The Double Failure of 'Double Effect'

In Christoph Lumer & Sandro Nannini (eds.), Intentionality, Deliberation, and Autonomy. Ashgate (2007)
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The ‘doctrine of double effect’ claims that it is in some sense morally less problematic to bring about a negatively evaluated state of affairs as a ‘side effect’ of one’s pursuit of another, morally unobjectionable aim than it is to bring it about in order to achieve that aim. In a first step, this chapter discusses the descriptive difference on which the claim is built. That difference is shown to derive from the attitudinal distinction between intention and ‘acceptance’, a distinction that is in turn claimed to ground in a feature of the decisions that generate the attitudes in question. The resulting analysis is then plugged into two different normative principles that may each be thought to specify the intuitions behind the doctrine of double effect, but which have frequently been conflated. The first concerns the permissibility of bringing about the merely accepted state of affairs, the second its reduced attributability. It is argued that examination of the intuitions behind the two principles supports neither version of the doctrine. Rather, the intuitions are best captured in an attribution principle based on subjective probabilities and a principle of attitude evaluation, neither of which make explicit reference to the attitude of intending.

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Neil Roughley
University of Duisburg-Essen


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