The Principle of Double Effect

4. Conclusion

Book cover: Practical Ethics by Peter Singer

In this essay, I have examined the claim that the Principle of Double Effect avoids the difficulties associated with a less sophisticated absolutist ethic. I have scrutinized each of the four major problems in turn, and their attempted solutions, and concluded that PDE does not provide a satisfactory solution to any of them. PDE's valid distinction between acts and refusals, and their foreseen consequences, provides no logical guarantee against conflicts between rules and between different applications of the same rule. Hence, the principle cannot prevent recourse to a utilitarian-type calculus in cases of such conflicts. Neither could this distinction resolve the problem of moral agents being held morally culpable for whatever they did in situations of dilemma, even though they were not responsible for the existence of the dilemma.

Another linguistically correct distinction made by PDE is that between the intended and unintended foreseen consequences of a voluntary action. In spite of its correctness, advocates of PDE misconstrue the relevance of this distinction in act evaluation, leading to some morally repugnant conclusions. Because of this, PDE's posited explanation for the moral relevance of intention is an unsuitable replacement to its less sophisticated absolutist rival. Although the proposed explanatory framework serves to alleviate some of the harshness of a simpler absolutism, PDE was found to stop well short of being a suitable basis for an ethic serving the interests and concerns of humanity.

Copyright © 2015

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