Commemorating the nuclear attacks

Lots of articles the last few days commemorating the nuclear attacks on Japan. My only addition: it seems a good time to introduce a moral distinctions that is oft forgotten. There is a distinction between extrinsically evil acts and intrinsically evil actions. The distinction does not have to do with the severity of the evil, but rather why the action is evil. Extrinsically evil things are evil in certain circumstances due to ill intent or ill consequences. As such, these actions can sometimes be justified. War is a good example as war is evil but it is possible to justify war under certain narrow criteria. But other actions are “intrinsically evil”, which means that under no circumstances are they morally permissible. These actions are wrong no matter what the intent or the consequences. An example of this is the intentional killing of an innocent.

Nuclear weapons certainly look like intrinsically evil things to me. Because the weapon is by nature non-discriminatory (incapable of discriminating between legitimate combatant targets and illegitimate non-combatant targets), nuclear weapons are always and everywhere evil and in no case can their use be morally justified because it is always and everywhere wrong to intentionally kill innocents (even if, as is often claimed, the nuclear attacks saved the lives of more combatants on both sides by ending the war more quickly).

By the way, my parents will be in town through the weekend so I will likely be on leave from the blog until Monday.

About Kleiner

Associate Vice Provost and Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Utah State University. I teach across the curriculum, but am most interested in continental philosophy, ancient and medieval philosophy as well as Catholic thought, all of which might be summed up as an interest in the ressourcement tradition (returning in order to make progress). I also enjoy spending time thinking about liberal education and its ends.
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