Theology 101: A Little Aquinas, Part 4

Last time we looked at Aquinas’ thoughts on law and morality, as well as sex.  Today, we’re going to look at War, including Jus ad Bellum and Jus ad Bello, and how Aquinas looked at women, as well as what he night have though of some of today’s controversial issues.

Chapter 7: Just War and Double Effect

In this chapter, Renick discusses Jus ad Bellum, Jus in Bello, and double effect.  He notes that  in 1991, before Gulf War I, George Bush (41) stated the reasons for going to war against Iraq (which at the time had occupied Kuwait).  These reasons described why he felt it was a just war.  For it to be so, it needed a just cause, to be declared by a legitimate authority, to be a last resort, and to have a just intent.  Bush listed reasons why each of these criteria was satisfied.

A war, while seemingly as far from moral as it can get, can be just according to international law, if it follows the rules Bush cited in his speech.  If this is thought to be an oxymoron, it can be compared to the actions the Nazis in World War II, or perhaps the Khmer Rouge, among others.  No, “morality,” Renick writes, “places important restraints on actions even during the heat of combat.” Aquinas played a major role in codifying this.

 

Christians have had to reason about just war since the 4th Century, when they went from being a persecuted group to the official religion of the Roman Empire.  Before that, they considered themselves pacifists.  After, they asked themselves if standing by while innocent people were slaughtered was in line with loving your neighbor – obviously, history shows they decided that intervening was the right thing to do.

Augustine was one of the first to give an affirmative and “taught that it was acceptable, even mandatory, for Christians to use violence – if they did so in a limited fashion and in order to protect the innocent.”  As a matter of fact it was Augustine that first coined the term “Just war”.  Eight centuries later, Aquinas developed this concept to the form we see today.

He deals first with Jus ad bellum – Latin for “right or justice (at the time of) war.”  This describes the “criteria that must be met before one can rightfully go to war.”  There are three, all of which must be met in order to begin hostilities:

  1. Just cause – Aquinas: “A just war is…one that avenges wrongs, when a nation or state has to be punished for refusing to make amends for wrongs inflicted by its subjects, or to restore what it has seized unjustly.”
  2. Just authority – referring to the leaders of countries, he writes, “Just as it is lawful for them to have recourse to the sword in defending the common weal against internal disturbances…so too it is their business to have recourse to the sword of war in defending the common weal against external enemies.”
  3. Just intent – restoring justice is the correct reason, not, as Aquinas wrote, “the passion for inflicting harm, the cruel thirst for vengeance…the lust of power, and such like things.”

Next, he dealt with jus in bello, or “right/justice in war” – what you can do during conflicts.  It is here that Aquinas introduces the concept of “double effect”.  Renick writes, “Double effect is a moral concept that has found its way into our contemporary civil and criminal legal codes, has emerged as a cornerstone of medical ethics, and has become a sticking point in the modern abortion debate.  It also establishes the basic standard for determining how one must treat noncombatants in times of war.”

Writes Aquinas: “Nothing hinders one act from having two effects.”   One effect can be good and the other bad – what does one do in this situation?  A simple example in going to the dentist.  To fix your bad tooth she must cause you pain in the short term.  A bigger example is saving the baby or saving the pregnant mother, or bombing a chemical factory next to a school.

Historically, there are Christians that followed the principle of do no harm.  This Aquinas found to be impractical – consider the dentist case.  If she does no harm and refuses to pull your tooth, you will end up worse off than if she in the short term causes you pain.  Aquinas then says, if one effect is intended “while the other is beside the intention…Moral acts take their species according to what is intended, and not according to what is beside the intention, since this is accidental.”  The dentist intends good – fixing your tooth – and not evil (the pain of the drilling).  However, if she is sadistic and causes you pain on purpose, then her intent is wrong, and the act is wrong.  The result does not justify the intent.  This can also be seen in our modern concept of accidental manslaughter – your intent was not to kill anyone, versus 1st degree murder, where your intent certainly was to kill someone.

This is also applied to jus in bello – soldiers should never intend to kill civilians or innocents.  They may die by accident, but this is not the same as targeting them.  The example of the munitions factory by the school shows that if you bomb the factory and the school is destroyed, your intent was to stop the enemiy’s war production, not to kill children.  This is euphemistically termed collateral damage.  However, if you bomb the school to demoralize the enemy, your intent is wrong.

But, there is another dimension to double effect – the good effect must outweigh the accidental effect.  Aquinas: “And yet, proceeding from a good intention, an act may be rendered unlawful, if it be out of proportion to the end.”  If you kill hundreds of schoolchildren just to take out an enemy tank, for example, your intent was good, but the bad side was way out of proportion to what you achieved.  So, you must ask:

  1. “Do you intend the good (and not the evil) end?”
  2. “Does the good end outweigh one?”

The answer to both must be yes.

Chapter 8: Abortion, the Role of Women, and Other Noncontroversial Issues

Catholics (macengr – and most of the rest of us) see abortion as not meeting the standards of the double effect philosophy.  The end is evil – an innocent person dies, and the intent is evil – the mother doesn’t want to bear the child.  Renick then attempts to justify a certain case of abortion using Aquinas’s arguments.

This case is when the mother’s life is threatened, for example when the egg implants in the fallopian tube.  He feels that Aquinas would have said that it is morally permissible to remove the baby.  The good end is saving the mother’s life; the bad end is that the baby dies.  But here, says Renick, the intent is good – to save the mother’s life, and not to kill the baby.  The death of the baby, per the discussion above, is accidental, not intentional, and who knows, by some miracle the baby could live…Also, if nothing is done, both the mother and baby die, and if you remove the baby, only one dies, so the result is better than choosing not to do anything at all (the result is proportionate to the harm done).  Thus, Aquinas, Renick thinks, would “approve” of this abortion.

(macengr – I totally do not agree with this argument, especially because Renick uses zygote instead of baby to make his argument more convincing to the reader.)

So Aquinas, Renick thinks, is very much a modern thinker and was ahead of his time.  But there is always a catch, and Renick points out that Aquinas’ view on women were very much a product of the times, and illustrates, to Renick, a drawback of the natural law approach.

Here, Aquinas felt that women are men’s helpers by nature, and that their primary usefulness is that of childbearing.  He writes, “It was necessary for woman to be made as a helper to man; not, indeed, helpmate in other works, as some say, since man can be more efficiently helped by another man in other works; but as a helper in generation.”  Men are therefore more useful when it comes to intellectual conversation or building things, and women are bad at these by nature.  Women, Renick claims that Aquinas says, are a pale imitation of a man.  Although both genders are needed to reproduce – here Renick quotes Aquinas again: “man is yet further ordered to a still nobler vital action, and that is intellectual operation.”

Thus, Aquinas says, there is a natural hierarchy between men and women, and the male should always be in charge.  He writes, “For good order would have been wanting if some were not governed by others wiser than themselves.  So by such a kind of subjection woman is naturally subject to man, because in man the discretion of reason predominates.”  This inequality between men and women was the reason for Eve’s sin, not the result.  Aquinas is arguing that the essence of woman is to be subject to man – it’s part of God’s plan.  The sin in the garden was not only humans disobeying God’s command not to eat the fruit, but also of woman usurping the man’s authority.

Women are also, Aquinas says, only the container that human life is born in and do not contribute to their characteristics (no genetic material from the mother).  Aquinas’s views on women would go on to become very influential; although they were really a reflection of his times.  However, that men were superior to women was seen, after Aquinas, as a cornerstone of the natural law and science and it was felt to be a rational fact, even apart from the religious context.

So, Renick says, we must be careful when we use natural law, because there is a “need to distinguish between what is and what should be.”  Aquinas lived in a monastery and avoided women and had little experience with them throughout his life, spending his time in primarily male environments from the time he was five years old.  At the time he lived (the 1200s) women were seen as inferior, were subject to men, and were rarely educated.  Of course, Renick says, Aquinas would think this was the natural order of things.

However, Renick says, “using the natural law demands that we do more than report on the way things are.” Just because murder occurs all the time – and scientists believes violence may have a genetic component – doesn’t mean it is natural.  “What is is not always what should be.”  (macengr – normative vs. positive). So just because women were subject to men at the time, doesn’t mean they were supposed to be that way.  Renick feels that “Aquinas should have known better.”  Still, this is a common mistake and it is very difficult to know the difference.  Thus we must be very careful in thinking about it.

One can, Renick writes, use the natural law approach “to overcome the shackles of tradition…Aquinas’s theories can be the source of liberating justice.  They allow one to say, ‘Sure, things have always been done this way, but nature (and God) demand that we do otherwise.'” And often Aquinas did use natural law to prove this and make “great strides in human justice.”  But the danger is this: “Rather than catching a glimpse of the ways of God and nature, we may be holding a mirror up to ourselves.  We may be confusing what is natural for what is familiar and comfortable” – and the latter may be unjust.

That’s enough for today.  See you next time!

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