Anselm on Gun Control

In his unfinished “Lambeth Fragments,” St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109) distinguishes six different modes in which something can be “brought about”:

For we say that a given thing brings it about that something is, either (1) because it brings about the being of the very thing it is said to bring about, or (2) because it does not bring about the non-being of that very thing, or (3) because it brings about the being of some other thing, or (4) because it does not bring about the being of some other thing, or (5) because it brings about the non-being of some other thing, or (6) because it does not bring about the non-being of some other thing.

Anselm illustrates his six modes through the six different ways in which someone can “bring about” someone’s death:

(1) In the first mode, when someone fatally stabs a person, he is said to bring it about that that person is dead.

(2) …someone who could revive a dead person but does not will to do so… he would not bring it about that the person is not dead. [Anselm admits to not having a very good example of sense (2)]

(3) …someone is said to have killed another, that is, to have brought it about that he is dead, because he commanded that he be killed, or because he brought it about that the killer had a sword, or because he provoked the killing…

(4) …someone killed another person because he did not offer weapons to the victim before he was killed, or because he did not forestall the killer, or because he did not do something such that, if he had done it, the victim would not have been killed.

(5) …someone is said to have killed another because he brought it about that the victim was unarmed by taking away his weapons, or because by opening a door he brought it about that the killer was not locked in where he was being detained…

(6) … someone is charged with killing because he did not, by taking away the killer’s weapons, bring it about that the killer was not armed, or because he did not whisk away the victim so that he would not be accessible to the killer.

In Anselm’s logic of agency, the gun-control debate–at least in its more pragmatic aspect–might be boiled down to a debate between those who are concerned with how gun control kills in sense (5) and those who are concerned with how an absence of gun control kills in sense (6).

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