Morality, Action, and Outcome

Philippa Foot

in Moral Dilemmas

Published in print October 2002 | ISBN: 9780199252848
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191597411 | DOI:
Morality, Action, and Outcome

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This essay is an expansion and refinement of the key ideas and distinctions that Foot advances in ‘Killing and Letting Die’ (V.). Here, she defends two morally relevant distinctions: firstly, that between ‘what we do’ and what ‘we allow to happen’ and secondly, what we aim at (‘direct intention’) and what we only foresee as the result of what we do (‘indirect intention’). Utilitarianism as a moral theory is, Foot claims, at fault in overlooking these important distinctions. She describes cases in which although it would be thought permissible to let one person die if we could then save a greater number, we should be outraged by the idea that we could kill one person in order to save them (Rescue I and Rescue II in Essay V.). Moreover, the impermissibility of even allowing one person to die deliberately in order to use the body to save others shows that the distinction between doing and allowing must be supplemented by the distinction between direct and indirect intention. Foot therefore argues that Utilitarianism is a deficient moral theory in that it overlooks these complexities of agency. This mistake came from the attempt to ground all moral judgements in purely causal relationships to better or worse ‘states of affairs,’ and in the latter part of the essay Foot calls into question the whole idea of ‘good states of affairs from a moral point of view’ that Utilitarians suppose to stand as the one foundation of all moral judgements.

Keywords: direct and indirect intention; doing and allowing; good states of affairs; John Rawls; Amartya Sen; utilitarianism

Chapter.  7554 words. 

Subjects: Moral Philosophy

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