Principle of Double Effect

Topics: Thomas Aquinas, KILL, Causality Pages: 5 (1842 words) Published: August 9, 2013
Principle of Double Effect
An action that is good in itself that has two effects--an intended and otherwise not reasonably attainable good effect, and an unintended yet foreseen evil effect--is licit, provided there is a due proportion between the intended good and the permitted evil. When there is a clash between the two universal norms of "do good" and "avoid evil," the question arises as to whether the obligation to avoid evil requires one to abstain from a good action in order to prevent a foreseen but merely permitted concomitant evil effect. The answer is that one need not always abstain from a good action that has foreseen bad effects, depending on certain moral criteria identified in the principle of double effect. Though five are listed here, some authors emphasize only four basic moral criteria (the fifth listed here further specifies the third criterion): The object of the act must not be intrinsically contradictory to one's fundamental commitment to God and neighbor (including oneself), that is, it must be a good action judged by its moral object (in other words, the action must not be intrinsically evil); The direct intention of the agent must be to achieve the beneficial effects and to avoid the foreseen harmful effects as far as possible, that is, one must only indirectly intend the harm; The foreseen beneficial effects must not be achieved by the means of the foreseen harmful effects, and no other means of achieving those effects are available; The foreseen beneficial effects must be equal to or greater than the foreseen harmful effects (the proportionate judgment); The beneficial effects must follow from the action at least as immediately as do the harmful effects. Doctrine of Double Effect

he doctrine (or principle) of double effect is often invoked to explain the permissibility of an action that causes a serious harm, such as the death of a human being, as a side effect of promoting some good end. It is claimed that sometimes it is permissible to cause such a harm as a side effect (or “double effect”) of bringing about a good result even though it would not be permissible to cause such a harm as a means to bringing about the same good end. This reasoning is summarized with the claim that sometimes it is permissible to bring about as a merely foreseen side effect a harmful event that it would be impermissible to bring about intentionally. 1. Formulations of the principle of double effect

Thomas Aquinas is credited with introducing the principle of double effect in his discussion of the permissibility of self-defense in the Summa Theologica (II-II, Qu. 64, Art.7). Killing one's assailant is justified, he argues, provided one does not intend to kill him. Aquinas observes that “Nothing hinders one act from having two effects, only one of which is intended, while the other is beside the intention. … Accordingly, the act of self-defense may have two effects: one, the saving of one's life; the other, the slaying of the aggressor.” As Aquinas's discussion continues, a justification is provided that rests on characterizing the defensive action as a means to a goal that is justified: “Therefore, this act, since one's intention is to save one's own life, is not unlawful, seeing that it is natural to everything to keep itself in being as far as possible.” However, Aquinas observes, the permissibility of self-defense is not unconditional: “And yet, though proceeding from a good intention, an act may be rendered unlawful if it be out of proportion to the end. Wherefore, if a man in self-defense uses more than necessary violence, it will be unlawful, whereas, if he repel force with moderation, his defense will be lawful.” Aquinas does not actually say that intending to kill the assailant as a means to self-defense would be prohibited. The passage can be interpreted as formulating a prohibition on apportioning one's efforts with killing as the only goal guiding one's actions, which would lead one to act with...
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