The Theocons Reject Obama’s Peace Offering, Ctd

Andrew Sullivan —  Feb 16 2012 @ 3:00pm

A reader writes:

Regarding your excerpt of George and Girgis:

[T]he Obama administration’s proposed changes would really change nothing that matters morally. To begin with, neither before nor after the February 10th "compromise" would the mandate require religious objectors to cooperate formally in what they considered wrongdoing—i.e., to intend that their employees make use of contraceptives, sterilization, or abortion-drugs. Both would, however, require material cooperation. And that material cooperation would have substantially similar bad effects.

This is deeply awesome.

George and Girgis reject outright the notion that an agent's intentions are essential to determining the moral permissibility of her actions; instead, they suggest an actor is culpable for foreseeable bad outcomes, even where those foreseeable actions aren't intended. This is — in no uncertain terms — an outright rejection of the Doctrine of Double Effect.

Granted, there are good reasons to reject DDE. But here's the thing: it's a vital, Catholic notion that has hugely influenced ethical theory. The doctrine is reflexively sourced to St. Aquinas. It plays a central role resolving ethical legal quandaries, from international humanitarian law to bioethics. And indeed, in Vacco v. Quill, a unanimous Supreme Court applied DDE reasoning to a vexing end-of-life case. DDE is on the short list when it comes to sectarian theories that have massively impacted our general reasoning about moral obligations.

But to defeat Obama, George would throw it out the window. And don't be deceived. George's project is as deeply political as it is theological.