About this topic
Summary The Doctrine of Double Effect is a normative principle according to which in pursuing the good it is sometimes morally permissible to bring about some evil as a side-effect or merely foreseen consequence: the same evil would not be morally justified as an intended means or end. The Doctrine is normally thought to originate from Aquinas’s discussion of self-defence and it has today more or less legitimate application to a variety of important ethical issues: amongst the most common are collateral damages in war, palliative care, abortion, self-sacrifice, self-defence, and the so-called Trolley Problem. Following Gury and Mangan 1949, the Doctrine of Double Effect is normally formalised as comprising four conditions: 1) the action in itself from its very object must be good or at least indifferent; 2) the good effect and not the evil effect must be intended; 3) the good effect must not be produced by means of the evil effect; 4) there must be a proportionately grave reason for permitting the evil effect.
Key works Apart from Mangan 1949, a key modern source on double effect is Foot 1967. See also Boyle Jr 1980 on double effect's four conditions. For an influential critique see Bennett 1980.
Introductions McIntyre 2008 has written an introduction to the topic.
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  1. added 2020-03-26
    Targeting the Fetal Body and/or Mother-Child Connection: Vital Conflicts and Abortion.Helen Watt & Anthony McCarthy - 2019 - The Linacre Quarterly:1-14.
    Is the “act itself” of separating a pregnant woman and her previable child neither good nor bad morally, considered in the abstract? Recently, Maureen Condic and Donna Harrison have argued that such separation is justified to protect the mother’s life and that it does not constitute an abortion as the aim is not to kill the child. In our article on maternal–fetal conflicts, we agree there need be no such aim to kill (supplementing aims such as to remove). However, we (...)
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  2. added 2020-03-26
    Vital Conflicts, Bodily Respect, and Conjoined Twins: Are We Asking the Right Questions?Helen Watt - 2017 - In Jason Eberl (ed.), Contemporary Controversies in Catholic Bioethics. Springer. pp. 135-145.
    What does it mean to respect life and health in an innocent fellow-human being? Separating conjoined twins where one twin will die as a result need not involve the intention to kill or harm. Arguably, however, not all side-effects are “mere” side-effects which could, in principle, be outweighed by sufficiently good intended effects. Rather, foreseen serious harm for an innocent person we non-therapeutically affect can be morally conclusive when linked to the intention to affect the person’s body or invade the (...)
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  3. added 2020-03-26
    Double Effect Reasoning: Why We Need It.Helen Watt - 2017 - Ethics and Medicine 33 (1):13-19.
    The “principle of double effect” is a vital tool for moral decision making and is applicable to all areas of medical practice, including (for example) end-of-life care, transplant medicine, and cases of conscientious objection. Both our ultimate and our more immediate intentions are relevant in making and evaluating choices— though side effects must be kept proportionate and can be morally conclusive when linked with some intentions. Intentions help to form the character of doctors, and of human beings generally. While hypocrisy (...)
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  4. added 2020-03-26
    Bodily Invasions.Helen Watt - 2011 - The National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly 11 (1):49-51.
    What kind of interventions on the body of an innocent human being may be licitly intended? This question arises in relation to maternal–fetal conflicts such as ectopic pregnancy and obstructed labor, and to other cases such as organ harvesting and separation of conjoined twins. Many assume that harm must be intended for absolute moral prohibitions to apply; however, it is not always the case that foreseen harm is merely a factor to weigh against benefits we intend. On the contrary, foreseen (...)
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  5. added 2019-12-04
    Trolleyology: ¿De quién es el dilema del tranvía?Fabio Morandín-Ahuerma - 2020 - Vox Juris 38 (1):203-210.
    El autor recobra las fuentes originales del llamado Dilema del Tranvía pues considera que existe confusión sobre quién es el autor original. Sostiene que no es Phillipa Foot como suele citarse comúnmente, ni siquiera Judith Thomson, sino que sus raíces son más lejanas y se encuentran en dos juristas alemanes: Hans Welzel y, aún antes, Karl Engisch. Propone que la solución al dilema está dada desde el Derecho positivo y no en especulaciones consecuencialistas. ABSTRACT The author recovers the original sources (...)
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  6. added 2019-07-31
    Lethal Organ Donation: Would the Doctor Intend the Donor’s Death?Ben Bronner - 2019 - Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 44 (4):442-458.
    Lethal organ donation is a hypothetical procedure in which vital organs are removed from living donors, resulting in their death. An important objection to lethal organ donation is that it would infringe the prohibition on doctors intentionally causing the death of patients. I present a series of arguments intended to undermine this objection. In a case of lethal organ donation, the donor’s death is merely foreseen, and not intended.
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  7. added 2019-06-06
    Just War and Double Effect: Distinguishing Intended Damage and Unintended Side Effects.Joseph Boyle - 2012 - Philosophy in the Contemporary World 19 (2):61-71.
    Just war doctrine includes a stringent prohibition against killing and otherwise harming 'innocents', those of one's enemy population who are not engaged in the act of making war. This category includes most enemy civilians. The prohibition cannot reasonably prohibit all possible harms to these innocents. The doctrine of double effect is a way of limiting the prohibition to acts of intentionally harming innocents. This paper explores the application of double effect reasoning in this context, with a view towards determining whether (...)
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  8. added 2019-06-06
    Double Effect, Triple Effect and the Trolley Problem: Squaring the Circle in Looping Cases: Michael Otsuka.Michael Otsuka - 2008 - Utilitas 20 (1):92-110.
    In the Trolley Case, as devised by Philippa Foot and modified by Judith Jarvis Thomson, a runaway trolley is headed down a main track and will hit and kill five unless you divert it onto a side track, where it will hit and kill one.
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  9. added 2019-06-06
    To Double Business Bound: Reflections on the Doctrine of Double Effect.Neil Delaney - 2001 - American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly 75 (4):561-583.
    This paper has two aims. First, I explore the scope and limitations of the doctrine of double effect by focusing specifically on the notion of "effect classification." Turning my attention to some hard cases, I argue that the DOE has to be supplemented by additional principles that specify how effects are to be discriminated from one another and how the various aspects of the relevant actions are to be classified as intended or simply foreseen. Secondly, I draw some general lessons (...)
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  10. added 2019-06-06
    Self-Defence and Innocence: Aggressors and Active Threats: Phillip Montague.Phillip Montague - 2000 - Utilitas 12 (1):62-78.
    Although people generally agree that innocent targets of culpable aggression are justified in harming the aggressors in self-defence, there is considerable disagreement regarding whether innocents are justified in defending themselves when their doing so would harm other innocent people. I argue in this essay that harming innocent aggressors and active innocent threats in self-defence is indeed justified under certain conditions, but that defensive actions in such cases are justified as permissions rather than as claim rights. This justification therefore differs from (...)
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  11. added 2019-06-06
    Commentary: Double Effect—Intention is the Solution, Not the Problem.Daniel P. Sulmasy - 2000 - Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics 28 (1):26-29.
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  12. added 2019-06-06
    The Doctrine of Double Effect: Its Philosopuical Viability.Thornas Bole - 1991 - Southwest Philosophy Review 7 (1):91-103.
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  13. added 2019-06-06
    Taking Aim at the Principle of Double Effect: Reply to Khatchadourian.James F. Keenan - 1988 - International Philosophical Quarterly 28 (2):201-205.
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  14. added 2019-06-05
    Book Review: T. A. Cavanaugh, Double-Effect Reasoning: Doing Good and Avoiding Evil . Xxiv + 220 Pp. £45 , ISBN 978—0—19— 927219—8. [REVIEW]Daniel P. Sulmasy - 2008 - Studies in Christian Ethics 21 (3):438-442.
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  15. added 2019-06-05
    A Contralife Argument Against Altered Nuclear Transfer.Lawrence Masek - 2006 - The National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly 6 (2):235-240.
  16. added 2019-03-18
    Intended and Foreseen Unavoidable Consequences.Devlin Russell - 2018 - Manuscrito 41 (4):481-499.
    What is the difference between an intended consequence and a foreseen unavoidable consequence? The answer, I argue, turns on the exercise of knowhow knowledge in the process that led to the consequence. I argue for this using a theory according to which acting intentionally is acting as a reason. I show how this gives us a more promising explanation of the difference than the dominant explanations, according to which acting intentionally is acting for a reason.
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  17. added 2018-07-29
    An the Church Agree to Condom Use by HIV-Discordant Couples.Luc Bovens - 2009 - Journal of Medical Ethics 35 (12):743-6.
    Does the position of the Roman Catholic Church on contraception also imply that the usage of condoms by HIV-discordant couples is illicit? A standard argument is to appeal to the doctrine of double effect to condone such usage, but this meets with the objection that there exists an alternative action that brings about the good effect—namely, abstinence. I argue against this objection, because an HIV-discordant couple does not bring about any bad outcome through condom usage—there is no disrespect displayed for (...)
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  18. added 2018-06-29
    Double-Effect Reasoning: Doing Good and Avoiding Evil. [REVIEW]Jason T. Eberl - 2009 - American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly 83 (2):295-298.
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  19. added 2018-06-13
    Wild Goose Chase: Still No Rationales for the Doctrine of Double Effect and Related Principles.Uwe Steinhoff - 2019 - Criminal Law and Philosophy 13 (1):1-25.
    I focus on the question as to what rationale could possibly underlie the doctrine of double effect or related principles. I first briefly review the correct critiques of the claim that people who intend some evil as a means to a good must be “guided by evil,” and that this is allegedly always wrong. I then argue that Quinn’s claim that violations of the DDE express certain negative attitudes of the agent and that agents violating the DDE must make an (...)
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  20. added 2018-06-13
    Bennett, Intention and the DDE – The Sophisticated Bomber as Pseudo-Problem.Uwe Steinhoff - 2018 - Analysis 78 (1):73-80.
    Arguing against the doctrine of double effect, Bennett claims that the terror bomber only intends to make his victims appear dead. An obvious reply is that he intends to make them appear dead by killing them. I argue that the alleged refutations of this reply rest on a mistaken test question to determine what an agent intends, as Bennett's own test question confirms, and that Bennett is misled by confusing metaphorical death and literal death. Moreover, Bennett's argument is half-hearted anyway, (...)
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  21. added 2018-06-09
    The Secret to the Success of the Doctrine of Double Effect : Biased Framing, Inadequate Methodology, and Clever Distractions.Uwe Steinhoff - 2018 - The Journal of Ethics 22 (3-4):235-263.
    There are different formulations of the doctrine of double effect, and sometimes philosophers propose “revisions” or alternatives, like the means principle, for instance. To demonstrate that such principles are needed in the first place, one would have to compare cases in which all else is equal and show that the difference in intuitions, if any, can only be explained by the one remaining difference and thus by the principle in question. This is not the methodology defenders of the DDE and (...)
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  22. added 2017-11-20
    A Stronger Doctrine of Double Effect.Ben Bronner & Simon Goldstein - 2018 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 96 (4):793-805.
    Many believe that intended harms are more difficult to justify than are harms that result as a foreseen side effect of one's conduct. We describe cases of harming in which the harm is not intended, yet the harmful act nevertheless runs afoul of the intuitive moral constraint that governs intended harms. We note that these cases provide new and improved counterexamples to the so-called Simple View, according to which intentionally phi-ing requires intending to phi. We then give a new theory (...)
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  23. added 2017-10-23
    Targeting Human Shields.Amir Saemi & Philip Atkins - 2018 - Philosophical Quarterly 68 (271):328-348.
    In this paper, we are concerned with the morality of killing human shields. Many moral philosophers seem to believe that knowingly killing human shields necessarily involves intentionally targeting human shields. If we assume that the distinction between intention and foresight is morally significant, then this view would entail that it is generally harder to justify a military operation in which human shields are knowingly killed than a military operation in which the same number of casualties result as a merely foreseen (...)
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  24. added 2017-05-18
    The Means/Side-Effect Distinction in Moral Cognition: A Meta-Analysis.Adam Feltz & Joshua May - 2017 - Cognition 166:314-327.
    Experimental research suggests that people draw a moral distinction between bad outcomes brought about as a means versus a side effect (or byproduct). Such findings have informed multiple psychological and philosophical debates about moral cognition, including its computational structure, its sensitivity to the famous Doctrine of Double Effect, its reliability, and its status as a universal and innate mental module akin to universal grammar. But some studies have failed to replicate the means/byproduct effect especially in the absence of other factors, (...)
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  25. added 2017-02-22
    Book Reviews: Action Reconceptualized: Human Agency and Its Sources by David Chan, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews. [REVIEW]Amir Saemi - 2016 - Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews:1-2.
    David K. Chan provides an account of various mental entities that interact with each other to produce human action. Once we have a theory of human action, Chan states, we will be in a better position to examine how to evaluate human actions from a moral perspective. I will address only two sets of claims that I don't find convincing. The first concerns Chan's idea that we need to introduce a new category of non-intentional action (besides intentional and unintentional) to (...)
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  26. added 2017-02-09
    Moral Dimensions: Permissibility, Meaning, Blame.D. Nelkin - 2011 - Philosophical Review 120 (4):603-607.
  27. added 2017-02-07
    In Search of the Deep Structure of Morality: An Interview with Frances Kamm.Alex Voorhoeve & Frances Kamm - unknown
    An extended discussion with Frances Kamm about deontology and the methodology of ethical theorizing. (An extended and revised version appears in Alex Voorhoeve, Conversations on Ethics, OUP 2009).).
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  28. added 2017-02-06
    Killing John to Save Mary: A Defence of the Distinction Between Killing and Letting Die.Helen Frowe - 2013 - In J. Campbell, M. O’Rourke & H. Silverstein (eds.), Action, Ethics and Responsibility. MIT Press.
    Introduction This paper defends the moral significance of the distinction between killing and letting die. In the first part of the paper, I consider and reject Michael Tooley’s argument that initiating a causal process is morally equivalent to refraining from interfering in that process. The second part disputes Tooley’s suggestion it is merely external factors that make killing appear to be worse than letting die, when in reality the distinction is morally neutral. Tooley is mistaken to claim that we are (...)
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  29. added 2017-02-06
    The Consequences of Rejecting the Moral Relevance of the Doing–Allowing Distinction.Bashshar Haydar - 2010 - Utilitas 22 (2):222-227.
    The claim that one is never morally permitted to engage in non-optimal harm doing enjoys a great intuitive appeal. If in addition to this claim, we reject the moral relevance of the doingallowing distinction. In this short essay, I propose a different take on the argument in question. Instead of opting to reject its conclusion by defending the moral relevance of the doingallowing distinction, we can no longer rely on the strong intuitive appeal of the claim that one is never (...)
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  30. added 2017-02-06
    The Justified Infliction of Unjust Harm.Helen Frowe - 2009 - Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 109 (1pt3):345 - 351.
  31. added 2017-02-06
    Thomson's Turnabout on the Trolley.William J. FitzPatrick - 2009 - Analysis 69 (4):636-643.
    The famous ‘trolley problem’ began as a simple variation on an example given in passing by Philippa Foot , involving a runaway trolley that cannot be stopped but can be steered to a path of lesser harm. By switching from the perspective of the driver to that of a bystander, Judith Jarvis Thomson showed how the case raises difficulties for the normative theory Foot meant to be defending, and Thomson compounded the challenge with further variations that created still more puzzles (...)
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  32. added 2017-02-02
    Abortion, Potential, and Value.Reginald Williams - 2008 - Utilitas 20 (2):169-186.
    This article challenges an important argument in the abortion debate, according to which at least early abortions are acceptable because they do not terminate the actual existence of something of moral significance (i.e., a ‘person’), but rather prevent a potentially significant entity from becoming actual, which happens whenever one uses contraceptives.This article argues that insofar as we see something as morally significant or valuable, we tend to think it wrong to deliberately terminate its actual existence and to deliberately prevent a (...)
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  33. added 2017-02-02
    Responses to Commentators on Intricate Ethics.F. M. Kamm - 2008 - Utilitas 20 (1):111-142.
    Some of the commentators on Intricate Ethics complain of my method. One finds the main ideas ‘Kammouflaged’ because the relevant causal distinctions are so fine-grained and the cases that illustrate them so numerous . Some say that they do not have the intuitions about many cases that I have, that I concoct dubious and ad hoc distinctions and invest them with moral significance; I am Ptolemaic in that new crystalline spheres and epicycles are constantly being added in an attempt to (...)
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  34. added 2017-02-02
    Infanticide.Jeff Mcmahan - 2007 - Utilitas 19 (2):131-159.
    It is sometimes suggested that if a moral theory implies that infanticide can sometimes be permissible, that is sufficient to discredit the theory. I argue in this article that the common-sense belief that infanticide is wrong, and perhaps even worse than the killing of an adult, is challenged not so much by theoretical considerations as by common-sense beliefs about abortion, the killing of non-human animals, and so on. Because there are no intrinsic differences between premature infants and viable fetuses, it (...)
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  35. added 2017-01-30
    Is A Purely First Person Account Of Human Action Defensible?Christopher Tollefsen - 2006 - Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 9 (4):441-460.
    There are two perspectives available from which to understand an agent's intention in acting. The first is the perspective of the acting agent: what did she take to be her end, and the means necessary to achieve that end? The other is a third person perspective that is attentive to causal or conceptual relations: was some causal outcome of the agent's action sufficiently close, or so conceptually related, to what the agent did that it should be considered part of her (...)
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  36. added 2017-01-29
    Are Enabling and Allowing Harm Morally Equivalent?Kasper Lippert-Rasmussen - 2015 - Utilitas 27 (3):365-383.
    It is sometimes asserted that enabling harm is morally equivalent to allowing harm. In this article, I criticize this view. Positively, I show that cases involving self-defence and cases involving people acting on the basis of a reasonable belief to the effect that certain obstacles to harm will remain in place, or will be put in place, show that enabling harm is harder to justify than allowing it. Negatively, I argue that certain cases offered in defence of the moral equivalence (...)
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  37. added 2017-01-27
    The Total Artificial Heart and the Dilemma of Deactivation.Ben Bronner - 2016 - Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal 26 (4):347-367.
    It is widely believed to be permissible for a physician to discontinue any treatment upon the request of a competent patient. Many also believe it is never permissible for a physician to intentionally kill a patient. I argue that the prospect of deactivating a patient’s artificial heart presents us with a dilemma: either the first belief just mentioned is false or the second one is. Whichever horn of the dilemma we choose has significant implications for contemporary medical ethics.
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  38. added 2017-01-27
    The Doctrine of Double Effect and the Trolley Problem.Whitley Kaufman - 2016 - Journal of Value Inquiry 50 (1):21-31.
    It is widely held by moral philosophers that J.J. Thomson’s “Loop Variant,” a version of the Trolley Problem first presented by her in 1985, decisively refutes the Doctrine of Double Effect as the right explanation of our moral intuitions in the various trolley-type cases.See Bruers and Brackman, “A Review and Systematization of the Trolley Problem,” Philosophia 42:2 : 251–269; T. Scanlon, Moral Dimensions: Permissibility, Meaning, Blame ; Peter Singer, “Ethics and Intuitions,” Journal of Ethics 9:314 : 331–352, p. 340; Matthew (...)
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  39. added 2017-01-27
    The Principle of Double Effect: Act-Types and Intentions.S. James G. Murphy - 2013 - International Philosophical Quarterly 53 (2):189-205.
    Objections to the principle of double effect usually concern its first and second conditions . The difficulties often arise from a rejection of the idea that acts have a moral nature independent of context, and a tendency to interpret intention as purely psychological. This article argues that the “act itself” should be understood as the act-type and suggests that examples of evil act-types are not hard to find. It argues that the notion of intention is involved in both conditions, but (...)
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  40. added 2017-01-26
    Moral Obstacles: An Alternative to the Doctrine of Double Effect.Gerhard Øverland - 2014 - Ethics 124 (3):481-506.
    The constraint against harming people in order to save yourself and others seems stronger than the constraint against harming people as a consequence of saving yourself and others. The reduced constraint against acting in one type of case is often justified with reference to the intentions of the agent or to the fact that she does not use the people she harms as a means. In this article I offer a victim-centered account. I argue that the circumstances in which the (...)
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  41. added 2017-01-25
    Another Perspective on the Doctrine of Double Effect.Camillo C. Bica - 1999 - Public Affairs Quarterly 13 (2):131-139.
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  42. added 2017-01-23
    Internecine War Killings.Cécile Fabre - 2012 - Utilitas 24 (2):214-236.
    In his recent book Killing in War, McMahan develops a powerful argument for the view that soldiers on opposite sides of a conflict are not morally on a par once the war has started: whether they have the right to kill depends on the justness of their war. In line with just war theory in general, McMahan scrutinizes the ethics of killing the enemy. In this article, I accept McMahan's account, but bring it to bear on the entirely neglected, but (...)
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  43. added 2017-01-22
    Double Bubble.Alistair Fruish - 2007 - Philosophy Now 61:52-54.
  44. added 2017-01-21
    The Intended/Foreseen Distinction's Ethical Relevance.Thomas A. Cavanaugh - 1996 - Philosophical Papers 25 (3):179-188.
  45. added 2017-01-20
    Scanlon on Intention and Permissibility.Hallvard Lillehammer - 2010 - Analysis 70 (3):578-585.
  46. added 2017-01-19
    The Non-Identity Fallacy: Harm, Probability and Another Look at Parfit's Depletion Example.M. A. Roberts - 2007 - Utilitas 19 (3):267-311.
    The non-identity problem is really a collection of problems having distinct logical features. For that reason, non-identity problems can be typed. This article focuses on just one type of non-identity problem, the problem, which includes Derek Parfit's depletion example and many others. The can't-expect-better problem uses an assessment about the low probability of any particular person's coming into existence to reason that an earlier wrong act does not harm that person. This article argues that that line of reasoning is unusually (...)
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  47. added 2017-01-19
    Actions, Intentions, and Consequences: The Doctrine of Doing and Allowing.Warren S. Quinn - 1989 - Philosophical Review 98 (3):287-312.
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  48. added 2017-01-19
    The Moral Effect of Art.Sidney Zink - 1949 - Ethics 60 (4):261-274.
  49. added 2017-01-18
    Permissibility and Practical Inference.Matthew Hanser - 2005 - Ethics 115 (3):443-470.
    I wish to examine a rather different way of thinking about permissibility, one according to which, roughly speaking, an agent acts impermissibly if and only if he acts for reasons insufficient to justify him in doing what he does. For reasons that will emerge in Section II, I call this the inferential account of permissibility. I shall not here try to prove that this account is superior to its rivals. My aims are more modest. I shall develop the inferential account, (...)
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  50. added 2017-01-17
    The Principle of Double Effect in End-of-Life Care.Jordan Potter - 2015 - The National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly 15 (3):515-529.
    In Catholic moral theology, the principle of double effect has been an effective normative tool for centuries, and it can be used to determine the ethicality of actions that contain both good and evil consequences. The principle of double effect is especially useful in end-of-life care, because many end-of-life treatment options inherently have both good and evil conse­quences. The principle of double effect can be used to make both practical and moral distinctions between the acts of euthanasia, physician-assisted suicide, palliative (...)
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1 — 50 / 300