Monday, October 01, 2007

NPR Philosophy Lesson

NPR had an eight minute segment on how philosophy relates to Iraq. An Oxford Don does an admirable job of applying deontology, utilitarianism, and virtue ethics to the war situation. There are not conclusions, but a quick lesson in moral reasoning.


evagrius said...

Too bad the moral reasoning did not take place before the war.

Educator-To-Be said...

I did not find this to be helpful or penetrating in the least, but eight minutes is hardly enough time to address issues of this magnitude.


Doug Groothuis said...

Of course it isn't enough. But it is a start. Moreover, it is better than most of what is heard on the radio.

righteousness first said...


George Bush is a true Christian, and he said he prayed before launching the military invasion. Most of George Bush's cabinet are born-again Christians, too--so we can trust that their decision to invade is the righteous thing to do. The majority of fundamentalist demoninations supported the war (esp. the SBC convention), while many liberal denominations did not (including mine). I think this is because we trust a righteous president, while liberal distrust a righteous president. As Groothuis has repeatedly hinted at: we are war with Islam, and Islam is a religion of violence. (I don't read Arabic and so I haven't read the Koran or the Haddiths and so I can't evaluate Islam whatsoever, but I trust that Groothuis' assessment is correct).

PS I read the second volume because that was the only one I could find at the used book store.

Doug Groothuis said...


It did take place; you simply don't agree with it.

evagrius said...

Well, I suppose the "just war" theory was just a creation of "liberal" Christians.

Funny though. There would seem to be a lot of "liberal" Christians then at the time it was formulated by Augustine and in the Middle Ages and refined after the Treaty of Westphalia.

The U.S. never justified and does not justify its present action in Iraq.

Look up the criteria for just war and please justify the present action;

Just cause
The reason for going to war needs to be just and can therefore be recapturing things taken or punishing people who have done wrong. A contemporary view of just cause was expressed in 1993 when the US Catholic Conference said: "Force may be used only to correct a grave, public evil, i.e., aggression or massive violation of the basic human rights of whole populations."
Comparative justice
While there may be rights and wrongs on all sides of a conflict, to override the presumption against the use of force, the injustice suffered by one party must significantly outweigh that suffered by the other. Theorists such as Brian Orend omit this term, seeing it as fertile ground for exploitation by bellicose regimes.
Legitimate authority
Only duly constituted public authorities may use deadly force or wage war
Right intention
Force may be used only in a truly just cause and solely for that purpose—correcting a suffered wrong is considered a right intention, while material gain or maintaining economies is not.
Probability of success
Arms may not be used in a futile cause or in a case where disproportionate measures are required to achieve success;
Last resort
Force may be used only after all peaceful and viable alternatives have been seriously tried and exhausted.
(Note: these are only the most typical conditions cited by just war theorists.)

I see nothing in these criteria that justified attacking and invading Iraq.
The Pope, no slouch in moral/ethical reasoning, opposed the war calling it immoral. So did the leaders of quite a few other Christian churches. Not all are "liberal", certainly not the past nor present Pope.

Conducting a just war (jus in bello)
Once war has begun, just war theory also directs how combatants are to act:
(Jus in bello)

Just war conduct should be governed by the principle of discrimination. The acts of war should be directed towards the inflictors of the wrong, and not towards civilians caught in circumstances they did not create. The prohibited acts include bombing civilian residential areas that include no military target and committing acts of terrorism or reprisal against ordinary civilians. Some believe that this rule forbids weapons of mass destruction of any kind, for any reason (such as the use of an atomic bomb).
Just war conduct should be governed by the principle of proportionality. The force used must be proportional to the wrong endured, and to the possible good that may come. The more disproportional the number of collateral civilian deaths, the more suspect will be the sincerity of a belligerent nation's claim to justness of a war it initiated.[6]
Minimum Force
Just war conduct should be governed by the principle of minimum force. This principle is meant to limit excessive and unnecessary death and destruction. It is different from proportionality because the amount of force proportionate to the goal of the mission might exceed the amount of force necessary to accomplish that mission.

It's quite clear that "proportionality" has not been folowed. The number of civilian casualties is enormous.

Sorry....but it quite clear to me that ethical reasoning is sadly lacking in the Bush administration with regards to the Iraq war, ( not to mention other areas of politics).

Covering oneself with the mantle of righteousness does not absolve one of moral responsibility.

evagrius said...

righteousnees first- You do know, of course, that Iraq was the most "secular" country in the Middle East before the invasion. Secular as in no theocracy, no islamists allowed, freedom of religious practice for Christians, Jews and other minority groups, educational opportunities for women, and a high technological and scientific culture.
You do know, of course, that the Ba'ath party which governed Iraq had a secular socialist political agenda and that its philosophy was articulated by an eastern Orthodox Christian Arab?

You do know, of course, that as a result of the invasion, Arab Christian families and villages have been forced to flee. You do know, of course, that they had been in Iraq since the beginnings of Christianity. You do know, of course, that they were involved politically, economically and socially in Iraqui society.

If you do, then please tell me how invading Iraq, a secular country, had anything to do with attacking Islam.

Saddam Hussein was a tyrant, no doubt, and he did inflict suffering on Iraq. But is it really allowable to invade another country because it has a tyrant?

Why not then invade Zimbabwe or Myanmar?

righteousness first said...

Not everyone agrees with the view advocated on this board that Christianity is in a battle with Islam and that Islam is violent by nature (cf. several posts by Groothuis that makes this point).

I don't really know about the war and my reading on the topic doesn't extend any further than a few books and several magazines I subscribe to (First Things, Touchstone, Newsweek, (the) New York, a Time)--so without any serious research, I have to plead utter ignorance. I doubt that you'll find anyone on this board with enough knowledge of the situation to even make a semi-informed decision. Nevertheless, I identify with fundamentalism and since fundamentalism supports the war I support the war. That's what the rest of us do, since we don't have enough knowledge about the situation.

In light of all the supposed suffering, those of us who support the war say that they are collateral damage because we are fighting for the greater good. In every fight there's collateral damage, but we are willing to overlook it in this case. The Israelites slew the Canaanites (and their babies)--sometimes war can be tough.

evagrius said...

Well, if you want to go back 3 thousand years and follow tribal warfare from essentially the Iron Age, be my guest.

I don't think we need to go back to the morality of that period, however.

I wince everytime I read or hear the phrase, "collateral damage".
The phrase reduces human beings to objects,of property, which of course is the intention of the phrase, and by doing so makes even more clear the immorality of war.

I'm always amazed at how people who claim to be Christian, who claim to have Christ as their Savior and Examplar, often do not follow His teachings nor reflect on situations that require deep thinking and prayer in order to resolve. It's not a matter of looking up Biblical passages to support your actions. It's really a matter of looking into one's own heart, seeing that heart as essentially the same as everyone elses and following the command of Christ, " Whatsoever you do to the least of my brethren, that you do unto Me".

Sorry to seem so harsh but the source of the harshness is not mine but those very words of Jesus.

For a deeper reflection;

Violence and the Gospel;

Doug Groothuis said...

The last several posts are way off topic. Please desist or I'll delete you.

Bjorn said...

Dr. Groothuis:

Do you really think Prof. Robinson did an “admirable job of applying deontology, utilitarianism, and virtue ethics to the war situation”?
I would say he did a very poor job. His sketches of Kantian theory and of utilitarianism were more of a parody. Even worse, he quoted “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” as one of the three versions of the categorical imperative. That’s not just simplifying things; that is simply wrong. Any student of philosophy who said something like this in his oral exam would fail miserably.
And apart from this falsehood, he does not set a very good example for philosophical reasoning when he approvingly quotes his colleague saying “We all know that the categorical imperative is right just that nobody can live according to it”. Of course you cannot go into great depth in an eight minute interview. But that is a very stupid thing to say. If things were that easy why should we philosopher even bother dealing with Kant’s arguments? And indeed Mr. Robinson seems to suggest we shouldn’t:
”that is one of the problem with Kantian theory, you can think of so many real life situations in which a decision has to be guided by consequences. And so you move to another theory”
Is this supposed to be a philosophical argument? How superficial can one get? Forget ethical theory, we all know that decisions have to be guided by consequences.

It was painful to listen to this interview and I would have turned it off immediately. I only continued because you recommended it and I hoped that there was still something good to come. But I was disappointed.

Doug Groothuis said...

No need to be insensed here. I never said it was perfect, but it is an introduction.

You are right, Kant does not overtly say that the categorical imperative is "Do unto others." It is fairly different from that.

I suppose I was pleasantly surprised that philosophical theory would be given any time on air and that an Oxford professor would be presenting it.

Bjorn said...

It's Good to Avoid Bad Presentations of Philosophical Reasoning

“You are right, Kant does not overtly say that the categorical imperative is "Do unto others."”

He even says explicitly that the categorical imperative is NOT the golden rule.

Equating the categorical imperative with the golden rule is not some minor inaccuracy. It completely misses the point of Kantian moral theory.

cf. AA IV 430:
“Let it not be thought that the common "quod tibi non vis fieri, etc." could serve here as the rule or principle. …it cannot be a universal law, for it does not contain the principle of duties to oneself, nor of the duties of benevolence to others …, nor finally that of duties of strict obligation to one another”

Beyond The Rim... said...

So, does Mark 12:30, re: Deut. 6:5, qualify? (Love God and your neighbor).

Not being a philosopher, I sometimes get lost in the weeds when just wanting to look at the beautiful meadow.