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.
Related categories

297 found
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  1. Double-Effect Reasoning: Doing Good & Avoiding Evil.T. A. Cavanaugh - 2006 - Oxford University Press UK.
    T. A. Cavanaugh defends double-effect reasoning, also known as the principle of double effect. DER plays a role in anti-consequentialist ethics, in hard cases in which one cannot realize a good without also causing a foreseen, but not intended, bad effect. This study is the first book-length account of the history and issues surrounding this controversial approach to hard cases. It will be indispensable in theoretical ethics, applied ethics, and moral theology. It will also interest legal and public policy scholars.
  2. Intractable Difficulties for the Doctrine of Double Effect: The Problem of Closeness and the Proper Focus of Concern.Ian Allan - unknown
    A more recent development within moral philosophy has been authors of a nonconsequentialist stripe forwarding arguments against principles once thought foundational to nonconsequentialist ethics as features that distinguished such an ethics from a consequentialist one. The Doctrine of Double Effect is one such principle. It holds that it is impermissible to act with the intention to harm either as a means or as an end, but it is sometimes permissible to perform the same act when the harm is not intended (...)
  3. The Principle of Double Effect.Leslie Allan - manuscript
    Absolutist systems of ethics have come in for harsh criticism on a number of fronts. The Principle of Double Effect was formulated by Catholic ethicists to overcome such objections. In this essay, Leslie Allan addresses four of the most prominent problems faced by an absolutist ethic and evaluates the extent to which the Principle of Double Effect is successful in avoiding or mitigating these criticisms.
  4. Is the Doctrine of Double Effect Irrelevant in End-of-Life Decision Making?Peter Allmark, Mark Cobb, B. Jane Liddle & Angela Mary Tod - 2010 - Nursing Philosophy 11 (3):170-177.
    In this paper, we consider three arguments for the irrelevance of the doctrine of double effect in end-of-life decision making. The third argument is our own and, to that extent, we seek to defend it. The first argument is that end-of-life decisions do not in fact shorten lives and that therefore there is no need for the doctrine in justification of these decisions. We reject this argument; some end-of-life decisions clearly shorten lives. The second is that the doctrine of double (...)
  5. The Doctrine of Double Effect in US Law.Michael E. Allsopp - 2011 - The National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly 11 (1):31-40.
  6. T. A. Cavanaugh, Double-Effect Reasoning: Doing Good and Avoiding Evil. [REVIEW]Robert D. Anderson - 2010 - Journal of Value Inquiry 44 (1):113-116.
  7. Double-Effect Reasoning—T.A. Cavanaugh.S. J. Andrew Jaspers - 2008 - International Philosophical Quarterly 48 (2):260-262.
  8. Modern Moral Philosophy.G. E. M. Anscombe - 1958 - Philosophy 33 (124):1 - 19.
    The author presents and defends three theses: (1) "the first is that it is not profitable for us at present to do moral philosophy; that should be laid aside at any rate until we have an adequate philosophy of psychology." (2) "the second is that the concepts of obligation, And duty... And of what is morally right and wrong, And of the moral sense of 'ought', Ought to be jettisoned if this is psychologically possible...." (3) "the third thesis is that (...)
  9. Action, Intention and ‘Double Effect’.Gertrude Elizabeth Margaret Anscombe - 2005 - In M. Geach & L. Gormally (eds.), Human Life, Action and Ethics. Exeter: Imprint Academic.
    Introduction: It is customary in the dominant English and related schools of philosophy to restrict the terms “action” or “agency.” That is, when the topic is ‘philosophy of action’. This is often done by an appeal to intuition about a few examples. If I fall over, you wouldn’t usually call that an action on my part; it’s not something that I do, it is rather something that happens to me. Donald Davidson has made a more serious attempt than this at (...)
  10. Ethical Decision-Making: A Case for the Triple Font Theory.Surendra Arjoon - 2007 - Journal of Business Ethics 71 (4):395-410.
    This paper discusses the philosophical argument and the application of the Triple Font Theory for moral evaluation of human acts and attempts to integrate the conceptual components of major moral theories into a systematic internally consistent decision-making model that is theoretically driven. The paper incorporates concepts such as formal and material cooperation and the Principle of Double Effect into the theoretical framework. It also advances the thesis that virtue theory ought to be included in any adequate justification of morality and (...)
  11. Double Effect, Principle or Doctrine Of.M. P. Aulisio - 2003 - Encyclopedia of Bioethics 3:685-90.
  12. One Person's Modus Ponens: Boyle, Absolutist Catholicism, and the Doctrine of Double Effect.M. P. Aulisio - 1997 - Christian Bioethics 3 (2):142-157.
    The doctrine of double effect (DOE) has its origins in Roman Catholic thought and has been held to have widespread applications in bioethics. Its applications range over issues of maternal-fetal conflict, organ donation and transplant, euthanasia, and resource allocation, among other controversial issues. Recently, Joseph Boyle, the foremost proponent of the DOE over the past few decades, has argued that the DOE is required by the absolutist context of the Catholic tradition, and, further, that anyone who rejects this particular context (...)
  13. Intention, Foresight, and the Doctrine of Double Effect.Mark Paul Aulisio - 1996 - Dissertation, Bowling Green State University
    This dissertation is fundamentally concerned with the conceptual tenability and applicability of the distinction between intention and foresight. This distinction, I argue, is embedded in ordinary language, assumed to be of moral import in common morality, at the center of a vigorous jurisprudential debate regarding the proper legal conception of intention, and at the basis of the Doctrine of Double Effect. With respect to the latter, the intention/foresight distinction has relevance for a wide variety of moral issues including, among other (...)
  14. The Intend/Foresee Distinction, Moral Absolutes, and the Side Effects of the Choice to Do Nothing.Adam D. Bailey - 2011 - American Journal of Jurisprudence 56 (1):151-168.
    What grounds the moral significance of the intend/foresee distinction? To put the question another way, what reason do we have for believing that moral absolutes apply with respect to intended effects, but not foreseeable but unintended (bad) effects? Joseph Boyle has provided an answer that relies on the idea that persons can find themselves in situations of “moral impossibility”—situations in which every available option foreseeably will give rise to bad effects. However, Robert Anderson has put Boyle’s answer into question by (...)
  15. The Principle of Double Effect: Conditions and Applications.Mark William Barber - 1990 - Dissertation, Marquette University
    This work considers the fundamental structure of the conditions which constitute the principle of double effect. The purpose is to examine what positions need to be defended in order for the principle to be workable. ;The first section of the work examines the principle in its Thomistic origins. It is argued that the principle as we now know it was implicitly present in St. Thomas Aquinas' treatment of self-defense found in Summa Theologiae, II-II 64, 7. ;The second section examines a (...)
  16. Morality and Consequences.Jonathan Bennett - 1980 - Tanner Lectures.
    In this lecture I shall offer to make clear, deeply grounded, objective sense of a certain contrast: I call it the contrast between positive and negative instrumentality, and it shows up in ordinary speech in remarks about what happens because a person did do such and such, as against what happens because he did not. The line between positive and negative instrumentality lies fairly close to some others which are drawn by more ordinary bits of English. For instance, the difference (...)
  17. How Important is the Doctrine of Double Effect for Moral Theology? Contextualizing the Controversy.J. Berkman - 1997 - Christian Bioethics 3 (2):89-114.
    One's conception of the conditions and applicability of the principle of double effect derive from one's broader convictions about moral methodology. Developed in a Catholic context which presumed the existence of moral absolutes, the principle of double effect was originally a conceptual tool to aid priests in being skilled confessors. In recent decades, as the practice of moral theology has become less connected with its earlier ecclesial and sacramental context, the principle of double effect has fallen into an epistemological crisis. (...)
  18. Another Perspective on the Doctrine of Double Effect.Camillo C. Bica - 1999 - Public Affairs Quarterly 13 (2):131-139.
  19. Collateral Violence and the Doctrine of Double Effect.Camillo C. Bica - 1997 - Public Affairs Quarterly 11 (1):87-92.
  20. Double Effect: A Useful Rule That Alone Cannot Justify Hastening Death.J. A. Billings - 2011 - Journal of Medical Ethics 37 (7):437-440.
    The rule of double effect is regularly invoked in ethical discussions about palliative sedation, terminal extubation and other clinical acts that may be viewed as hastening death for imminently dying patients. Unfortunately, the literature tends to employ this useful principle in a fashion suggesting that it offers the final word on the moral acceptability of such medical procedures. In fact, the rule cannot be applied appropriately without invoking moral theories that are not explicit in the rule itself. Four tenets of (...)
  21. Double Effect and US Supreme Court Reasoning.Lisa Gasbarre Black - 2011 - The National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly 11 (1):41-48.
  22. The Theoretical Tenability of the Doctrine of Double Effect.T. J. Bole - 1991 - Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 16 (5):467-473.
    The doctrine of double effect shows that for which the moral agent is responsible, by explicating the relationship between the act directly intended and the consequences of that act. I contend that this doctrine is necessary not only for natural law absolutism, but also for Donagan's Kantianism and for Quinn's revised construal of the doctrine, and even for consequentialism, as bioethical implications of the doctrine make clear. For those who do not accept this necessity, I contend that it is necessary (...)
  23. The Doctrine of Double Effect.Thornas Bole - 1991 - Southwest Philosophy Review 7 (1):91-103.
  24. An Error About the Doctrine of Double Effect: A Response to Kaufman's Reply to Botros.Sophie Botros - 2001 - Philosophy 76 (2):304-311.
    In replying to my article ‘An Error about the Doctrine of Double Effect’, Kaufman claims that the permission given by the four-condition Doctrine for certain mixed actions is merely complementary to an absolute prohibition—which he claims is the DDE's primary function. I point out again that in many cases this makes an appeal to the DDE's fourth condition not merely redundant but incoherent. Furthermore, his claim that I am a utilitarian maximizer, frustrated by a doctrine prohibiting intentional harms, however great (...)
  25. An Error About the Doctrine of Double Effect.Sophie Botros - 1999 - Philosophy 74 (1):71-83.
    This paper claims as erroneous the current widespread representation of the Doctrine of Double Effect (DDE) as primarily condemning as intrinsically bad actions involving intentional harm. The DDE's Four Conditions are in fact used solely for justifying certain intrinsically good actions with both intended good and unintended bad effects. Though contemporary writers assign a minor justificatory role to the DDE this is incompatible with their attribution to it of a primary prohibitive role. Not only is the conduct cited by these (...)
  26. An the Church Agree to Condom Use by HIV-Discordant Couples.Luc Bovens - 2009 - Journal of Medical Ethics 35:743-6.
    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 (...)
  27. Toward Understanding the Principle of Double Effect.Joseph M. Boyle Jr - 1980 - Ethics 90 (4):527-538.
  28. Intentions, Christian Morality, and Bioethics: Puzzles of Double Effect.J. Boyle - 1997 - Christian Bioethics 3 (2):87-88.
  29. Just War and Double Effect.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 (...)
  30. Medical Ethics and Double Effect: The Case of Terminal Sedation.Joseph Boyle - 2004 - Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics 25 (1):51-60.
    The use of terminal sedation to control theintense discomfort of dying patients appearsboth to be an established practice inpalliative care and to run counter to the moraland legal norm that forbids health careprofessionals from intentionally killingpatients. This raises the worry that therequirements of established palliative care areincompatible with moral and legal opposition toeuthanasia. This paper explains how thedoctrine of double effect can be relied on todistinguish terminal sedation from euthanasia. The doctrine of double effect is rooted inCatholic moral casuistry, but (...)
  31. Who is Entitled to Double Effect?Joseph Boyle - 1991 - Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 16 (5):475-494.
    The doctrine of double effect continues to be an important tool in bioethical casuistry. Its role within the Catholic moral tradition continues, and there is considerable interest in it by contemporary moral philosophers. But problems of justification and correct application remain. I argue that if the traditional Catholic conviction that there are exceptionless norms prohibiting inflicting some kinds of harms on people is correct, then double effect is justified and necessary. The objection that double effect is superfluous is a rejection (...)
  32. Further Thoughts on Double Effect: Some Preliminary Responses.Joseph Boyle - 1991 - Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 16 (5):565-570.
  33. 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.
  34. 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 (...)
  35. Can Deontological Principles Be Unified? Reflections on the Mere Means Principle.Stijn Bruers - forthcoming - Philosophia:1-16.
    The mere means principle says it is impermissible to treat someone as merely a means to someone else’s ends. I specify this principle with two conditions: a victim is used as merely a means if the victim does not want the treatment by the agent and the agent wants the presence of the victim’s body. This principle is a specification of the doctrine of double effect which is compatible with moral intuitions and with a restricted kind of libertarianism. An extension (...)
  36. A Review and Systematization of the Trolley Problem.Stijn Bruers & Johan Braeckman - 2014 - Philosophia 42 (2):251-269.
    The trolley problem, first described by Foot (1967) and Thomson (The Monist, 59, 204–217, 1976), is one of the most famous and influential thought experiments in deontological ethics. The general story is that a runaway trolley is threatening the lives of five people. Doing nothing will result in the death of those persons, but acting in order to save those persons would unavoidably result in the death of another, sixth person. It appears that, depending on the situation, we have different (...)
  37. Intending, Foreseeing and the Doctrine of Double Effect.Ann Bumpus - 1995 - Dissertation, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
    We typically assume that there is a difference between foreseeing an effect of one's voluntary action and intending the effect. Call the view that there is such a difference 'the Ordinary View'. My dissertation is a defense of the Ordinary View against two recent challenges. ;The first challenge to the Ordinary View I call "Holism". The upshot of the holist's position is that we intend all the foreseen effects of our voluntary actions. I begin by considering and arguing against a (...)
  38. Double Effect Reasoning and Cooperation.Ray Campbell - 2012 - Bioethics Research Notes 24 (1):1.
    Campbell, Ray This paper is an abbreviated version of a paper given at the National Colloquium for Catholic Bioethicists, Melbourne, 2012. That paper in turn was an abbreviated version of part of my doctoral thesis, The Human Act and Moral Responsibility, John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family, Melbourne, 2011. The larger works give more of the context for this discussion and more examples.
  39. Lifespan Extension and the Doctrine of Double Effect.Laura Capitaine, Katrien Devolder & Guido Pennings - 2013 - Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics 34 (3):207-226.
    Recent developments in biogerontology—the study of the biology of ageing—suggest that it may eventually be possible to intervene in the human ageing process. This, in turn, offers the prospect of significantly postponing the onset of age-related diseases. The biogerontological project, however, has met with strong resistance, especially by deontologists. They consider the act of intervening in the ageing process impermissible on the grounds that it would (most probably) bring about an extended maximum lifespan—a state of affairs that they deem intrinsically (...)
  40. Woodward, P.A., Editor. The Doctrine of Double Effect: Philosophers Debate a Controversial Moral Principle.Peter J. Cataldo - 2004 - The National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly 4 (2):434-436.
  41. Double Effect and the Ethical Significance of Distinct Volitional States.T. Cavanaugh - 1997 - Christian Bioethics 3 (2):131-141.
    Much of Roman Catholic discussion concerning bioethical controversies, such as the surgical removal of a life-threatening cancerous uterus when the fetus is not viable, has focused on the employment of double-effect reasoning. While double-effect reasoning has been the subject of much debate, this paper argues first, that there is a distinction between the intended and the foreseen; second, that this distinction applies to the contrasted cases in such a way as to categorize foreseen but not intended consequences; and third, that (...)
  42. Anscombe, Thomson, and Double Effect in Advance.T. A. Cavanaugh - forthcoming - American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly.
  43. Aristotle’s Voluntary / Deliberate Distinction, Double-Effect Reasoning, and Ethical Relevance.T. A. Cavanaugh - 2014 - International Philosophical Quarterly 54 (4):367-378.
    In this essay I articulate Aristotle’s account of the voluntary with a view to weighing in on a contemporary ethical debate concerning the moral relevance of the intended / foreseen distinction. Natural lawyers employ this distinction to contrast consequentially comparable acts with different intentional structures. They propose, for example, that consequentially comparable acts of terror and tactical bombing morally differ, based on their diverse structures of intention. Opponents of double-effect reasoning hold that one best captures the widely acknowledged intuitive appeal (...)
  44. Double-Effect Reasoning Defended: A Response to Scanlon.T. A. Cavanaugh - 2012 - Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association 86:267-279.
    Common morality endorses some form of an exceptionless prohibition against killing innocents. Natural lawyers employ double-effect reasoning to address hard cases involving deaths of the innocent. Current deontologists criticize DER-proponents as conflating act-with agent-evaluations. Scanlon develops this critique extensively. I respond to his criticism. He maintains that the DER-advocate tells a badly-motivated agent to refrain from an obligatory act. Thus, he asserts, the natural lawyer who employs DER errs. Instead, Scanlon proposes, one ought to assess the act as permissible while (...)
  45. Double-Effect Reasoning Defended.T. A. Cavanaugh - 2012 - Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association 86:267-279.
  46. Double-Effect Reasoning: Doing Good and Avoiding Evil.T. A. Cavanaugh - 2006 - Oxford University Press.
    T. A. Cavanaugh defends double-effect reasoning (DER), also known as the principle of double effect. DER plays a role in anti-consequentialist ethics (such as deontology), in hard cases in which one cannot realize a good without also causing a foreseen, but not intended, bad effect (for example, killing non-combatants when bombing a military target). This study is the first book-length account of the history and issues surrounding this controversial approach to hard cases. It will be indispensable in theoretical ethics, applied (...)
  47. Double Effect and the End-Not-Means Principle: A Response to Bennett.Thomas Cavanaugh - 1999 - Journal of Applied Philosophy 16 (2):181–185.
  48. Aquinas's Account of Double Effect.Thomas Cavanaugh - 1997 - The Thomist 61:107-121.
    Double-effect reasoning (DER) is attributed to Aquinas "tout court". Aquinas's account, however, differs from contemporary DER insofar as Thomas considers the ethical status of "risking" an assailant's life while contemporary accounts focus on actions causing harm inevitably. Since one cannot claim to risk the inevitable, and since there is a significant difference between risking harm and causing harm inevitably. Thomas's account does not extend to cases of inevitable harm. Thus, the received understanding of Aquinas's account is flawed and leads to (...)
  49. Double-Effect Reasoning, Craniotomy, and Vital Conflicts.Thomas A. Cavanaugh - 2011 - The National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly 11 (3):453-464.
  50. Act Evaluation, Willing and Double Effect.Thomas A. Cavanaugh - 1997 - Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association 71:243-253.
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