Sunday, December 31, 2006

Saddam's Death: More of the same

Hat tip to Diogenes for Fr. Bernardo Cervellara's article in Asia Times regarding the crocodile tears shed by foes of capital punishment for Saddam Hussein.

I do not share the glee for Saddam's hanging as others around the world do. I am wary that capital punishment has any just application in our age of relativism. Not just in the United States, but anywhere in the world, political ideologies create political enemies where it is expedient to use capital punishment to gain the upper hand.

I'm not of the mindset that our world is a better place without Saddam. I think it remains unchanged; it's more of the same. Yet, to be truly prophetic with real credibility, one cannot retain relativism as a working philosophy. One must be a moral absolutist. Status quo relativism has nothing to say to regimes and cultures, and in comparison, the use of the authority in moral absolutes is completely consistent philosophically. It is the use of moral authority that drives our move to eliminate capital punishment. It is this same moral authority that the Church uses to move all of humanity to be more civil and charitable to each other.

On the other hand, wishy-washy relativism plays into an enormous self-contradiction: one must use of power and the threat of death to eliminate the use of the death penalty. Can anything be more illogical?

Oh, and in case you disagree with the last paragraph, you are safely NOT a relativist, at least not in action.


At 5:01 PM, Blogger Cranky Yankee said...

You make your case well here.

At 6:54 PM, Blogger Cranky Yankee said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 7:09 PM, Blogger Cranky Yankee said...

Let's try this again...

I think Fr. Cervellera makes a very important point. Why is the tear coming from that eye not coming for all those victims of the death penalty regardless of their political expediency? If the death penalty is wrong for a tyrant why isn't it wrong for political or religious dissident in China? Death penalty is either absolutely wrong or it isn't? Right?

I believe the people he is talking wouldn't call themselves relativists and in fact would argue that they are moral absolutists.

The opposite is also true. There are some who call themselves moral absolutist but act like what the Father describes as a relativist. I think if you asked the bush administration if they were relativists they would deny it. But they have no problem with this type of death penalty but decry others as immoral.

It's either wrong or it isn't? Right?

At 6:17 PM, Blogger Underground Logician said...

Well, absolutist is as absolutist does. Also, there is a BIG difference between a moral absolutist and a legalist. Legalists don't think; they just look at what is written without the use of discretion. A true moral absolutist will take into consideration the situation to see what moral principles apply. To restate, the situations themselves are relative to the principles that apply to them, not principles forced on situations that don't fit the principles. In addition, moral absolutes never vary in goodness or truthfulness, ever. Situations require different principles, which means moral absolutists need to have high powers of discretion, prudence and wisdom to know which principles apply.

Again, what is often seen in Christianity, though a small minority, is a legalism that rejects the need to apply principles situationally. This is the problem Jesus had with the Pharisees. For instance, the Pharisees were super-legalists who even tithed the mint and herbs that are sprinkled on foods, while ignoring the more weightier things of the moral law, like love of neighbor, showing mercy to the poor, etc.

Regarding the death penalty, the principles involved are not only involve right to life, but also the duty of the state to protect society. As the Church understands the state-of-affairs in our age, the need to execute dangerous criminals is near zero, given our capacity to incarcerate. Centuries ago, the state had a much more difficult time protecting society, given the lack of ability to incarcerate, and the potential for these criminals to escape into society.

So, the death penalty is not a pure right to life issue like abortion is. But, it's pretty close.

At 7:22 PM, Blogger Cranky Yankee said...

Interesting, I guess the need to protect society vs. right to life would be Graded Absolutism. I still say the right to life wins out.

Doesn't the subjective act of applying different moral absolutes to situations have the same effect as using a morally relative approach to the same situation?

At 11:02 AM, Blogger Underground Logician said...

To the first part of your comment, I say yes, I agree with you; the right to life does win out.

To your second statement, a moral absolutist approach is not just a subjective choosing or discarding of principles to one's fancy. That would be relativism. One who holds to moral absolutes can err big time!

To be prudent in moral decision making depends on the moral disposition of the one judging. Prudence itself, has principles which apply. Primarily, one who is moral sees the moral order within nature and creation; it is not just a subjective idea foreign to nature created by the subject. That is where Kant's thinking is so circular. He saw the categorical and moral imperatives residing only in the person, and not in the natural order. This, of course, is contradictory, since the human mind is a thing in and of itself and is also a part of the natural order. The phenomenal world is a result of the moral construct in our minds, and the moral construct of our minds is what makes us human, and what is human is contained in the natural order of things. So to say we cannot know what is actually moral "of itself" in the natural order refutes the moral structure that exists in our minds.

To your statement that the subjective application of moral principles to situations have the same effect as a relativism, I say, yes it does, but only on the surface and only in certain cases where the outcomes are the same. Let's use the example of those who hid Jews and lied to the government and look at three different views:

1. Legalism: To a legalist, a lie is a lie, no matter what the circumstance and is always wrong. Therefore those who hid Jews were wrong and were sinning against God. A corrupt government loves to have its citzenry think this way for it works to support its policies. It is a stupid and dispicable viewpoint, and I might add, often confused with moral absolutism. Legalism doesn't provide the mental mechanics to make moral decisions. It makes that which is written or state fiats alone the criteria to direct one's thinking as right or wrong. Entirely stupid.

2. Relativism: The relativist justifies lying as good because the Jews are kept safe. It is based on a desired outcome. So, to them, sometimes lying is good and sometimes bad, depending on the circumstances and the outcome desired. The effect in this case is luckily the same, the Jews are hid. However, the difference is in the disposition of the one making the judgment and the manner in which they came to the conclusion, which is very different from the disposition of the absolutist. Relativism also doesn't provide the mental mechanics to make consistently moral decisions since it doesn't see the moral as the prime objective, it looks at outcomes. It can get it wrong if situations becomes more complex or more controversial.

3. Moral Absolutism: To the absolutist, lying is always bad and on the surface seems like legalism. However, in this situation, the moral absolutist sees the principles within the natural order as the foundation of all that should be legal. And if the legal violates these moral principles, or natural law, the legal must be repudiated completely. In the case of the Jews, the government violated the principles of justice, primarily the Jewish person's right to life. These right to life principles are foundational to the state's right to protect the populace. So the German state undercut itself by promoting a policy that clearly had no foundation in natural law. The Jews provided zero threat to society, therefore the desire to know where Jews are in order to exterminate them violated the Jews right to exist, which is a moral evil.

In light of this, it was necessary for people to resist the unjust view of the government and to protect the rights of the innocent. And in doing, no one should have felt any guilt; to lie to the German government is not a moral evil; it is specifically keeping the truth of where the Jews are from an unjust and dangerous government, which is morally good.

It seems like quibbling, but believe me, there are huge differences. The main reason being the conclusions of the moral absolutist are intentionally based on the existence of moral absolutes; the intentions of the relativist or the legalist are not so. With these other two, only when the outcomes (of the relativists) and the legalities (of the legalists) match the actions of the moralists that the effects look the same. In the case of hiding Jews, the effects are the same; the Jews are made safe. The relativist sees lying as sometimes good, and the moralist sees the rights of the Jews as fundamental and needing protection. The relativist may also see the rights of the Jew needing protection, but this is not a relativism, this is conflicted thinking where moral absolutes still have an effect; which is good.

Take a more difficult situation, say in the issue of abortion. Here, the differences in intention between relativism and absolutism become stark. The outcomes of the relativist are different than the moralist. The relativist sees the elimination of the pregnancy as a good outcome for the mother, whether it's preventing shame for her or the family, or preventing the mother to enter into a low socio-economic strata of society. Whatever the outcome, the abortion is justifiable. The moralist however, sees the desire to be free of shame or poverty as inferior to the right to life of the human. Therefore, the outcome may mean a greater sacrifice on the part of the mother, which conflicts with the relativists outcome.

We could talk more on this interior effect, but what do you think so far? Again, moral absolutism is NOT a legalism. Maybe what you see and react against is a legalism on display by Christians that is out of step with prudence?

Sorry I was so long.

At 1:30 PM, Blogger Cranky Yankee said...

Very good illustration using The Jews and Germans...

I don't want to get into the whole abortion debate, but I think some who hold the same moral absolute in the right to life will differ on the definition of life itself. On the other hand there are those who hold the same moral absolute to apply not only to human life but to all living things.

Then you end up grading the application of the absolute against the subjects like; is killing a cat is the same as killing a human? From these views arise many questions that have to be answered subjectively. Does the fertiziled egg's right to life outweigh other rights of the woman? Does a criminal's right to life outweigh society's right to be protected from him? Does a tree's right to life outweigh my right to not freeze to death in the winter? I think you get the picture.

I see the legalist in a lot fundamentalists. In a way it frees them from thought while imprisoning them in ignorance.

At 1:54 PM, Blogger Underground Logician said...

Legalism is the "easy way out" of the hard work of thinking, though, you are right in saying they are imprisoned ignorance.

I too, will avoid the issue between humans and animals, though the issue of justice does apply to animals similarly as to humans, though to a lesser degree. The Church does teach the necessity for the humane treatment of animals, though we could argue to what extent. Vegetarianism based on the humane treatment of animals is laudable; vegetarianism that equates the value of a human being to an animal is fundamentally flawed, which not only involves natural law, but also religious laws and mores. Too difficult to sled through on a blogsite. It'd make a great face to face disscussion in a group, though.


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