Distinguishing Between Three Versions of the Doctrine of Double Effect Hypothesis in Moral Psychology

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Based on the results of empirical studies of folk moral judgment, several researchers have claimed that something like the famous Doctrine of Double Effect may be a fundamental, albeit unconscious, component of human moral psychology. Proponents of this psychological DDE hypothesis have, however, said surprisingly little about how the distinction at the heart of standard formulations of the principle—the distinction between intended and merely foreseen consequences—might be cognised when we make moral judgments about people’s actions. I first highlight the problem of precisely formulating the distinction between intended and foreseen consequences and its implications for interpreting the empirical data on folk moral judgment. I then distinguish between three different approaches to this problem that have been taken by proponents of the DDE in normative ethics: so-called “closeness” accounts, accounts that employ what has come to be known as a “strict” notion of intention, and Warren Quinn’s recasting of the DDE in terms of the distinction between “direct” and “indirect agency”. I show that when taken as claims about moral psychology, these different accounts entail quite different empirical predictions about what people’s moral judgments should be in particular cases. Based on the current empirical data, I argue that a version of Quinn’s formulation of the DDE is the most empirically plausible, and that adopting such a formulation helps to diffuse much of the recent empirical criticism of the DDE hypothesis.
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Archival date: 2016-01-20
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