Confusion and the Morning After Pill

About two months ago the German bishops made the news with a statement on the Morning After Pill and rape. I was dissatisfied with basically all sides' knee-jerk reactions but also too busy to explain lots of details. So  here's my "it's complicated" post on a question essentially nobody cares about anymore.

First some cultural background. In Germany, abortion is not a matter of intense political discourse. The law is that a woman can get an abortion within 12 weeks of conception after a forced counseling session. Often the government will pay for it. Abortions later in pregnancy are available for health reasons. There is an increasing psychology-creep in those health reasons, but mostly they are still either fetal deformities or actual health reasons. Technically abortion is illegal but not punished, but most Germans aren't even aware of that distinction. You might notice that this is pretty much the wishy-washy situation large parts of the United States would end up with if the question was up for democratic decision. That's exactly what happened in Germany decades ago, and while the result is totally incoherent it also enjoys so broad popular support the question has basically dropped off the public agenda. Of course the Catholic Church is opposed, but then it isn't particularly fond of divorce either, and political discourse pays about equal attention to both positions.

With most people not caring and most of those who do care fighting more realistic battles the cranks tend to stand out among those who remain. When I was at the March for Life a year and a half ago (I was too sick this year), I was very uncomfortably aware of the large-sign-guy whose  reason for opposing abortion actually is that the race will be harmed if women aren't forced to breed. Of course there were more than two thousand protesters more sane than that guy as well as a few dozen counter-protesters less sane than him, but still the cranks stand out in a small movement. And even on the comparably normal side the evaporative cooling is very noticeable. For example, I returned home from that march in a bus full of Evangelicals. There was a young girl running up and down the bus, and when she saw my rosary she squealed "coooool chaiiiin" and wanted  to touch it. I let her, but I sat there scared stiff, because if she had taken it to her parents they probably would have thought I was seducing her into idolatry. Or maybe I'm just paranoid, but then I had been spending the last hour talking to seat neighbors who weren't quite sure if Catholics can be saved. This is a very unusual experience for a German.

So basically the pro-life movement is very small  and even many good pro-life people wouldn't want to stand too close to it. I think the bishops should try to take it over rather than standing there without any plausible course of action, but then that's a different question.

The point here is that there basically is no abortion debate in Germany. And if you can't even get a hearing on the simple cases, there is very little pressure to sort out the details of hard cases. So while all German bishops are honestly pro-life, until a few months ago most of them probably hadn't spent as much as ten minutes thinking about what consequences that may have for the Morning After Pill in cases of rape. The average German bishop probably knows a lot less about this than the average Catholic blogger in America.

On to the medical background, the Morning After Pill's primary effective mechanism is preventing ovulation, i.e. the egg actually becoming available for fertilization. In cases of rape, that mechanism is totally OK with Catholic teaching. The bad thing about contraception is the separation of the unitive and procreative aspects of sex, but that's clearly not what a rape victim is trying to do. In more modern words, the Catholic church knows that rape isn't sex and has known so long before that particular question arose. For example, celibate nuns in dangerous countries are allowed to use the normal Pill in case they might be raped. Some trads are grumpy about this, but they are just ignorant of actual magisterial teaching.

The problem is that the Morning After Pill probably also has a secondary effect of preventing implantation. That leads to the baby's death and is not something we can set  out to do.

The gray area is the question of double effect. Basically  it is OK to do something good even if one is aware that some unintended bad side effects can occur. We actually apply that logic to pregnancy already. For example, a pregnant woman can drink coffee for enjoyment, even if there is a very small risk of that contributing to a miscarriage. Depending on the probabilities of the two effects of the Morning After Pill, the same logic might be applied to it. If a woman takes it with the good intention of preventing ovulation, the risk of killing  a fertilized egg can be  acceptable. The same thoughts apply  to the doctor prescribing it in that situation. Of course the situation is entirely different if they know only the bad effect is relevant, which would be  the case if they know ovulation has already occurred.  I hear this can be tested, but I got conflicting information on how invasive the test is. If it actually requires a second vaginal invasion I think that wouldn't be proportional to the risk involved and it would be OK to go without the test. If it's basically doing a two second test on blood already drawn for other purposes I would think that a morally mandatory precaution. If it's somewhere between those extremes, the question gets very hairy. So, bottom line, the Catholic rules on the Morning After Pill in cases of rape are more complicated than yes or no.

The final piece of necessary background is the turn of events that gave rise to the bishops statement:

A few months earlier some of the pro-lifers I would prefer not to stand so close to me visited Catholic hospitals in Cologne pretending they had been raped and demanded and got the Morning After Pill. Then they started a trad-media campaign about Catholic hospitals dispensing abortifacients. They have some flimsy excuses for this being OK Catholicism-wise but basically this is the one serious sin involved in the whole affair. For a while it seemed to work: the diocesan authorities instructed the hospitals not to dispense abortifacients including the Morning After Pill. At that point I think nobody seems to have thought about non-abortive effects. In consequence of that decision Catholic hospitals got dropped from the government-sponsored rape evidence preservation network, which requires dispensing the Morning After Pill, and then no longer had rape evidence preservation kits.

Then in January a raped woman visited a government-run emergency room on a complex of buildings that also hosts a Catholic hospital. The doctor on duty prescribed the Morning After Pill and then called the hospital to arrange sending the patient over for evidence preservation - which it of course no longer could provide. Then she called another Catholic hospital and got the same response. After  getting the patient admitted to a non-Catholic hospital she contacted the media. And the story immediately got shortened to "Two Catholic hospitals refuse to admit rape victim because of Morning After Pill concerns". And there was a great shit-storm.

This is probably the first time the matter really came to any German bishop's attention. And while Cardinal Meisner - one of the most conservative German bishops and the one in whose diocese all this had happened - consulted the experts real quick the story seems to have gotten mangled. While actually the pill has two effects he seems to have understood there were two pills, one working against ovulation and one against implantation. And then he announced the (obvious in Catholic moral theology) conclusion that the ovulation-preventing pill was OK while the implantation-preventing one wasn't. He also noted that a Catholic hospital could also give out honest information on what was available elsewhere, provided the Catholic position was also explained without exercising pressure.

And then, a week later, the German bishops' conference discussed the same matter. And then they announced this:

The plenary assembly affirmed that women who have been victims of rape of course will receive human, medical, psychological and pastoral help in Catholic hospitals. This can include the administration of the “morning-after pill” as long as it has a preventive and not an abortive effect. Medical and pharmaceutical methods which result in the death of an embryo still may not be used. The German bishops trust that in facilities run by the Catholic Church decisions on the practical treatment will be taken on the basis of these moral and theological guidelines. In every case, the decision of the woman concerned must be respected. In addition to first statements on the “morning-after pill”, the plenary assembly recognizes the need to study in more detail other implications of this issue – also in contact with those responsible in Rome – and to make the necessary differentiations. The bishops will have talks on this issue with Catholic hospitals, Catholic gynaecologists and consultants.

Now that trust in Catholic hospitals figuring it out seems a bit optimistic, given that even the bishops haven't figured it out yet and doctors in Catholic hospitals aren't moral theologians or  even necessarily Catholic. So basically it boils down to "We're starting to work on the guidelines now and until we're done it's all up to the individual doctor". It's reasonable to suspect that some doctors might decide according to very different standards. To be honest, I think that is a bit of a cop-out. But then it is quite obvious the bishops didn't have a clue about the practical side of the question and couldn't get one in time. So it's not very satisfying, but I don't see much better options either. Of course nobody payed any attention to the part about making the necessary differentiations later. And the part about the doctors deciding until then essentially got shortened into "German bishops allow the Morning After Pill". And that is the story that went around the world.

The fairly obvious part of the moral is that consequentialism backfires even on consequentialist grounds. The false rape victims triggering this entire chain of events thought fighting for a policy that might save lives was well worth braking the 8th commandment, so they did evil that good may come from it. Not only did they fail, they also caused great harm to the Church while doing so.

Other than that, I didn't find any sides reaction convincing. The liberal reaction was basically "Great, so now that's settled". No, it isn't. Absolutely nothing changed about Catholic moral theology, trying for the abortive effect is still a no-no and all the hard questions are still hard. But then what I heard from most conservative Catholics wasn't much better. A lot of them announced that we basically must go back to a total ban because the good pill Meisner talked about doesn't exist and we can never be 100% sure the Morning After Pill doesn't prevent implantation. Which is equally wrong, because it totally ignores the doctrine of double effect. And almost everyone is glad that the shit-storm is over. That kind of misses the question what will happen when the differentiations are made and the media discovers the "everything permitted now" narrative isn't quite right. So basically everyone reacted to caricature versions of the story and my reply to basically everyone is "it's more complicated than that".

Kind of boring for a moral, huh?

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18 Responses to Confusion and the Morning After Pill

  1. Joe says:

    Great post!  It's crazy how poorIy this was reported.  Thank you for providing the facts.  I had no idea nuns could take contraceptives.  I had to laugh about your experience on the bus,  it sounds a lot like my life here in Oklahoma not too many Catholics here either.

  2. Amuchmoreexotic says:

    "The fairly obvious part of the moral is that consequentialism backfires even on consequentialist grounds" - woah, wait a minute, the mistake the Catholic activists made here was not that they adopted consequentialism, it's that they adopted a value system where a pre-implantation embryo is given some intrinsic moral value which can outweigh the suffering of a rape victim made pregnant by her attacker.

    That's not consequentialist in any way, but I admire your chutzpah in pointing out the behaviour of rabid Catholics and going "tch, those consequentialists!"

    Also, doesn't it bother you that bishops who think they have some right to meddle in what medical treatment women can receive don't know the basic details of the morning after pill? Why did Meisner have to hurriedly consult the experts when this came to light? Isn't his job to know the Catholic dogma about what exactly women can and can't do with their reproductive systems?

    • Gilbert says:

      I was talking about the actual doctrine of consequentialism - that the end justifies the means - not about the tribal affiliation. In that context I see no contradiction between them being "rabid Catholics" and consequentialist at the same time, though it of course means they're bad at rabid Catholicism.

      On the other point, I don't think Meisner needed much expert advice on Catholic teaching, he needed it on how exactly the morning after pill works, i.e. a question of natural science rather than Christian doctrine or moral philosophy.

      • Amuchmoreexotic says:

        "The end justifies the means" is only part of what most people would understand by consequentialism. Surely to be a consequentialist, you have to take a consequentialist approach to determining your desired ends in the first place.

        A consequentialist would weigh up the consequences of allowing a rape victim to take the morning after pill - a woman spared the fear and possibly the reality of bearing her rapist's child, plus maybe a six-day old embryo failing to develop (when in absence of intervention there's a good chance it would have spontaneously aborted anyway), against the consequences when she is forced to bear the rape baby.

        I don't think anybody who intervenes to try to ensure that more rape victims are forced to bear rape babies can be considered a consequentialist.

        I take your point that Meisner is only supposed to know about the Catholic dogmas themselves and not their implications. But it's not like there are so many new reproductive technologies being invented all the time that he couldn't know the basics, enough to keep track of the consequences of the dogmas the Church is trying to impose on the population. This business of believing in the two pills, one that respects God's plan for only constant natural spontaneous abortions, and one that doesn't, is ludicrous. It's like the Catholic-promoted belief that condoms are permeable to HIV. If old celibate men can't keep track of this sort of sexy detail, should they really be trying to regulate what happens in hospitals?

         

         

        • Gilbert says:

          No, that is just not what consequentialism means, perhaps you mean utilitarianism. Since I've seen you at his place before I'll just quote Scott Alexander's Consequentialism FAQ as an authority:

          Consequentialism is sort of like a moral system, but it could better be described as a template for generating moral systems. Consequentialism says that you should act to make the world better, but leaves the meaning of “better" undefined. Depending on how you define it, you can get any number of consequentialisms, some of which are stupid.

          For example, consider the proposition that World A is better than World B if and only if World A contains more paper clips. This is a consequentialist moral system (it breaks the Principle of According Value to Other People, but we weren't expecting this to be a good moral system anyway). A moral reasoner could happily go about solving moral dilemmas by choosing the action which would result in the most paperclips.

          Since a lot of criticism of Catholicism is heavily focused on the pelvic issues, public attention sometimes perceives Catholicism as being mainly about them. But in fact most of us aren't all that obsessed with those questions. A bishop has a diocese to run and making rules somehow related to sex is a very small part of that workload. Of course it would be ideal if everyone knew everything about everything their work could ever relate to, but that's not specific to bishops and in practice nobody else can live up to that standard either.

          • Amuchmoreexotic says:

            Well, you could say the activists are consequentialists with a very strange idea of what making the world 'better' looks like, where the consequences of their actions for a raped woman are ignored, while the consequences for a blastocyst are paramount - almost as weird and alien as Clippy's value system.

            Or you could also say they are a weird sort of utilitarian who happen to think that blastocysts have utility functions that outweigh those of adult women.

            But ultimately, it's their strange supernatural beliefs about blastocysts - "God commands us to preserve blastocysts" - that have led them astray. That's deontological, not utilitarian or consequentialist.

            It is pretty outrageous that the doctor focused on "pelvic issues" just because Catholics were trying to stop her helping a raped woman, without even considering how hard it is to run a diocese!

            It is true that the criticism of Catholicism does tend to focus on the "pelvic issues", such as the repeated rape of children being covered up and enabled at the highest level, or the Irish child rape camps, or the enslavement (and unreported deaths) of "fallen women" in the Magdalene laundries, or of course hampering efforts to stop the spread of HIV.

            I guess the reason why the Catholic sex rules come in for particular criticism is that they are forced onto non-Catholics or minors, through the church's control of hospitals and access to children. It's true that nobody can know everything about their job, but if your job involves making sex rules that you try to enforce on the rest of the population, you should surely know the basic facts of the case. The fact that interfering with the treatment of rape victims is seen as a trivial side issue says a great deal about the Catholic hatred of women (who aren't magical virgins).

            I wonder, would you say Ratzinger's decision to cover up child rapes to avoid embarrassment to the church came from his commitment to consequentialism? Is he a bad Catholic?

          • Gilbert says:

            I get that you think they deserve criticism for something different than what I criticized them for, but that doesn't change the feature I criticized them for being present.

            The point I'm trying to make with the bishop having to run a diocese is not that this question was unimportant, but that bishops deal with many important questions. Of course it would be better if they new everything about every important decision they make, but that is not a standard we measure other powerful people by either. For example, think of secular legislators of whatever party you prefer. If you expected them to be informed of the state of science affecting the arguments on every piece of legislation they vote on, you would be in for some major disappointment.

            As for the child rape question, yes, Catholic dignitaries did terrible things. But that very real evil is also heavily exploited for propaganda. I'm sure you know child rape is not part of the official Catholic sex rules. And yes, I know every case is a case too much, but that doesn't change the fact that Catholicism didn't have higher rates of child abuse or cover-ups than other institutions with access to children. Blaming the child abuse on Catholic sex rules is a popular but far-fetched idea without actual scientific support. And on several of your links I think you could google the other side as easily as I did.

            Given that the problem is wide-spread pretty much everywhere I would analyze it in terms of general badness rather than badness at Catholicism. So yeah, some high-level Catholics did very bad things. Some have mitigating factors, like having believed the then psychological consensus that child abuse was committed by pedophiles who could be healed by psychotherapy, and others don't have such mitigating factors.

            As for Ratzinger specifically, I don't think he is plausibly implicated in this scandal. To me it looks like he corrected the previously lenient Vatican policy when the authority to do so was transfered to him.

            One last note: I realize you are outraged. Still, I would invite you to read and consider my comment policy before making further comments. I'll have to admit that your tone doesn't make me interested into continuing this discussion much longer unless you change it.

  3. Amuchmoreexotic says:

    I've read figures from 2% (in this amazing piece) to 5% (The Case Against The Pope) for the number of Catholic priests who had allegations against them. That means the level of abuse probably isn't more than 100-150% above the background rate in similar institutions, which isn't bad in a population of "celibate" men, half of whom have signed up for the priesthood because they are unable to reconcile their gay desires with their childhood Catholic indoctrination.

    I'm willing to accept that the Catholic church doesn't have a higher cover-up rate than, say, college football programmes. But the fact that the Church can't do any better than secular institutions, on a pretty simple matter like stopping child rape, seems to me like a fatal blow to their claim have privileged access to the One True Deontological Ethics System.

    You make a good point that legislators are often ill-informed (or deliberately disingenous because they've been bought off). But in my country, when they were thinking about changing the laws governing abortion, there was a process with expert witnesses brought in to testify. Also, legislators are (at least in principle) elected by people to represent them, so there is some vague legitimacy to their decisions then being enforced in law. The bishop got to make a hasty, ill-informed decision and then enforce it on all women who needed treatment at the Catholic hospitals, whether they were Catholic or not.

    Perhaps the best solution to stop this happening would be to deChristianise hospitals. There are Catholic hospitals in the UK which receive funding from the state, which seems ridiculous to me. If hospitals are secular, everybody who's being treated can obey their own religious precepts, and keep their rapist's baby if that's what their religion tells them to do.

     

    • Gilbert says:

      The problem in comparing the rates of Catholic priests and other men committing child abuse is mostly in getting such rates for other people, because the problem attracts much less attention elsewhere. Anyway, what little data we have points to the 100% of the background rate being more like ceiling for reasonable estimates than the floor you presented it as. As for that 50% number I don't think you would consider an unfounded guess by someone with an obvious axe to grind evidence in contexts you are actually open-minded on. But in compensation you're more open minded than usual in thinking gay people would more likely to abuse children. I believe we don't have any hard data on that question so the jury is still out, but the normal liberal line is outrage at the suggestion that there could be any connection.

      Of course knowing what's moral and doing it are two very different things. So I see the emotional impact, but logically I don't see how Catholics being evil is supposed to be evidence against Catholicism being true. To quote the standard cliché, the Church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.

      Actually getting expert advice is part of exactly what the German bishops are doing right now. If legislative hearing actually were about information gathering that would be analogous to what your parliament did. But then you're complaining about that not having happened for an issue that wasn't on the decision-makers radar screen yet. Anyway, that kind of active information gathering is far from universal even in secular politics.

      I actually think there would be some good reasons for the Church to give up running hospitals in today's world, but facilitating baby killing is not among them. As for proposals to force the issue from the state's side I'll just notice that people seem much less concerned about some hospitals not providing less controversial services, that there are prior known examples of the purpose of regulations allegedly meant to insure access to such services being plainly motivated only by a desire for ideological oppression, that there are several secular hospitals in cologne, and that even in this case the doctor's decision to call a second Catholic hospital before calling one of the secular seems more conductive to scoring a propaganda point than to actually caring for her patient.

      • Amuchmoreexotic says:

        The problem in comparing the rates of Catholic priests and other men committing child abuse is mostly in getting such rates for other people, because the problem attracts much less attention elsewhere.

        Do you really consider that, outside the context of the Catholic church, child abuse isn't a topic people care about? In reality, people are outraged when child abuse is enabled by any kind of institution. Have you been following the revelation that many  British 1970s light entertainers abused young people? We're not that happy about it.

        It's fascinating if you really think child rape by non-Catholics is somehow seen as no big deal. It seems like you subconsciously see Catholicism as unfairly persecuted and maligned, and held to impossible standards of not raping any children, even as it continues to be incredibly wealthy and to have its own nation-state with its own laws (and age of consent - 12 years old, which seems pretttttty suspicious, just sayin') and a seat on the UN. I mean, the martyrdom complex is a technique that's worked really well historically for Christians, so I shouldn't be surprised you want to play that hand.

        But in compensation you're more open minded than usual in thinking gay people would more likely to abuse children.

        To clarify, I think people (of any sexuality) who are raised to think their sexuality is sinful, and then try to channel that self-hatred into celibacy are probably at greater risk of expressing their sexuality in abusive ways.

        From personal communication with theology students, and the very regular phenomenon of gay homophobes being revealed as such, and the examples of Keith O'Brien and the totally gay Miami Archdiocese and many others, I'm confident that the phenomenon of closeted or in denial gay Catholic priests is common. While I'd say 2-5% of Catholic priests are paedophiles, at least as many must be self-hating gay men sexually harassing their adult subordinates, simply because attraction to adults is more common than attraction to children. I mean, O'Brien was the leader of the church in a whole country!

        Of course knowing what's moral and doing it are two very different things. So I see the emotional impact, but logically I don't see how Catholics being evil is supposed to be evidence against Catholicism being true. To quote the standard cliché, the Church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.

        Well, it's certainly the case that an *individual* might hold a moral theory that conflicts with impulses and drives they struggle to control. But if the whole *institution* of the Catholic church, which is supposed to have direct access to the transcendent, eternally true, deontological moral insights denied to heathens like me, is still no better at tackling the problem of child rape than a secular American football programme, then to me that is evidence that the whole deontology thing isn't particularly useful in solving moral conundrums.

        And if your moral system pretends that gay men can and should deny their sexuality using celibacy, whereas in fact decades of living in denial just causes the pressure to build up until they resort to sexually abusing their subordinates like Cardinal O'Brien did, while decrying homosexuality as a "moral degradation", perhaps it's time to adopt a new model of the world. A model where consenting adults can come together and enjoy the intense pleasure of sexuality without judgement.

        Actually getting expert advice is part of exactly what the German bishops are doing right now. If legislative hearing actually were about information gathering that would be analogous to what your parliament did. But then you're complaining about that not having happened for an issue that wasn't on the decision-makers radar screen yet.

        You'd think that having such strong opinions about what everybody can do with their genitals would cause them to be more active when it comes to learning about new technologies like emergency contraception (which admittedly has only been available since the 1980s). But I applaud them for getting advice on it now. Interesting that you think pointing out that secular institutions can be as bad as your church is somehow a point in your favour, given that you claim to have superior moral insights.

        I mean, if knowing about Catholic doctrine doesn't actually make you more likely to do the right thing, then I might as well just act as the fancy takes me, right? Or is the doctrine that a Catholic who rapes children is more favoured by God than an atheist who works for UNICEF?

        If being a pharmacist or a doctor conflicts with somebody's faith as a Catholic, then I definitely support their right to take up another profession. Nobody should be made to do a job that conflicts with their deeply held religious principles.

        • Gilbert says:

          I don't think this conversation is helpful for either side. You are invited to permanently recuse yourself from further commenting at this blog.

  4. Andrew G. says:

    The problem is that the Morning After Pill probably also has a secondary effect of preventing implantation.

    My understanding of the current research is that this is false in the case of "Levonelle"/"Plan B" (levonorgestrel); that there is no detectable effect either on the probability of implantation or on the outcome of pregnancy if implantation takes place. (There is another EC pill, "ellaone"/"ella" (ulipristal acetate), which also primarily works by preventing ovulation, but which is (a) embryotoxic in animal studies (but may not be at human dosages) and (b) may not have been studied sufficiently on the implantation issue to satisfy those concerned about it.)

    Perhaps the bishops were better informed than you thought?

    • Gilbert says:

      That's possible and awesome if true, but so far I'm not convinced. The actual data seems to be ambiguous enough that people with very different opinions have results to cite. Since you already know one side's interpretation, here's the other's. Some gynecological organizations changed their public stance on this, first in the US during the fight over the Obamacare contraception mandate and then a few months later in Germany over this affair. Now it's possible that the sudden relevancy simply made them take a deeper look at the data, but it is also highly suspicious that they suddenly arrive at politically extremely convenient confident conclusions opposite to their previous non-confident conclusions without spectacular new data having come in. So there is some hope that this might be true, but I'm not buying it yet.

      • Andrew G. says:

        Rather than try and post lots of links, I will link to these two PDFs, which contain citations to the basic research:

        International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics

        Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare Clinical Effectiveness Unit

        A factor mentioned in the latter document but not the former is that there is no increase in relative risk of ectopic pregnancy in pregnancies occurring in spite of EC use of levonorgestrel. (Such an increase is expected if implantation is affected - and in fact is what we do find in methods that are known to affect implantation.)

        I chose the latter document primarily because it's non-US and likely to be about as non-political as you can get in this issue - the FSRH is part of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and this is a document about clinical standards rather than politics.

        • Gilbert says:

          Looking at the second document you linked to, it doesn't actually say there is no such secondary effect. I'm slowly sifting through the data right now and will have a blog post on that question soon(TM). Right now I'm not sure what side I'll come down on, but this particular data point doesn't seem like much evidence.

      • Andrew G. says:

        I posted a reply with two links - did I screw it up, or are you moderating?

        • Gilbert says:

          Given that this particular restriction never caught actual spam I've just changed the limit to something larger, but yes per WordPress defaults anything with more than one link used to go to the moderation cue until just now and your comment was caught in that.

          As for the information you linked to, I was aware of the first one but I'll need a few days to get around to actually studying the second. So sorry if this sounds like a cop-out, but if you want my answer on this you'll have to come back in a week.

  5. lmm says:

    >The fairly obvious part of the moral is that consequentialism backfires even on consequentialist grounds. The false rape victims triggering this entire chain of events thought fighting for a policy that might save lives was well worth braking the 8th commandment, so they did evil that good may come from it. Not only did they fail, they also caused great harm to the Church while doing so.

    Huh? To me the obvious part of the moral was that these people were stupid, and didn't anticipate the consequences of their actions accurately. That's an argument for thinking very hard before doing something that seems to violate an established moral principle (those principles tend to exist for a reason, and so should be assigned some evidential weight), and for being prepared to recognize that you're not competent to make a particular moral decision and should seek the advice of those who are smarter and more experienced than you at resolving moral dilemmas. Yes, consequentialism is hard, perhaps even too hard for the majority of the populace to apply directly to their moral problems (though from the perspective that most of the population don't do crazy shit like this, it seems like the class of people who make egregiously bad moral decisions when they try and use consequentialism is fairly small). That doesn't in any way imply consequentialism is fundamentally flawed.

    Edit: And it's only consequentialism that allows you to say so confidently that their actions were wrong. Under alternative systems e.g. virtue ethics it would be much more possible to construct a case that they were doing good, because their intentions were good. Or in a naive rule-based system (which would almost certainly say that preventing a murder was worth telling a very large number of lies) their actions would seem to be the correct ones (and the only way to say they were not is to make the consequentialist point that they in fact failed to prevent a murder)

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