2. It is never lawful directly to kill an innocent man. Understand innocent in the social and political sense, of a man who has not, by any human act (Ethics, c. i., n. 2, p. 1) of his own, done any harm to society so grievous as to compare with loss of life. To kill, or work any other effect, directly, is to bring about that death, or other effect, willing the same, either as an end desirable in itself, as when a man slays his enemy, whose death of its own sheer sake is to him a satisfaction and a joy, or as a means to an end, as Richard III. murdered his nephews to open his own way to the throne. We must then in no case compass the death of the innocent, either intending it as an end, or choosing it as a means. The assertion is proved by these considerations. To kill a man is to destroy the human nature within him: for, though the soul survives, he is man no more when he is dead. Now to destroy a thing is to subordinate that thing entirely to your self and your own purposes: for that individual thing can never serve any other purpose, once it is destroyed. The man that is killed is then subordinated to the slayer, wholly given up, and as we say, sacrificed, to the aims and purposes of him who slays him. But that ought not to be, for man is a person. Body and soul in him make one person, one personal nature, which human personality is destroyed in death. Now it is the property of a person to be what we may call autocentric, referring its own operations to itself as to a centre. Every person -- and every intelligent nature is a person [The exception apparent in the Incarnation is not relevant here.] -- exists and acts primarily for himself. A thing is marked off from a person by the aptitude of being another's and for another. We may venture to designate it by the term heterocentric. A person therefore may destroy a thing, entirely consume and use it up for his own benefit. But he may not treat a person as a thing and destroy that, either for any end of pleasure that he finds in destroying it, or in view of any gain or good, whereunto that destruction serves him as a means.
3. In the above argumentation account has not been taken of God, to whom for His sovereign dominion all created personalities stand in the light of things, and may be destroyed at His pleasure. But account has been taken of the State, to which the individual is subordinate as a citizen, but not as a man and a person. It is permitted no more to the State than to the individual ever to destroy the innocent directly.
4. An effect is brought about indirectly when it is neither intended as an end for its own sake, not chosen as a means making towards an end, but attaches as a circumstance concomitant either to the end intended or to the means chosen. The case of a circumstance so attaching to the means chosen is the only case that we need consider here in speaking of indirect, concomittant, or incidental effects. The study of these incidents is of vast importance to the moralist. Most cases of practical difficulty to decide between right and wrong, arise out of them. They are best illustrated in the manner of killing. That one matter, well worked out, becomes a pattern for other matters in which they occur. (Ethics, c. iii., s. ii., p. 31.)
5. A man is killed indirectly, or incidentally, when he perishes in consequence of certain means employed towards a certain end, without his death being willed by the employer of those means, or in any way serving that agent to the furtherance of the end that he has in view. If a visitor to a quarry were standing on a piece of rock, which a quarryman had occasion to blast, and the man fired the train regardless of the visitor, the latter would be incidentally killed. Now incidental killing, even of the innocent, is not under all circumstances unlawful. Where the end in view is in the highest degree important, the means may be taken thereto, provided always that such an issue as the shedding of innocent blood be not itself the means discerned and elected as furthering the end: for no end however urgent can justify the employment of any evil means. (Ethics, c. iii., s. ii., nn. 3, 13, pp. 32, 36.) Suppose in the instance just given the quarryman saw that, unless that piece of rock where the visitor stood were blown up instantly, a catastrophe would happen elsewhere, which would be the death of many men, and there were no time to warn the visitor to clear off, who could blame him if he applied the explosive? The means of averting the catastrophe would be, not that visitor's death, but the blowing up of the rock. The presence or absence of the visitor, his death or escape, is all one to the end intended: it has no bearing thereon at all.
6. We must then distinguish between means and circumstances. The means help to the end, the circumstances of the means do not. When the end is of extreme urgency, circumstances may be disregarded: the means become morally divested of them. So I have seen an island in a river, a nucleus of rock with an environment of alluvial soil. While the stream was flowing placidly in its usual course, the island remained intact, both rock and earth. But when the water came rushing in a flood, which was as though the island itself had gone speeding up the river, the loose matter at its sides was carried away, and only the central rock remained. The ordinary flow of the river past the island, or the gentle motion of the island up-stream, keeping all its bulk, represents a man acting for an end to which reason attaches no great importance. He must then take a diligent review of all the circumstances that have any close connection with his action, to see if there is any that it would be wrong for him to will directly. And if there is, he must abstain from willing it even indirectly: that is, he must abstain from doing the action, which cannot be done without that objectionable circumstance attending it. On the other hand, the floating island being towed rapidly upstream, with its loose sides falling away, portrays the condition of one acting for a purpose of imperative urgency: he considers the means to that end, and if they are good, he concentrates his will upon them and uses them, disregarding, or even deploring, but nowise willing or being responsible for, the evil concomitants which go with those means, but do not make for his end. Thus it is, that a circumstance which in ordinary cases goes to make the adoption Of certain means reasonable or unreasonable, comes, in a case of great urgency, to weigh for nothing in the balance of reason, owing to the extreme and crying reasonableness of the end in view. Nor is this the end justifying the means, for that unhappy circumstance is never a means to the end. (Ethics, c. iii., s. ii., n. 8, p. 34.)
7. To illustrate by a diagram:
A, the agent, a bead on a wire, can move only on the line A E, that alone being the line of means to the end.
E V, reasonableness of end in view, attracting A.
U C, the amount of moral evil which the untoward circumstance, would involve, if it were willed directly. This U C repels A, tending to jam it on the line A E, which is absolutely rigid.
A E, remoteness, difficulty, and uncertainty of the end in view.
A U, remoteness of untoward circumstance from means chosen, which A is just in the act of taking. Then, for lawful action, the reasonableness required in the end in view is represented by the variation --
UC . AE EV ~~ _________ AUWe observe that when AU is zero, while UC . AE remains a finite quantity (representing an appreciable evil), then EV becomes infinite: that is to say, when the distance, difference, or distinction between the evil circumstance and the means comes down to nothing at all, and the evil thing actually is the very means taken, then an infinite urgency of end in view would be requisite to justify the using of that means. in other words, no end possible to man can ever justify an evil means.
Readings. -- St.Thos., 2a 2ae, q. 64, art. 6; Cardinal de Lugo, De Justitia et Jure, disp. 10, n. 125.
"There is nothing to hinder one act having two effects, of which one only is within the intention [and election] of the doer, while the other is beside his intention [and election, that is, is neither intended as an end nor elected as a means] . . . . From the act therefore of one defending himself a twofold effect may follow, one the preservation of his own life, the other the killing of the aggressor. Now such an act, in so far as the preservation of the doer's own life is intended, has no taint of evil about it, seeing that it is natural to everything to preserve itself in being as much as it can. Nevertheless, an act coming of a good intention may be rendered unlawful, if it be not in proportion to the end in view. And therefore, if any one uses greater violence than is necessary for the defence of his life, it will be unlawful. But if he repels the violence in a moderate way, it will be a lawful defence: for according to the Civil and Canon Laws it is allowable to repel force by force with the moderation of a blameless defence. Nor is it necessary to salvation for a man to omit the act of moderate defence in order to avoid the killing of another; because man is more bound to take thought for his own life than for the life of his neighbour. But because to kill a man is not allowable except by act of public authority for the common good, it is unlawful for a man to intend [that is, elect and choose as a means] to kill another man in order to defend himself, unless he be one who has public authority, who intending [electing] to kill a man in order to his own defence, refers this to the public good."
2. The right then of self-defence even to the shedding of blood involves a mere exercise of indirect killing for a proportionably grave cause. The cause in question is the defence of your own life, or your friend's, or of some other good or possession that can weigh with life, as the honour and inviolability of your person, or a large sum of money. This must be in present danger of being taken away otherwise than in due course of justice. The danger must be present, and even imminent, not prospective. The right of self-defence even to the grievous harming of the aggressor, endures only while the danger from him is imminent, not when it is past, or the evil is already done. The right supposes no moral obliquity, no formal injustice on the part of the aggressor: he may be a madman making for you with a drawn sword. Nay further, not even material injustice -- that is, the quality of an act which would be formally unjust, if only the agent knew what he was about -- is required. All that is requisite is that your life, or something equivalent to life, be threatened, not in due course of law.
3. The essential idea of self-defence is that of stopping a trespasser, one who, however innocently, is going about to trench on that good which you have a right to maintain and reserve to yourself. It is then no act of authority that you perform, but the dealing of one private person with another. Indeed, the party stopped is hardly regarded as a person: no account is taken of his demerits: he is regarded simply as an abridger and diminisher of what you have a right to preserve intact. You stop a man as you stop a horse, only with more regard to the moderation of a blameless self-defence, not using more violence than is necessary here and now to preserve what you have to preserve.
4. The stopping, unfortunately, has often to be done in a hurry: there is no time to wait: for the next moment, unless you act promptly, it will be all too late, or all to no purpose, to act at all. Being done in a hurry, it has to be done in a rough-and-ready way, with such instruments as are to hand: you cannot afford to be nice about the means, carefully purifying them, and shaking off the dust of objectionable circumstances. Now to stop a man in mid career all on a sudden, to render him powerless where he was about to strike, motionless in the direction whither he was about to go, and that in an instant, is of common necessity a rude treatment, very dangerous to him who experiences it, and under some conceivable, circumstances hopelessly fatal. Still the fatality -- in plain words, the death of the aggressor -- is not directly willed. It is neither intended as an end, nor chosen as a means to an end. It is not welcomed as an end and desirable consummation: on the contrary, it is put up with most reluctantly as coming from your act: for you, a private individual, have no right to will and effect the death of any man, however guilty, as will be proved hereafter. It is not chosen as a means: for, formally as his death, it is no means to your end, which was the averting of all present danger to your right. For that it was enough to stop the trespasser; and you chose the means as a stopping means, not as a killing means. True, in stopping him you killed him, but you did not kill him to stop him. You struck him to stop him: that your blow was a mortal blow, was a circumstance which you did not choose and could not help. All killing then in self-defence is indirect.
5. By this explanation, resting on St. Thomas -- in opposition to Cardinal de Lugo (De Just. et Jure. 10, 149) and others, who allow killing in self-defence to be the actual means chosen, and therefore directly willed -- we save four grand positions in Moral Science:
(a) The axiom, that it is never lawful directly to take the life of an innocent man. For the person who perishes by occasion of your defending yourself, may be innocent formally, and even materially also.
(b) Likewise the axiom, that it is never lawful for a private individual to kill any one whatever. We say, from a technical standpoint, that he does not kill but arrests the onset of the aggressor.
(c) We are in hearty accord with the positive law of all civilized countries, which views with extreme suspicion all deaths said to be done in self-defence, the law being jealous of the blood of its citizens, and reserving the shedding thereof to itself. We teach that only by process of law can a man ever be directly slain, his death made a means of, and the person, who strikes him, really willing and seeking, exactly speaking, to kill him.
(d) The initial error is revealed of a theory that we shall have to combat at length hereafter, the theory of Hobbes and Locke, that the power of the State is the mere agglomeration of the powers of the individuals who compose it. It appears by our explanation that the individual has no power strictly to take life in any case, or ever to kill directly, as the State does when it executes a criminal.
As a fifth point gained, we may mention the efficacious argument afforded, as will presently be shown, against the acceptance of a duel under any conceivable circumstances, a thesis otherwise not easy to establish by reason.
6. In view of the question of the origin of civil government, we must carefully collect the differences between self-defence and punishment. Death occasioned in self-defence is indirect: death inflicted as punishment is direct. Punishment is an act of authority, of distributive justice, which lies from ruler to subject (Ethics, c. v., s. ix., n. 4, p.104): self-defence is of equal against equal. Punishment is medicinal to him who suffers it, or deterrent on behalf of the community, or retributive in the way of vengeance. (Ethics, c. ix., s. iii., n. 4.) Self-defence is not on behalf of the community, still less for the good of the aggressor, but for the good of him who practises it and for the preservation of his right: neither is it retributive and retrospective, as vengeance is, but simply prospective and preventive of a harm immediately imminent. Finally, the right. to punish abides day and night: but the right of self-defence holds only while instant aggression is threatened.
7. These two diverse ideas of self-defence and vengeance were confounded by the Greeks under the one verb amunesthai. They are confounded by Mill, On Utility, in the fifth chapter where he speaks (p. 77) of the "instinct of self-defence," which nine lines below he converts into "the natural feeling of retaliation or vengeance." It is a common but a grave mistake, and the parent of much bad philosophy.
Readings. -- St. Thos., 2a 2ae, q. 64, art. 7.
2. To all these questions there is one good answer returned by Paley on the principle of General Consequences. (Ethics, c. x., n. 3, p. 178.)
"The true question of this argument is no other than this: May every man who chooses to destroy his life, innocently do so? Limit and distinguish the subject as you can, it will come at last to this question. For, shall we say that we are then at liberty to commit suicide, when we find our continuance in life becomes useless to mankind? Anyone who pleases, may make himself useless; and melancholy minds are prone to think themselves useless when they really are not so. . . . In like manner, whatever other rule you assign, it will ultimately bring us to an indiscriminate toleration of suicide, in all cases in which there is danger of its being committed. It remains, therefore, to enquire what would be the effect of such a toleration: evidently, the loss of many lives to the community, of which some might be useful or important; the affliction of many families, and the consternation of all: for mankind must live in continual alarm for the fate of their friends, when every disgust which is powerful enough to tempt men to suicide, shall be deemed sufficient to justify it." (Moral Philosophy, bk. iv., c. iii.)
A word in confirmation of Paley on the plan of the medico-clerical certificate. There would be doctors, and I fear clergymen too, who would get a name for giving these certificates easily: under their hand many a patient might be smothered by his attendants with or without his own consent. Many another wretch would consider, that if the learned and reverend gentlemen empowered to license his departure from life only felt what he had to endure, there would be no difficulty about the certificate: so be would depart on presumed leave. The whole effect would be to make men less tender of their own lives, and by consequence of those of others, to the vast unsettling of society.
3. An argument from general consequences, however, does not go down into the depths of things. There is always something morally crooked and inordinate in an action itself, the general consequences whereof are bad. It remains to point out the moral crookedness, inordination, and unreasonableness, that is intrinsic to the act of suicide, apart from its consequences. We find the inordination in this, that suicide is an act falling upon undue matter, being an act destructive of that which the agent has power over only to preserve. It is natural to every being, animate and inanimate, to the full extent of its entity and power, to maintain itself, and to resist destruction as long as it can. This is the struggle for existence, one of the primary laws of nature. Man has intelligence and power over himself, that he may conduct his own struggle well and wisely. He may struggle more or less, as he sees expedient, looking to higher goods even than self-preservation in this mortal life: but he may not take that power of managing himself, which nature invests him with for his preservation, and use it to his own destruction. Should he do so, he perverts the natural order of his own being, and thereby sins. (Ethics, c. vi., s. i., nn. 1-5, p. 109.)
4. It may be objected, that man is only bound to self-preservation so long as life is a blessing; that, when the scale of death far outweighs that of life in desirableness, it is cruelty to himself to preserve his life any longer, and a kindness to himself to destroy it; that in such a plight, accordingly, it is not unnatural for a man to put himself, not so much out of life as out of misery. To this argument it is sometimes answered that, whereas death is the greatest of evils, it is foolish and wicked to resort to dying as a refuge against any other calamity. But this answer proves too much. It would show that it is never lawful even to wish for death: whereas under many conditions, such as those now under consideration, death is a consummation devoutly to be wished, and may be most piously desired, as a gain and by comparison a good: as Ecclesiasticus says (xxx. 17): "Better is death than a bitter life, and everlasting rest than continual sickness." The truth seems to be, that there are many things highly good and desirable in themselves, which become evil when compassed in a particular way. The death of a great tyrant or persecutor may be a blessing to the universe, but his death by the hand of an assassin is an intolerable evil. So is death, as the schoolmen say, in facto esse, and everlasting rest, better than a bitter life, but not death in fieri, when that means dying by your own hand. There the unnaturalness comes in and the irrationality. A mother, watching the death agony of her son, may piously wish it over -- but it were an unmotherly act to lay her own hand on his mouth and smother him. To lay violent hands on oneself is abidingly cruel and unnatural, more so than if the suicide's own mother slew him.
5. But though a man may not use actual violence against his own person, may he not perhaps cease to preserve himself, abstain from food, as the Roman noble did, in the tortures of the gout, and by abstaining end them? I answer, a man's taking food periodically is as much part of his life as the coursing of the blood in his veins. It is doing himself no less violence to refuse food ready to hand, when he is starving, on purpose that he may starve, than to open a vein on purpose to bleed to death. This, when the food is readily accessible: the case is otherwise when it is not procurable except by extraordinary means.
6. Another consideration. To destroy a thing is the exclusive right of the owner and master of the same. If therefore man is his own master, in the sense that no one else can claim dominion over him, may he not accordingly destroy himself? The metaphysician will point out that master denotes a relation, that every relation has two terms, that consequently a man cannot be his own master any more than he can be his own father; and that, not owning himself, he may not destroy himself. But, leaving this metaphysical argument for what it is worth, we observe that man has a Master, Owner, Proprietor, and Sovereign Lord, God Almighty. To take your own life is to usurp the dominion of God. It is wronging the Lord of life and death. But none is wronged against his will: God is willing that murderers should be hung, may He not also be willing that men in misery should bang themselves? To this query suffice it for the present to reply, that God governs us for our good; and that capital punishment makes for the good of the community, but never suicide. (c. viii., s. viii., n. 7, p. 349.)
7. It was the doctrine of Aristotle and the Greeks, that the citizen belongs to the State, and that therefore suicide was robbing the State and doing it a formal injury. But no modern State takes this view of its subjects. No modern mind would place suicide in the same category of crime with robbing the Exchequer.
8. The great deterrent against suicide, in cases where misery meets with recklessness, is the thought,
In that sleep of death what dreams may come I! --
above all, the fear of being confronted with an angry God. Away from belief in God's judgments and a future state, our arguments against suicide may be good logic, but they make poor rhetoric for those who need them most. Men are wonderfully imitative in killing themselves. Once the practice is come in vogue, it becomes a rage, an epidemic. Atheism and Materialism form the best nidus for the contagion of suicide. It is a shrewd remark of Madame de Stael: "Though there are crimes of a darker hue than suicide yet there is none other by which man seems so entirely to renounce the protection of God."
Readings. -- Ar., Eth., III., vii., 13; ib., V., xi., nn. 1-3 ; St. Thos., 2a 2ae, q. 64, art. 5; St. Aug. De Civitate Dei, i., cc. 26, 27; Paley, Mor. Phil., bk. iv., c. iii.
2. The hard case in duelling is the case of him who receives the challenge. Let us make the case as hard as possible. In a certain army, every challenge sent to an officer is reported to a Court of Honour. If the Court decide that it ought to be accepted, accept the officer must, or lose his commission and all hope of military distinction. In this army, say, there is an officer of high promise who is believed to object to duels on conscientious grounds. An enemy pretends to have been insulted, and challenges him, on purpose to see him refuse and have to go down into the ranks, his career spoilt. The Court of Honour rules that the duel must come off. Of this very case, Reiffenstuel, a canonist of repute, about the year 1700, writes:
"The answer is, that they who in such cases are so necessitated and constrained to offer, or accept, a duel, as that unless they offered, or accepted it, they would be held cowardly, craven, mean, and unfit to bear office in the army, and consequently would be deprived of the office that they actually enjoy, and support themselves and their family by, or would for ever forfeit all hope of promotion, otherwise their due and desert, -- these I say in such a case are free from all fault and penalty, whether they offer or accept a duel." (In lib. v. decret., tit. 14, nn. 30, 31.)
The author protests in his Preface that he wishes his opinions "all and each to be subject to the judgment, censure, and correction of the Holy Catholic Church." The opinion above quoted was condemned, word for word as it was uttered, by Pope Benedict XIV. in 1752.
Now for Reiffenstuel's reason. "The reason," he says, "is, because in such a case as is supposed the acceptance and offering of a duel is an absolutely necessary, and thereby a just and lawful, defence of your reputation, or goods of fortune, and, by equivalence, even of your life, against an unjust aggressor, who we suppose does you an injury, and thereby gives you no choice but to call him out, or calls you out, and accordingly assails you in words, &c. Hence, as for the needful defence of reputation, or of goods of fortune of great consequence, it is lawful, with the moderation of a blameless defence, to kill an unjust aggressor, so it will be also lawful to offer and accept a duel, and therein slay the other party." Reiffenstuel here evidently supposes that killing done in self-defence is direct. Those who agree with him on that point, proceed to draw differences between self-defence and accepting a challenge. Of course the two are not the same. The true difficulty for them lies in making out how the reasons which justify self-defence in their view of it, do not also justify the acceptance of a duel: how, if I may make another man's death a means to the preservation of my vital right, I may not as well make another man's risk of death and my own, which is all that a duel amounts to, also a means, none other being at hand, to the preserving of my no less vital right. This grave objection does not touch us. We have denied that killing in self-defence is direct. On the lines of that denial we meet Reiffenstuel's argument simply as follows.
In self-defence, the aggressor is slain indirectly. In a duel, not indeed the death itself, or mutual slaughter of the combatants, is directly willed, but the risk of mutual slaughter is directly willed. But we may not directly will the risk of that which we may not directly do. And the combatants may not directly do themselves or one another to death. Therefore they may not directly risk each his own and his antagonist's life. But this risk is of the essence of a duel. Therefore duelling is essentially unlawful.
4. Such is the clenched fist, so to speak, of our argument. Now to open it out, and prove in detail the several members. In self-defence, neither the death of the aggressor nor the risk of his death is directly willed, whereas the risk of death is directly willed in a duel, which difference entirely bars the argument from self-defence to duelling. For a duel is a means of recovering and preserving honour, which is effected by a display of fortitude, which again consists in exposing yourself to the risk of being killed, and, as part of the bargain, of killing the other man. The risk to life is of the essence of a duel: it only attains its end -- of establishing a man's character for courage -- by being dangerous to life. Fortitude essentially consists in braving death. (Ethics, c. v., s. viii., n. 1, p. 94.) Deadly weapons, chosen because they are deadly and involve a risk of life in fighting with such arms, are the apt and express means for showing readiness to brave death. If the weapons were not deadly, there would be no point in the duel. As a matter of fact, where our definition of duel is verified, and weapons in themselves deadly are used, the encounter cannot be other than dangerous, especially between foes and where the blood is up. In the French army, where the regimental fencing-master stands by, sword in hand, ready to parry any too dangerous thrust, serious results still have occurred. If any man will have it that short smooth-bore pistols at forty paces in a fog are not to be counted dangerous weapons, all we can say is that MM. Gambetta and De Fourton, the one being nearly blind, and the other having lost an eye, did not fight a duel. In a duel then the danger of being killed and of killing is directly willed; it is the precise means chosen to the end in view.
5. We have proved already that it is not lawful directly to procure one's own death, nor the death of another innocent man. If any one contends that his antagonist is not innocent, not even in a political sense (c. ii., s. i., n. 2, p. 203), we must here assume against him, what we shall afterwards prove, that the guilty are not to be directly put to death except by public authority. But what we may not directly bring about, we may not directly risk the occurrence of. As I may not throw myself down a cliff, so neither may I walk along the edge precisely for the chance of a fall. I may often walk there with the chance of falling, but not because of the chance. It will be said that the English love of fox-hunting and Alpine climbing is largely owing to the element of danger present in those amusements. But it is not the danger pure and simple, that is chosen for amusement: it is the prospect of overcoming danger by skill. The same may be said of Blondin on the tight-rope: it was his skill, not his mere risk, that was admired. There are some risks that no skill can obviate, as those of Alpine avalanches. We may face a mountain slope where avalanches occur, but we must not hang about there because of the avalanches, making our amusement or bravado of the chance of being killed. That would be willing the risk of death directly, as it is willed in duelling.
Readings. -- Paley, Mor. Phil., bk. iii., p. 2, c. ix.; St. Thos., 2a 2ae, q. 72, art. 3.
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