Monday, August 02, 2004

At the Board (1)

Part two tomorrow. But...

The common argument against pacifism is posed as a moral dilema:

"You see an enemy soldier about to murder a woman, and you only can stop him by shooting him, would you?" The implication being, obviously, if you're not prepared to kill you are a genuine pacifist living up to the aweful and monstrous consequences of your convictions, and if you are you're not a pacifist and must join the army. Even Trotsky has, er, trotted out this argument from time to time.

Occaisionally, other attrocities are deployed. Famously, when confronted with the question, but involving rape, Lytton Strchey announced he would interpose his own body.

That aside, the usual for is that you must commit a transgression to prevent an equivilantly horrific transgression by some enemy For a different traditional answer, see part two tomorrow. Today, I want to focus on the fact that this emphatically not an actual moral dilema.

Either way, the moral agent is responsible for a death, eitehr by action or inaction. Unless you are a moral egoist, he failure to prevent a death when you are in a position to do so represents a clear culpability. That is, you are not actually given any option but to chose between immoral actions.

Look at it this way. Imagine a gallows with two trap doors, and a person on each, left & right. If you pull the lever, the person on the left will die. If you don't, the right trap opens automatically. Exactly the same dilema. the reality is, that we are not being asked to make a moral choice, but to exercise a preference between the two victims, which person do we prefer? left/right? woman/solider?

The reality is that the narrow terms of the dilema create the illusion of a moral choice, and abstract the decision from any form of process or negotiation, you have two choices, which on closer inspection turn out to be the same choice, from a qualitative moral perspective. Yes, a patriot may want, automatically to prefer a woman of his own nation over a foreign soldier, but from a perspective of culpability, they have not chosen whether to be responsible for a death or not.

This abstraction is precisely what Norm and Lenin were arguing over, and a point I shall be returning to in my second posting on this subject.

In the meantime, I'll express my opinion, with expectations of further substatiation, that the correct answer to this sort of situation is to state that one's actions should be consistant with the attempt to pevent the loss of any life, or minimise the lives lost. That is, we should try and prevent this sort of situation arising in the first place.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Glad you weren't missing in action for too long when leafletting.

10:06 PM  

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