only agent which can seek to defeat evil in foreign lands as the private citizen may kill to stop evil. However, Utilitarianism might consider an organized effort to be more efficient than a swarm of "volunteers" or vigilantes. Thus, this basis stands for the same reasons that the previous two arguments stand. Her first basis, however, was that since society has given the government the exclusive right to kill evil in the past, it must be right by empirical evidence and the fact that society is not evil. This is a dangerous assertion as society is not purely good. There may be some traditions which allow it to survive, but prevent it from operating at
16 peak performance. She is practicing a form of Social Ethical Relativism. By saying that since society allows government to kill evil, and that society does what is good, so therefore it is good for government to kill evil, Anscombe puts herself in a logically indefensible position. Following the same line of reasoning, she could enter a society which practices a doctrine directly opposed to her thesis, and say that their killing of innocents was good because society, which is good, practices it. Her reasoning is inconsistent. Again, if there are standards of justice, good, and evil in the world, they must not be based on the current practices of society. Finally, the use of empirical evidence proves that something can exist because it has -- it cannot prove something cannot exist because it has not. Although this argument falls because both of its bases have been sawed off or at least weakened, it may still be true. History shows that it is commonly the government that fights non-innocents -- probably practical utility is the basis which she did not consider. (g) Granted; this definition is necessary as a basis for her next argument. Even without the use of the Principle of Double Effect, this is true as we grant that there is such a thing as justice and evil. (h) This argument falls as it is based primarily on the Principle of Double Effect. Even though we grant that murder is evil, we do not grant that the government may not use murder as an indirect means to achieve a good -- a
17 tactic forbidden only by the Principle. She describes no other theory or philosophy which would act as a secondary basis for her argument and I personally cannot think of one. So by invalidating the Principle, we make her thesis that it is always wrong for the government to kill innocents as a means to killing non-innocents conditional, and thus useless as a consistent philosophy.