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The Kamm Poll
By S. Matthew Liao

Introducing…the Kamm Poll! As it is well known, Kamm tests and develops her theories and principles by means of intuitive judgments about cases. As we read Intricate Ethics, if there is a particular case of Kamm’s regarding which you may have a different intuition than Kamm, or if you just wish to see what other people think about the case, please post details for the case here including the page reference to her book. We will then try to run a poll on that particular case.

This poll is not a sophisticated piece of machinery. It doesn’t control for framing effects, biases, etc. So do take the results with a grain of salt. At some point, we might try to introduce more sophisticated surveys. For now, PLEASE vote SINCERELY and only ONCE.

To kick off the Kamm Poll, I present the

Munitions Grief Case: Suppose it is militarily valuable to bomb a munitions factory only if it is not immediately rebuilt. Suppose the factory will be rebuilt unless the population is grieving as a consequence of the deaths of civilians in the bombing. Hence, we carry out the tactical bombing of the factory only because we foresee that civilians will die, even though we do not intend that they die (p. 23).

Happy voting :)

Munitions Grief Case: Is it permissible to bomb? [See The Kamm Poll Post for the case]

  • No (43%)
  • Yes (31%)
  • Not sure (26%)

Total Votes: 54


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  1. 1. Posted by Jeff Huggins | July 21, 2007 8:19 pm

    I answered “Not sure” in the poll, not because I am indecisive or don’t have a view, but because it seems to me that not enough information is provided in the question to allow a responsible decision. There are too many vital ambiguities. It seems to me that any answer to the question as stated requires imagining or assuming particular circumstances that are very important to decide the case.

    A key phrase in the question, and very ambiguous, is ‘militarily valuable.’ Other somewhat ambiguous phrases are ‘deaths of civilians’ (how many?) and ‘foresee that civilians will die’ (again, how many, and with what degree of certainty?).

    In order to remind myself of the case, and whether Kamm included more details in the book, I looked back briefly at pages 21-23. As far as I can tell, she didn’t provide more details, although she did characterize this case, it seems, as being ‘a third type of case in-between the Tactical Bombing and the Terror Bombing cases.’ So, I looked back at those.

    The Terror Bombing Case, the way Kamm describes it (page 21), involves the question of whether it would be permissible ‘to end a just war’ by intentionally killing ten (specific number) of civilians. The Tactical Bombing Case, as described in Kamm (page 21), involves the question of whether it would be permissible to end the same just war (presumably) by ‘intentionally bombing munitions factories, even foreseeing that twenty [specific number] other civilians will certainly die as an unintended side effect.’

    So, what happens if we take the liberty to try to fill in at least some of the ambiguities in the Munitions Grief Case based on the fact that Kamm has characterized this case as ‘in-between’ the other two and based on the more specific facts provided in the other two?

    Let’s say that the number of civilians who would foreseeably be killed is 15.

    Let’s say that the war is a ‘just war’ and that the party considering the case at hand is in the war for just and compelling reasons (i.e., it is probably on ‘defense’ in the deepest senses).

    Let’s take the liberty to change the phrase ‘militarily valuable’ to reflect the anticipated outcome of the action as ending a just war, as in the other two cases.

    Thus, the (more specific) question now becomes: Suppose that bombing a munitions factory will end a just war (and assume that you are on the side of justice) if it is not immediately rebuilt. The factory will be rebuilt unless the population is grieving as a consequence of the deaths of civilians in the bombing. Hence, we would (if we choose to do so) carry out the tactical bombing of the factory only because we see that civilians (approximately 15 of them) will also die, even though we do not intend that they die. Is it permissible to do so?

    Alas, even after all that work, a few more specifics are required, in my view, in order to make a responsible and moral decision. Of course, under most circumstances (‘militarily valuable’: what does that really mean?), it would not be permissible to bomb a factory knowing that 15 innocent civilians would die. That said, the more specific question, as stated in the preceding paragraph, tilts the scales a bit more towards a ‘maybe’ or ‘yes’ answer.

    What might tilt the scales to a ‘yes’ answer? (I don’t mean this in the sense that one wants to tilt the scales in any specific direction, of course: I mean it in the sense of doing a sensitivity analysis in an analytic sense.) If ending the war would prevent thousands more military deaths (on both sides) and hundreds of civilian deaths, that would be a big factor. If the enemy had purposefully built its most important munitions factories in residential areas, or if the enemy actually places civilians in or near such factories (as ‘shields’), that might well enter into the equation. Other factors might be very important as well. And, if a continuation of the war could likely lead to global instability and to the foreseeable end of civilization, that would be a very important factor, of course.

    In sum, I don’t think there is nearly enough information, in the case as stated, to allow a responsible and ethical decision. All things considered, unless someone imagines the case to contain or imply specifics that justify bombing (and that’s where the burden would be, i.e., on the person who believes that the bombing would be justified and permissible), the default choice should be to not bomb, of course.

    Please let me know if I’m missing something. I’m particularly interested in those who say that the bombing would be justified, even as the case is currently stated. What specifics (of the situation as you saw it) did you have in mind when answering ‘yes’?

  2. 2. Posted by John Alexander | July 22, 2007 2:22 pm

    This is a very interesting idea; to test out intuitions. The question I have is how will we account for the differences in responses if the intuitions being relied on lead to contradictory results? Are we committed to the relativism that results if we grant intuitions epistemic force such that no one is wrong as long as they ground their positions in an intuition?

  3. 3. Posted by Nick Smyth | July 22, 2007 5:49 pm

    Including “military value” in a moral calculus just seems odd. If there’s one thing Kantian ethics has on utilitarianism, it’s that it expressly prohibits wars insofar as they involve using others as mere means. “Military” value just doesn’t count.

  4. 4. Posted by S. Matthew Liao | July 23, 2007 7:26 pm

    Jeff, I think something like your further specificatin is what Kamm has in mind regarding the Munitions Grief Case:

    Thus, the (more specific) question now becomes: Suppose that bombing a munitions factory will end a just war (and assume that you are on the side of justice) if it is not immediately rebuilt. The factory will be rebuilt unless the population is grieving as a consequence of the deaths of civilians in the bombing. Hence, we would (if we choose to do so) carry out the tactical bombing of the factory only because we see that civilians (approximately 15 of them) will also die, even though we do not intend that they die. Is it permissible to do so?

    So what is your intuition if the case is so described and if one doesn’t add other factors?

    John, your question is a good one, and one that we should continue to ask as we read Kamm. Kamm offers some suggestions as to what one should do when there are conflicting intuitions in Chapter 1 (see the chapter summary and the discussions there), and I think she might say a bit more in Chapter 14.

    Nick, I’m sure you are right that some versions of Kantian ethics would forbid war. But it seems that there are other versions of Kantian ethics that would not. What if by “military value” Kamm means, as Jeff has said, a “just war”? Would all versions of Kantian ethics forbid pursuing a just war even if one foresees that doing so will cause some innocent civilians to die as a result?

  5. 5. Posted by Jeff Huggins | July 23, 2007 9:26 pm

    Dr. Liao (Matthew), thanks very much for your response. With that clarification, I’ll try to answer your fair question as well as I can, remembering that I answered ‘not sure’ (as in, not enough info) to the question as originally posed in the poll.

    If we are not allowed to assume other un-ordinary factors (e.g., that the civilians are being used by the enemy as ‘shields’, or that human civilization will end if the just war is not brought to a halt), but if we can at least imagine or assume some specifics that are necessary even for a basic understanding of the situation (e.g., that the just war is a reasonably large one; that a substantially larger number of civilians will die, perhaps on both sides, if the war continues; that a large number of soldiers will die on both sides if the war continues; and that other better options to end the war have been reasonably exhausted), then my intuition (very reluctantly) suggests that yes, the bombing would be permissible. On the other hand, those are a lot of ‘ifs’, and I’d want to make sure that other reasonable options are tried first. Put another way, such a move, in some sense, is a ‘desperation’ move, it seems to me, to end a just war, to be considered (very carefully) only if other more reasonable actions have been tried and exhausted.

    Of course, one should try to imagine oneself in the ‘shoes’ of one of the civilians (who would be killed) when trying to make such a decision.

    Also, considering the case causes me to wonder whether there is really much of a difference between bombing the munitions factory knowing that 15 civilians will die, and knowing that the mission will be successful only if they do die, (as the case is defined), and killing 15 other civilians (without the munitions factory) if that would also bring about the same ultimate goal? (And given that, there should be other better options.) And that feeling concerns me. Put another way, the circumstances and conditions one must place on the current Munitions Case, in order to reach an answer ‘yes’, might be so stringent (e.g., to bring a complete end to a just war; avoid a much larger number of innocent civilian deaths that would occur if the war continues; other better approaches exhausted; etc.) that one would have to ask, what else (on the order of 15 deaths) would one not do to end the war? That’s why I don’t think that any of the answers I’ve given are quite correct, as I’d have to have more information concerning deaths that would be avoided, other approaches tried, and so forth.

    Also, as I’m sure you know (and Kamm as well), human intuitions have substantial limits and are ‘best’ when we face common situations (though still far from perfect). That fact presents a ‘danger’, and calls for caution, when we develop highly complex, unusual, contrived cases and expect that intuitions can tell us much more than the fact that intuitions are imperfect.

    Finally, I think it helps, a lot, to interpret intuitions and to discover/derive moral principles in the context of an overall understanding of the ‘effective’ function of human social-moral dynamics and of morality itself. That’s what I’ve been exploring from the scientific and ‘logical’ standpoints. I’m still trying to figure out Kamm’s views on that subject, i.e., going below the principles themselves and getting to some of the deeper questions, e.g., ‘what for?’ (morality) and ‘where from?’ (morality).

    All that said, I think it’s a great idea to pose cases on the site, see what philosophers and ethicists think, and then dialogue. I look forward to the next case. Thanks again.

  6. 6. Posted by Jeff Huggins | July 24, 2007 9:48 pm

    At the time I write this post, the poll results are quite interesting: Of 20 responses so far, nine (45%) indicate that bombing would be permissible, seven (35%) feel that it wouldn’t, and four (20%) say ‘Not sure.’

    Given these results-in-progress, and realizing that this is not a scientific poll, of course, I offer three observations:

    First, it is helpful to note that, when considering such a complex and (you might call it) ‘contrived’ type of case, human intuitions are quite varied and far from conclusive. And, the intuitions represented are those of people who have a passion for studying ethics and contemplating such cases.

    Second, given that nine people (45%) believe that bombing would be permissible, if some of those nine respondents are non-consequentialists, I’d be very interested in hearing their reasoning. Although there may be (and apparently are?) highly intricate reasons why a non-consequentialist would find it permissible to knowingly kill a significant number of civilians in order to achieve a ‘greater good,’ this judgment would seem counter-intuitive on the face of it (i.e., coming from a non-consequentialist viewpoint), at least to me. After all, important ideals such as fairness and the right of individuals not to be interfered with—ideals that non-consequentialists hold even higher than others hold them, relatively speaking—are violated in the name of ‘greater good’ when such a judgment is made. At least this is so before the intricate arguments are applied to the matter. If non-consequentialists are to argue that bombing in such a case is permissible, such argument is faced with two difficulties: In this little non-scientific poll, 35% of the people answered ‘no’ and another 20% answered ‘not sure.’ Thus, the intuitions of 55% of the people polled did not provide a ‘yes’ answer. And, as mentioned, rather intricate arguments are needed in order to arrive at the view that certain rights or expectations of the civilians can be violated in order to achieve a greater good.

    Third, in re-reading Kamm on this particular question on pages 21-23 (and realizing that she will likely explain her answer in later chapters), I noticed something that reduces my comfort regarding her view on this particular case, at least as I understand it so far. Near the top of page 23, in discussing the Munitions Grief Case, she states: ‘I believe that if it were permissible to bomb the factory when the deaths are merely foreseen, it is permissible to bomb in this case, even if terror bombing is impermissible.’ I question this statement for the following reasons (though I could be missing something, of course):

    In order for it to be deemed permissible to bomb the factory when the (civilian) deaths are merely foreseen (assume 20 civilian deaths, as in the Tactical Bombing Case), other aspects of the justification must be quite compelling, i.e., to end a just war, to thus avoid a larger number of deaths that would occur should the war continue, and already having tried better options, etc. Call the sum-total of these justifications ‘J’. Now, if we are comparing apples to apples, then we should keep “J” constant. Now, Kamm says that ‘if it were permissible to bomb the factory when the deaths are merely foreseen, it is permissible to bomb in this case.’ Doesn’t that mean (or at least imply) that no additional justification (i.e., greater benefits, more compelling reasons, and so forth) would be necessary, in Kamm’s view, in order to decide to bomb a factory where you need to kill 20 civilians in order for the mission to be successful and to achieve the benefits desired, than to decide to bomb a factory where the destruction of the factory alone will achieve the benefits? If so, that doesn’t sound right, intuitively, to me.

    Am I missing something? Any thoughts? And, as mentioned, if any non-consequentialists are among the nine who responded ‘yes’ in the poll, and if you have time to do so, could you please explain the reasoning. Thanks.

  7. 7. Posted by Antti Kauppinen | July 25, 2007 12:56 pm

    Two comments. First, to be able to make inferences on which factors influence people’s judgments about the cases, I would very much recommend presenting the other bombing cases (in random order, if at all possible). After all, what is interesting is whether a given person’s judgments about Munitions Grief match Tactical or Terror Bombing. That way you can rule out consequentialists.

    Second, and more importantly, Munitions Grief is incoherent. The bomber kills the civilians as a necessary means to his end. On the most plausible description, he intends to kill them. His goal is not achieved unless the civilians die. It is thus not an unintended, merely foreseen consequence. Consider what happens if the civilians move away from the vicinity of the factory. As in Terror Bombing and unlike in Tactical Bombing, the bomber must follow the civilians or he will fail in his task. The only difference from Terror Bombing is that in Munitions the bomber must both destroy the factory and kill the people. But that is just to say that the intention has a more complex structure. I am very much surprised that Kamm would try to weasel her way out by simply asserting that killing isn’t intended.

  8. 8. Posted by S. Matthew Liao | July 25, 2007 3:31 pm

    Antti, I can definitely see advantages in mentioning the Tactical Bombing Case and the Terror Bombing Case along side the Munitions Grief Case. In particular, it may allow for more proper reflections on the Munitions Grief Case.

    On the other hand, introducing additional cases could also bias one’s intuitions, as you have anticipated. So, if one were to introduct the additional cases, then in a proper survey, one should definitely do what you suggest, which is to control for order effects, among other things.

    At the same time, I’m not sure that it is necessary or right to try to rule out consequentialists in this particular survey. It seems that someone might be a consequentialist precisely because she doesn’t share the intuitions that nonconsequentialists have regarding such cases. Also, it seems possible for a consequentialist to have the same kind of intuition as everyone else regarding a particular case; she may just decide for other reasons to ignore the intuition.

    On your second comment, to be fair to Kamm, she is introducing here her Doctrine of Triple Effect (DTE), which distinguishes between doing something because an effect will occur and doing it in order that it occurs. On this distinction, she is claiming that it is permissible to bomb in this case, and its permissibility is due to the fact that one is acting because the effects will occur, though not intending that they occur.

    For those who are interested, the cases Antti has mentioned are as follows:

    Terror Bombing Case: One seeks to end a just war by intentionally killing ten civilians.

    Tactical Bombing Case: One seeks to end a just war by intentionally bombing munitions factories, but foreseeing that twenty other civilians will certain die as an unintended side effect.

  9. 9. Posted by Jeff Huggins | July 25, 2007 5:24 pm

    Dr. Liao / Matthew, I agree that the polls should be open to all (and not rule out consequentialists, non-consequentialists, or etc.). That said, I think it would be very helpful, when posing future cases, to ask respondents to categorize themselves as ‘non-consequentialist’, ‘consequentialist’, or (perhaps) ‘still considering’ in addition to providing their response to the case question. It would be very interesting (and very informative) to see whether/how answers vary between the groups and to also get a sense for the mixture of people on the site. Just a suggestion. Looking forward to the next poll.

  10. 10. Posted by Paul Torek | July 31, 2007 10:06 pm

    Is the intent of the poll that we should vote our “gut” intuitions, or our reflective all-things-considered judgments?

    Like Antti but for different reasons, I doubt that the Munitions Grief Case as stated is truly a test of the Doctrine of Triple Effect. The civilians who rebuild a munitions factory are not innocent bystanders. In assessing the morality of killing them, they are more comparable to soldiers on the battlefield. We can suppose that the civilans rebuild the factory only under duress, but then many conscripts serve only under duress as well.

    The case needs to be refined so that there is a clear separation between two groups, the civilians who rebuild the factory, and those who are “collateral damage” of the bombing.

  11. 11. Posted by S. Matthew Liao | July 31, 2007 11:46 pm

    Paul, you are right that the civilians who will be killed shouldn’t be “civilians” who will be rebuilding the factory. As far as I can see from Kamm presentation of the Case though, the presumption is that they are not the same individuals. Do you think that the Munitions Grief Case is not truly a test of DTE even with the further clarification?

  12. 12. Posted by Paul Torek | August 6, 2007 1:15 am

    I think it’s a good test if sufficiently clarified. I don’t have Kamm’s book, only the summaries posted here. I would like to point out that it is probably more common in wartime for factory workers to be killed by bombing raids than civilians in general. Thus, a pretty strenous effort at clarification is in order.

  13. 13. Posted by The Loop Case Poll : Ethics Etc | August 11, 2007 2:11 am

    […] By the way, all the cases polled will be kept in an archive, and you can view their results from the Polls navigation tab at the top of any page. You can also continue to vote on previous cases from a case’s respective post. For example, for the Munitions Grief Case, see the Kamm Poll Post. […]

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