Intention, Permissibility, and Double Effect<sup>1</sup>

William J. FitzPatrick

in Oxford Studies in Normative Ethics

Published in print December 2012 | ISBN: 9780199662951
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191745195 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Studies In Normative Ethics

Intention, Permissibility, and Double Effect1

Show Summary Details


According to typical formulations of the doctrine of double effect (DDE), it is sometimes permissible to bring about as a foreseen but unintended side-effect some harm it would have been impermissible to aim at as a means or as an end, all else being equal. T. M. Scanlon has recently followed James Rachels and Judith Jarvis Thomson in rejecting the DDE on the grounds that it is implausible to hold that an otherwise permissible action can be rendered impermissible simply because of a particular agent's bad intentions. The chapter argues that when properly understood the DDE does not have this general implication and does not lead to implausible results: the role of intention in the DDE is more complex and abstract than these critics and even some defenders recognize, not generally making permissibility turn on the actual intentions of particular agents. When this is taken into account the objection is avoided entirely. Still, there are special circumstances under which the actual intentions of particular agents can affect permissibility, and the alternative understanding of the DDE properly explains this as well. The chapter concludes with a critique of Scanlon's attempt to show that the DDE is in any case dispensable.

Keywords: double effect; DDE; intention; permissibility; justification; harm; side-effect; just war theory; terrorism; nonconsequentialism; Scanlon; Thomson

Chapter.  13583 words. 

Subjects: Moral Philosophy

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.