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December 19, 2006

Comments

Tim J.

They ought to build new planes with a remote override that takes all control out of the cockpit and transfers it to a pilot or a computer on the ground.

I have no doubt that the technology already exists. Hackers might be a problem, but one that could be dealt with.

Brian John Schuettler

Under the law of double effect the bombings of Heroshima and Nagasaki were morally reprehensible as was the bombing of Dresden.
The deliberate Allied bombing of civilian populations in WW2 should be a case study in moral theology. Ending a war more quickly or any motivation, for that matter, can never be justified by killing non combatant men, women and children. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

A. Williams

This topic on the morality of shooting down aircraft is excellent for the recreational exercise of moral speculation and argumentation, which is fun and intellectually very stimulating. However, such a debate should seriously never be needed considering the fact that we live in a modern, technologically advanced country. How much does a fleet of F-16s cost, including the missles, radar, support etc. needed to shoot down such a commercial aircraft?? Everyone knows the consequence of the horrendous act....probably 1 or 2 miraculous survivors, most likely maimed for life..at best!? The only real debate on this topic should be whether it's feasible to convince Steve Jobs to monkeyrig an Apple iPOD (or if thats way too expensive we can probably make due with a reconditioned '85 Apple II...so as to emergency steer the plane long enough to robotically land on some lonely cornfeild, desert, airport or highway...so that the potential civilian deaths and injuries would be nullified or greatly reduced. Then the only other moral debate should be on the level or degree to which those passengers should kick the asses of those grounded hijackers!

Seamus

Or devices might be built that would allow people on the ground to gain remote control of the plane and safely bring it down.

Of course, once you have invented such devices, you have also made it possible for hijackers to take control of a plane without the trouble of actually being on the plane.

Publius

Of course, once you have invented such devices, you have also made it possible for hijackers to take control of a plane without the trouble of actually being on the plane.

Like with that short-lived X-Files spin off that Jimmy posted about a while back.

A Williams

What's safer..do you think?? Taking direct hits from two f-16 Sidewinder Missles or having a recycled Apple II computer programmed with this Command://land plane now!//anywhere!/:A-sH/O-LE!//immediately!//

Jimmy Akin

Let's avoid that word, please.

Phil

The notion of developing a remote control technology to safely land the plane is not very likely to ever see the light of day in the real world. How would one secure this?

The issue is a classic one that Microsoft struggles with everyday. The issue is class breaks. Once someone has found a vulnerability in Windows, one can apply that break to all Windows machines. Once a single plane has been compromised, all planes are compromised.

The difference between planes and Microsoft is when someone breaks into a Windows machine no one dies.

We won't know there's a class break in the airplane remote control system until it's too late.

Jared

I can't actually see how a hijacker would, in the post 9-11 world in which we live, manage to get hold of a plane. If there's one lesson we've learned, it's that the victim mentality of "just give 'em what they want and they'll go away" can not EVER apply to sky-jackers. The terrorists themselves taught us that there is no one so invincible that he cannot be taken down, so long as you are willing--REALLY WILLING and not just willing in some abstract sense--to give your life in the struggle. We learned that lesson the same day it was taught, as is exhibited by the heroes of flight 92. If those passengers had known the terrorists' intentions before the takeover of the plane was complete, I highly doubt those box-cutters would've posed any kind of obstacle to them swarming over the terrorists before they even got close to the cockpit.

The logistics of taking over a plane are so difficult as it is, what with the narrow aisles offering to the passengers the same battlefield strategies available at Sterling Bridge.

I'm not saying that it couldn't ever again be done. I'm just saying it'd be really, really difficult.

James Arruda

I can say, with high confidence, that a ground controlled system that works a plane, for the commercial market, will not occur, even if it is just emergency activated.

The reasons are:
Certification, for cost/time would be too great
Weighing human error vs computer error alongside possible extreme circumstances.

A human can take extreme circumstances and find a solution (such as the Jet Blue flight in which the nosegear had failed to rotate where the pilot burned up most of the runway without putting down the nosegear) where a computer must have that solution programmed in. Consider that against the probability of an extreme curcumstance occuring. Consider further the chance that a electronic hijacking can occur. I would say electronic hijackings are more plausible than physical given the skill of the computer world. Even if the box in the room that controls the plane remotely is autonomous from the world, the signal it must transmit can be read, scrambled, etc. Also, in the event of EMP (or similar attack) such a system would be dead.


What that has to do with the morality of the situation, I am not sure. But that is the way the decision would most likely be made.

In terms of double effect, I would say that number six (as of right now) is arguably fulfilled. No current system exists to create an alternative. IF the pilots are incapacitated and IF someone else (or just the autopilot on a heading hold) is in control without any way of altering the situation on the plane (such as a passenger uprising or passenger knowing how to fly) then shooting down the plane becomes a likely occurence.

Curious

Hello Brian,
I think you could make a double-effect argument for Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It would be sticky, but I think you could do it. You would argue that you were hitting war infrastructure, which in the the case of the Japanese at that time, was well mixed with civilian targets. However, I agree that terror bombing, which was the modus operandi in Europe and Japan during WWII, could not be easily justified. Even there, it might be possible to make a double-effect argument, although how is not clear to me.

Brian John Schuettler

Curious,
Yes, there is sufficient evidence now available from official records that demonstrates beyond a doubt the the primary purpose of many of the strikes at cities were indeed "terror bombings" with only a secondary objective being the destruction of war materiel. I certainly think that both Britain and the US have been given a relatively easy pass on this most important moral issues, especially within the context of being a precedent for actions that we find unacceptable in a society that purports to defend human dignity.

bearing

BJS, I guess that means that the Hiroshima/Nagasaki/Dresden et al. bombings fail to pass the test specifically because the means chosen are immoral --- i.e. the chosen means to end the war was the killing of civilians, which is not acceptable. Did I understand that right?

David B.

Bearing,

I *think* you did.

A. Williams

Look, we have global positioning satellites, Google Earth type mapping systems and satellite images, plenty of computing power, extremely advanced optical lens' and cameras and the best programmers in the world available to work. I cannot see any reason that an absolutely last option emergency system could not be made for only this extreme circumstance! What are the options? This is the important question. If the only other option is being shot down by the airforce..almost anything is better than that! Either way, or in both scenarios your going to land. One is uncontrolled and on fire, and the other is computer aided, however imperfect a system you might have. Moreover, with all the advances in robotics these days I think it's a very doable thing. Furthermore, if the pilot controls it by using a special key etc...hijackers will be further discouraged knowing that any plane can be set to auto-pilot for an emergency landing. In this type of scenario perfection is not required, just something much better than the options we are currently provided with.

Nate Wildermuth

I don't claim to understand the double-effect rule clearly, but I find it striking that it is always used to justify those actions which end up in sacrificing others to save ourselves.

Think about two examples - throwing yourself on a grenade to save your friends, or pushing a POW on a grenade to save your friends. The first doesn't need any double-effect reasoning to be seen as an act of love. It's obvious that the soldier who throws himself on a grenade is acting out of love.

But what about the soldier who throws a POW on the grenade? It takes a double-effect rule to make him into a saint, doesn't it? There's something about it that makes us cringe. And yet people will justify these horrific actions with all sorts of philisophical rules.

Perhaps the key to unraveling this double-effect rule, is the the Catholic critique of utilitarianism. None of us can be used as a means to an end. And yet, isn't that what the double-effect rule does? I use someone against their will to get what I want. I throw someone else on a grenade. I blow up an aircraft full of men and women who are certainly not clamoring to be blown up. I assume responsibility for another person's free will, saying that I am a better judge of what they want than they themselves.

The double effect rule may very well have a lot of wisdom to it. But I cringe at what people use it to justify!

Brian John Schuettler

Right, terror bombings, whether they occurred during WW2 or now, can never be morally justified if they have as their primary goal the killing of civilians.

Boat Guy

Phil said "The difference between planes and Microsoft is when someone breaks into a Windows machine no one dies."

I beg to differ - current spam practice, which mostly originates these days with the mob, is to use spam bots. If your 911 call on your VOIP phone (very common these days) doesn't get through, people die. Hacking and spam is a crime, and like we have discussed here before, there is no such thing as a victimless crime - people sometimes die, even from hacking a windows machine.

Esau

Look, we have global positioning satellites, Google Earth type mapping systems and satellite images, plenty of computing power, extremely advanced optical lens' and cameras and the best programmers in the world available to work. I cannot see any reason that an absolutely last option emergency system could not be made for only this extreme circumstance! What are the options? This is the important question. If the only other option is being shot down by the airforce..almost anything is better than that!

Actually, why can't these planes have some sort of mechanism that automatically releases sleeping gas and kicks in an auto-flight remote control, as suggested by Jimmy, and bring the plane down remotely by the tower?

A.  Nony Mouse

Isn't the answer simple anyways? When one shoots down an errant passenger plane, one is not per se killing the innocent passengers, but only per accidens. The direct per se intent is to destroy the instrument of mass destruction, in this case, the errant airplane. This is something like removing an ectopic pregnancy ....

One might similarly ask whether a soldier who is killed by dropping on a grenade and who also saves his comrades in the process is committing suicide, since he knows that his death is a very likely result? Common sense and the Bible dictates the answer. No greater love ....

Esau

(Chorus)
No greater love than this
That you should lay down your life
For someone such as me
I spend a life time wondering why
The beauty of heaven is here in my heart
And I know there can be
No greater love

Tim

I would say that the decision to throw oneself on top of a grenade is a textbook case of the application of double effect.

Zippy

The truth is that it can be a criterion in a moral system but not the only criterion, as is the case here, where we've got conditions (2)-(4), which are clearly non-proportional.

That isn't exactly right. If an act is intrinsically evil - evil in its object - then no appeal to a proportionate reason can make it into a good act. Proportionate reasons are completely irrelevant once an act falls under a species of intrinsically evil acts. Proportionalism isn't the notion that proportionate reason is the only element of evaluating an act, is the heresy which says that proportionate reasons may always be taken into account in evaluating the morality of an act. In the case of intrinsically evil acts, or in the case of acts where the good effect is the causal result of a bad effect, no appeal to proportionate reasons is ever valid.

So the application of double-effect here isn't really so straightforward. In order for double effect to apply at all, it has to be true (among other things) that "shoot down a plane filled with innocent civilians" is not an evil act in its object; and assuming that it isn't evil in its object (#2) is begging the question.

Esau

That isn't exactly right.

Okay, let's just have Jimmy Akin & Zippy put on the boxing gloves and get it over with already! ;^)

(Only in jest, gentlemen, only in jest!)

Maureen

Since a soldier is obliged to protect from harm anyone he has taken prisoner (as long as said prisoner doesn't break the prisoner rules, that is), it would clearly be a dishonorable as well as immoral act to throw a POW on top of a grenade.

Unless the POW offered, of course.

Labri

I wonder if some of the terms are not being properly framed. #2, for instance. A passenger plane is a) not a weapon of mass destruction. b)A passenger plane is a passenger plane, not an enemy bomber c) you don't know who is in control - Flight 93 was no longer in the hands of the guerrillas when it was shot down. d) one should clearly try less lethal means first - trying to force the plane to land, for instance - airliners are unarmed, even the Q-Ship, the Lusitania, was unarmed when she was sunk by a German u-boat.

Zippy

Okay, let's just have Jimmy Akin & Zippy put on the boxing gloves and get it over with already! ;^)

Our substantive differences aside, Jimmy is a convincing gentleman. I am quite certain that single-malt scotch would be the weapon of choice in any duel.

Esau

Our substantive differences aside, Jimmy is a convincing gentleman. I am quite certain that single-malt scotch would be the weapon of choice in any duel.

Single-malt scotch???
Does it have to be???

Actually, it would be interesting (as well as edifying, to say the least, for all) if the both of you just debate one another once and for all. After all, why delay the inevitable? ;^)

Fr Martin Fox

Jimmy, I agree with the conclusion: under the principle of double effect, the destruction of a hijacked airliner could be justified.

The way I thought about it, as soon as I saw you pose the question, was what if an enemy were flying a bomber aircraft toward our territory -- only you knew he also had civilian hostages aboard. The culpability for the death of those civilians, if the plane is shot down, lies with the enemy who put them aboard, whether by deceit or abduction. After all, one may never directly intend the death of even a combatant; but one may use deadly force to act on the intention of stopping an aggressor; and if he die, the culpability is his own, not yours. I would apply similar reasoning here. You're not intending the death of the non-combatants either; indeed, of anyone.

Well, in this case, the point at which the hijackers take control of the plane, it becomes a combat aircraft and can be treated as such.

Esau

Curious, would it be a Sin of Omission if the airforce pilot, who could have shot down the hijacked airliner but didn't -- knowing full well at the time that if he doesn't, that the hijacked airliner would actually kill thousands of civilians on ground?

Mary

I cannot see any reason that an absolutely last option emergency system could not be made for only this extreme circumstance!

And what sort of controls would ensure that it was used only in this extreme circumstance?

Besides the danger of terrorists, there is also the danger of bugs.

Mary

In order for double effect to apply at all, it has to be true (among other things) that "shoot down a plane filled with innocent civilians" is not an evil act in its object;

The object of the action is not "shoot down a plane filled with innocent civilians"; it is "shoot down a plane." The person shooting down the plane would not stop because the terrorists had already killed the civilians.

Esau

The person shooting down the plane would not stop because the terrorists had already killed the civilians.

Mary,
Interesting answer here!

Actually, in a rescue scenario, when time is critical and the situation is absolutely grave, I believe that even rescue folks are trained to consider the person who can't be saved as already dead especially considering that to actually attempt a rescue of that person would mean the actual deaths of all other survivors.

Mary

Actually, I was thinking of a hypothetical situation where the terrorists had killed everyone on board to prevent a revolt.

But the rescue situation might also apply.

Zippy

The object of the action is not "shoot down a plane filled with innocent civilians"; it is "shoot down a plane."

If one person can gratuitously assert this then someone else can gratuitously assert something else with equal validity.

I am not saying that Jimmy is wrong and that this cannot be justified under double-effect. I am saying that the basis of his argument is - absent a theory of what constitutes the moral object of a human act - a gratuitous assertion about the nature of the object of an act of shooting down a plane filled with civilians.

bill912

"Gratuitous assertion"? Mary simply stated a fact.

Zippy

Mary simply stated a fact.

No, she stated that "shoot down a plane" was the moral object of the act, and that "shoot down a plane filled with civilians" was not the moral object of the act. As I mentioned, absent a theory of what specifically consitutes the moral object of an act this is simply question-begging: a gratuitous assertion.

(That isn't an insult. It is an assessment of an argument).

Francis DS

Given the (good natured) casuistry in the discussion, I just hope that if there's a hijacked plane vectoring to a populated center, we in this forum aren't on the panel deciding what to do! ;-)

bill912

No. Mary stated that "shoot down a plane" was "(t)he object of the action". That was the fact she stated.

(That isn't an insult. It's plain English).

Mary

As I mentioned, absent a theory of what specifically consitutes the moral object of an act this is simply question-begging: a gratuitous assertion.

Except that I specificially explained why I gave that as the moral object. To call a statement "question-begging" while ignoring the answer to the question -- now that is gratuitous assertion.

Louise


In the POW scenario, wouldn't that fail the double-effect test because his death is a means to the end?

Zippy

Except that I specificially explained why I gave that as the moral object.

OK, I missed that.

You said:
The person shooting down the plane would not stop because the terrorists had already killed the civilians.

That doesn't necessarily change the object of the act. The stipulated act as I understand it is one where the pilot shooting down the plane is morally certain that it is filled with live passengers. That the pilot may wish to shoot down a plane empty of innocent passengers doesn't change the fact that his chosen behavior is to shoot down a plane filled with live passengers. In any case, the interesting act is one where the pilot knows that there are live innocent passengers - maybe he saw some through the windows or something. The object of that act is not - other than by gratuitous assertion - "to shoot down a plane" as opposed to "to shoot down a plane filled with innocent passengers."

Mind you this is a difficult case, much like ectopic pregnancy as someone mentioned. But I think the confidence that double-effect definitely applies and that shooting down the plane is definitely licit is unwarranted, at least given the argumentative support it has received so far.

John

So apply the scenario and above analysis to one of our most Catholic "Sacred Cows,"...A married woman, in full communion with the Catholic Church, has a routine pap smear...a few weeks later she learns she's pregnant...two weeks later the pap comes back with bad results...one week later cancer is diagnosed, and it is of the variety that spreads easily and quickly, and the prevailing medical opinion is that if a complete historectomy can not be perfomed immediately, followed by aggressive chemo/radiation, the mother has no chance of surviving beyond two to three months....

No historectomy...no mother or child...

Historectomy...mother may or may not survive, but the baby dies...

The first half of this scenario happened to our daycare person a year ago and made me think of this ethical dilemma...

I'm a pro-lifer...but if it's my wife instead of a family friend...how do I respond when asked to contribute an opinion?

Tim J.

Zippy, Mary is right. The object is not in any way to shoot down a plane filled with innocent civilians. The object is to shoot down a plane.

The death of the passengers is an unintended consequence. Even the deaths of the hijackers could be an unintended consequence, since the object is to prevent the plane from striking an intended target (a population center or strategic military target).

The number of people on the plane is not relevant. For all practical purposes - in this day and age - one has to assume that the passengers are doomed anyway.

Ralph Kruegler

I am confused

Esau

For all practical purposes - in this day and age - one has to assume that the passengers are doomed anyway.

Tim J.,
You've hit it right on!
That's what I was trying to point out when I brought up the rescue training above. In severe circumstances, there are command decisions that rescuers have to make in the gravest situation (in split-second decision-making) where those who cannot be saved at all are actually considered dead in order to ensure the safety of all remaining survivors.

Originally, I thought that this was what Mary was alluding to.

Nate Wildermuth

Is nuking Hiroshima and Nagasaki considered moral under the double-effect rule? If the answer is 'yes', then we've only proven that the rule is used to justify the most horrific acts of evil.

Tim J.

"Is nuking Hiroshima and Nagasaki considered moral under the double-effect rule?"

No. The object of bombing Hiroshima was to destroy an entire city with its inhabitants, whether innocent or guilty. This was not by any stretch of the imagination "collateral damage".

A seige - a complete bloackade - would have been less immoral, but would still have resulted in the deaths of millions of innocents. This would have been an indirect result, though, so it might have been permissible.

A direct invasion would also have resulted in the deaths of millions of innocents.

Millions were going to die in any case, but Hiroshima was the worst possible option, morally speaking.

Leo

Double-effect can be misused to justify almost anything. So clear and honest thinking is especially important here. Thanks Jimmy.

One way of testing double effect intentions (Jimmy's condition 3) is to ask What If (even 'miraculously') questions.

eg at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. What if no civilians were killed would the intentions of the US government have been frustrated? I think the answer is Yes their intentions would have been frustrated. Therefore their (primary) intention included killing civilians.

eg at 9-11. What if no civilians were killed at the WTC, would the intenmtions of the hijackers have been frustrated? I think the answer is Yes, and therefore their (primary) intention included killing civilians.

Zippy

The object is not in any way to shoot down a plane filled with innocent civilians. The object is to shoot down a plane.

And again, simply saying that that is the case doesn't make it the case.

If we continue to view this through the lens of ectopic pregnancy, we know that a salpingotomy is morally illicit because it is a direct attack on the baby, whereas a salpingectomy is not a direct attack on the baby. A method for bringing down the plane which does not directly attack the passengers might be analogous to a salpingectomy; a method which does directly attack the passengers might be analogous to a salpingotomy.

Again, to be clear, my point is not that this act is definitely illicit. My point is that the claim that it is definitely licit, at this point in the discussion, rests on nothing more than a gratuitous assertion that the object of the act is "shoot down a plane" not "shoot down a plane filled with civilians". Absent a theory of what constitutes the object of the act, to say that this act is definitely licit is just question begging.

And the questions of intention and proportionate reason which arise in double-effect do not arise for intrinsically evil acts. It has to be first established that this act is not intrinsically evil before any appeal to intentions or circumstances becomes pertinent.

Zippy

Look at it this way: someone might say that a salpingotomy is not an illicit abortion because the object of the act is "empty out the fallopian tube" not "kill the child in the fallopian tube". And it may well be the case that the person wants to treat the ectopic pregnancy without attacking the child. But those assertions are gratuitous in evaluating the morality of the act: a salpingotomy is an attack on the child, and it is an illicit abortion.

Leo

The description of the act (cf Jimmy's condition 2)can be confusing.
Is the relevant description (there may be more than one) eg:
1. pressing a button
2. destroying a plane
3. killing the people on the plane
4. preventing the plane being used a weapon to kill more civilians?

I find it helpful to ask more "What If" questions from the standpoint of the moral agent.
1. what if no missile was launched when the button was pressed?
2. what if the missile exploded but the plane was not destroyed, and somehow made a safeish landing?
3. what if the plane was destroyed but no was killed?

With the grenade example - the person who chooses this would not be intending their own death.
eg What if the grenade was a dud and did not explode? Whould they be relieved?

With abortion - I suspect that most women who seek abortion want to be 'not-pregnant', (not shamed?), and not bring up the child. The death of the child seems to be the sad means of bring about that goal. What if non-lethal fetal transfer and adoption became possible with the same degree of in/convienence and safety/risk as abortion?

The burden of proof must lie with the person who proposes that a lethal act is permissible double effect.

Zippy

No historectomy...no mother or child...

Historectomy...mother may or may not survive, but the baby dies...

I think this one may be directly analogous to salpingectomy (removal of the fallopian tube with the child inside, generally understood as licit in the case of an ectopic pregnancy) as opposed to salpingotomy (squeezing the embryo out of the fallopian tube, generally understood as an illicit abortion because it is a direct attack on the child). But the details of the hysterectomy procedure do matter in making the determination, so it isn't a slam dunk absent those details.

Tim J.

Zippy -

If the plane were headed for some strategic target - and had NO passengers on it - it would still be shot down. If it were filled with cows or balloons or Jello salad, it would be shot down. The object is... to shoot down a plane.

The contents of the plane doesn't enter into it.

The presence of people in the plane is regrettable, but can't be helped.

Zippy

The contents of the plane doesn't enter into it.

One could just as easily claim - and some do claim - that the contents of the fallopian tube don't enter into it.

A. Mouse

The ectopic pregnancy example is similar to the hysterectomy example given by John above. It appears that the womb must be removed to save the mother's life. The per se and proportionate intent is to save the mother's life by removal of the cancerous womb. The per se intent is not to kill an unborn human life, nor is the mother's life saved by an abortion, so to say. The mother's life is saved by a hysterectomy, and the unborn baby dies per accidens. On the other hand to intentionally and directly kill the unborn baby would appear to be immoral in any case.

Zippy

The ectopic pregnancy example is similar to the hysterectomy example given by John above.

Indeed. And we know that some procedures for treating ectopic pregnancy (e.g. salpingectomy) are potentially licit, while others (e.g. salpingotomy) are definitely not. It follows that there are probably some procedures for bringing down the plane (shooting out an engine?) which are potentially licit and others (shooting the fuselage?) which are definitely not.

One thing of which we can be certain is that bringing down the plane by any effective means is not, in general, licit.

Tim J.

"One could just as easily claim - and some do claim - that the contents of the fallopian tube don't enter into it."

Well, one could, but I haven't, and they would be wrong. They are two different situations. We were talking about a highjacked plane.

The goals of the "shooter" in this case have nothing to do with killing passengers... the passengers are not a threat and the situation would not change or improve if they were absent - the actions of the shooter would be the same.

In the case of the ectopic preganancy, the presence of the fetus in the fallopian tube IS the problem. The two situations are not comparable in that regard.

The highjacked plane is more analagous to a cancerous uterus, which happens to contain a growing baby. Removing the uterus is tragic, but unavoidable (at least for the sake of argument).

Zippy

The goals of the "shooter" in this case have nothing to do with killing passengers.

But again, the goals of the shooter are completely irrelevant if the act is intrinsically immoral. So you can't get around the kind of highly specific casuistry which also applies to (for example) ectopic pregnancies.

Esau

The highjacked plane is more analagous to a cancerous uterus, which happens to contain a growing baby. Removing the uterus is tragic, but unavoidable (at least for the sake of argument).

Would it be a sin for the shooter if he did not shoot down the plane, knowing full well that if he doesn't, it would kill thousands of people on the ground?

Tim J.

"One thing of which we can be certain is that bringing down the plane by any effective means is not, in general, licit."

Zippy, that is dicing things very fine, which I know you enjoy ;-), but shooting out an engine is not exactly a neatly controlled operation. The plane is 99.9% likely toast, anyway. But to indulge you a bit, were an airliner to be shot down, it would probably be done with heat seeking missiles, which WOULD target the engines. Happy?

Even if targeting the engine (by some miracle) didn't destroy the plane immediately, as a passenger, I would not thank you for those last few minutes of sickening vertigo, screaming terror and hysterical panic before the final deceleration trauma. Get it over with quickly, please.

Zippy

Would it be a sin for the shooter if he did not shoot down the plane, knowing full well that if he doesn't, it would kill thousands of people on the ground?

Almost certainly not, at least as a general thing.

Veritatis Splendour:
...only the negative commandments oblige always and under all circumstances...

Zippy

Zippy, that is dicing things very fine, which I know you enjoy ...

It isn't just "something I enjoy". It is necessary in cases like ectopic pregnany and shooting down a passenger plane. In particular, if we have no licit means to prevent the bad thing from happening, we are required to let it happen. So if we are going to use particular means we'd better be doggone sure they are licit particular means.

Tim J.

"But again, the goals of the shooter are completely irrelevant if the act is intrinsically immoral"

As we established, shooting down a plane is not intrinsically immoral.

Esau

Would it be a sin for the shooter if he did not shoot down the plane, knowing full well that if he doesn't, it would kill thousands of people on the ground?

Almost certainly not, at least as a general thing.

Thanks, Zippy!

I was just curious about it since, at least for me, there is somewhat a moral dilemma there.

Tim J.

"if we have no licit means to prevent the bad thing from happening, we are required to let it happen"

Oh, I agree, but destroying a plane is pretty much destroying a plane. It would be a bit of a *nudge, nudge - wink, wink* to say "Well, we didn't "shoot down" the plane, we just caused it to descend rapidly by disabling the engines through the use of air-to-air ordnance".

Zippy

As we established, shooting down a plane is not intrinsically immoral.

No, we have not established that shooting down a plane full of innocent passengers is in general not intrinsically immoral. That is precisely the question which is being begged.

And Tim: destroying an embryo is destroying an embryo, wink wink.

Tim J.

" ...if we are going to use particular means we'd better be doggone sure they are licit particular means."

Again, I agree, except that these kinds of white-knuckle situations seldom allow for the kind of reasoned reflection that we can indulge in here. For that reason, yes, we had better have in mind clearly - before this kind of situation comes up - how exactly to deal with it.

But if the unfolding of such a situation gets a bit messy in the real world, I am certainly not going to call on the carpet a pilot who was doing his best to do a thankless job.

To throw a wrench into things... how about we remove the hijackers from the question. What if the plane is just out of control and radar says it will crash in Manhatten?

Esau

It is necessary in cases like ectopic pregnany and shooting down a passenger plane. In particular, if we have no licit means to prevent the bad thing from happening, we are required to let it happen.

Zippy,
So you're saying that even if the innocent passangers on the hijacked plane cannot be saved and are already doomed regardless of whatever action one can possibly take, that it would not be considered morally reprehensible and, even further, is, in fact, morally acceptable on the part of the shooter to just allow the hijacked plane to hit its population targets, killing the thousands of innocent lives of people who can actually be saved by concrete action on the shooter's part by shooting down the plane in order to prevent the horrific tragedies of several thousand deaths of civilans whose very lives are at stake?

Therefore, are you claiming that inaction on the shooter's part would not constitute a sin in this case and it would be morally acceptable for him to allow the deaths of thousands of civilans who can actually be saved through his actions? Wouldn't he, then, be participating in the actual murder of those thousands of lives by his not taking action to save them?

Zippy

Wouldn't he, then, be participating in the actual murder of those thousands of lives by his not taking action to save them?

Only indirectly. There is a difference between him choosing the deaths of the passengers in his particular act and those passengers dying through his inaction; a difference exactly analogous to ectopic pregnancy. Suppose a medic knows only one procedure to save the mother: salpingotomy. Mother and child will both die if he does not perform it. Only the child will die - directly killed by his hand - if he does perform it. It is nevertheless morally illicit (understandable perhaps, but still morally illicit) if he performs the procedure.

I know of a particular case where a man had his child's skull crushed to save his wife's life. It was certainly an understadable act, but objectively it was also an immoral act.

We must not do evil that good may come of it.

Esau

There is a difference between him choosing the deaths of the passengers in his particular act and those passengers dying through his inaction

Zippy,
I think you may have missed the point of my question.

There's nothing that anyone can do about the passengers. Yet, there is something he can do about the thousands of lives of those on the ground who will, in fact, be killed if he fails to take action and doesn't shoot down the plane.

You said:
Suppose a medic knows only one procedure to save the mother: salpingotomy.

That's just it, in the situation you suggest, there are obviously various uncertainties; for example, if even the medic has a clear perspective on the medical situation concerning the patient and if salpingotomy could actually be the solution to the medical dilemma.

However, in the scenario with the hijacked plane, it is very clear that the hijacked plane will hit its population targets, that the lives of several thousands of innocent people are actually at stake, if he, the shooter, does not take action to prevent the deaths of these several thousands of innocent lives that can actually be saved by him.

Take, for example, the kamikaze.

In both instances, the kamikaze and the hijacked plane, in both situations, a population target is at stake, and in both situations, the passangers are doomed to die and cannot be saved.

However, in both instances, the lives of several innocent people in the population targets can be saved.

I don't see how actually allowing an evil to occur (that is, allowing the deaths of several innocent people that will obviously occur as a result of no action taken to save them by the shooter) in these distinctly clear-cut situations (unlike that of the medical scenario where other uncertainties, in fact, exist) presented above in the case of the hijacked plane (as that of the kamikaze) can be actually considered morally acceptable.

Zippy

There's nothing that anyone can do about the passengers.

In an ectopic pregnancy, there is nothing anyone can do to save the baby. It is still morally illicit to directly kill the baby.

Esau

Zippy,
Again, you neglect the fact that in medical situations, things are not as clear-cut since we are dealing with things that are happening within the body.

Esau

Take, for example, adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD), a rare inherited disease. Doctors said that folks with this disease would lose all their functions and die within two to three years.

However, it took even lay people without medical degrees such as Augusto Odone to figure out what was going on in terms of this particular disease, wherein he actually helped to figure out a treatment for it.

Mind you, this is someone who had no medical training at all or even an academic training in the sciences!

His child, who was afflicted with the disease, along with many others, went on to live long lives, certainly, much longer than that originally assessed above!

This goes to show that medical situations are not as clear, say, as a hijacked plane that's going to hit a population target, where several thousands of innocent lives are at stake and can actually be saved by the action of such a one as the shooter, who, if he does not take such action, will actually be allowing the deaths of these several thousands of innocent lives!

Esau

In an ectopic pregnancy, there is nothing anyone can do to save the baby. It is still morally illicit to directly kill the baby.

ZIPPY:
Again, going back to my bit about the kamikaze and the hijacked plane, would it be morally acceptable to shoot down the kamikaze that's about to hit a population target?

Tim J.

Zippy-

Actually, I agree with most of the distinctions you have made. In substance, you have agreed that the airliner in Jimmy's post could be shot down, if done in a certain way.

The point is, the priciple of double effect DOES apply, as Jimmy said, given that all feasible measures are taken to keep from directly attacking the passengers.

Zippy

...given that all feasible measures are taken to keep from directly attacking the passengers.

NO! Feasibility has nothing to do with it. If it is possible to do it without directly killing the innocent passengers then it may be licit. If it isn't possible to do it without directly killing the innocent passengers then it is not licit, no matter what intentions or circumstances obtain.

We can make the hypothetical consequences as dire as can be imagined without changing the resultant conclusion.

Suppose a pregnant woman is dying. The only possible way to save her is to perform a direct abortion. Furthermore, a doomsday weapon triggering device is attached to her heart, so that if she dies the entire world will be vaporized.

It is still not morally licit to perform the abortion.

Zippy

That's just it, in the situation you suggest, there are obviously various uncertainties; ...

In the scenarios under discussion I am assuming moral certainty about the facts of the matter. It is true that in real-world scenarios moral certainty can be hard to come by. But "I don't know" doesn't translate into a moral license of the form "it is definitely licit to do this".

Esau

We can make the hypothetical consequences as dire as can be imagined without changing the resultant conclusion.

Furthermore, a doomsday weapon triggering device is attached to her heart, so that if she dies the entire world will be vaporized.

Zippy, the difference between the hijacked plane situation and the one you posed above is that the hijacked plane is actually a possibility while the one you posed above is simply ludicrous!

After 9/11, I thought that such speculations as that of a hijacked plane crashing into a population target, would indeed be considered a distinct possibility!

Again, tell me, would it be morally acceptable to shoot down the kamikaze that's about to hit a population target?

Zippy

I don't see how actually allowing an evil to occur ... in these distinctly clear-cut situations ... can be actually considered morally acceptable.

Allowing an evil to occur is required if the only way to prevent it from occuring is to do evil. Just ask St. Thomas More, or any number of other Christian martyrs.

Zippy

Again, tell me, would it be morally acceptable to shoot down the kamikaze that's about to hit a population target?

A combatant in a war? Sure.

Esau

But "I don't know" doesn't translate into a moral license of the form "it is definitely licit to do this".

That's just it -- this isn't an "I don't know" case!

Look:
1. The shooter knows that the hijacked plane carries passangers that cannot be saved
2. The shooter knows that the hijacked plane will be hitting a population target.
3. The shooter knows that WHEN the population target is hit, several thousands of lives will be lost.
4. The shooter knows that if he does NOT shoot down the plane, these several thousands of lives will be lost.

Tell me, you actually AGREE in allowing the deaths of several thousands of innocent lives to be lost if there is definitely something that can be done about it?

If you were the shooter himself, you mean to tell me that just seconds away from the hijacked plane hitting a population target, you would actually allow it to happen and let the murder of several thousands of people's lives happen?

Esau

Allowing an evil to occur is required if the only way to prevent it from occuring is to do evil. Just ask St. Thomas More,

Zippy:
I think you should consult with more of More's actual works. In particular, Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation.

I trust that if you have already read it, you might already know of the section to which I am referring to.

Zippy

...you actually AGREE in allowing the deaths of several thousands of innocent lives to be lost if there is definitely something that can be done about it?

If that "something that can be done about it" is evil then yes, absolutely. We may not ever under any circumstances do evil in order that good may come of it. This is bedrock Catholic moral theology, it isn't just my opinion. We may never do evil in order that good may come of it. If there are no morally licit options available to us, we are positively required to do nothing at all.

Esau

...you actually AGREE in allowing the deaths of several thousands of innocent lives to be lost if there is definitely something that can be done about it?

If that "something that can be done about it" is evil then yes, absolutely. We may not ever under any circumstances do evil in order that good may come of it. This is bedrock Catholic moral theology, it isn't just my opinion. We may never do evil in order that good may come of it. If there are no morally licit options available to us, we are positively required to do nothing at all.

Then, you just single-handedly destroyed the argument for a just war since in any situation involving any war whatsoever, regardless of the labels we apply to it, there is the lost of innocent lives and, therefore, as you have implied in the above, 'evil' and just as you've said:

We may not ever under any circumstances do evil in order that good may come of it.

A natural result of any war is, unfortunately, the deaths of civilians caught in the cross-fire.

You might simply claim that the deaths of these civilians in the time of war may just happen accidentally; however, is not that the case in terms of the hijacked plane?

Zippy

Then, you just single-handedly destroyed the argument for a just war...

No, I didn't. It may be that some people don't understand Catholic moral theology, but it is in fact a bedrock moral precept that we may never do evil in order that good may come of it. And yes, part of that involves a necessary distinction between doing evil and allowing evil to occur, where the former is never licit and the latter often is.

My Cat's Name Is Lily

"In order for double effect to apply at all, it has to be true (among other things) that "shoot down a plane filled with innocent civilians" is not an evil act in its object;

The object of the action is not "shoot down a plane filled with innocent civilians"; it is "shoot down a plane." The person shooting down the plane would not stop because the terrorists had already killed the civilians."

This reminds me of my father....Daddy was in World War 2, in the anti-aircraft. Which is to say, he got this same question presented to him every day...Only, not as a theoretical question; it was real life (& real death.
Someone once asked him, when he was home after the war, "How can you possibly shoot people out of the sky?"
Daddy said, "I don't shoot people out of the sky; I shoot planes out of the sky." He seemed no end of surprised that anyone could misunderstand that killing people was not the object.
I am no end of surprised that people still don;t seem to understand that killing people is not the object of shooting down a plane that is about to crash into a populated target.
But hey! That's just me.....

Esau

I am no end of surprised that people still don;t seem to understand that killing people is not the object of shooting down a plane that is about to crash into a populated target.
But hey! That's just me.....

Thanks, My Cat's Name Is Lily!

I think that what you said should help to bring about more clarity about the situation (at least, I hope!).

Tim J.

"NO! Feasibility has nothing to do with it. If it is possible to do it without directly killing the innocent passengers then it may be licit."

Okay, ..."given that the passengers are not directly killed".

Sheesh.

I just really doubt that, once people start shooting at a plane with the object of knocking it out of the sky, it really matters that much in practical terms where they shoot it. It might matter as far as the moral intent of the shooter is concerned (keeping him/her from actual sin), but in all other ways, it is a distinction without a difference... one is still shooting down a plane full of innocent people.

Tim J.

"It might matter as far as the moral intent of the shooter is concerned..."

Not to diminish the importance of not going to hell, but to the doomed passengers it's all the same.

Esau

ZIPPY:

By the way, you never did explicitly answer my question:

If you were the shooter himself, you mean to tell me that just seconds away from the hijacked plane hitting a population target, you would actually allow it to happen and let the murder of several thousands of people's lives happen?

Seamus

Zippy, the difference between the hijacked plane situation and the one you posed above is that the hijacked plane is actually a possibility while the one you posed above is simply ludicrous!

So if Zippy's hypothetical were more probable the answer would be different?

Esau

Zippy,

Following up on what I said earlier:

A natural result of any war is, unfortunately, the deaths of civilians caught in the cross-fire.

You might simply claim that the deaths of these civilians in the time of war may just happen accidentally; however, is not that the case in terms of the hijacked plane?

Please find herein something that may help to elaborate even further that which I raised in the subject post:

However, civilian deaths are sometimes unavoidable, and the practicalities of war may require that the absolutist conception of non-combatant immunity be abandoned. The term "collateral damage" refers to destruction unavoidably incurred in the act of destroying a target deemed to be of military significance.[12] Many believe that targeting a military establishment in the middle of a city is permissible, even if there is collateral damage, because the target is legitimate.

The doctrine of double effect suggests that civilian casualties are justifiable so long as their deaths are not intended and merely accidental.

Targeting a munitions factory, for example, aims to destroy military capabilities and not to kill munitions workers. This is a way of "reconciling the absolute prohibition against attacking noncombatants with the legitimate conduct of military activity." Any harm to noncombatants must be a secondary result, indirect and unintentional.

Some just war theorists have added the further stipulation that the foreseeable threat posed to civilian lives be reduced as far as possible and every effort taken to avoid killing them. Most agree that the deaths of civilians are justified only if they are unavoidable victims of a deliberate attack on a military target.

Thus, munitions workers, or others employed in industries associated with the war effort, are legitimate targets while at work in the factory. But they are not liable to attack when in their homes.

However, others believe that noncombatants do not require such extreme protection if the war is just. "Where the war is just, collateral killing of noncombatants in connection with a legitimate military operation is to be allowed," and this evil can be limited in terms of the jus ad bellum criterion of proportionality.

In some cases, forces must override the accepted immunity of noncombatants in order to protect the very values that ultimately guarantee the safety of such persons. Noncombatants are then regrettably, mournfully, made the subjects of attack.

Seamus

Flight 93 was no longer in the hands of the guerrillas when it was shot down.

Uh, Flight 93 was (a) not shot down, and (b) still in the hands of the "guerrillas" when it crashed (or, rather, they retained just enough control to be able to crash it rather than cede control to the passengers).

Brother Cadfael

Zippy,

We may not ever under any circumstances do evil in order that good may come of it. This is bedrock Catholic moral theology, it isn't just my opinion. We may never do evil in order that good may come of it.

You are absolutely correct that we may never do evil in order that good may come of it. But you are, in my opinion, confusing that principle (which is bedrock Catholic moral theology) with your ideas on how it should be applied (which is not bedrock Catholic moral theology).

If one does not intend the death of innocent passengers, one may legitimately shoot down the plane notwithstanding the fact that the death of innocent passengers is morally certain to occur.

In fact, in the situation described, a decent argument can be made that one would be morally obligated to shoot down the plane.

Esau

SUMMARY:

The [D]octrine of double effect suggests that civilian casualties are justifiable so long as their deaths are not intended and merely accidental.
[T]he deaths of civilians are justified ONLY if they are unavoidable victims of a deliberate attack on a military target.
[N]oncombatants do not require such extreme protection if the war is just. "Where the war is just, collateral killing of noncombatants in connection with a legitimate military operation is to be allowed," and this evil can be limited in terms of the jus ad bellum criterion of proportionality.

Esau

It seems that Jimmy had it right all along! ;^)

Labrialumn

Esau, but your propositions are false.

The pilot does not know that the airliner is on a kamikazee mission.
The pilot does not know that the passengers cannot be saved.
The pilot does not know if anyone is going to die at all.


Not from 20 miles back with an AMRAAM.

First, surely, the F-16 pilot must pull up alongside the airliner that has fallen silent and which is off-course, and try to determine who is flying the plane, and even if the people at the controls have dusky skin and beards, to determine if it is a hijacking or not.

If it is a hijacking, the attempt should first be made to direct the aircraft to land at an airfield.

If the airliner does not comply and it is not apparently due to broken controls or dead engine, then the fighter pilot must attempt to force the airliner down, without causing a totally fatal crash.

These things are all possible, and I think must be tried first, before simply shooting it out of the air.

If you fire an AMRAAM from 20 miles, or a Sidewinder from two miles, you have no idea if it is really a kamikazee mission, or an aircraft malfunction, or if the passengers had gained control of the aircraft, as in the case of Flight 93. You have also not attempted to force the airliner down.

Zippy, does that mean that you'd tell the Gestapo that you were hiding Jews if they came to the door? Or say nothing and give it all away as much as if you'd said so straight out?

Esau, we aren't talking about 'just seconds' we are talking about a policy of shooting down airliners that go silent and stray off course, from a distance of miles, with no knowledge of the actual situation aboard the aircraft, as a matter of government policy.

Seamus you don't know that, and there are good reasons to believe that it was as I wrote it. -- I'm not going by the movie, but the actual event, where an F-16 was tailing the aircraft, and the heroes had over-powered the guerillas.

Nota bene: terrorism: the threat of harming civilians in exchange for some political gain.
Guerilla: non-traditional soldier - ie: not wearing uniforms standing in a firing line with other infantrymen waiting to take fire from the enemy similarly standing in an American football position.

That is why some kid spray-painting a graffiti on a building is not engaged in terrorism, no matter how wildly-wrongly-used the word is these days.

Let us look at a situation that is actually far closer to Esau's formulation: the Communist Chinese have based their ICBMs in cities, hoping that that would prevent an American counter-strike.

The Communist Chinese have at numerous times threatened to nuke the US.

Would it be legitimate to suddenly launch a pre-emptive strike? The goal is to keep those nukes from killing 10s of millions of Americans, even though doing so might kill 100,000 Chinese.

I would say that first we must try diplomatic means, and continue to work to perfect ABM systems, rather than just nuking the Chinese ICBM complexes built in cities out of the blue.

Esau

Labrialumn:

PLEASE RE-READ:

If you were the shooter himself, you mean to tell me that just seconds away from the hijacked plane hitting a population target, you would actually allow it to happen and let the murder of several thousands of people's lives happen?

Esau

Would it be legitimate to suddenly launch a pre-emptive strike?

PLEASE READ what jus ad bellum is all about first before you hastily pronounce your pre-mature judgments!

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