Thursday, September 11, 2014

Some New Items of Interest

By way of updates:

A piece that I wrote defending my choice as a philosopher in receiving the Bishop's mandatum just came out with New Oxford Review. Its called, "An Autonomous Philosopher & the Mandatum." It was a fun piece to write and I've had some interesting and encouraging feedback on it.

http://www.newoxfordreview.org/article.jsp?did=0914-symington

Also, I had the great opportunity and enjoyment of reviewing Ed Feser's new book, Scholastic Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction for Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews.


BTW, I'm hoping to have a new blog post soon.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Artificial Objects and the Agent Intellect

Artificial objects are metaphysically interesting and curious. Artificial objects include tables, books, cars, etc. Many metaphysicians are realists about material artificial objects. An interesting question regards how they come into existence. On one hand, although this is perhaps too simplistic, it seems that they are in some way dependent on human agency. For example, one takes some raw materials and fashion some object for some purpose. A common view as well is that artificial objects exist as constituted by their material parts; e.g., I have fashioned material parts, each with their own intrinsic properties, in such a way to bring into existence an artificial object that is not identical merely to the sum of its parts. However, it seems that in some cases artificial objects can come into existence just by thinking of something in a certain way. If I can bring a chair into existence by fashioning one out of wood, fabric and nails in the way described above, then it seems that I should be able to bring an artificial object into existence merely by taking something or thinking about it in a certain way. For example, haven't I brought a chair into existence when I have selected a low laying crook in a tree branch as a place to sit? So, it seems that one can bring into existence a material object (e.g., a chair, which is an artificial material object) just by thinking about it.

If this is so, then it raises an interesting thought. Perhaps there is a relation that goes in the other direction between some our object and our thought of it that may be telling about the properties of mental content in relation to their related material objects. Assume realism about material objects; the view that there are material objects and we can know things about how material objects are in themselves (anti-constructivism). Assume metaphysical constitutionalism; the view that material objects are fully constituted by their material parts without merely being identical to the sum of these parts (constitution does not equal identity).

1. A chair is a material object that can be brought into existence just by thinking about it.
2. In order to bring about the existence of a chair at t2 one must already have been thinking about that chair at t1.
3. Excluding perhaps "existence," the properties of the chair before I brought the material object into existence are indiscernible from the properties of the chair after it was brought into existence.
4. The kind of material thing brought into existence by thinking about it depends on the kind or configuration of the matter that constitutes it.
5. The material thing that has been brought into existence adds additional intelligible content to the matter that constitutes it; namely, that this arrangement of matter constitutes a chair.

Given 1-5 I think that it might be interesting to reverse the order when coming to know material objects (namely, objects constituted by its matter) in a way suggestive of something like a realism that includes something like the medieval Aristotelian doctrine of agent intellect.

Take an object like a dog. The dog is constituted by its material parts and one comes to know it through experience of it: the dog exists then one experiences the dog and then one comes to know some fundamental things relevant to the dog. 

Now look at 1-5: 

True, 1. is dissimilar in the case of non-artificial material objects: the dog is a material object that does not come into existence just by thinking about it, but comes into existence through the constitution of it through its material parts. However, the thought of the dog depends on the existence of the dog that is constituted by its material parts. 

Regarding 2., in order for the thought of the dog to exist there must have already been a dog that was constituted by material parts. 


Regarding 3., the properties of the dog that is constituted by material parts and the thought of the dog are indiscernible. 

Pertaining to 4., the only way for a dog to be constituted by material parts is for there to be a certain kind or configuration of matter that constitutes it. 

Regarding 5., there is additional intelligible content in the mind of the one knowing the dog that goes beyond knowing the material parts of the dog.

But this brings us back to take another look at 1. Although it is true that merely thinking about the dog does not bring the material object that is the dog into existence, at the same time there seems to be a requirement that something bring into existence in the mind of the one knowing the dog knowledge that the matter constitutes a dog. This is because there is additional intelligible content in knowing dog beyond merely knowing a particular set of material parts. Thus, it appears that since the properties of thought of the dog and the dog are indiscernible (or has a kind of formal identity), it would seem that there has to be some faculty in the mind to account for this additional content.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Selection Bias, Human Descent, and Inference to Design

Alex Pruss has a very nice post on his blog entitled, "Design, Evolution and Many Worlds." His post prompted some thoughts (which I posted in his combox), which I've posted below:

It be that there is an anthropic selection bias against design strong enough on the evolutionary theorist side that it undercuts justification in a Darwinian (or specifically a kind of mechanistic account of) evolution? That is, one could argue that "not seeing" design in nature might itself be the result of a selection bias, let's say for a view of things on the model of a machine (think of a watch) that had its parts brought together randomly? Perhaps it is no coincidence that the western mind was captivated by the complex clocks devised by those in the Islamic Empire in the Middle Ages before the scientific revolution. So, thinking of the world in a mechanistic way followed from an anthropic predilection to modeling our understanding of things on machines. Support for this theory may lie in the fact that people often think that science explains things mechanistically (bouncing billiard balls), when in fact this is not a correct model for understanding the breadth of scientific theory today (even if only considering physics). I'm specifically thinking of Einstein's denial of mechanism as he defines it in his The Evolution of Physics as well as Burtt's account The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Science.

One characterization of a selection bias is perhaps as follows: given a de facto scenario in which one makes a judgment one on the basis of that scenario infers that some intelligibly discernible and recognizable pattern accounts for some feature of that scenario. So, from our specific situation and looking back on our history one might infer that there must have been a designer to account for the existence of human beings. In this case the recognizable pattern would be that of an artist fashioning an object. However, justification for such an inference is undermined by the selection bias problem. It would be similar to shooting an arrow into the air (where it lands I know not where), finding its exact resting place then thinking, "Wow! How improbable that it would land in this spot given all of the possible places that it could have landed! I see here an intelligible pattern by which I must infer that something guided it to this spot!"

With that in mind, perhaps my earlier suggestion (some inference against design) could be thought of also as involving a selection bias of this sort. The best way to do this is to apply the characterization of selection bias to an inference against design. The de facto scenario is the existence of human beings given evolutionary descent. From this fact one infers that the process was not a product of design by identifying a recognizable pattern to serve as an explanation; namely, that of a machine that exists in virtue of the accidental joining of preexisting independent parts resulting in a functioning whole in virtue of the intrinsic properties of its parts. (Let's say that the person who sees things this way came across in a forest one day something that could function as a figure-four deadfall animal trap that came out without human agency as the result of a thunderstorm and subsequent flooding). From this recognition, she infers that human beings must not have come about from design. I see this particular case as parallel to the charge of selection bias for the ID theorist.

However, I'm inclined to think that neither scenario actually suffers from bone fide selection bias. One can only commit a selection bias if one knows (or has reason to think) that some particular pattern is at work. On the one hand, it seems to me that the reason why one wouldn't be justified in inferring from Pruss's computer simulation that there was a forward-looking bias in the movement toward the red line is only in the case that one knows that this was one of 23773 unsuccessful attempts. On the other hand, regarding the inference to non-design, let's say that God was running a computer simulation like Pruss's but basing his simulation on the actual factors that fully account for the evolutionary development. And in this case, 23773 simulations had less circuitous paths to the coming to be of human beings! Thus, I don't think that one could charge the person with a selection bias unless she had some idea of what the results of God's computer simulation were.

My suspicion at this point is that we should think that the design explanation (design) is a bad explanation (at least in science) and the non-design (mechanism) inference is a good one. But why should this be so? Its not like design is a bad explanation for something and it does allow the existence of things that mechanism has a hard (or impossible) time accounting for. For example, design might be a good explanation for why biologists find answers when they ask the question, "why does this function work the way that it does?"
However, anti-ID folks could respond by saying that the best explanation is one that relies only on the intrinsic properties of tiny things that can come together in various causal ways because these are free from anthropic bias. However, I remember Chisholm mentioning at the end of the "Problem of the Criterion" that the best pattern for thinking about efficient causation is that based on our innate and insider sense of agency in the world--all efficient cause is something like my ability to push my coffee cup across the table. A similar thing can be said for how we envision the properties of physical elements. So it might not be as simple as that.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Must Morality be Grounded in God? - A Response to Prof. John Rist



Recently, Franciscan University hosted a conference called "Must Morality Be Grounded in God?" It was a great conference, with many fine contributions (which will be featured in an issue of Quaestiones Disputatae next year). Prof. John Rist from Catholic University of America gave a fantastic and thought-provoking plenary talk aptly entitled "Must Morality Be Grounded on God?" In what follows is my summary of it and response that I gave to get the discussion going. I really benefited from his experience and philosophical acumen on this topic!

"Prof. Rist offers a rich, sophisticated, and persuasive analysis for the view that morality must necessarily be grounded in belief in God, a view with which I have much sympathy. Contrary to claims that one can obtain a perfectly well-grounded morality without appealing to God by atheist and Christian moralists alike, Rist bravely claims not only that morality must be grounded in God (ensconced with a non-voluntarist variety), but also that it is best grounded specifically in belief in the Christian God.

Rist argues that attempts at obtaining grounding for morality independently of God have failed and must fail. Beyond the historical failures by moralists such as Kant, Rist argues that morality that excludes God are destined to collapse into an conventionalist or constructivist ethic that by definition lacks an external standard; without a measure that goes beyond that of man’s mind and interests. Without an external standard for morality that transcends humanity, one must exchange the ought of morality with the is of preference or some actual goal that folks in fact have but need not have since there lacks grounding support for it. Certainly Bentham or Mill come to mind as holding ethics that lack the kind of ground that one has come to expect in a moral theory, the former indeed even admitting to this. But there are conventionalist and constructivist viewpoints (which also include Kant upon examination) that although may claim to possess a proper grounding nevertheless also lack it. A necessary condition that Rist points to for a well-grounded moral system is that one has good reason to believe that one ought to do something. On that score, non-theistic moralities hit a brick wall: one would be hard pressed to come up with a good reason why one ought to do what one prefers, or that which is the greatest good for the greatest number, or what is conventional, or to do those actions that have been evolutionarily beneficial to us in the past. Each of these are compatible with both a complete lack of value and with what is merely arbitrary; both of which are antithetical to a thorough-going morality. Beyond this, Rist is also wary of theists who think that one can ground morality independently of God by thinking that they can successfully argue for some standards of morality merely consistent with a theistic morality but for, the sake of epistemological integrity, disconnect their lines of argumentation or support from their theistic beliefs. Rist takes note of an insufficiency in the attempt of grounding morality by way of claiming that through practical reasoning alone one is able to compile a list of obviously basic goods. Even with this approach one must identify God, the object of religion, as essentially related to the basic good of religion.

I would, however, like to offer some possible questions or observations that may make us wonder a little bit that a plausible alternative viewpoint on this issue is not possible.
            
First, which involves a minor point of clarity, it is not entirely clear whether Rist wants to include with atheists—those that positively exclude any theistic foundation for morality and arguably have no ground for morality—those theists who try to build a case for grounding morality independently of an explicit reference to God. It seems that he wants to include both. If this is so, then it seems relevant to bring in his closing comments in which he seems to infer from the fact that one’s philosophical interlocutor does not accept a theistic foundation for morality that one ought not to try to score moral points without appeal to God. That is, do all arguments that do not positively include God as a ground for morality collapse? If so, this appears problematic. Although I think that it is plausible that eventually a theistic ethicist will need to appeal to God for a fully robust ethical theory, it seems perfectly reasonable given the context and the particular presuppositions of some set of interlocutors that one can make a persuasive ethical argument for a particular point of morality that can be made independently of appeal to God. This point may be irrelevant since Dr. Rist is appealing to foundations for morality, but I think that it nevertheless is a fair point to be made along the way.
            
Second Prof. Rist’s position is a strong one and as a result runs the risk of lapsing into a kind of triumphalism. A Christian moral triumphalism in this context can be identified as a certain cognitive attitude in which Christian teaching on morality is thought of as being complete and independent in the sense of not requiring revision, clarification, integration, or cognitive relation to so-called naturally rational approaches or experientially related moral beliefs. A triumphalistic position on ethics is harmful in the following way: it does not emphasize the importance of integrating the central Christian moral principles with naturally recognized good practices and values given according to a broad notion of human experience. To illustrate this, one can think of the teaching of Christ to turn the other cheek to one’s enemy. However, it seems that this instruction requires a prior notion of courage with which Christian and non-Christian alike can each identify. Such a recognition helps us to integrate this teaching of Christ most effectively and perfectly into our lives. Alternatively, one can conceive of a misguided application of this instruction without courage by using it merely as a justification for merely being a coward. So, how does Rist’s position run the danger triumphalism? By identifying acts that are not grounded in belief in God as without moral foundation is to simply undermine their ethical status altogether. If they are devoid of ethical status then it seems to me that a Christian need not have to heed them when seeking to follow a particularly Christian moral ethic.
            
Finally, Prof. Rist seems to assume that a necessary condition for a moral belief being grounded is whether or not one can rationally identify a duty, imperative or ought, with respect to a specific action that is performed in conformity with that belief. However, it seems possible to me that this is not a necessary condition for an action being moral; and so, a fortiori, it need not be a condition for an action being morally grounded. That is, one may hold that every belief that one understands that they ought to do is moral, but not every belief that is moral one has an obligation to perform. Example: there seems to be occasions when we make a moral choice absent of moral obligation. Such is the case with superogatory or heroic acts of self-sacrifice. Or, it seems like one has made a moral choice when one has chosen a particular career path for the right reason, even though they were not morally obliged to do so. Or, if one is in a tight fix where one must choose to do one thing or another each of which are moral, but one cannot do both. Thus, it is not clear to me that when one makes some (moral) choice without a moral imperative attached to it that that choice must be morally ungrounded. That is, it seems that in some cases in which i recognize something as good insofar as i desire it and do the action i have done a moral action, even if one hasn’t done it for the sake it being a basic good, etc. One thinks of someone being inclined to help the proverbial old lady across the street merely because they see it as a good thing to do or desire it. So, even if it is granted that one cannot have moral imperatives without god, there still leaves open the possibility that one can have moral choices without god.

However, even if this scenario is inaccurate and every moral action, even so called optional ones, require some grounding in an ought (e.g., i ought either to do this or that), is not clear to me that in granting these non-imperative oughts one needs always to appeal to god in order to gain knowledge of it as an ought or as rational. That is, it seems reasonable to say that for example, one could say that one wants to be happy, one cannot not desire their own happiness, so in order to be happy one ought to act in certain ways so as to uniformly achieve this fixed goal. Another possibility: one can say that one has a basic or fundamental rational intuition into basic goods and this intuition occurs independently of belief in god. Rist seems to imply that this leaves one open to not being able to argue against those who would try to bury this intuition or distort it. But, this argument is problematic: it is like saying that one cannot believe in the principle of non-contradiction unless it can be grounded in something else. Why not simply say that one has had a rational intuition into something as a basic good and so is justified on that basis, not unlike saying that one is justified in the principle of non-contradiction in the same way?

One may be able to look for an alternative source for moral grounding. Perhaps a choice has moral grounding when it is enacted with a combination of a natural inclination (which provides motivation) and some recognition that it is ordered in some way to contributing to their happiness. I want to be happy, and i cannot act otherwise with respect to this, and so i ought to do this in order to be happy. Of course at this point, one need not wonder where one is going with this: to a eudaimonistic ethics. Such an ethic has happiness or one’s perfection as the ultimate end that motivates one to action, is obtained in conformity with a rational process of choice, and allows for actions to be optional and moral; that there are a range of goods (either truly or according to an appearance) that one ought to obtain in a rational way so as to obtain genuine or true goods (determined, perhaps, as being mutually consistent and obtainable or intuited as ordered to a basic good). In addition, a Christian will hold that one’s inclination or will is not satisfied by created goods and so the object of God is left as an open question, without being required to be positively appealed to in order to ground all obtainable goods.
          
Yet, Rist aptly supports his claim that Christianity most effectively serves as the ground for morality by pointing to the fact that God relates to us personally. This recognition is a game changer for the proclivity in eudaimonistic ethics to be merely about obtaining those goods that are primarily good for oneself; a view that has earned for it the charge of “egoism.” However, Rist makes us see that in Christianity a kind of reversal occurs: one sees that any goodness or perfection in oneself is merely a pale reflection of the perfection that is personally grounded in God. In this way, a Christian ethic becomes fundamentally re-oriented and grounded in communion, humility and grace."

Monday, April 2, 2012

Excuses, Excuses

I have not provided any further posts for several weeks, and I apologize. I have never had so many commitments in my life! In addition to my Pasnau paper that I'm giving in May, I recently completed two articles for the New Catholic Encyclopedia (one on "Categories" and the other on "Analogy") and composed a paper that I'm submitting to the American Catholic Philosophical Association meeting in the Fall. I am also co-organizing (with Dr. Sarah Wear) a Conference/Workshop on Medieval and Ancient Interpretations of Aristotle's Categories, which is in two-weeks (which involved more time than I thought). These things along with my regular duties (which are also enhanced this semester) have prevented me from writing another post. However, I hope to have something in the next week or so (God willing). Oh well, it is great to busy doing these things.

If you are interested in any of the work that I'm doing, I'd be happy to share it with you. Let me know!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Discussion of Pasnau's Metaphysical Themes: 1274-1671

I am happy to report that I have finished a draft of a paper called "Categories and Modes of Being: A Discussion of Robert Pasnau’s Metaphysical Themes." I am involved in a panel discussion (with Andrew Arlig) at the 47th International Congress on Medieval Studies at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, MI, in May called "Robert Pasnau's Metaphysical Themes: Author Meets Critics" It has been organized by Alex Hall on behalf of the Society for Medieval Logic and Metaphysics. I think that it will be published in the proceedings of the SMLM in 2013.

I have done a lot of research on the paper and am quite proud of it. I think that it will age well in the next month-and-a-half as a I make changes to it.

The general idea behind the paper is to address Pasnua's treatment of categories, especially in Aquinas. I try to show that Aquinas is not a reductionist about the categories as is suggested by Pasnau even though he holds a deflationist views of accidents (as defined by Pasnau).

I highly recommend Pasnau's book as a great resource on an underdevloped area in the history of metphysics. I am sure that it will become a standard volume for years to come.

I'll be sure to post it to my website when its in good enough shape to share.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Virtue Ethics & the Principle of Double Effect

In my last post I offered an ethical analysis of Sophie's Choice from the perspective of virtue ethics (VE). The exercise was fruitfull indeed to my own thinking and I received many great comments (in the ComBox). I wanted to do these comments justice in the form of another blog post.

What is the Principle of Double Effect (PDE)? It has been formulate by Joseph Mangan as follows:

(1) That the action in itself from its very object be good or at least indifferent.
(2) That the good effect and not the evil effect be intended.
(3) That the good effect be not produced by means of the evil effect.
(4) That there be a proportionately grave reason for permitting the evil effect.

From PDE there arises a prima facie conflict between VE portrayed in my blog post and PDE. It seems that if PDE tracks moral obligation then there will be occasions where you can separate moral obligation from acts of virtue. That is, given that to act virtuously is to act for what is most ordered to your happiness (through participation in that which is ordered to the happiness of humanity as such) it seems that there will be occasions that arise where one is obliged not to do what is virtuous. On one hand, if Sophie ought to have applied the PDE, and in so doing she was obliged to choose one of her children over another, this would have prevented her from doing a virtuous action (i.e., not making a choice as to which child was to be murdered, as consistent with VE) for sake of what she was morally obliged to do. Of course, a requirement for PDE is that the act done must itself be morally good or at least indifferent. On one interpretation of the application of the PDE to Sophie’s situation, choosing to save the life of her son would be morally good, but with the bad effect of her daughter dying.

So, how should this issue be resolved? I think that the answer is to reflect on the notion of moral obligation in VE. In VE, one conducts moral reasoning based on an admixture of particular conditions given in the context and universal moral principles. The latter principles are universally and a priori obligatory precisely because they are inherently contrary to human perfection, nobility and happiness. However, the context that the moral agent finds herself in is contingent and unique. Because of this, oftentimes a moral agent has several options to pursue (virtuous actions to enact) and settling on one of them will be the result of a rational choice. For example, even when following those universally morally obligatory principles, in Sophie’s situation, she still could have: applied the PDE, chosen her son, chosen her daughter, chosen neither, tried to escape, tried to appeal to the Nazi’s sense of justice, attacked him, try to confuse or distract the Nazi, etc., or some combination. Because of (5) the fact that the context determines the possible goals that can be accomplished and rationally chosen; and, (6) since there are not always universally obliging principles that will restrict a moral agent's options to one only; it follows that (7) in many cases there is no moral obligation to do one action only, and there are a variety of options open for rational choice.

However, even though there may be no moral obligation, there is still a question of moral excellence and virtue. In these cases, a VE would say that there is a “right thing to do,” but that it does arise in the same way as a moral obligation. How the morally excellent thing is determined is famously put in the Aristotelian dictum, “The virtuous thing to be done is that which the virtuous person would to do!” Since the virtuous person is an excellent practical reasoner, and has a habit of making choices that are morally excellent, she is most capable in choosing that action that hits the golden mean requisite for virtuous action (which falls between two vices). Yet, two things must be kept in mind: First, that what a given virtuous person chooses to do may in principle be different than what a different virtuous person chooses to do. Second, that one is universally obliged to attempt virtuous activity.

Given this background, if PDE is not morally obligatory (a question I address below), Sophie still should do what a virtuous person would do. However, given the moral context, she may have some options regarding what it is that would be most excellent to do. Given that we are learning about Sophie’s situation through a limited and fictitious narrative, and so are not privy to all of the concrete elements of her situation (as well as the various things that she is capable of), we must settle for a ceteris paribus consideration of it. Even the addition of one more concrete factor could change what the most morally excellent or virtuous thing would be. However, given the foreseeable options that she was faced with, in doing the morally excellent thing, I argued that she would give up both children (of course, I am not claiming for myself the prestigious designation as "the virtuous person"). For example, it would have been rash (the vice which is excess of confidence; the virtue which is courage) for her to attack the Nazi, or to try to escape, etc. Although this would have been the most morally excellent thing to do, it was not obligatory, because of the contingency and indeterminacy of her epistemic moral situation. Therefore, assuming that (7) applying the PDE is not morally obligatory (it ought to be applied and followed in every occasion in which it can be applied and followed), and (8) that applying and following the PDE is not the most morally excellent or virtuous thing to do in her situation, it is reasonable that the morally excellent thing for Sophie to do would be not to choose even though she is not morally obliged to do so.

But what about PDE? We have three options: either (9) PDE is a universal moral principle, such that in every moral situation in which can be used it should be used, or (10) PDE is not a universal moral principle but one that in specific contexts would be a principle that a virtuous person would utilize. Finally, there is the option that (11) PDE is false as a moral principle.

Whereas a VE need not hold ‘(11)’, she also need not hold ‘(9)’.

In fact, I think that there is good reason to deny ‘(9)’. This is because one should have a worry about PDE that it sometimes falls on the side of a consequentialist calculus to the exclusion of supporting the larger goal of morally virtue. We need to think about what the motivation is for utilizing the PDE. Rather than moral excellence in personal virtue as its target, it seems to be motivated by maximizing good and/or minimizing evils without falling afoul of other moral obligations. Now, of course, VE is interested in obtaining good results, even within the moral sphere, but in light of what is most noble and good in human nature. It needs to noted that in principle it is possible for one to become vicious (indirectly) even though one is applying PDE. One may even imagine a scenario where one is obliged to commit a vicious action as an ill effect of some good action. There is the further factor that since one is trying to obtain some particular effect among others, their choice is voluntary (more about this below). One can extrapolate even further and envision an unlucky chap who is morally obliged to commit, due to PDE, so many indirectly vicious actions of one kind that he habituates a vice. In the end, you become the things that you voluntarily do, even if you are responsible for them as a result of something else that you intend. Thus, it appears that ‘(9)’ is false.

(Of course, if ‘(9)’ is false, the use of PDE needs to be rethought if it is to serve a VE. It is to be noted that PDE is derived from a fairly minor point made by Aquinas in 2.2.64.7 of his Summa theologiae and is arguably not a central feature of his moral teaching.)

Now, regarding ‘(10)’, some may argue that in this case applying the PDE is the most virtuous thing to do in Sophie's case. Some may say that it is noble to make the difficult choice of sacrificing a child for the sake of preserving the life of another. However, if it can be indicated that in applying PDE Sophie would be utilizing consequentialist moral reasoning such that an evil action is willed for the sake of a good result, then it will be shown to be inconsistent with what is virtuous. On this ground, we can exclude an application of the PDE as being the most virtuous choice in her situation. I am assuming her that pace Mill VE is inconsistent with this central consequentialist tenet. Compare the two following propositions in relation to Sophie’s’ choice:

(12) Sophie sacrificed her daughter in order to save her son.

(13) Sophie saved her son from death with the unintended bad result that her daughter would be murdered.

It looks to me that Sophie’s choice is as much in line with ‘(12)’ as it is with ‘(13)’.

For one thing, ‘(12)’ expresses a consequentialist means-ends reasoning. The reason why Sophie would be using her daughter’s death as a means of saving her son is because in the concrete situation of her making her choice, she can be said to have intended the death of her daughter--insofar as she could have made it not occur--as a trade-off for the life of her son. When her daughter was being taken away to her death, one can imagine the little girl thinking, “My mother chose for me to die when I could have lived!” As Aristotle suggests, despite strong external forces influencing a person’s decision, there is no reason that an action cannot be voluntary if it follows internally and from rational choice. Although I am sympathetic to the notion of material cooperation as weaker than intentional cooperation, in Sophie’s case although she does not want the evil, through rational choice, it is not devoid of volition. In fact, once she commits to saving one child over another, immediately a utilitarian process of reasoning seems to take over, leaving us with the question of why Sophie chose her son over her daughter. Once this line of thought is engage, she can be said to cooperate with and take possession of the evil in more “formal-ish” and means-end way; i.e., more formal, then if she refused to make the choice. Perhaps this in part explains the extreme guilt that she felt that resulted in her suicide, after she was released from the prison camp. This being said, it seems to me that the application of the PDE in this case would be tantamount to consequentialist reasoning and far from being the most excellent or virtuous thing to do.

For another thing, as Aquinas suggests, sometimes the final cause is contained in the formal determination of an action and becomes included in the object of the moral act. The example that he gives in the beginning of ST 2.1.18.6 is that a person who steals in order to commit adultery is more formally an adulterer than a thief. If this is so, then, although from one perspective her primary purpose is saving her son when sacrificing her daughter, it is also true that she is choosing to sacrifice her daughter for the sake of saving her son. Although I recognize the difference between material and formal cooperation in evil, I still think that there is enough doubt regarding the application of PDE in this situation as the most excellent and noble and virtuous thing to do.

If the end of our action is sometimes included in the moral object that defines our action, given the fact that moral contexts are concrete, it may be the case that PDE doesn't apply in Sophie's situation at all. As mentioned above, PDE requires that the action done must itself must be either morally good or neutral. It may be too naive to suggest Sophie's choice to save her son does not also include the further notion that it is at the expense of saving her daughter. I think that applications of PDE can easily lapse into an abstractivism of convenience when identifying the act that is good or neutral that can serve as the primary intention for our actions while the more concrete and morally relevant factors fall into place as the secondary effect.

I maintain that PDE is an available tool for determining what is morally excellent in specific contexts, but that it does not engender moral obligation. However, I believe that PDE should not be used in Sophie’s situation and instead she should opt for non-cooperation. As well as not rejecting PDE out of hand, I also do not want to suggest that it is always vicious to act in cooperation with evil, when taken materially.

Ultimately, we need to look at this debate as a different conception of what the fundamental goal of ethical analysis and ethical behavior is. A virtue ethicist exclusively has as her goal the habitual perfecting of one self in the image of the good and nobility of humanity and not the more casuistic goal of avoiding doing wrong things as determined by obligation. This is the case even though the notion of moral obligation has its place in VE as principles that are universally contrary to human good and happiness (such as adultery, murder, etc.).