Possible Intentions and the Doctrine of Double Effect

Ethics, Medicine and Public Health 8:11-17 (2019)
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Abstract

Under the standard formulation of the Doctrine of Double Effect, an act is permissible only if it is the result of an intention to do good and not the result of an intention to do bad. Many find that this absurdly ties the act’s permissibility to the agent’s character and not to features of the act itself. In light of such criticism, some philosophers have reformulated the doctrine so that it holds that an act is permissible given that it results from an intention to do good by some agent. I argue that this appeal to possible intentions to do good fails. There is no modal or moral reason to privilege intentions to do good over those to do bad, and without privileging them, this version of the Doctrine of Double Effect leads to contradiction. In many scenarios, if a possible intention to do good is considered to be sufficient for permissibility, then in that same scenario a possible intention to do bad should be sufficient for impermissibility. However, one and the same act can have both possible intentions to do good and possible intentions to do bad. Thus, the principle leads to the contradictory ruling that one and the same act is both permissible and impermissible.

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Christopher Frugé
Rutgers University - New Brunswick

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