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May 31, 2010

Anscombe, abortion, and related matters...



I am grateful to Michael P. for introducing the thread on the work of Elizabeth Anscombe and Professor Kaveny’s use of her work regarding the abortion issue and the Phoenix case. I am further grateful to other MoJ contributors who have engaged in this particular discussion.

Professor Kaveny has also offered some important insights by relying on the work of Germain Grisez. This necessitates on my part the need to point out that his, i.e., Grisez’s, method that Professor Kaveny relies on—asking the question “why?—must be raised for both humans, meaning the mother and the child, not just one, meaning the mother.

In doing so, I fail to see where the Kaveny appropriation from Anscombe asks this question on behalf of the child’s interest while it is raised on behalf of the mother’s interest. This is an incomplete appropriation of Anscombe and of Grisez. Having said this, I’ll use the methodology that Professor Kaveny proposes in the context of a person dealing with, let us say, cancer. Then we might understand more about the nuances that Professor Kaveny attempts to present.

So, let me posit a first case. Here, patient Alpha has lung cancer. Alpha’s doctors notify the patient that the cancer has not metastasized to adjacent organs or tissue. This is good. But, the doctors recommend removal of the lungs, both of which are affected by the cancer. Their gaze is focused on the lung cancer. Following the line of consideration offered by Kaveny, the surgeons performing surgery on Alpha have asked: “what are they doing and why are they doing this?” In response to what they are doing, they are intending to remove the cancer-infected organs, i.e., the lungs, in order to remove cancer from Alpha’s body. Why? Well, the answer is obvious: to remove the cancer that threatens Alpha’s life. After all, “an intentional act is a purposeful act.” Moreover, the doctors will supplement their response with the sage position that “[w]e do not...intend every consequence caused by our action—even if we foresee that they will occur.” Taking NyQuil, which a doctor recommends for a cold or the flu will give a patient a “buzz” but will also help, here: the intended act, to relieve the symptoms of the cold or flu. Relief rather than buzz is intended.

So, back to Alpha. The doctors intend to remove the lungs that are infected with the cancer. Why? To remove the cancer and prevent it from spreading. Fine. But according to the plan proposed by Professor Kaveny, the doctors do not intend every consequence of their action even though they foresee that they will occur. Only the intended act, i.e., the removal of infected tissue, the lungs, is intended. The fact that Alpha will die since Alpha no longer has lungs—a foreseen consequence—is immaterial to the Kaveny analysis since this result is not intended.

Let us take a second case. Patient Omega has lymphatic cancer. Omega is informed by Omega’s doctors that a plasmapheresis is needed. Why? The infected plasma must be eliminated because of its infiltration by cancerous cells. The doctors remove all of Omega’s blood. They extract all the offending plasma, which is discarded, and they return the platelets to Omega. The doctors’ intention, once again, is to remove the offending tissue, the plasma. They know that a consequence of their action will be the death of Omega, since Omega needs plasma as well as platelets, but their intention remains pure—to eliminate the cancer-bearing tissue. This is their intention, nothing more, nothing less.

So now I must return to the Phoenix case. I submit that there is something that is fundamentally missing from the Kaveny appropriation of Anscombe and Grisez reasoning here. The acts that are proposed by both Alpha’s and Omega’s doctors are intentional and purposeful. They know what they are doing, but do they really understand why? I suggest that they do not because they do not look beyond the limited purpose they pursue because, in spite of the known and foreseeable consequences of inevitable death, they proceed with killing their patients even though that is not their objective. They need to look beyond the limited purpose and ask: are they saving human life or not?

In the context of the Phoenix case in which this thread originated, are the doctors and their hospital asking the question: are they saving human lives? Apparently only one of the two involved. The questions “what” and “why?” must be comprehensively rather than narrowly asked here. The procedure contemplated must cover all patients involved and affected by the procedures, not just one. If doctors should be able to understand that the functions of lungs are important to Alpha and that the presence of plasma is important to Omega even though removal is their only purpose, the procedures and their accompanying intentions conflict with the broader purpose of saving their patients’ lives, should other doctors, let’s say in Phoenix, be able to extend the same inquiry to the two human patients involved in the Phoenix case? Professor Kaveny’s suggestion that “In a situation where both mother and baby otherwise would die, ... one could make a strong case that it is fair to go ahead with the procedure” is missing some essential consideration of the questions: what is being done?, and why is it being done? Her answer to these vital, yes vital, questions, is lacking. She concludes by stating: “In a situation where both mother and baby otherwise would die, ... one could make a strong case that it is fair to go ahead with the procedure.” This may well be the case if one considers only the welfare of the mother. But what if we also consider the welfare of the child?

If I may draw from Shakespeare, an abortion by any other name would be the same: an abortion. Why do I suggest this?

The reasoning employed by Professor Kaveny is applied to only one of the patient’s interests, not both. Sadly, it is not applied to the interests of the child in the same way that it is applied to the mother. Both of their lives are truly important; both are at stake. When viewed from the perspective of the child, the surgical separation procedure is not an unintended side effect; rather, it is something that should not be done.

The unborn child is Alpha and Omega.

But, what if one were to consider the separation of the mother from the child, and the child becomes the primary concern? When the tables are turned—but the Kaveny analysis is still employed—would the result of Kaveny’s reasoning process and its acceptance be the same?


RJA sj


Posted by Robert John Araujo, SJ on May 31, 2010 at 10:25 PM in Araujo, Robert | Permalink | TrackBack

Transparency, big government, and big business

Thanks, Michael P., for asking about my views regarding transparency.  I think that transparency is usually (though not quite always) a good thing in the legislative process.  As you rightly suggest, transparency is especially valuable and important in circumstances in which significant financial interests are at stake.  That is why President Obama's betrayal of his oft-repeated promise of transparency in the crafting of health care legislation was so disappointing. It was equally disappointing that so few of the President's supporters criticized him when New York Times reporter David Kirkpatrick exposed his administration's pattern of back room dealing with big pharmaceutical and insurance interests.

In the reforms of the financial industry, I certainly hope for a great deal more transparency.  I also hope that my Republican confreres will not suppose that their job is to protect the industry against reforms.  Big business (including big banking) is not bad in itself, but it is not good in itself either.  And big business (including big banking) can become the enemy of competition and other principles and practices that favor and foster the common good.  Indeed, big business too often supports and promotes big government (i.e., government that disrespects and undermines the principle of subsidiarity) because big government serves its financial interests.

Of course, when it comes to reform of anything, everything depends on the content of the reforms.  "Reform" can be misguided, and when it is misguided Republicans (and everyone else) should stand up against it, even at the price of being labeled by their partisan opponents as "enemies of reform" or "protectors of corporate interests."

Sometimes it is supposed that big government is needed to regulate big business; but actually small but strong government can almost always do the job, and is often more likely to do it better.  When big government and big business get together, it is generally small business, entrepreneurs, and the public who end up on the losing end.  And then there is the problem with banks and other businesses that are "too big to fail."  My view is that if they are too big to fail, then they are too great a risk to the taxpayer, the market economy, and our nation's overall economic security.  So I would join Bill Kristol in saying that if a firm is too big to fail, we should closely inquire into whether the overall public interest would be best served by breaking it up into smaller firms. I loathe corporate welfare and bail outs. I think that many of the things that went on at Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae were disgraceful and that these institutions should either be fully privatized or euthanized.  I believe that Barney Frank and many other members of Congress who functioned as, in essence, enablers of what went on at these institutions should be called to account for their conduct.

Some people evidently were surprised to learn how heavily and disproportionately the super rich and firms like Goldman Sachs supported Obama over McCain.  (Although the media seemed not to notice, Goldman executives gave Obama far more money than Enron exeuctives gave George W. Bush---more than five times as much.)  I was not surprised in the least.  Big business has more to gain and less to fear from big government liberals than from small government conservatives.  (I am not suggesting that McCain was a strict small government man---he was not and is not.)  Moreover, the majority of Wall Street execs and other big business types are social liberals.  Although there are notable and very honorable exceptions, they generally do not support the Republican Party's pro-life stance, nor do they have much sympathy for those of us who dissent from the liberal orthodoxy on questions of sexual morality and marriage.  (If you've ever driven through Greenwich, Connecticut or Scarsdale, New York, you will be aware of what the bumper stickers on the BMWs and Volvos say on these issues.)  So I don't see why Republicans (at least Republicans of my ilk) ought to feel any special kinship with them.  In many ways, they have a great deal more in common with your Democrat confreres.

Posted by Robert George on May 31, 2010 at 05:55 PM | Permalink | TrackBack

A clarification for Rick, and, more importantly, an invitation to John O'Callaghan

The clarification for Rick:  I posted Cathy's dotCommonweal analysis not because I endorsed it, but because I thought it would help us MOJers think more carefully about the Phoenix case.  The same reason, as it happens, you posted John O'Callaghan's analysis:  not because you endorsed it but because you thought it would help us MOJers think more carefully about the Phoenix case.

Now, the invitation to John O'Callaghan:  namely, to respond to these two quick ruminations on your clarifying analysis:

1.  Given what you (John) say in your analysis:  What KIND of action would it have been had the physician removed the fetus from the mother not by dismembering it, and thereby killing it, but by Caesarean section, and then providing for the comfort of the fetus in every possible way until, inevitably, the fetus died (because delivered months before viability)?  And how should we analyze the morality of *that* action?  In context, would that have been an instance of self-defense, appropriately analyzed under the DDE?

2.  Now, let’s move on to an action that, unlike the C-section described above, is a different KIND of action, namely, an act of intentional killing:  e.g.,  a navy seal steals his way on to an enemy boat in the middle of the night and slits the throat of a sentry so that he can continue with his assignment.  How should we analyze the morality of that action?  Some would say that the sentry is in context not an “innocent” human being and the intentional killing of the sentry is therefore not the intentional killing of an innocent human being.  But what is it that makes one in context not “innocent”?  Imagine an instance of self-defense—or, as in some of your own examples, an instance of other-defense—in which the aggressor is delusional.  We can all agree that the aggressor’s being delusional is probative of his moral culpability, but if it is not also probative of his “innocence”—if he is nonetheless in context not innocent—then in the Arizona case why isn't it the case that the fetus is in context not innocent either?  And if in context not innocent, then how is the situation of the fetus different, in a morally relevant way or ways, from the situation of the delusional aggressor?

Thanks much, John,for helping us all think more carefully about this heart-wrenching case.

Posted by Michael Perry on May 31, 2010 at 03:29 PM | Permalink | TrackBack

O'Callaghan on the Arizona case, Anscombe, and abortion

Prof. John O'Callaghan, a philosopher at the University of Notre Dame, kindly sent in his thoughts concerning the Arizona case that we have been discussing here at MOJ (here, here, here, etc.)  In particular, he responds to my colleague Cathy Kaveny's post about the case, which Michael P. noted -- and, I gather, endorsed -- here

I should note that I am not endorsing -- because I do not feel like I have done sufficient reading to be qualified to endorse -- what John writes.  I look forward to the responses of those who have (e.g., Robby).  Also, because the post is long, I have used the split-entry feature.  By all means, though, read the whole thing.  Here is O'Callaghan:  

I think there are a number of difficulties with Cathy’s analysis.  In the first place, if she is correct then it would seem that almost no “medical” abortion would count as an abortion from a “moral” point of view.  Presumably all medical abortions can be described as separating the fetus from its mother.  But in that case, in terms of the way Cathy seems to think about this, all the doctor has to do to avoid performing an abortion from a “moral” point of view is refrain from performing the act under the description “directly killing an innocent” while directing his will to and thus performing it under the description “separating the fetus from its mother.”  (Cathy seems to want to say that it is the seriousness of the situation--threat to the life of the mother--that ought to allow us to analyze the act in this way.  But that can’t be right from the perspective of action theory, namely, that very serious circumstances allow an analysis of intention in action that less serious circumstances would not allow.  Action theory could not care less about the seriousness of the circumstances for the point about the nature of intention in action.)  Thus there would be next to no abortions in this country from a “moral” point of view—a rather different reduction in the number of abortions than even President Obama contemplates.

I think this peculiar result arises from the rather odd use to which Cathy puts Anscombe’s remarks on intentionality.  Just a quick personal reflection: it is nearly inconceivable to me that Anscombe would agree with Kathy’s claim that “There are some rare situations, however, where [an abortion does not involve the intent to kill the baby].” Anscombe is the woman who almost alone opposed the granting of an honorary degree to Truman at Oxford because he dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and thus directly targeted civilians.  This is the woman who was arrested in the English equivalent of Operation Rescue protests outside of English abortion clinics—I’ve seen the pictures of English bobbies dragging her away on her knees in her 70s.  But that personal reflection doesn’t get at the heart of the philosophical matter.  The heart of it seems to be that in order to know what an agent is doing we have to be told by the agent from his or her first person perspective what his or her intention is.  It is difficult to know what KIND of act is performed because an activity physically described may fall under many descriptions morally described, and the agent may not be choosing it under a particular moral description, but, rather, some other, which is why we must ask him or her, as we don’t know what’s going through his or her mind.  And the description the agent chooses establishes what KIND of act it is.

This all suggests that there is some difficulty a third person has in knowing what a first person agent is doing.  That is certainly true of certain features of an individual action.  It may be difficult for me to know why you drove the car to the store—pick up your medication or pick up your mother or listen to the engine to figure out why it is knocking.  These are intentions of a sort, intentions as purposes, intentions as purposes that may be difficult for me to discern without you telling me.  But, on the contrary, I have no difficulty determining that you are driving a car.  I know that as well as you, and you have no privileged epistemic access to that act.  Nor can it be said that driving a car is not yet a human act analyzable morally, awaiting your determination of purposes.  A human act can be analyzed from its object (what is it?  Driving a car.) and the intentions as purposes for which it is done (why did you do it?  To pick up my medication.)  Both may be wrong (although in fact driving a car is not wrong in its kind), or one may be right and the other wrong, or both may be good. (See Veritatis Splendor, etc..)

But Cathy seems to suggest Anscombe believed that we cannot know what an agent does until we ask him or her what description he or she has in view in doing it.  This isn’t “intentions as purposes.”  This is knowing the object of the act—what KIND of act it is.  And Anscombe does talk about the act in this sense of object.  But again, and on the contrary, it is usually false that I can’t know what you are doing unless you tell me.  I know you are driving.  I know you are teaching.  I know you are singing.  I know you are running a race.  I know you are cooking.  I know these things by watching what you do.  I’m not infallible in these judgments, since you might be faking in some of them, although to suppose that you are faking in these acts comes close to science fiction or fairy tales.  But of course your ability to fake them presupposes that you are aping the publically knowable characteristics of actions that allow us to identify them for the KINDS they ordinarily are—faking is parasitic upon knowing.

Anscombe would view the position that third persons cannot know what someone is doing without knowing the agent’s state of mind as reported by the first person perspective, as displaying a false Cartesian philosophy of mind.  (See her essay “War and Murder”)   As a follower of Wittgenstein on these features of action, she would say that if you want to know WHAT someone is doing watch, observe, look to see how it is embedded in the contexts and practices within which it takes place and is defined.  The ability to make something look like running a race when it isn’t--it is in a play or cheating--relies upon the manipulation of the capacities of observers to actually know WHAT someone is doing.

But it seems that according to Cathy we cannot know WHAT the serial killer is doing in removing the heart of the human being until we ask him under what description he is removing the heart—under the description “killing the human being” or under the description “removing it to replace it with a healthy one.”  Now the reason this case seems at all plausible is because there are surgeons who do remove hearts and replace them with healthy hearts.  So it seems that I may have a difficulty in determining what it is the serial killer is doing because there is some level of similarity in observation to what the surgeon is doing.  But in fact it isn’t that difficult if we watch what he does, unless the serial killer happens to engage in his serial killing close to the way a surgeon engages in his heart surgery.  Heart surgery is embedded within the discipline of medicine with all the standards of that discipline that pertain to it.  The serial killer might be in a hospital, with a heart lung machine standing by, and the transplant heart on ice while being flown in by chopper, the patient having been on a list for several years, and all the skin and blood typing having been done, etc., etc., etc.. All of this to fake a heart transplant as the way of killing the human being.  He might be very good at this; and it might be very difficult for me to tell.  But I don’t have to ask him whether he’s removing the heart under the description “killing a human being” in order to determine that he’s chosen to kill a human being.  I just have to be as intelligent in examining the evidence of his action as he is in concealing it.

But again, that he must conceal it in this way presupposes that it is knowable to a third person.  [The legal profession], in its criminal aspects, would be impossible if we could not know what people do until we ask them the descriptions under which they act.  And what are we to do when they tell us?  “I’m telling you the truth—I changed the figures in the ledger under the description saving the company, not the description concealing from the auditors.”  Think of the worries of the poor patient who is apparently giving his surgeon the benefit of the doubt that he is not a serial killer when he refrains from asking him which description he intends to take his heart out under—“killing me” or “replacing my heart.”

In Intention  Anscombe was actually opposed to the view that we could not know what people are doing unless we ask them—that there was some sort of first person epistemic privilege when it comes to the NATURE or KIND of act chosen--WHAT one is doing.  She rejects that view(#4 in Intention) as a preamble to the discussion of the importance of “why” questions.(#5 in Intention)  She does not say that it is the answer to the “why” question that constitutes WHAT the action is.  She says intentional actions “are the actions to which a certain sense of the ‘Why?’ is given an application; the sense is of course that in which the answer, if positive, gives a reason for acting.”(#5) That doesn’t mean that the answer to that WHY question establishes WHAT KIND of action it is.  It means that your doing of that KIND of action was intentional as opposed to non-intentional because it makes sense to ask you why you did it, and have you respond with a reason for choosing that KIND of act—the KIND of action you chose will, one hopes, make sense given the reason you had, but it may not.

But the very idea that you have a reason for acting that makes sense of what you did presupposes that you chose a KIND of action for that reason, not that your reason establishes its KIND.  And she says of the statement by someone of what he or she is doing that “we do not appeal to the presence of intention to justify the description ‘He is Y-ing’; though in some cases his own statement that he is Y-ing MAY, AT A CERTAIN STAGE of the proceedings, be needed for anybody else to be able to say he is Y-ing, since NOT ENOUGH has gone on FOR THAT TO BE EVIDENT.” (#23 My emphasis.)  So it isn’t true, as Cathy says, indeed it isn’t even necessary to ask someone “what are you doing” to know what he or she is doing; one only has to wait long enough for it to be evident.

Anscombe is also clearly opposed to the position that it is a matter of the agent, by some sort of internal psychological movement looking over the possible descriptions of an act and directing his or her “intention” to one of the descriptions and not the others, that establishes what KIND of act an agent does.  “For after all we can FORM intentions; now if intention is an interior movement, it would appear that we can choose to have a certain intention and not another, just by e.g. saying within ourselves: ‘What I MEAN to be doing is earning my living, and NOT poisoning the household….I withhold my intention from the act of poisoning the household, which I prefer to think goes on without my intention being in it’.  The idea that one can determine one’s intentions by making such a little speech to oneself is obvious bosh.”(#25.)

If you take a hammer to the head of an intruder pummeling it until it lies in a heap of brain tissue on your carpet, you may well be separating the intruder from your wife whom he is attacking; but there is no doubt that you chose to kill the intruder, unless you are insane.  If Gianciotto runs his rapier through Paolo’s heart he may well be separating Paolo from Francesca.  But there is no doubt he has chosen to kill Paolo, even though he hasn’t chosen to kill Francesca.  Some may think it a virtue of a theory of agency that it has the result that one can pummel the head of someone leaving the brain matter in a heap on the carpet and not have it count as an act of directly intending to kill that human being.  But there is such a thing as Reductio ad Absurdam.  So others, yours truly, as well as Anscombe I think, would take such a result to be evidence that the theory has gone badly off the rails somewhere, and ought to be rethought.  So if you dismember a fetus in the womb of his or her mother, your action may certainly be described as separating the fetus from his or her mother.  But of course WHAT you DID was kill the fetus as the WAY to separate him or her from his or her mother.  And you performed an abortion from a moral point of view.


Posted by Rick Garnett on May 31, 2010 at 01:29 PM | Permalink | TrackBack

Memorial Day

Today the United States celebrates Memorial Day, a day of remembrance of those who have died while in military service.

I confess that I have mixed feelings about the day. On the one hand, I am grateful to those who keep our country safe and who have given their lives to do so. It is fitting that we keep them in our prayers and our memories.

On the other hand, as a Christian, I am concerned that we also never lose sight of the horror of war and the need to promote peace. I’d feel a lot more comfortable if the sermons we hear on Memorial Day contained at least a reminder of the Catholic just war theory and the fact that some of the wars in which our young men and women have lost their lives can not be justified under principles of Catholic social thought. That takes nothing away from the sacrifice of our military personnel, but it helps ensure that we not forget that our obligations to promote peace and an end to war and violence. Indeed, since those who died for our country believed they were doing so to promote peace and justice, their sacrifice was in vain if we do not take our obligation in this regard seriously.

I am also concerned that we remember that it is not just American service men and women who have lost their lives protecting their countries. Our Mass petitions often include prayers for the safety of our soldiers. I silently at those moments add my prayers for all those of those affected by war – not only our soldiers but those who they fight against, and espeically for the civilians whose lives have been devastated by war.

So by all means let us remember those who have died in service to our country. But let us also pray for peace and remember this day all of those who have suffered the effects of war and armed conflict.

[Cross-posted from Creo en Dios!]

Posted by Susan Stabile on May 31, 2010 at 07:33 AM in Stabile, Susan | Permalink | TrackBack

May 30, 2010

To and fro with Rick, and then Michael Lewis makes the point

Rick commented on my post:

"I don't think so. I mean, there's always the danger that we (all of us) are tempted to regard as "serving special interests rather than the common good" those policies that serve others' visions or understandings of the common good. And, I'm enough of a Madisonian to think that the common good, well understood, *can* be (but certainly isn't always) served by the vigorous involvement in politics of groups that are focused specifically on particular issues. Finally, I do not think that "Wall Street" is necessarily a more threatening (to the common good) special interest than many others. Danger is everywhere. =-)"

And then I responded to Rick:

"Thanks, Rick. I'm wary of political-theoretical abstractions. In any event, we both know that some special interests have the potential to do much greater and longer lasting damage to the common good than other special interests. The masters of the financial system, pursuing their own short-term financial interests, have such potential. I shudder to think about the truly devastating consequences, to the well-being of ordinary families--of mothers, fathers, children--and others, of the kind of massive economic dislocations that the masters of the financial system, left to their own, venal devices, can precipitate.

I'm delighted that we both support Simon Johnson's proposal for greater transparency. Not a left-right issue."

And then I noticed Michael Lewis's piece this morning, which nicely makes the point:

To: Wall Street chief executives

From: Your man in Washington

Re: Embracing the status quo

Our earnings are robust, our compensation has returned to its naturally high levels and, as a result, we have very nearly regained our grip on the imaginations of the most ambitious students at the finest universities — and from that single fact many desirable outcomes follow.

Thus, we have almost fully recovered from what we have agreed to call The Great Misfortune. In the next few weeks, however, ill-informed senators will meet with ill-paid representatives to reconcile their ill-conceived financial reform bills. This process cannot and should not be stopped. The American people require at least the illusion of change. But it can be rendered harmless to our interests.

To this point, we have succeeded in keeping the public focused on the single issue that will have very little effect on how we do business: the quest to prevent taxpayer money from ever again being used to (as they put it) “bail out Wall Street.”

As we know, we never needed their money in the first place, and by the time we need it again, we’ll be long gone. If we can keep the public, and its putative representatives, fixated on the question of whether their bill does, or does not, ensure there will be no more bailouts, we may entirely avoid a discussion of our relationship to the broader society.

Working together as a team we have already suppressed debate on many dangerous ideas: that those of us deemed too big to fail are too big and should be broken up, for instance, or that credit default swaps and collateralized debt obligations and other financial inventions should simply be banned. We are now at leisure to address the few remaining threats to our way of life. To wit:

1. Washington will attempt to limit our ability to exploit the idiocy of institutional investors a k a our “customers.” The Senate appears intent on forcing our most lucrative derivatives business onto open exchanges, where investors can, for the first time, observe the prices we give them. This measure — which I’ve come to call the “Making the World Safe for Germans With Money Act” — will prove difficult to defeat. Our public strategy here, as elsewhere, must be to complicate the issue.

To the mere mention of open, public exchanges for derivatives, you should always respond, “That will destroy liquidity in these fragile and complex markets.” Most people don’t even know what “liquidity” means, or what causes it or why they actually need to have more rather than less of it — or what, even, the point is of a market that requires privacy to operate. They will assume that you must understand it better than they do. For that reason alone it is useful.

The other point you should make to our elected officials (privately, please) is that our profits function as a fixed point in an uncertain universe. If they curtail our ability to shaft German investors in one way, we will simply find some other way to do it.

Shockingly, the Senate version of the bill more or less would require us to cease to trade derivatives entirely. This unpleasant idea was introduced by Senator Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, and it leads me to a point that is worth underscoring: We do not have a problem with the American people, we have a problem with American women. Elizabeth Warren, our TARP supervisor, continues to ask questions about what we did with our government money; Mary Schapiro has used her authority at the S.E.C. to sue Goldman Sachs. Of the four Republican senators who crossed over to vote with the Democrats, two were women — and one of the guys posed naked for Cosmopolitan magazine.

Going forward, we should discourage women from seeking higher office — or indeed, any position in which they might exert influence over our activities. More immediately, in your private conversations with Larry Summers, Tim Geithner and male Republican senators, you should simply refer to Blanche Lincoln as “unhinged.” They’ll get it.

2. Our slow cousins at Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s are likely to suffer a blow to their already lowly status. They are virtually certain to be stripped of their designation as Nationally Recognized Statistical Ratings Organizations. Whatever that means, it presents no threat to our way of life. Just the reverse: the more miserable it is to work at Moody’s, the less capable (and more manipulable) Moody’s employees will be.

The lone remaining risk to the status quo is the Franken amendment — introduced by Senator Al Franken of Minnesota — which would prevent us from personally selecting the ratings agencies that offer opinions on our offerings. It creates a board inside the Securities and Exchange Commission to assign ratings agencies, thereby removing the direct incentive the raters have to please us. (Of course, it preserves their indirect incentive: that is, that we might one day offer them jobs.)

The Franken amendment thus gums up what has been heretofore a very cleanly rigged system. In addition to encouraging public references to Stuart Smalley and Mr. Franken’s other theatrical embarrassments, we should remind our friends on Capitol Hill and in the press that “the Franken amendment will give the federal government the same control over finance it has seized in health care.”

3. There is a slight, but real, risk that public opinion will yank us in some unexpected direction. Over the past few months, a curious pattern has emerged: the more open the debate, the more radical the outcome.

In private, reasonable discussions we were able to persuade our friends in the Senate to prevent votes on amendments hostile to our interests — the worst of which, I might add, was dreamed up by yet another female senator. But the minute a vote was held, and senators sensed the cameras watching, even our friends abandoned us to the mob. All of these people are continually engaged in the same mental calculation: are the votes I might gain with this remark or this idea or this position greater than the votes I can buy with the money given to me by Wall Street firms? With each uptick in the level of public scrutiny — with every minute of televised debate — our money means less.

In the short term, we must do whatever we can to dissuade Representative Barney Frank from allowing any part of these discussions between senators and representatives to be televised. In the longer term we must return to the shadows. Do your work in private; allow your money to speak for you; and remember, the only way we’ll get the financial reform we need is if we pay for it. No one else can afford it.

[Michael Lewis, a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, is the author, most recently, of “The Big Short.”]

Posted by Michael Perry on May 30, 2010 at 11:51 AM | Permalink | TrackBack

"Talk to me, baby!" Happy to oblige.

Rick says:  "talk to me, baby!"  Happy to oblige.

I think that our politics is often devoted to serving special interests rather than the common good.  I think that our politics is, in that sense, often corrupt.  And let me be clear:  I do not think that our politics is *less* corrupt when the Democrats are in the majority--or *more* corrupt when the Republicans are in the majority.

I think that Simon Johnson is viscerally concerned about this problem--more so than many members of Congress.  And I think that Johnson's proposal, which follows, would be a step in the right direction.

Have I said anything with which you disagree?

[C[ounter the money of Wall Street by bringing much more transparency to the conference.

Televising the conference meetings could help, but realistically this is also likely to push the substantive decision-making and discussion off-line.  Therefore, in addition, congressional leaders should be pressed agree to three non-waiveable rules for the conference and the conference report on the Wall Street reform bills: 

  1. Any amendments need to be posted on-line not less than three business days before any relevant conference meeting.  Second degree amendments (i.e., those filed as amendments to amendments) need at least 2 days notice on the same basis.

  2. The House and the Senate will not discuss any conference report until the report as amended by the conference has been posted on-line in its entirety for at least 5 business days.
  3. A red lined version of the conference report as amended – to show all changes – must also be posted on-line for not less than 5 business days before any vote on that conference report.

Without such provisions – which, by the way, are unlikely to be adopted – no one excluded from the backrooms will have the opportunity to learn what the amendments do or what is in the bill itself. 

The point is not that this would necessarily stop the final and nearly complete victory of special interests.  But at least we will learn which members of Congress exactly sided with them, on why, and even why.  And this will help a great deal as we think about how best to move forward.

Posted by Michael Perry on May 30, 2010 at 07:29 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

May 29, 2010

So, what *does* Catholic social theory have to say about that?

I cannot speak for those whom Michael P. calls Robby's "confreres in the Republican Party," and I'm actually not sure what Catholic social theory says, specifically, about the precise contours of financial-sector regulation, but certainly *I* would welcome more transparency in the operations of the Administration and Congress (neither of which is, at present, in the control of Robby's confreres).  Michael, what do you think CST has to say about the matters discussed in the Simon Johnson piece?  As Dennis Miller (or Foghat) might say, "talk to me, baby!"

Posted by Rick Garnett on May 29, 2010 at 06:37 PM in Garnett, Rick | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Kevin Flannery on the Phoenix case

Ftaher Kevin Flannery S. J., who teaches philosophy at the Gregorian, has this to say about Cathy Kaveny's position on the Phoenix case:

--- If one follows Thomas Aquinas’s action theoryand I would argue that the Church’s action theory is Thomas’s action theorythe basic error of Kathy’s argument lies in the sentence, "The immediate aim (object) of the procedure is simply to separate the baby from its dependence on the mother’s system, not to kill the baby, either as an end in itself or as a means to another end." The object of the procedure is not the "aim" in the sense of what the agent hopes to achieve but rather the fetus’s skull (or spine or whatever). Scholars who oppose traditional Catholic teaching on cases such as the craniotomy case (and also, for instance, on the use of condoms where one spouse is HIV positive) tend to argue that the object of a human action cannot be physical object such as a skull. This goes against what Thomas says, for instance, at ST 1-2.18.2 ad 1. He also maintains that a moral object (such as a baby’s skull) is a moral object in so far as it is part of the larger structure of a human act [ST 2-2.58.3 ad 3]. These are not incompatible propositions.

In any case, it is the object of the external act that gives it its species, "what it is." What the external act is has a bearing upon the human act’s moral character: that is why Kathy does not want to say that the act is (has the species of) (e.g.) crushing a fetus’s skull. If one knows that such an act will kill the fetus, it is called ‘killing a fetus,’ i.e., killing a human being. The act performed in the Phoenix case apparently had a fetus’s skull (or some other vital part) as its object; that object makes that act to be an act about that object, not about separating the baby from its dependence on the mother’s systemor, at least, not solely about that. Anscombe would not have tolerated such selective descriptions of what one was intending. As she says in paragraph 25 of Intention: "The idea that one can determine one’s intention by making such a little speech is bosh."


Richard M.

Posted by Richard Myers on May 29, 2010 at 06:17 PM | Permalink | TrackBack

One case that's not about scandal

There is, I believe, a lot to criticize in the post by Lisa Fullam that Michael P. shared with us. But what I take to be her fundamental theoretical point is sound enough:  it is possible to cause scandal in the very effort to prevent scandal, and that is obviously something very much to be avoided.  I will, however, point out one significant error because it is such a fine example of the logical fallacy petitio principii.  Professor Fullam says:

"Similarly, when the magisterium refuses to strongly support the use of condoms by HIV sero-discordant married couples, they avoid the scandal that people might think that the Church no longer opposes birth control. (In fact, this is a clear case of classic double-effect.)"

Now, as a logical matter, the magisterium's judgment that contraception is wrong and its judgment that condomized sex between spouses (irrespective of motive) is wrong could be mistaken.  (I happen to think that the magisterium's teachings on these matters are not mistaken, but the propositions asserted by the magisterium, even if true, are not analytic or self-evident truths.)  Perhaps Professor Fullam thinks the first of these teachings is mistaken.  She definitely thinks the second is mistaken.  Where she clearly goes astray---straightforwardly begging the question against the magisterium---is in what she supposes or suggests about the ground of the magisterium's teaching regarding the wrongfulness of condomized sex, even when motivated by a desire to prevent infection.

Professor Fullam seems to be presupposing that the magisterium's teaching against the use of condoms (even by couples seeking to prevent the transmission of disease) is based on the view that their use always constitutes contraception.  But the use of condoms does not always or necessarily constitute contraception (Professor Fullam is right about that), and the magisterium is perfectly well aware of that fact (Professor Fullam is wrong to suppose or suggest otherwise).  If the magisterium's objection to condomized sex in the type of case Professor Fullam has in mind were rooted in its rejection of contraception, then it would not object to condomized sex in those cases in which the spouses know with certainty that conception is impossible (for example, where the wife is pregnant or has had her uterus removed).  There is nothing that anyone can do to make an act a contraceptive act in a case in which he knows that the prevention of conception is impossible for the simple reason that conception itself is impossible.  (It is impossible for someone to prevent me from jumping twenty-six feet in the air, or flying to Saturn, or bilocating, because it is not possible for me to jump twenty-six feet into the air, fly to Saturn, or bilocate.)  If a man knows that he or his wife is infertile, then his wearing a condom---or five condoms, or fifty, on top of each other---would not constitute contraception.  He is not preventing conception or trying to prevent conception.  He knows he cannot prevent conception because he knows that conception is impossible.

But imagine that a man and his wife know that a particular act of sexual intercourse might well result in conception.  Further imagine that the husband is HIV positive and the wife is not, and he quite reasonably wishes to avoid the danger of infecting her.  So he wears a condom. Is that an act of contraception?  No, it is not.  (Again, that is the point Professor Fullam is right about.)  The contraceptive effect of wearing the condom is foreseen and accepted but not willed.  Double effect.  Does the magisterium suppose otherwise?  No, it does not.  The magisterium knows that a device or pharmaceutical product that can be used as a contraceptive might also be used for reasons not involving the willing of the sterilization of a sexual act. (What an act of contraception is, is a performance done for the sake of sterilizing a sex act.)  That is why the magisterium does not object to a woman's taking the pill popularly known as "the birth control pill" where her motive is not the prevention of conception, but treating endometriosis or some other health problem.

Now, Professor Fullam might object. She might say that she did not suggest, or at least did not mean to suggest, that the magisterium believes that using a condom is always or necessarily an act of contraception.  She might insist that she was merely saying that the magisterium opposes the use of condoms by married couples even to prevent infection because to approve their use even for that purpose would mislead people into thinking that the Church has abandoned its historic teaching against contraception.  But even if we interpret her in that way, her assumption about the basis for the magisterium's teaching is off the mark.  The bishops are perfectly willing to say that the use of "birth control pills" for non-contraceptive purposes is morally unprobelmatic.  They don't shrink from saying it for fear that it will scandalize people by leading them to suppose that the church "approves the pill."  This should be a signal to Professor Fullam and others that they've misidentified the basis of the magisterium's teaching.

However we interpret her, Professor Fullam begs the question against the magisterium as a result of this misidentification.  The magisterium, whether its teaching is right or wrong, has neither made an elementary mistake about double effect, nor taught imprudently and unsoundly in a misguided effort to avoid scandal.  The ground of the magisterium's teaching on the subject is that a marital act is an act of one-flesh union, viz., an act in which spouses, as a consummation or actualization of the multi-level (biological, emotional, dispositional, rational, spiritual) sharing of life that is their marriage, fulfill the behavioral conditions of procreation, whether or not the nonbehavioral conditions of procreation happen to obtain.  Where a sex act has been condomized, whatever the reasons, it is not an act that fulfills the behavioral conditions of procreation. So it cannot be a marital act.  Condomization, by preventing insemination or at least the biological union of sexual organs, vitiates the marital quality of the act.

Now, if she likes, Professor Fullam could attack the magisterium's teaching on three possible grounds.  (1) She could deny the Church's teaching that every genital sexual act, including those between spouses, must be marital acts in order to be morally good.  (2) She could accept that teaching, yet argue that fulfilling the behavioral conditions of procreation is not necessary for an act of spousal sexual union to be a marital act.  (3)  She could argue that, despite condomization, a sexual act can fulfill the behavioral conditions of procreation.  Readers would then have to assess the validity of her arguments, whatever they were, on the merits.  (A few years ago, Fr. Martin Rhonheimer, a priest of the Opus Dei prelature and an exceptionally subtle and gifted thinker, generated quite a lively and interesting debate on (2) and (3) in an effort to show that the use of condoms by married couples in cases like the one Professor Fulham is interested in is not necessarily wrong.  My own view, for what it's worth, was that Fr. Rhonheimer's arguments were not successful.  Anyone who is interested, though, should have a careful look at them and at the critical literature they generated.) 

Posted by Robert George on May 29, 2010 at 06:12 PM | Permalink | TrackBack