January 1, 2009


Lessons for us all in Gaza bloodshed (Mirko Bagaric, January 02, 2009 , The Australian)

Israel and Hamas have to varying degrees sought to justify civilian casualties on the basis that, while they are a foreseeable result of military activities against the enemy, they are not intentional and, indeed, are regrettable. Civilian casualties are, so the argument runs, the unwanted by-product of pursuing a just cause.

This reasoning invokes the doctrine of double effect, which is the view that it is morally permissible to perform an act having two effects, one good and one evil, where the good consequence is intended and the bad merely foreseen and those consequences occur simultaneously. The application of the doctrine extends well beyond the battlefield.

It is often appealed to in an attempt to justify the killing of an unborn baby to save the mother. In euthanasia it is employed as a justification for alleviating pain by increasing the doses of painkillers even when it is known that this will result in death: the intention is to reduce pain, not to kill.

There's a lot of irrelevant, remote learning to be had in philosophy101, but occasionally there are pearls of wisdom that world leaders need to take heed of.

The doctrine of double effect has been discredited in philosophy schools for decades. In the end, there is no inherent distinction between consequences that are intended and those that are foreseen.

That civilians will be killed is often just as certain as the killing of combatants. We are responsible for all the consequences we foresee and nevertheless elect to bring about. Whether or not we also intend them is largely irrelevant.

The propriety of the actions of Israel and Hamas will be determined by one barometer: whether in the long term they result in less human suffering than would have otherwise been the case. This will involve some speculation and approximation but at least the moral formula is clear.

For all the condemnation that the Israeli bombings are receiving, they will be justified if they lead to a net reduction in the loss of human life in the foreseeable future. In this formula, each life counts equally, irrespective of which side of a border a person happens to be born.

Ostensibly it may seem callous to speak of any loss of human life as being justifiable or an appropriate means to an end. But it is time for a reality check and some honesty on the ethical front. Inevitable loss of life is never a moral conversation stopper. As a community, we continually sacrifice it for other benefits.

...with the notion that the people aren't legitimate war targets. What matters is whether the war is just. In a clash between Hamas and Israel both sides are justified--Israel ought to be allowed to live in piece by neighboring peoples and Hamas ought to be allowed to govern the nation of Palestine--but neither will achieve its aim by fighting the other, so casualties are justified, but inappropriate.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at January 1, 2009 9:21 AM
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