CNN and the Doctrine of Double Effect

by Harry on January 5, 2009

David Velleman (NYU, Philosophy) observes (in an email to me) that CNN is describing the Israeli killing of civilians in Gaza as “unintentional” (he didn’t give me a link, but I believe him, and no doubt one of you will supply it). He continues:

As a philosopher of action, I say that this description
is false.

The Israelis knew that they would would cause civilian casualties vastly
disproportionate to the Israeli civilian casualties that they are trying
to prevent. They have accepted those Palestinian deaths as a cost of
pursuing their ends, and hence as part of a “package deal,” all of which
is intentional on their part.

I know that the Catholic doctrine of “double effect” would excuse these
killings as unintentional. But the doctrine of double effect is bad
philosophy.

Look at it this way. The Israeli authorities are not trying to get their
own soldiers killed; they are trying to minimize harm to Israeli forces.
But should it turn out (god forbid) that their incursion results in
disproportionate Israeli losses, and that they antecedently knew it
would, they will rightly be held responsible for having struck a bad
bargain, intentionally incurring costs too great for the anticipated
benefits. In such a case, they would not dare to plead “double effect”.

So it is with killing of Gazan civilians, which is clearly intentional.

I’m not a philosopher of action, and I’m also not the kind of philosopher that gives common sense much weight in trying to discern the philosophical truth. But the doctrine of double effect has always seemed to me to be one of those things which is deeply counterintuitive to common sense, for reasons illustrated in Velleman’s email, and is a case where philosophers ignore that unease that common sense suggests at their peril.

{ 109 comments }

1

Barry 01.05.09 at 8:31 pm

“But the doctrine of double effect has always seemed to me to be one of those things which is deeply counterintuitive to common sense, for reasons illustrated in Velleman’s email, and is a case where philosophers ignore that unease that common sense suggests at their peril.”

Or simply a doctrine which is very, very useful in writing off bad effects of an action, when those in power (and their paid propagandists) desire that action. Or further still, when they desire the bad effects, but don’t want to admit it.

2

rea 01.05.09 at 8:31 pm

Speaking as a lawyer, and not a philoosopher, I would suggest that people ought to be deemed to have intended the natural and probable consequences of their actions . . .

3

Steven 01.05.09 at 8:50 pm

There’s been a long argument about exactly this going on at Unspeak the past week. I’m with your correspondent: foreseen consequences cannot be unintended.

4

MarkUp 01.05.09 at 8:52 pm

”Or simply a doctrine which is very, very useful in writing off bad effects of an action, when those in power (and their paid propagandists) desire that action. Or further still, when they desire the bad effects, but don’t want to admit it.”

Something that holds true for both sides, which makes ‘support’ of Hamas tenuous at best since the outcome they are getting was a reasonably sure thing based on recent history.

5

Stuart 01.05.09 at 8:56 pm

Something that holds true for both sides,

Since when are there only two sides involved?

6

Chris Bertram 01.05.09 at 8:58 pm

Hmm, I’ve become rather bogged down in a discussion over at Unspeak with Steven Poole about the meaning of “intend” and “intentional” (my intuitions are the opposite of Velleman’s about the meaning of “intention” etc). But the key thing here obviously isn’t linguistic, so better to substitute “aim” or “purpose” in the formulation of double effect.

Velleman writes:

bq. I know that the Catholic doctrine of “double effect” would excuse these
killings as unintentional.

Velleman “knows” no such thing, since the Catholic doctrine of double effect would not permit “civilian casualties vastly disproportionate to the Israeli civilian casualties that they are trying to prevent.”

See for example the formulations at the SEP here:

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/double-effect/

Of course, something that looks superficially like double effect is often appealed to (in bad faith) by military spokespersons, wingnut commentators and bellicose bloggers. But that isn’t a strike against DE as such. It may still turn out to be “bad philosophy” in its best incarnation, but it deserves a better presentation than Velleman gives it.

And even if we don’t like double effect, we will surely need a principle that supports similar conclusions in some cases. So, as Elizabeth Anscome discussed in “Mr Truman’s Degree”:http://www.anthonyflood.com/anscombetrumansdegree.htm , soldiers, aircrew etc fighting a just war will often attack targets knowing that, statistically, they are bound to kill some noncombatants. Now the principle of noncombatant immunity says that you can’t have harm to such as your aim or purpose. So unless we have something like DE then we ought to be pacifists and eschew war even against grave injustice. Is Velleman a pacifist? I’d be surprised.

As Anscome remarks, some such deaths are not murder, but recklessness or unscrupulousness about them becomes murder, even if they are not aimed at.

7

Pete 01.05.09 at 9:02 pm

I’m a little bit confused… why is a Catholic doctrine (one that I agree is questionable) being considered as a justification the use of force by a Jewish nation? Are Israelis making an argument like this, or others on their behalf?

But, just to address the question of intention and of moral responsibility, I think that whether the killings are rightly considered intentional or not depends on other factors, such as what steps are being taken to prevent civilian casualties. If Israel has made a real effort to minimize the deaths of civilians while accomplishing goals that are necessary for its defense, then there is, I think, good reason to say Israel is not intentionally killing civilians. Whether these conditions have been met is of course a further question, but at least I can say that we do not need the doctrine of double effect to say that we should not always be held morally responsible for even the forseeable effects of our actions.

8

Dave Maier 01.05.09 at 9:09 pm

As a philosopher of language, I say that Professor Velleman is being obtuse. Like many people, he believes that the Israeli killing of civilians is morally indefensible, or at least not actually excused by the Israeli description of same as “unintentional.” Fine, I don’t disagree. But it is no help to his position to dispute that description.

That description employs a perfectly good use of “intentional/unintentional”. Here’s what it means. It marks an asymmetry in the [presumed] Israeli attitude toward the results of their actions (A = stopping the Hamas rocket attacks; B = killing civilians). Their concern – their “intent” – is A, but they see no way to do that without also doing B.

That is, we might have an exchange like this:

Q: If there were a way to stop the rockets without killing anyone, would you do that?

A: Of course.

Q: If there were a way to kill people without stopping the rockets, would you do that?

A: No, of course not. What would be the point of that? We want to stop the rockets, not to kill people.

This is meant to explain the motivations behind the actual performance of (A & B), which could have any of four distinct motivations (A, B, both, neither). (Of course that last one is nuts.) So we say, perfectly intelligibly, that A (i.e. the A part of (A & B)) is “intentional” and B is not.

Now the real issue, of course (as Chris also says) is whether one is morally responsible for “unintended” actions of this sort (when they are easily forseeable, etc.), and of course Professor Velleman believes that one is indeed so responsible. But you can make this point without demanding that everyone hew to his technical usage of “unintentional” (i.e. by denying that B is “unintentional”). That’s just dogmatic.

9

Chris Bertram 01.05.09 at 9:11 pm

_Speaking as a lawyer, and not a philoosopher, I would suggest that people ought to be deemed to have intended the natural and probable consequences of their actions . . ._

That might be a sensible _policy_ in the area of criminal responsibility – hence your “deemed to have” – but it is obviously false as an account of action and intention.

10

Steven Poole 01.05.09 at 9:13 pm

Sorry you felt it as a bogging-down, Chris, but here’s the link to the discussion in case anyone else is interested.

11

Chris Bertram 01.05.09 at 9:15 pm

It was fun Steven, but it went on a bit too long.

12

Tom Hurka 01.05.09 at 9:18 pm

If the doctrine of double effect is so “counterintuitive” and such “bad philosophy,” how come it’s central to the international law of war, which distinguishes sharply between targetting civilians, which is very strictly forbidden, and harming them as a side-effect of actions aimed at legitimate military targets, which is not forbidden if the harm to civilians is not disproportionate. (See e.g. Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions.) The targeting/side-effect distinction is precisely the distinction between effects intended as an end or means and effects foreseen but not intended in that strict sense — i.e. precisely the double effect distinction.

And David Velleman’s last example, about disproportionate Israeli losses, cuts no ice against this distinction, proponents of which will agree that the Israelis are responsible if they knowingly incur disproportionate costs. But the wrong will be that of knowingly causing disproportionate harm, which is different from the wrong of intending harm as an end or means. For this reason, it is misleading of Velleman to use the word “excuse” in connection with the doctrine. It says only that merely foreseeing harms is less morally objectionable than intending them as an end or means; it can still be very objectionable if the harms are disproportionate, as they are in Velleman’s example and arguably also are in the real world. Many believers in the doctrine think recent Israeli actions against Hezbollah and the Palestinians have been seriously disproportionate and therefore seriously morally wrong. No excusing whatever being done.

Finally, an elementary point. There’s a looser sense of “intentionally” in which whenever you knowingly cause an effect you do so intentionally. The double effect doctrine doesn’t deny that current Israeli actions have killed Palestinians intentionally in that sense, because it uses “intentionally” in a stricter or more technical sense, to cover only cases where the effect is aimed at as an end or a means. And the claim that it is morally more objectionable to cause bad effects intending them in that stricter sense is far from counterintuitive — it yields the intuitively right result in many cases, including CT’s favourite the trolley case. And it seems to have been intuitive enough to get itself into the core of the international law of war.

13

Tom Hurka 01.05.09 at 9:26 pm

I see I posted on top of Chris and Dave Maier, to much the same effect. Shared claim: the DDE doesn’t at all say what Velleman says it says.

14

Aulus Gellius 01.05.09 at 9:40 pm

I suppose I’m just piling on, and know less about the subject than most here, but really, that Israeli-soldiers comparison seems like nonsense. Sure, you’d blame the authorities for sacrificing too many soldiers, but you’d still recognize a difference between that and intentionally killing them. Imagine how much more you’d blame them if you found that, rather than making a “bad bargain”, they had started the war specifically in order to thin the ranks of their own army! David (to refer to an earlier “Israeli authority”) generally gets blamed for murdering Uriah, but not the various other soldiers killed in the same wars; because Uriah’s death, unlike the others, was intended by David.

15

Sebastian 01.05.09 at 9:47 pm

I’m not so sure that the doctrine of double effect (whatever its other merits may or may not be) is really all that counter-intuitive. You hear something along the lines of “That isn’t what I was trying to do” as an explanation for everything from personal mishaps to government action.

Dave Maier also has some good comments above regarding intended effects.

Discussions of proportionality get odd too. Typically people don’t think (and the laws of war certainly don’t require) any thing like a 1:1 proportion of untargeted civilian casualties among the enemy to be balanced . And no one really offers an estimate of what a fair proportion would be. (On the flip side clearly saving ‘our’ civilians by killing all non-citizens in the whole world wouldn’t be proportionate under any definition).

16

Bloix 01.05.09 at 10:24 pm

Anyone who understands what is happening in Gaza realizes that Hamas has intentionally goaded Israel into killing Palestinian civilians. That is what this war is about. On the day before the attack began, Olmert went on Al-Arabiya TV and virtually begged Hamas to stop firing the rockets. He explicitly promised that if the rockets stopped, there would be no attack. Hamas responded by firing 70 rockets.

Why? Because Hamas has decided that it is willing to take a hit to its forces – so far, about 1% of its men under arms have been killed – in order to assure that sufficient numbers of Palestinian civilians are killed so as generate outrage against Israel. Hamas wants to discredit Fatah and to make a peace agreement impossible. Hamas’ s short-term enemy is not Israel, it is Fatah. The best way to defeat Fatah is to de-legitimize it, and the best way to do that is to make peace negotiations impossible by goading Israel into attacking. This is the strategy that Hezbollah used to great success in Lebanon, and Olmert appears to be incapable of learning from past mistakes.

Hamas has shown itself perfectly willing to kill Palestinian civilians in order to defeat Fatah, as when its forces opened fire on a pro-Fatah rally in November 2007. http://articles.latimes.com/2008/jan/02/world/fg-gaza2

Obviously Israel is implicated in the deaths of the Palestinian civilians it has bombed. But its intent is to kill Hamas fighters. Hamas’s itent is for Israel to kill Palestinian civilians.

I personally don’t find these moral/philosophical debates particularly interesting or illuminating, but those who do might ask Mr. Velleman whether Hamas, by goading Israel into attacking, bears any responsibility for Palestinian civilian deaths.

17

sg 01.05.09 at 10:30 pm

Yeah I remember when they fired that tank shell at that family on the beach last year, the IDF’s intent was to kill hamas fighters. Especially the really small ones who look like children, they’re the worst of the lot don’t you know.

18

Akshay 01.05.09 at 10:51 pm

The siege of Gaza has gone on for years. Chris Hedges quoted some statistics at Truthdig. A majority of Gazans now suffer some form of malnourishment. Almost one fifth of all children have stunted growth. Almost half suffer from acute anemia. Half of children under the age of 12 suffer severe depression, with “no will left to live”. This horrific siege has been condemned again and again as brutal collective punishment by human rights organisations. That is the context in which the current attack is taking place.

I can’t see why speculation about the inner life of Israeli decision makers or the meaning of intention is particularly relevant. The lawyers’ response @2 seems quite apt and less morally distracting. And even if we do speculate, why do we not consider that the civilian casualties might be intended? To teach Gazans a lesson? To break their will? Doesn’t that hypothesis fit even better in the context of collective punishment?

19

Bloix 01.05.09 at 10:52 pm

sg- you are snarking, not arguing. The 2006 Gaza beach deaths were likely caused by a mis-fired shell that was targeted at a rocket-launching site 250 meters back from the beach. You can certainly argue that it is immoral to target military sites that are so close to civilians but you can equally argue that it is immoral to place a launch site so close to a crowded beach. Israel got no benefit from firing a shell into a crowded beach and there’s no reason to think it did so intentionally. The deaths did not benefit Israel and did strengthen Hamas, which responded by lifting the cease-fire of rockets into Israel.

It is Israel’s interest not to kill Palestinian civilians, and it is Hamas’s interest to provoke Israel into killing Palestinian civilians. I don’t think this is particularly a moral issue and I don’t think it reflects on the goodness or badness of either side. Israel needs a quiescent Palestinian population and Hamas needs an enraged Palestinian population. Whose interests do civilian deaths serve?

20

Dan Kervick 01.05.09 at 10:54 pm

It strikes me Velleman is running together threeissues here. At least he is running them together in the email, although he may not run them together elsewhere.

One question is whether or not the Israeli killing of civilians in Gaza is unintentional. Another issue is whether, if the killings are unintentional, they are thereby morally excused by the doctrine of double effect. A third issue is whether, if the doctrine does excuse the actions, that constitutes a compelling moral objection to the doctrine.

Velleman apparently has action theory-oriented reasons for holding that the actions are intentional. But in that case, his criticism of the doctrine of double effect is mooted, or is at least incidental to his point about the killings being intentional. A counterexample to the doctrine of double effect would require, I presume, showing a case in which some actions are unintentional, and thereby excused by the doctrine of double effect, but in which powerful moral intuitions would have it that the actions really are not excusable, thus calling the doctrine of double effect into question. But if Velleman thinks the Israeli killings of civilians is actually intentional, then the doctrine of double effect doesn’t excuse them, so he hasn’t produced an objection to the doctrine.

Maybe by the “doctrine of double effect” Vellman means to refer broadly to a body of scholastic philosophical lore and casuistry that contains both the moral doctrine proper, and some additional semantic or action theory judgments about which actions are and are not intentional. It appears his main issue is really with the latter judgments.

Velleman also, I gather, has some moral objections to the doctrine of double effect itself, which appear to be independent of the action theory issue about whether actions such as the Israeli killing of civilians in the present Gaza conflict are intentional or unintentional, objections which are brought out by his example of the Israelis hypothetically accepting disproportionate casualties on their own side. Or maybe this is just an example designed to show how the doctrine is often hypocritically and selectively applied only to those cases where it produces the desired effect. Either way, good for him in challenging the doctrine of double effect.

But he wraps up the brief discussion confusingly when he says, “So it is with killing of Gazan civilians, which is clearly intentional.” Does he think his example shows that the Israeli actions are actually intentional, and that’s why the doctrine of double effect is wrong? That doesn’t make sense, since if the actions are intentional, the doctrine doesn’t apply. Does he think the doctrine is wrong, for moral reasons, but that many purported applications of the doctrine misfire anyway, because the so-called unintentional actions they invoke are actually intentional? Maybe that’s it.

What actions does Velleman think are intentional? I’m guessing he wants to defend something along these lines: If one directly intends some end, and directly wills certain actions to achieve those ends, and one knows (at least with a high degree of probability) that certain causal consequences of those directly willed actions will flow from them, then those consequences are produced intentionally.

I think this probably plausibly captures parts of our common-sense distinction between intentional and unintentional action. But it obviously brings out the vagueness of that distinction as well, connected with the reference to the “high degree” of probability. A similar vagueness attends our uses of terms such as “might” and “will”.

21

Neil 01.05.09 at 11:07 pm

Common sense is complex and contradictory. I don’t think there is any doubt that DDE is part of it. For some evidence, see Marc Hauser’s vast survey of intuitions on morality:

moral.wjh.harvard.edu

Hauser has identified the principles implicit in moral judgment, and an intended/foreseeen distinction is certainly one of them. It’s probably driven by subpersonal processes, so there is no mystery about how it can be part of common sense (in one way) and deeply mystifying, even to ordinary people.

22

Paul 01.05.09 at 11:11 pm

I have a question for you sagacious philosophers. How would you stop the horrible casualties on both sides ? Please, one of you respond.

23

Bloix 01.05.09 at 11:17 pm

Dan Kervick -
The words “intended” and “intentional” as applied to death and killing don’t have clear-cut common-sense distinctions because they are always freighted with moral judgments. For example, Jack Kevorkian was several times found innocent of helping terminally ill persons kill themselves, because the jury accepted that his “intent” was to relieve their suffering; their deaths were unintended although unavoidable consequences. That use of “intent” doesn’t seem “common-sense,” it seems peculiar – if you do something with the knowledge that it will have a certain result, don’t you intend the result? It makes sense only when you accept that the jury was unwilling to reach the moral judgment that was unavoidably associated with the word “intent.”

The distinction is not a logical one. We do not say that an officer who sends his men into battle intends the deaths of any of them, even though he knows with certainty that some of them will die. Yet we say that he does intend the deaths of the enemy soldiers that his men are sent to kill. Why the difference? I would say that the difference is rhetorical, not logical. To say that someone “intends” a death is a moral judgment, not merely a statement about state of mind. You may be trying as a matter of logic to associate the word “intent” with a certain degree of certainty of cause and affect, and you may have no interest in making the moral judgment. But you can’t do it.

24

Akshay 01.05.09 at 11:27 pm

For those who doubt that the humanitarian crisis in Gaza was intended: why have the amounts of basic food supplies and medication been allowed into Gaza been diminished to a trickle over the past months? Why not just let them in? The supplies are there. They are being prevented from going into the strip by the Israeli army. http://www.amnesty.org/en/news-and-updates/news/gaza-reduced-bare-survival-20081205

How can Israeli generals (Dov Weisglas) brag about how the IDF “put them [the palestinians] on a diet”, when they are going hungry? Do they have any conscience at all? Why will my respondents exclusively blame Hamas rather than the IDF for carrying out the siege? Is the IDF somehow forced to make people go hungry? In the meantime, why are we philosophically debating the undecidability of human motivation?

25

c.l. ball 01.06.09 at 12:09 am

Didn’t Walzer argue that double effect should be supplemented by a doctrine of double intention? The second intention is that the harm done to civilians be as minimal as possible, with the costs of minimization borne by the combatants. So, if gunmen are shooting from a house, an airstrike is improper if civilians might be in the house — the airstrike is sure to kill the civilians as well as the combatants. Soldiers must enter the house — far riskier to them — with the chance that they can spare civilians in any ensuring fire-fight inside the house (the civilians might still be killed, but the soldiers sought to minimize that).

26

roy belmont 01.06.09 at 12:12 am

I’d like to publicly thank, well publicly for as long as this stays up, Bertram the Moderator for contributing so greatly to the public discussion by censoring the hell out of this thread, thus leaving the way clear for sensible minds like Bloix.
Bloix who has done the world a great boon, by making the distinction between Israel as represented by Olmert and the Palestinians as represented by Hamas so vividly distinct.
Israel wants to stop killing Palestinians, but the Palestinians want them, the Israelis, to keep on killing them, the Palestinians.
Thanks to both Bertram and Bloix for their yeoman efforts, and may they be justly rewarded, and soon.

27

lemuel pitkin 01.06.09 at 12:23 am

it is immoral to place a launch site so close to a crowded beach.

Given that Gaza is one of the msot densely settled palces on earth, and given that Israel’s stated targets include police stations, government offices, etc., perhaps it’s time to retire this particular argument.

28

David Velleman 01.06.09 at 12:41 am

OK — I plead guilty to citing the doctrine of double effect without re-reading the relevant literature. When I last looked into it, I thought the doctrine was hooey. But I cited it here carelessly. Mea culpa.

My main point was that the Israeli killing of civilians is not unintentional, as some are claiming. The claim that they are unintentional is clearly meant to deflect condemnation and blame, and I believe that the attempt fails.

In general, whether an action is intentional is not a direct function of whether it is intended. These are two different matters. I readily grant that the Israelis do not intend to cause civilian casualties. But not intending to cause those casualties does not acquit the Israelis of causing them intentionally. And it is whether the casualties are caused intentionally — not whether they are intended — that is most relevant to the question of wrongness and blame.

If the Israelis did intend to kill civilians, their behavior would be not just immoral and blameworthy but vicious — that is, a manifestation of vices such as cruelty, bloodthirstiness, or whatever. To that extent, then, the fact that they do not intend the civilian casualties acquits them of something — namely, the relevant vices. But it does not affect the wrongness of what the they are doing, nor their blameworthiness for doing it. And surely, the claim that the civilian casualties are unintentional is meant to accomplish more than to acquit the Israelis of being barbarians.

I don’t think that references to law are relevant. Sometimes the law encodes morality, sometimes it merely reflects what is practicable given the imperfections of large institutions. If the Israeli actions are illegal, then so much the worse; but even if they are legal, they are clearly wrong.

29

Donald Johnson 01.06.09 at 12:55 am

“It is Israel’s interest not to kill Palestinian civilians”

You don’t know that. The blockade on Gaza is obviously meant to harm civilians, in the hope that ordinary Palestinians will turn against Hamas. So by that reasoning, a little bit of “collateral damage” might also do the trick. It’s not in Israel’s interest for people in America to see them as a terrorist state, so they can’t kill civilians in excessively large numbers, but nobody knows how many civilians they could kill before even Democratic politicians might feel obligated to say something critical. Given what happened in Lebanon in 2006, they can kill at least 1000 without risking any political support here.

30

Larry C Wilson 01.06.09 at 1:01 am

There is no such thing as a just war.

31

Kenny Easwaran 01.06.09 at 1:07 am

This sounds like a case for Josh Knobe!

32

MQ 01.06.09 at 1:11 am

Yeah, Israel’s intentions are unclear here. Part of the purpose of the violence is to send a message to Palestinian society more broadly about the costs of supporting Hamas, right?

33

engels 01.06.09 at 1:28 am

From where I stand David Velleman’s comment in #25 seems very convincing and I think it illuminates a number of points I had felt uncomfortable about for some time.

34

rea 01.06.09 at 1:29 am

rea: Speaking as a lawyer, and not a philoosopher, I would suggest that people ought to be deemed to have intended the natural and probable consequences of their actions . . .

cb: That might be a sensible policy in the area of criminal responsibility – hence your “deemed to have” – but it is obviously false as an account of action and intention.

No, it’s not just a policy of criminal responsibility, it’s a judgment about what it means to “intend” something. The distinction between, “I wanted to kill those people” and “I knew those people would be killed if I did what I did, and I did it anyway” is essentially meaningless

35

Steven Poole 01.06.09 at 1:45 am

Isn’t it rather blithe to suppose that an account of action and intention that has been thought about with some care by countless lawyers and judges etc over the centuries could really be “obviously false”?

36

David Velleman 01.06.09 at 2:32 am

Hi, Kenny (Easwaran):

Yes, exactly — it’s a case for Josh Knobe.

As Knobe showed (testing an intuition that was published by Gil Harman back in the 1970s), whether an agent is judged to have produced foreseen consequences intentionally depends, not only on the psychological antecedents of his action, but also on the normative significance of those consequences. Untoward consequences are more likely to be judged intentional — and rightly so.

An agent need not act on the basis of all the reasons he knows in favor of acting. For example, he can save a drowning child solely for the sake of the child, despite knowing that he will also be earning praise for heroism. He can exclude the praise from his deliberations, and he is rationally permitted to do so, provided that he decides to save the child anyway, for other reasons. He can then say, “I knew that I would be praised, but I didn’t do it for that reason.”

In contrast, an agent is rationally obliged to consider all of the reasons he knows against a proposed action. If he proceeds to take the action, he will have acted in spite of these reasons, given that he knew them. Since the Israelis knew that they would cause civilian casualties, they cannot say, “We knew that we would cause civilian casualties, but we didn’t act in spite of that consideration.”

Reasons-for and reasons-against are therefore asymmetrical in the following respect: if an agent knows reasons for doing something and does it, he may or may not have done it for those particular reasons; but if he knows reasons against doing something and does it, then he has necessarily done it in spite of those reasons.

This asymmetry produces the aforementioned asymmetry in our judgments of what is intentional. The mere fact that an agent knew a reason for acting does not determine whether he acted for that reason, and so it doesn’t determine whether his fulfillment of the reason was intentional. The life-saver can say, “I earned praise for heroism, but I didn’t do that intentionally.” (Or, if he acted solely for the sake of the praise rather than the child, we can say, “Well, he did a good deed, but not intentionally.”) By contrast, the fact that an agent knew a reason against acting entails that he acted in spite of that reason, and so it entails that he contravened the reason intentionally.

So the Israelis cannot say, “We knew that we would cause casualties, but we didn’t do that intentionally.” Their causing those casualties is intentional, and they are to blame.

37

PhilosopherP 01.06.09 at 2:42 am

CJ,

You are correct about Walzer’s doctrine of double intention — In fact, he argues that DDE is inadequate, mostly because it amounts to simply hoping your actions won’t harm civilians, rather than requiring that soldiers actively try not to harm soldiers. See “Just and Unjust Wars” for the specifics.

Also, proportionality isn’t just about equal numbers of deaths — rather, the idea is that any individual action needs to be evaluated as to whether or not the harm will be disproportionate to the hoped-for gains.

No matter how often Hamas seems to ask for Israel’s action, they are still morally responsible for taking actions they can be reasonably certain will harm civilians — just as Hamas is responsible for the civilian deaths they cause in Israel.

38

Neil 01.06.09 at 2:47 am

FWIW, I have extended Josh’s work, with explicit reference to DDE. Paper posted on the experimental philosophy blog back a while ago.

39

Tom T. 01.06.09 at 3:47 am

Prof. Velleman, I’d be curious to hear you address Chris Bertram’s remarks at #6. It does seem to follow from your formulation that any military action — by any party, anywhere — is morally unacceptable, because there will always be some risk of civilian deaths. Is that in fact your view? If not, under what circumstances can military action permissibly be pursued?

40

Doctor Science 01.06.09 at 4:15 am

I find Bloix @15 sheds real light on the situation, for me, because it makes the conflict follow what I call the Clausewitz/O’Neill Principle: “War is the continuation of politics by other means” and “All politics is local” means that “Even foreign wars are fought for domestic political reasons”.

For instance, Al Qaeda attacked the US not to “defeat” the US, but to show other factions in Islamdom that it was the strongest, that it called the literal shots. When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, his goal wasn’t necessarily to “send a message” to Kuwait or the Saudis or the US, it was to strengthen his position in Iraq, to reward his friends with wealth.

I don’t know enough about Israeli internal politics to know how Clausewitz/O’Neill is playing out there, but I’ll bet you bagels to sandfleas it is.

41

c.l. ball 01.06.09 at 4:22 am

I think the question of intent is subject to semantic and categorical confusion here. The concept of intent in criminal law, or intentC, is different from the concept of intent in just war theory or the ethics of war, or intentW. Velleman at 25, Poole at 3, and rea at 2 mean intentC: you intentionally harm others regardless of your purpose if the foreseeable consequence of your actions is to bring about harm to others. For example, if you shoot a gun at a person to scare him but hit and kill him instead, you would be judged by most people to have intentionally killed the person since the foreseeable consequence of shooting at someone is that you might kill them. If instead of shooting at a person, I sent him a letter saying “I’m going to shoot you,” my actions don’t become legally permissible because my purpose — to scare the person — is impermissible.

The ethics of war is concerned with identifying morally permissible violence versus impermissible ones. Bombing a building containing weapons or soldiers is permissible. Targeting non-combatants is impermissible. So intentW refers to the reason for the bombing — to destroy military equipment. If the reason is to harm civilians as a reprisal, it is morally impermissible. The question is what to do when soldiers or weapons are located such that bombing them is likely to harm non-combatants. Allowing one combatant to immunize its forces from attack by placing civilians at risk would reward immoral behavior. Unless the civilian casualties are disproportionate, then bombing where civilians will foreseeable be killed is permitted, unless other options that would minimize the civilian casualties are available (Walzer’s second intention, that the attacker intend to minimize the harm to non-combatants).

This is the issue in Afghanistan now. The US relies on airstrikes because sending ground forces into villages would greatly increase the risk of US casualties and the number of available US forces to assault villages is small. And many NATO members are unwilling to deploy forces as part of such high-risk operations.

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Matt 01.06.09 at 4:29 am

It is, maybe, worth noting that the law makes much of the same distinction that Vellman does- you can do something intentionally w/o intending to do just that thing. So, if you steal a bag, and you meant to steal it, and the bad has enough money in it that it qualifies as grand theft, you have intentionally committed grand theft even if you did not intend to steal that much money, and perhaps intended not to. That seems right to me both as a matter of policy and as a moral judgment.

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c.l. ball 01.06.09 at 4:37 am

I don’t think #32 serves as a basis for making conclusions about the ethics of Israel’s action in Gaza (or the US in Afghanistan for that matter). The logic is clear, but not relevant to the ethical issue. If my article is rejected for publication, I will be sad, and the reviewers and editors can foresee that I will be sad. A reason against rejecting my article is that I will be sad. But we don’t consider them blameworthy for making me sad even though by the standard of #32, they intended to make me sad by rejecting my article (since my sadness was a foreseeable effect).

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Patrick S. O'Donnell 01.06.09 at 5:04 am

Now let’s see if philosophers (and the rest of us, for that matter) can make heads or tales of the doctrine of proportionality in international law: cf. here: http://www.ejiltalk.org/israeli-raids-in-gaza-proportionality-and-the-status-of-hamas-policemen/
here: http://www.ejiltalk.org/a-follow-up-on-israel-and-gaza/
and here: http://opiniojuris.org/2009/01/03/dershowitz-on-israel-and-proportionality/

45

Josh in Philly 01.06.09 at 5:29 am

Just been reading Cameron on intention; dunno if it helps, but he seems to have thought about the issues.

46

Guest 01.06.09 at 5:34 am

Let me get this straight: Israel’s not responsible for its actions, Hamas is, because Hamas goaded Israel into killing civilians in order to generate outrage and sympathy.

That’s a rapist’s argument if I’ve ever heard one.

47

Lynn Gazis-Sax 01.06.09 at 7:27 am

I’ve mainly heard of “double effect” in the context of end of life decision making, where it seems to have the useful effect of allowing people to request palliative treatment that might otherwise be disallowed them. The difference is, in that case, both parts of the “double effect” are happening to the same person, who may, if still aware, be perfectly capable of judging the palliative effect more important than the life shortening one.

Whereas in war, “collatoral damage” happening to the other side is evaluated on a different scale from the same sort of damage happening to your own side.

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Chris Bertram 01.06.09 at 8:05 am

Steven, #31, no, I don’t think so. Judges and lawyers are asking a technical legal question (about _mens rea_) and are using “intention” in a techical legal sense, and that doesn’t have to track the facts about what people intend non-technically speaking. I think you already conceded engels’s point on that (at your blog) wrt to the question of what gamblers intend (you reformulated in response). They don’t intend to lose their money, even thought that’s a natural and probable (rea’s formulation at #2) consequence of their action. Given that humans are often imprudent and are bad assessors of risk, they will often not intend the natural and probable causes of their actions.

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sg 01.06.09 at 8:36 am

Yes Bloix, I’m reduced to snark by credulous faith in Israel’s good intentions. All those bullets settlers fire at Palestinian water tanks are also just an attempt at rooting out rocket sites, don’t you know?

there is no point in discussing “double effect” when the Israeli air force is targeting police stations. Their intent is aligned perfectly with the single effect they are achieving, of killing civilians, and any pretense that they are trying for anything else is just propaganda.

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Dave 01.06.09 at 8:37 am

@40: you see, the thing is, hardly anyone is prepared to accept that both Hamas and the Israeli govt are doing bad things. For the life of me I don’t know why that is so hard to grasp, but apparently it is. There can only be goodies and baddies, us and them, the Light and the Darkness, even in the most ‘intellectual’ discussion of the topic.

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Tom Hurka 01.06.09 at 8:51 am

David, at #25:

You’re now just asserting without argument that the DDE is false, since your claims that whether casualties are intentional (in the broader sense of “intentional”) is most relevant to wrongness and that facts about intending affect judgements of vice but not of wrongness are precisely ones the DDE denies. It says that causing harm intending it as an end or means is more seriously pro tanto wrong than causing the same harm merely foreseeing it, so good consequences such as helping to win a just war that might justify the latter, given proportionality, cannot, except perhaps in very extreme circumstances, justify the former. Terror bombing that kills n civilians as a means to winning a war can therefore be wrong while bombing military targets that collaterally kills the same number n civilians can be morally permitted. That’s a perfectly intelligible doctrine, does not depend on any claims about action theory, and has many intuitive consequences. It’s also open to objections, e.g., why should intending harm *as a means* be morally objectionable, since *as a means* the harm is good. But I don’t see that it does much against the doctrine to simply assert that its main claims are false.

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Jimmy Doyle 01.06.09 at 8:56 am

David Velleman at comment 25 seems to think that if someone is shown not to have intended deaths of innocents but only to have foreseen them as likely consequences of actions they did intend, that person’s actions are “immoral” and “blameworthy” but not “vicious” or “barbaric.”

This is a genuine instance of exactly the sort of problem he (like S Poole) erroneously claimed to find with the doctrine of double effect when he misunderstood it: spurious exculpation on the basis of a distinction that makes no difference. If one acts with sufficient indifference to innocent suffering and death one can certainly make oneself as vicious and barbaric as pretty much anyone, even though the suffering and death is foreseen rather than intended. Indeed, an agent may qualify as vicious and barbaric even if the horrific effects are not even foreseen, as they may not be if she takes care not to think too hard about the case. Negligence can stand proxy for virtually any other vice. As Anscombe said, a fool can be as much of a knave as he likes.

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ajay 01.06.09 at 9:34 am

It does seem to follow from your formulation that any military action—by any party, anywhere—is morally unacceptable, because there will always be some risk of civilian deaths. Is that in fact your view? If not, under what circumstances can military action permissibly be pursued?

That only follows if you consider harm to people to be always morally unacceptable, whatever the circumstances. This isn’t actually the way most people think.

For example: if I run a charity to take inner-city kids rock-climbing, it is foreseeable that, sooner or later, someone will fall off and injure themselves. But that doesn’t mean that my actions in running the charity are immoral – I could argue that the harm done is outweighed by the good done to all the other kids who enjoyed themselves, got fit, became more self-confident or whatever. (Even if my own motives are entirely selfish – say I’m just working for a salary rather than in order to better society – I’m still morally in the clear. Unless I was being deliberately reckless, of course – but leave that aside for the moment. Assume I was being diligent and careful. Rock climbing is still dangerous.)

Similarly, I could argue that, in waging a defensive war against the Volgans, I am certainly and foreseeably going to get some civilians (my own and theirs) killed. But maybe this is a price worth paying – since the benefits to the rest of the population of not being part of the Volgan Empire outweigh this.

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novakant 01.06.09 at 9:48 am

This is a case where the common sense usage of language is perfectly fine and things become needlessly overcomplicated when philosophers take over.

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Steven Poole 01.06.09 at 1:12 pm

Chris —

Judges and lawyers are asking a technical legal question (about mens rea) and are using “intention” in a techical legal sense, and that doesn’t have to track the facts about what people intend non-technically speaking.

What would be the point of their asking a “technical legal question” if it were not supposed to get at the truth about what intention actually means in the real world?

I think you already conceded engels’s point on that (at your blog) wrt to the question of what gamblers intend (you reformulated in response).

To be clear, I reformulated only to the extent necessary to make it clear that I was talking about acts that had separable foreseeable consequences, which is what everyone is talking about here.

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bjk 01.06.09 at 1:56 pm

Coincidently or not, Philosopher of Action is the title of the next Keanu Reeves movie.

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Chris Bertram 01.06.09 at 2:08 pm

Incidentally, I was reading Nagel’s “War and Massacre” this morning, and he makes the point that often in war people will die as the foreseeable result of whatever action one chooses:

bq. … it is important to specify as clearly as possible the kind of thing to which absolutist prohibitions can apply. We must take seriously the proviso that they concern what we deliberately do to people. There could not, for example, without incoherence, be an absolute prohibition against _bringing about_ the death of an innocent person. For one may find oneself in a situation in which, no matter what one does, some innocent people will die as a result. I do not mean that there are cases in which someone will die no matter what one does, becauses one is not in a position to affect the outcome one way or other. That, it is to be hoped, is one’s relation to the deaths of most innocent people. I have in mind, rather, a case in which someone is bound to die, but who it is will depend on what one does. Sometimes these cases have natural causes, as when too few resources (medicine, lifeboats) are available to rescue everyone threatened with a certain catastrophe. Sometimes the situations are man-made as when the only way to control a campaign of terrorism is to employ terrorist tactics against the community from which it has arisen. ( _Moral Luck_ , 59-60)

Nagel’s example of a man-made case, is not very felicitous in the current discussion (to say the least), but I think the general point is devastating to those who wish to deny the distinction between what we deliberately do to people and what we forseeeably bring about.

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Chris Bertram 01.06.09 at 2:09 pm

Steve Poole asks:

bq. What would be the point of their asking a “technical legal question” if it were not supposed to get at the truth about what intention actually means in the real world?

Because it is supposed to get at the truth concerning a different question, namely, whether the subjective conditions for attributing responsibility are in place.

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Steven Poole 01.06.09 at 2:23 pm

So lawyers arguing about the law’s definition of intention have never thought of themselves as trying to get to the truth about intention, but merely as testing whether “subjective” conditions obtain? Interesting view.

Incidentally, Nagel is hardly devastating to my view, properly understood. A doctor in a emergency triage situation who leaves one person to die because he judges himself to have a better chance of saving another does indeed intend to let the first person die — and (which is a different question) he is justified in doing so.

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Chris Bertram 01.06.09 at 2:32 pm

Well yes, Steven, _mens rea_. I’m not a lawyer, but it is interesting that different jurisdictions use different conditions to express the view that a person foresaw a consequence that wasn’t their purpose. The UK has “oblique intention” the US has “knowingly” etc. They aren’t in the business of trying to explicate the folk concept of intention.

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Tracy W 01.06.09 at 3:13 pm

That only follows if you consider harm to people to be always morally unacceptable, whatever the circumstances. This isn’t actually the way most people think.

For example: if I run a charity to take inner-city kids rock-climbing, it is foreseeable that, sooner or later, someone will fall off and injure themselves.

To take a more even common example, every parent who takes their children out onto a road, be that in a car, on bikes or as pedestrians, is running a foreseeable risk that one of their children will be killed in a car crash. I suspect that nearly every reader here had parents who exposed them to this risk – and often for reasons like visiting grandparents rather than reasons like getting life-saving medications. I know my parents did. Does this mean they were intending my and my siblings’ deaths?

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ajay 01.06.09 at 3:27 pm

55: well, it’s a risk, yes, but I think that the reasonable man comes in at this point: a reasonable man could expect to drive his children to their granny’s house without injuring them. (There’s a risk, but it’s very small.) But a reasonable man would know that it is a statistical near-certainty that, if you take lots of people rock climbing, you will get some of them injured. As soon as he starts up the charity, he is intending to injure someone -almost inevitably. (Or to get them injured, if that’s a meaningful definition.)

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Sergio Tenenbaum 01.06.09 at 3:28 pm

David, I am not sure I understand your position. You say: “ The claim that they [i.e. the Israeli killings of civilian] are unintentional is clearly meant to deflect condemnation and blame, and I believe that the attempt fails.

I readily grant that the Israelis do not intend to cause civilian casualties. But not intending to cause those casualties does not acquit the Israelis of causing them intentionally. And it is whether the casualties are caused intentionally—not whether they are intended—that is most [my emphasis] relevant to the question of wrongness and blame.”

No one denies that the foreseen consequences are relevant to the question of wrongness or blame (not even the Israelis), whether or not one calls them “intentional”. I am not sure how to assess the claim that they are the most relevant, since, as various people pointed out, whether a consequence is intended or not, and whether ignorance of such a consequence was negligent or not, are also relevant factors. I certainly find it hard to believe that whether grave harm to civilians was intentional in this broad sense would settle the issue of whether the action was wrong or not. You might want to deny this, but it seems to me that if Israel’s actions were really necessary in order to prevent the death of a large enough number of its civilian population, then its actions would be justified (assuming, of course, that the deaths of Palestinian civilians were not only unavoidable but also unintended). On the other hand, short of an apocalyptic scenario, I don’t see how the same number of intended civilian deaths could be justified. Moreover I don’t see how a strict, or nearly strict, prohibition on foreseen civilian casualties could stop short of pacifism. After all, one often, if not always, brings about great harm to civilians simply by killing and injuring combatants (many young ones won’t receive proper care, medical personnel and supplies will be diverted from civilians to combatants, etc.).

On the other hand, I tend to agree with what I take to be your main point; I haven’t seen the CNN quote in context, but it would take a lot of implicature cancelling for me not to hear it as implying exculpation. But I think I would hear the same implication had they used the more precise “unintended” rathen than “unintentional”.

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lemuel pitkin 01.06.09 at 3:32 pm

Of course, given that the stated targets, again, include police and government infratructure, isn’t this all beside the point? No philosophical effort is required to show that the deaths of civilians in Gaza are intentional. Israel has publicly announced that it intends to kill civilians– no, not little children, but police officers are unambiguously civilians too.

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Steven Poole 01.06.09 at 3:39 pm

Well yes, Steven, mens rea.

They’re in the business, Chris, of inquiring into mens rea in a particular case; but in formulating the law that applies to such cases they are evidently in the business of trying to give a general true account of intention. You may disagree with it or think it flawed in one way or another, but one thing it surely isn’t is “obviously false”.

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Chris Bertram 01.06.09 at 4:02 pm

What I took to be obviously false is (#2) the doctrine that people always intend the natural and probable consequences of their actions. You yourself actually believe this doctrine to be false, for reasons that you formulated on your blog: people don’t always foresee the natural and probable consequences. We might, as a matter of policy concerning criminal responsibilty want to “deem them to intend”, but they don’t intend, do they? (And there are other counterexamples some of which you accept and others you don’t: e.g. Lois Lane intends to marry Superman but not Clark Kent.) The success of any of these counterexamples (foresaw/foreseeable; referential opacity; lottery cases) is enough to sink the proposition that I objected to.

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dsquared 01.06.09 at 4:02 pm

What would be the point of their asking a “technical legal question” if it were not supposed to get at the truth about what intention actually means in the real world?

Surely the fact that any time people have to actually tie things down to important empirical questions like “are we going to throw this guy in jail”, they start looking for concepts like mens rea and so on, is at least weak evidence that “intention” doesn’t actually mean anything in the real world (ie, that it’s a folk-psychological concept which can’t be unpacked)?

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Chris Bertram 01.06.09 at 4:04 pm

Lemuel #57: Yes, abolutely, I’m starting to feel disgusted at our philosophical quibbling in the light of what’s actually happening. See

http://www.btselem.org/English/Gaza_Strip/20081231_Gaza_Letter_to_Mazuz.asp

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dsquared 01.06.09 at 4:08 pm

and just to echo Jimmy’s comments in #46:

David Velleman at comment 25 seems to think that if someone is shown not to have intended deaths of innocents but only to have foreseen them as likely consequences of actions they did intend, that person’s actions are “immoral” and “blameworthy” but not “vicious” or “barbaric.”

There’s a famous Noam Chomsky quote about the fact that he doesn’t “intend” to kill thousands of ants every time walks across his garden – he knows that it will probably happen, but it mostly doesn’t occur to him to think about the ants at all. Plenty of states don’t “intentionally” kill civilians in this sense.

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MarkUp 01.06.09 at 4:35 pm

ajay ~
As soon as he starts up the charity, he is intending to injure someone -almost inevitably. (Or to get them injured, if that’s a meaningful definition.)

Steven Poole ~
A doctor in a emergency triage situation who leaves one person to die because he judges himself to have a better chance of saving another does indeed intend to let the first person die — and (which is a different question) he is justified in doing so.

Soory to be rude, perhaps even dense but BS to both of those. There was no intent in either to cause harm, that it can be so comfortably twisted for some to read it into those situations is perhaps a far bigger issue than a climber falling or patient #2 expiring. What a wonderful world we have, eh?

If I walk across the caldera in Yellowstone there is risk, much is done to mitigate it, though idiots and accidents do happen which circumvent those attempts. There is no intent by the Ranger who flushed out trail details, by staff who worked on the trail, by the folks manning the entrance gate[s] to have done me harm if for example I step through the crust and boil my foot in acidic water or get eaten by a brown bear while smelling like a fresh stick of fried bacon. The intent of the doctor is not to let one patient die but to try and keep one from dieing – that he saves one and not the other is not intent to have one die. The intent of the climbing school charity founder[s] is to cause injury – that they happen does not prove there was intent for them to. [this assumes the ranger did not purposely guide me to a spot of known to have a crust thickness of 2mm; that the doctor did not choose to treat a cold over a knife wound to the chest; that the climbing school did hire Michael D Brown as headmaster and supply him with hemp twine and safety pins... ... ...]

but police officers are unambiguously civilians too.

Is it really that clearcut? On paper it is obvious…

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MarkUp 01.06.09 at 4:38 pm

The intent of the climbing school charity founder[s] is not to cause injury

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lemuel pitkin 01.06.09 at 4:56 pm

Is it really that clearcut?

Yes. From Chris’s link above:

yesterday’s bombing of the government offices…. included the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Labor, Construction and Housing. An announcement made by the IDF Spokesperson’s Office regarding this attack stated that, “the attack was carried out in response to the ongoing rocket and mortar-shell fire carried out by Hamas over Israeli territory, and in the framework of IDF operations to strike at Hamas governmental infrastructure and members active in the organization.”

If Gaza’s housing ministry does not employ civilians, then the term civilian just has no meaning.

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Steven Poole 01.06.09 at 5:13 pm

What I took to be obviously false is (#2) the doctrine that people always intend the natural and probable consequences of their actions. You yourself actually believe this doctrine to be false, for reasons that you formulated on your blog: people don’t always foresee the natural and probable consequences.

Oh, I had assumed it implicit in #2 that the people in question know the consequences to be “natural and probable”. If one reads it as you do, of course it’s false, but then (IANAL) I don’t believe any actually existing legal system holds that absurd position. (Just as no one I can think of is a “consequentalist” according to your description of it.)

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Chris Bertram 01.06.09 at 5:34 pm

I don’t think that is implicit at all, hence the “deeming” – they jolly well ought to have known, and we’ll treat them as if they did. So whether X actually intended A comes apart from whether the legal system treats them as intending A.

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Steven Poole 01.06.09 at 5:39 pm

But does any legal system so deem? Surely the offences of recklessness etc, as you pointed out on my thread, show they don’t.

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MarkUp 01.06.09 at 5:45 pm

”If Gaza’s housing ministry does not employ civilians, then the term civilian just has no meaning.”

I thought it’s meaning was/is shield, no? We do know that Hamas has a tendency to co-locate its weapons. We also know that civilians can willingly help and migrate in status. Of course what we don’t know prior is when it’s willing. We also know that all parties seek advantage in this area for many reasons and one only need look at the US use of private contractors in a conflicts to see how it can twist things coming and going. What we don’t know with any certainty is what else went on in those ‘gov’t’ locations. Our W House would be a prime military target even though it mostly houses civilians.

Is-real will of course claim it/they housed proper military targets; a housing inspector who says #10 Bombeddown St is destroyed and that there are IDF tanks across from it BTW does become a combatant in the eyes of some and if that info is transmitted from Housing Inspector Civil HQ then it also becomes suspect, does/can it not?

Hamas of course will deny any such info transfer took place, and especially not from Housing Inspector Civil HQ as it is strictly civilian. But if it did it only because they are crammed tighter than a Warsaw Ghetto and had to plug in the radio somewhere.

The other players in Gaza will of course curse both IDF and Hamas and are not unlikely to say whatever they feel will aid their POV’s cause the most.

We’ll skip the roles of the Big others for now, but those hands are stained as well.

The black and white in all this has been relegated to mere specks easily dismissed as eye floaters and all the gray is tainted with red. We are so far beyond civility here [there] that determining civilians is almost moot due in large part of actions /likely outcomes of containment by Israel and the helpers.

What we still don’t know is who cast the first stone, and it seems no one wants to ask that any longer.

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engels 01.06.09 at 5:50 pm

I think Jimmy and Daniel misunderstand the purpose of the distinction Velleman is making, which is not to provide an absolute ranking of the two categories of killing (in order to offer ‘spurious exculpation’ of one of the them) but to point out that they are different in kind. In this respect their misplaced objection to Velleman exactly parallels a common, misplaced objection to DDE.

The point is not that any killing of the one category must always be worse than a killing of the other category. DDE says that there is something specially moral wrong in intending to kill in contrast to killing as a foreseeable consequence of what one intends. Velleman says that foreseen but unintended killing is just as wrong in itself and the principle difference is that deliberate killing is the expression of a vice. (Perhaps I could gloss this by saying that what is most specially awful about intended killing, compared to foreseen but unintended killing, is not what happens to the victim but what happens or has happened to the killer?) In both cases, I take it the claim is that this is true all other things being equal. Just as DDE’s defenders can allow that the foreseen killing of a 1 000 civilians is morally worse than the deliberate killing of 5 civilians (to pick some numbers at random) I would imagine Velleman could allow that reckless indifference to unintended killing could in certain cases convict one of a viciousness of the same or worse degree as someone who intended to kill.

At least that is how I interpreted his comment, and I may well be wrong since I know very little about any of this.

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lemuel pitkin 01.06.09 at 5:54 pm

Markup, if you read the linekd article — or anything else on the conflict — you would know that Israel is *not* claiming that the Housing Ministry housed weapons. What they are actually claiming is that “Anything affiliated with Hamas is a legitimate target,” regardless of whether it is being used for military purposes or not.

Again, the IDF is *not* claiming that government buildings in Gaza are targets because they are housing weapons or soldiers; it is claiming that they are targets *simply becasue they are oeprated by Hamas* (which is, after all, the government of Gaza.) There is no he-said she-said here; this is what the IDF itself says it is doing.

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Chris Bertram 01.06.09 at 5:58 pm

I don’t know Steven. The fact that in English law you don’t have to have an intent to kill to satisfy the mens rea for murder but merely an intent to cause GBH looks relevant to me. But since I don’t have the kind of grip on the boundary between “oblique intent” and recklessness that a competent lawyer would have, I’d better leave it.

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engels 01.06.09 at 5:59 pm

And yes I think that quite apart from any of the points disputed here the action Israel is currently taking is morally indefensible.

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dsquared 01.06.09 at 6:09 pm

We do know that Hamas has a tendency to co-locate its weapons. We also know that civilians can willingly help and migrate in status

And if we’ve read Geneva Protocol 51(8), we know that “Any violation of these prohibitions shall not release the Parties to the conflict from their legal obligations with respect to the civilian population and civilians”

Is-real will of course claim it/they housed proper military targets; a housing inspector who says #10 Bombeddown St is destroyed and that there are IDF tanks across from it BTW does become a combatant in the eyes of some and if that info is transmitted from Housing Inspector Civil HQ then it also becomes suspect, does/can it not?

perhaps, but if they were hoping to prepare a defence against a charge of the war crime of “carry out an indiscriminate attack” under 51(5)b, they would probably want to come up with a “concrete and direct military advantage anticipated” rather than this wishy-washy “suspect”.

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Sebastian 01.06.09 at 6:20 pm

Chris, you write [regarding the discussions of lawyers and judges on 'intent] :

“Because it is supposed to get at the truth concerning a different question, namely, whether the subjective conditions for attributing responsibility are in place.”

and

“Well yes, Steven, mens rea. I’m not a lawyer, but it is interesting that different jurisdictions use different conditions to express the view that a person foresaw a consequence that wasn’t their purpose. The UK has “oblique intention” the US has “knowingly” etc. They aren’t in the business of trying to explicate the folk concept of intention.”

First, they pretty much are in the business of trying to explicate the folk concept of intention. All of the legal wranglings (both in legislatures and in courtrooms) are fundamentally about that. The question is fundamentally “Is it fair to hold someone morally and legally responsible in some tangible way when they had thinking X which didn’t track exactly with consequence Y”. The legal discussion of that has been very far ranging and detailed. The fact that it arises in a legal context, and has legal consequences, does not mean that the findings regarding community understandings of responsibility are strictly limited to that arena. Legislators are responsible to the community in the long run, which is why the generally bad crime/punishment theories of the 1970s in the US have been discarded (though perhaps too firmly discarded, as they weren’t ENTIRELY without useful insight).

The question of whether or not Israel should be subject to certain consequences for the results of action X which has additional conseqence Y is very similar to the criminal responsibility case. Of course it is, as many want Israel to stop doing action X or face international consequences.

[The international consequences to be faced by Hamas for engaging in similar action X seem to be different. This is interesting in a discussion of *intention* as it is clear that Hamas *intends* to kill Israeli citizens, they are just bad at it because of lack of good weapons and because of relatively good Israeli defences. Attempting to do a wrong thing and failing is in 'folk concept of intention' considered worse than attempting to a permitted thing and having bad consequences (see for example attempting to kill your wife and failing vs. allowing yourself to be distracted by the kid in the back seat of your SUV and running someone off the road to their death). This folk understanding seems to be reversed in the example of the international treatment of Hamas.

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SamChevre 01.06.09 at 6:21 pm

Again, the IDF is not claiming that government buildings in Gaza are targets because they are housing weapons or soldiers; it is claiming that they are targets simply becasue they are oeprated by Hamas (which is, after all, the government of Gaza.)

Right, and this is standard laws-of-war. (Unlike the civilian shields issue, which is in some dispute.) There is NO prohibition on attacking the Pentagon, or an Army kitchen, even if the Army is the “government” of the area.

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Sebastian 01.06.09 at 6:27 pm

dsquared you respond to “We do know that Hamas has a tendency to co-locate its weapons. We also know that civilians can willingly help and migrate in status”

with

“And if we’ve read Geneva Protocol 51(8), we know that “Any violation of these prohibitions shall not release the Parties to the conflict from their legal obligations with respect to the civilian population and civilians”

Quite. But if you believe that Parties under the Geneva conventions have a legal obligation not to target military sites which co-locate civilians, you are incorrect.

So your quotation of that language isn’t on point.

Now if you want to argue that a tendency to co-locate doesn’t let Israel off the hook in showing that this particular site was a co-location, I’m right there with you. But you seem to be saying more than that.

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MarkUp 01.06.09 at 6:54 pm

lemuel, you flatter me so.

First, so you know where my feet are, [to save a few words] I’d be in agreement w/ engels bit above with the exception of “currently,” as it goes much deeper than that.

Of course Hamas is not comprised of angels either. He said/she said certainly does come in to play here/now as none of this started or is based purely on yesterdays event[s] or todays definitions. No, that does not excuse abuses by either/any party, but nonetheless it is.

Isn’t there an addendum somewhere for Section 51 that excuses those with more money or bigger sticks? There must be.

”they would probably want to come up with a “concrete and direct military advantage anticipated””

Those can be found in aluminum tube caches after the fact. If needed. Like our VP sayeth, if you don’t get punished for an action it is not wrong, ergo if you do get punished it must have been. Israel had a bit of sand kicked in their face, the folks of Gaza are being punished. It’s obvious who is wrong here. What’s to be done? Hamas and the folks of Gaza do have reason to be righteously PO’d; Hamas did and does fire {PR stunt} rockets in to Israel. It would be nice if all played by the “rules” but they don’t. Until there is will to punish with equality rules will continue to be disregarded and the family jewels sent to friends in Florida.

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Matt 01.06.09 at 6:59 pm

engles in 71- I think that’s just about right.

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troll who still hasn't gotten that 'reading' thing quite down yet 01.06.09 at 7:05 pm

yr not a philosopher at all, Henry. More like a little whiny gangsta mollie who conflates irish sentimentality with something like duty——

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David Velleman 01.06.09 at 7:25 pm

Tom (#45)

Yes, that’s what I thought the DDE said, and I say it’s hooey. You’re right that I gave no argument for this view. That’s because my comment about the DDE was an aside. My main point was that the Israeli killings of civilians are intentional, in a sense that bears on their moral status.

To others who have addressed comments to me: sorry that I can’t reply. I’m writing this from a phone, and won’t have better connectivity soon.

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David Velleman 01.06.09 at 7:27 pm

Of course, I meant ‘hooey’ in the technical sense.

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praisegod barebones 01.06.09 at 8:12 pm

a) ‘I have a question for you sagacious philosophers. How would you stop the horrible casualties on both sides ? Please, one of you respond.’

I’d like to think that if anyone on this thread had an answer to *that* question, they wouldn’t be working in academia.

‘an intuition that was published by Gil Harman back in the 1970s’

b) It’s a while since I read it, but doesn’t Ryle make a similar point about uses of the word ‘voluntary’ in ‘The Concept of Mind’?

c) Am I the only person here to be more than a little surprised that someone well-known for their work in action theory and working in what is widely thought to be one of the world’s leading philosophy departments should be a bit hazy about what DDE actually says?

That’s not intended as a personal attack on David V., much of whose work I greatky admire. But if something like that is happening – without comment – isn’t it a sign of academic specialisms slicing too fine?

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sg 01.06.09 at 8:21 pm

I reckon some people are getting tied up in knots here because they’re confusing some irrelevant philosophical notion of intent (i.e. what the combatants actually really really intend) with the real world notion of intent. We don’t judge the real world intent of real world militaries by what they say (although some people here seem to be), because they lie every time they open their mouths. We judge them by what they do.

This is tautological but it has to be done. We look at what Israel is doing and infer that they intend to harm civilians, regardless of what they say. Then we conclude that the doctrine of double effect doesn’t apply, because they intended the civilian deaths all along. This kind of muddies the philosophical debate a bit. Maybe 1000 years from now when we are all ruled by the Muslim Caliphate we can ship the Israeli records to Londonistan and find out what they really intended, and judge their actions philosophically. But until that glorious day, we are stuck with our external perceptions of everyone’s intentions, and we have to judge the validity of the doctrine of double effect from the same evidence we use to judge the intention underlying it.

If we really want to argue about double effect, it seems to me that a conflict where peoples’ stated and real intentions could be more easily reconciled would provide a better model.

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Steven Poole 01.06.09 at 9:02 pm

I agree with Engels at #71.

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dsquared 01.06.09 at 10:08 pm

But if you believe that Parties under the Geneva conventions have a legal obligation not to target military sites which co-locate civilians, you are incorrect

I believe that parties have the obligation under Protocol 51(4) and 51(5)b to avoid attacks “which may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, damage to civilian objects, or a combination thereof, which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated.”

Nobody has made a convincing argument (or indeed an argument at all as far as I can see) that there is any concrete and direct military advantage anticipated in bombing the Hamas police building or public works inspectorate which would be such as to make the loss of civilian life, injury to civilians and damage to civilian objects anything other than excessive. Several Israeli government officials have stated, in more or less so many words that a major aim of the bombing campaign was to weaken political support for Hamas among the noncombatant population of Gaza, which appears to me to be very likely an example of “acts or threats of violence the primary purpose of which is to spread terror among the civilian population ” (prohibited under Protocol 51(2) or making civilian objects the object of reprisals (under 52(1)).

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dsquared 01.06.09 at 10:13 pm

(for example, Israeli soldiers often travel on civilian buses; the simple presence of a couple of soldiers “colocated” on a bus full of civilians does not make that bus a legitimate target for suicide bombers, because the damage and death caused to noncombatants is excessive relative to the military advantage anticipated).

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Sebastian 01.06.09 at 11:25 pm

You don’t incidentally store arms at a civilian location and certainly not rockets, the way a soldier might use a bus on leave.

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Stuart 01.06.09 at 11:29 pm

Ah but what if those same two Israeli soldiers on the bus full of civilians was hanging out the windows taking pot shots at any arabs they passed, and there was a Palestinian nearby with an RPG, would he be morally okay to fire on the bus now?

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dsquared 01.07.09 at 12:05 am

You don’t incidentally store arms at a civilian location and certainly not rockets, the way a soldier might use a bus on leave.

This has nothing to do with the protected status of noncombatants, which (as the quoted text makes it very clear) is absolute in nature, is not altered for either party by the failure of its opponent to do its duty in protecting that status, and which makes it illegal to carry out an attack causing incidental damage to those civilians which is excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage obtained. Stop blowing smoke.

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dana 01.07.09 at 1:08 am

You don’t incidentally store arms at a civilian location and certainly not rockets, the way a soldier might use a bus on leave.

And that doesn’t mean all that much. Look, people are tending to treat DDE (and its derivations) as if it’s some no-cooties-no-backsies idea, where all you have to say is “but I didn’t meeeeean to” and point to something else that you did (or to something They did) intend in order to escape culpability for the foreseen-but-unintended side effects. But that’s just not how it works. The point is to minimize the effect of war on civilians insofar as that’s possible given legitimate military ends.

And that means things like proportionality matter. We could probably kill Osama bin Laden by nuking quite a lot of Pakistan, but no one would say that would be justified, even if it wasn’t our intention to nuke lots of innocent people. And it works in other examples, too. If the military target is small (say, a couple of rockets) and not worth the loss of a school’s worth of children, the fact that your enemy decided to hide the small target in the school does not give you carte blanche to blow up the school while it’s in session.

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MarkUp 01.07.09 at 2:57 am

”The point is to minimize the effect of war on civilians insofar as that’s possible given legitimate military ends.”

So should we sue both sides in to bankruptcy and throw the lot in debtors prison, divide up the Holy sites and send them to those most in need of tourist attractions? There is plenty of fault to go around here but little that realistically gets accomplished in meting out punishment except to the weakest of the parties. Too many supply the weapons willingly. Too many provide cover of excuse willingly. One side seems unearthly afraid of having become Goliath knowing how that story played out not only in days of yore, but appears to be with its’ puppet[master]. There are no new crimes here just repetitions with more timely media. Perhaps that will make a difference this time but past experience bodes not well for that. Until the Lancet goes in for an excess deaths count what do we really know? Perhaps after that we can get a new resolution out of the UN for US to block. And life goes on for some.

”and not worth the loss of a school’s worth of children, the fact that your enemy decided to hide the small target in the school does not give you carte blanche to blow up the school while it’s in session.”

When some one is punished for that kind of act then you will be correct.

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Donald Johnson 01.07.09 at 3:08 am

If we’re talking about actual events in Gaza and not hypothetical scenarios, Andrew Whitley of the UN relief team in Gaza (I forget his actual title) says there were no Hamas weapons or fighters at the school where the dozens of civilians were killed–

Link

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Patrick S. O'Donnell 01.07.09 at 3:51 am

Some contributors to and readers of this thread may be interested in recent two posts of mine at the Ratio Juris blog: “Israeli Bombardment of Gaza, etc.”: http://ratiojuris.blogspot.com/2008/12/israeli-bombardment-of-gaza-etc.html
and “Israel & Democracy: Beyond Zionism?”: http://ratiojuris.blogspot.com/2009/01/israel-and-democracy-beyond-zionism.html

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MarkUp 01.07.09 at 3:59 am

“They dropped a million pounds of bombs,” Kissinger briefed Nixon. “A million pounds of bombs,” Nixon exclaimed. “Goddamn, that must have been a good strike.” “That shock treatment [is] cracking them,” Nixon declared. “I tell you the thing to do is pour it in there every place we can…just bomb the hell out of them.”

The conversation, secretly recorded by both Kissinger and Nixon without the other’s knowledge, reveals that the President and his national security advisor shared a belief in 1972 that the war could still be won. http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB263/index.htm

Maybe in a non-hypothetical sense “we” have gotten better and just don’t know it yet. Perhaps we’ll get lucky and Henry and his gravitas will provide some commentary on the present day situation.

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ajay 01.07.09 at 9:35 am

Henry V on the Doctrine of Double Effect:

So, if a son that is by his father sent about merchandise do sinfully miscarry upon the sea, the imputation of his wickedness, by your rule, should be imposed upon his father that sent him: or if a servant, under his master’s command transporting a sum of money, be assailed by robbers and die in many irreconciled iniquities, you may call the business of the master the author of the servant’s damnation. But this is not so: the king is not bound to answer the particular endings of his soldiers, the father of his son, nor the master of his servant; for they purpose not their death when they purpose their services…

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Tracy W 01.07.09 at 9:47 am

ajay – good point. Can I reformulate to “we can however statistically expect that some children will be killed on the way to or from school – this doesn’t mean that anyone who advocates schools is intending to kill kids”.

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Chris Bertram 01.07.09 at 10:51 am

I’m going to make a final comment (I *know* I’ve said that before!), cross-post to both threads and then retire. I’d like to thank Steven Poole, especially, for prompting me to think more about some of these issues. One thing that seems clear from both discussions is that uses of “intend”, “intention”, “unintentionally” etc are fraught with complexity and that we need to be careful to make clear what we are trying to say rather than relying on the assumption that our readers and hearers will spontaneously attach the same meanings.

That said, I was trying very early this morning to construct an example which involved me going to the bathroom in the middle of the night and waking my partner, and then found that Michael Bratman uses a very similar example in a discussion of … David Velleman. Since Bratman says clearly what I’d merely stumble towards I think I’ll rely on him:

bq. I arrive home late at night and wonder whether to turn on the light even though that will, unfortunately, wake up Susan. On reflection I decide to turn it on, for I worry I will otherwise trip over something. I intend to turn on the light – and expect but do not intend – that I will thereby wake up Susan. I have an intention and a related self-prediction that is not an intention.

bq. Why say that I expect but do not intend to wake up Susan, even though I made my decision in full awareness that I would wake her up by turning on the light? The answer is that I do not satisfy any of a trio of conditions, satisfaction of which seems characteristic of intention: I am not at all disposed to explore alternative means to waking Susan if it turns out the light bulb isn’t working; nor am I disposed to rule out other options because of their incompatibility with my waking of Susan; nor do I see myself as faced with a problem of what means to use in order to to wake up Susan. (“Cognitivism about Practical Reason”, in Bratman’s _Faces of Intention_ p. 258.

That seems about right to me. On the other issues, I think we’ve at least established consensus that intention doesn’t track culpability and that “unintentionally” is not exculpatory.

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Steven Poole 01.07.09 at 11:10 am

Thank you too, Chris. My reponse here.

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Matt McGrattan 01.07.09 at 12:10 pm

Bratman’s comment tracks quite closely (what I understand of) Gerd Sommerhoff’s definition of what it is to have a goal.

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Bunbury 01.07.09 at 12:30 pm

All very good but at some point you try to get home early, tidy up, buy a bedside light or sleep on the couch.

The DDE doesn’t seem that significant in the Gaza situation in that it wouldn’t move things on much further than a comparison of body counts (The fourth test in either formulation in the SEP) and it raises the question of whether the tactics would be at all effective without the apparently collateral damage. It suggests that the predictable body count is what needs to be considered — the DDE does not discount the not directly intended deaths in any way, if they are foreseen they are in the mix.

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geo 01.07.09 at 7:09 pm

Bunbury: All very good but at some point you try to get home early, tidy up, buy a bedside light or sleep on the couch.

Or, as Bernard Avishai said the other day at TPM Cafe: All along, Israel might have made a strong statement of a different kind. It might have endorsed the obvious features a two-state solution, like the ones worked out with President Clinton just before he left office in 2001. It might have helped strengthen the Palestinians’ immunity to Hamas ideology, creating a stronger civil society, new businesses, new schools, new Palestinian cooperation with international peace-keepers and investors.

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