The i/f distinction's ethical import

T. A. Cavanaugh

in Double-Effect Reasoning

Published in print August 2006 | ISBN: 9780199272198
Published online September 2006 | e-ISBN: 9780191604157 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Studies in Theological Ethics

The i/f distinction's ethical import

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This chapter argues the most controverted and important claim of DER: the ethical relevance of the distinction between intent of a harmful means and foresight of a causally necessitated, consequentially comparable harmful concomitant. It considers misunderstandings of the distinction and argues against the consequentialist claim that the i/f distinction lacks relevance in act-evaluation while it may possess import in agent-evaluation. The i/f distinction has ethical import insofar as it articulates the full significance of the most basic ethical difference, namely, the difference between the voluntary and the not voluntary that establishes the very subject matter of ethics. Moreover, the distinction has ethical significance insofar as it reflects the unique status of persons as ends-in-themselves, a status that refers to and makes demands upon the intentions constituting acts. The chapter establishes the ethical relevance of this distinction, grounding its import both in widely acknowledged features of action as voluntary (in a broadly Aristotelian-Thomistic sense) and in a Kantian focus on the victim as an end in himself.

Keywords: act-evaluation; agent-evaluation; Aquinas; Aristotle; Bennett; consequentialism; Donagan; double effect; ethical relevance; evil

Chapter.  12495 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy of Religion

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