FEBRUARY 12, 2013 9:23AM

OIEster Troubles? Kant Touch This!

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The morality of war has been scrutinized, parsed and debated for centuries.   That should not come as a surprise to anyone.  War requires a series of actions and priorities with deadly consequences.  There are always deadly consequences.  


No war is preferable to the state of war.  Even the few who claim to like war would probably agree that.  Avoidance or prohibition of war would be preferable if it were possible.  History tells us that it is not possible.  Operating on the theory that it is inevitable, it behooves one to be prepared to survive it.  Even the moral dictates regarding “just war”, or justifiable war, include the inevitability of war.  Given that it will exist, it must be undertaken with ethical concerns.


Recently, here and possibly elsewhere, there has been a disingenuous discussion of war.  Some, who some of us refer to as OIEsters (Obama is Evil), state that President Obama is evil, and all those who support him are evil based upon the evil manner in which he conducts war.  Most especially, Obama achieves evil by the conduct of the drone program.  This is a paraphrase, and somewhat abbreviated, but the controversial drone program has attracted much criticism.  Much of it well deserved.  


This criticism goes overboard with a particular assertion.  The main unjust assertion is the “evil” ascribed to it.  The next is the evil assumed by the supporters of the President who is, by this argument, inherently evil in this conduct.  


The takedown of this particular position is not new, even though the use of drones is quite new.  The takedown has a logic that is centuries old, if not millennia.  The counter to this view is best explained by Immanuel Kant with his argument against “moral absolutism.”  The OIEster argument says, in part, that “because children and non-combatants are killed by drones, then the action is wrong/immoral/evil”...take your pick.  This position holds that these results are absolutely immoral.  However, Kant argues that the only absolutely good thing is good will.  


Kant states that the consequences of an act cannot be used to determine good will, because good can result from good and result from bad intentions.  An example is that one may derive pleasure from seeing someone harmed.  If that intent actually resulted in a good consequence by happenstance, the act would not be “good” even though the result was.  Likewise, an act may not be determined to be evil when the intention was not to do evil.  Kant argues that morally right actions result from doing that which is based upon duty.  From duty as the intent extends action, and then consequence.  The result is determined to be good if it aligns with dutiful intent to do good.  This is called Kant’s “deontological ethics.”


Drone attacks on those considered to be enemies of the U.S., in this particular case, which result in the deaths of those not intended, lacks the evil intent of the cases with which it has been compared in these recent arguments.  First, use of the term “murder.”  Murder is an intentional act by definition.  Without intending to be curt or dismissive, it simply does not apply.  Another case was the murder of slaves.  (Also murder.)  Another case was the argument in defense by those charged at the Nuremberg war crimes trial.  (Also murder, deliberate, intended result of those killed.)  These all differ from accidental killings.  And while war is certainly a deliberate act, and this should by no means be seen as a justification for war or more war, the means by which acts of war are used to limit and minimize killing has at least two moral aspects to it.  First, all versions of justifiable war include the right to defend oneself against attack.  Second, killing fewer as opposed to killing more is certainly preferable.  


Any statement, or any person making the statement that this says killing, or worse yet “murdering” children, or anyone else is desirable or a success is lying for effect.  That has never been my argument.  That is not what this means.  That is not how Kant argued it.  Moral absolutism does not solve a single problem.  Moral absolutism is a mean by which a few seek to grab power and control on moral grounds.  Think Ayatollah.  Moral absolutism is reductive and coercive.  The “good” and “moral” thing to do, as Kant argues it, is determined by intent, not result.   

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I looked up deontological ethics. Very interesting. Thanks for piquing my interest.
I'm going to join Phyllis in the philosophy stacks as soon as the State of the Union Address is over. (All I remember is the Trolley problem.) But, even though my memory is poor, the post here stands on its merits. And the title is killer.
It's funny Onislantime. If you look into deontological ethics, you'll get a whole new view of moralism. The recent onslaught of the O.I.E. seems rather childish. As a wise person advised me recently, it is a control tactic.
Onislandtime sent me here. I'd have gotten here anyway but I'm starting a business trip at five in the morning so I'd probably have gotten here later.

Kant's right, of course. Not that Kant would care if Koshersalaami agreed with him.

In case you haven't figured it out yet, you're going to hear an answer like: Leave it to Beck to use Kant to justify Obama's murder of children.

None of them will read closer than that. They aren't affected by logic, they're offended by the fact that you'd attempt to use logic to defend the killing of children. It is, to them, an absolute, obvious, inexcusable.

(Unless, in the case of at least three of them, Palestinians do it. In Kantian terms, by the way, Palestinian terrorists - not Palestinians in general - have killed children with absolute intent, not as collateral damage but as targets.)

Nothing you can say will be considered relevant.
Do drones actually reduce the number of young dead by reducing the collateral damage inherent in other methods of killing?
Does killing some of these actors mean fewer others will die?
Does sparing these actors on the grounds that they aren't alone encourage the use of human shields and result in more civilian deaths on both sides?
Are there reasons that national sovereignty in cases like this is murky at best because these nations don't actively control these parts of their own territories?

There is only one relevant answer. It is abbreviated OIE. It is not that no counterargument is valid, it's that the existence of an attempt at a counterargument is inherently invalid.

There isn't anything in your vocabulary that gets you to your destination. It can't. It is discounted before it even leaves your lips or fingers. Or mine, for that matter.

Not only aren't they listening, they define listening as immoral.

They believe it is their absolute moral obligation to be billboards.

We are engaged in an intellectually pointless exercise.

All I can say in our favor is that the vast majority of people who discuss the OIEsters with me all conclude the same things on their own. I am never criticized by those I respect for cutting them too little slack but I am frequently criticized by those I respect for cutting them too much.

We, I'm afraid, are bullheaded and stupid. Hope springs eternal, but all we really are is Charlie Brown running at a football while Lucy jerks it out of the way yet again.
A man who does not have the decency to use capitals when he writes my name, or refer to those who disagree with them by names instead of pejoratives says that my morals are in question. Another who borders on insanity, probably from the inside, makes the issue about me rather than addressing a single issue of the philosophical debate. I am sure this has nothing to do with my morals...and so is Kant.
Is " OIEster" perjorative or shorthand?
Shorthand. Remember the question for the need was a "respectful" term for them, and the term merely states the position. Nothing more.
Not sure how I missed this, Bill...but sorry to come late.

BOTTOM LINE: Whether you (universal "you") get to it through Kant...or through common sense, the notion of calling Barack Obama evil for the reasons these OIEer's do, says a hell of a lot more about the OIEers than it does about Obama.

The fact that the OIEers call those of us who offer responses "abettors of evil" is just plain nuts.

Excellent essay, Bill...but you are trying to use reason with people who simply will not respond to reason. They are too interested in venting their hatreds...and soothing the demons that torture them by demeaning someone like the president...to ever respond to reason.

I guess it never hurts to try, though.
Thanks Frank. No, it is not really for them. They couldn't understand it anyway. If they could, they would not concede it. This is for the grown ups. You play like you train.

Sometimes you receive an accusation so absurd that you never anticipated, and you stumble at answering it. The notion that my personal "morality" is in question for voting for the President is beyond the pale. The accusation seems to be moving outside of the issue, and into the area of manipulation, so I looked into the philosophy of such questions. Wouldn't you know, the same trick has been tried by manipulators in the past.

If a question can't be settled on the merits, the unethical will try to use moralism. It completely perverts the purpose of morals. It results, on the extreme end, of things like the Taliban, Salem, etc. Kant succinctly stated that it is not the result that determines the moral aspect, but the intent. That was what I had searched for, but had not stated so succinctly. The OISter argument, particularly from Rude, is this omniscient, self appointed arbiter of morality, and makes proclamations. He has followers like SBA, who can be seen in the text taking on Rude's tactics like using lower case letters to convey disrespect, etc. No original thought, and no legitimate discussion of issues. It is just invective for its own sake. This sort of excersize is not for their benefit, but for the adults when the Talibani come pointing fingers.