Friday, July 29

Cause, Effect and Retrospective Justification

Y'know, it makes me think when some people confidently exclaim how the suicide bombers' actions were in no way Islamic, that their reasoning being that the religion itself prohibits suicide. I mean I'm not into suicide myself and I do believe that under conventional circumstances (which may include that of a suicide bomber) that it's wrong, and that what the bombers did was really bad (but more 'cos of their effect on others rather on themselves), but still I've left some important qualifications there.

One friend even went on to say that they believed that these guys can't have declared the Shahadah when pressing the button (something that all Muslims are advised to do as close as possible to death) since they weren't really Muslim. It really is kinda like towing the party line.

The analogy I use (and I accept that analogies are generally useless as proof, but they do make good food for thought) is pork. Now pork is generally haram for a Muslim, but that the same Muslim be expected to eat it if it meant death otherwise, in which case I presume it becomes halal. If killing myself saved hundreds of other lives (and I'll leave the reader to construct that particular thought experiment), would it still be wrong for me to do so? If tomorrow Tony Blair decided to stop all support for Israel, I wonder how many Muslims would change their opinions of the suicide bombers? Of course that would never happen in the short term, but looking at history we see long term reactions like this all the time. Would it diminish the severity of the individual crimes triggering these changes?

I guess this post is really about perspective and how one person's terrorist is another's freedom fighter. But it's also about how a person's perspective, their sworn concrete opinion, changes over time depending on their position at that point.

I've picked Islam and suicide since they're currently topical but we can find plenty examples of this fluid and ever moving morality. The police just shot dead a random guy and have called it the result of a necessary protective measure. This "collateral damage" argument was used to excuse the deaths in the last couple of wars too. I suspect if you talk to extremists they'll have similar "greater good" arguments too. A cynic would suggest that we may as well kill ourselves before someone else does.

And it's not only killings that are being excused; civil and human rights are also being trampled on the macro level, and individually we always tend to think we are right and even worse assuming others are wrong. Maybe this is a good thing - I think it was Machiavelli that believed that the morality of a successful leader has to contradict that of those he leads. So when can we sure whether an objective action is right or wrong? The clue is in the question, folks. I'm beginning to wonder whether we ever really can.


  1. Subjective Relativism.
    That is, that there is no real objectivity, that all points of view, and therefore decisions are for the most part Subjective.

    Sartre elaborates this further.

  2. >Retrospective Justification
    > Subjective Relativism.

    These are among the reasons why humans will always make flawed or weak judgements, at least in the eyes of other humans.

    Various philosophers amateur or otherwise posit different contradictory measures of morality. Maybe we're better off leaving definitions of those absolutes of right and wrong to God and his prime examples on earth; it's a shame there aren't any well-known enough for us to follow at the present time, rather the opposite.