Meditations on the Problem of Dirty Hands: Can One Do Right by Doing Evil?

In Katriina Kajannes (ed.), Hyvyys. Jyväskylä: Athanor. pp. 107-118 (2021)
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Abstract

I examine the problem of dirty hands, suggesting that there is a possibility for the individual decision-maker to do bad to achieve good consequences. According to Consequentialism, because the consequences are what counts in morality, then there seems to be no phenomenon of dirty hands. I will first present what Jean-Paul Sartre meant by the problem of dirty hands, after which I will describe how contemporary philosophers have identified that problem. Finally, I will argue that Consequentialism does not negate the phenomenon of dirty hands on the grounds that consequences determine the ethical nature of action. Statements of “good” “bad”, or “the best” consequences are subjective and ambiguous in which case the phenomenon of dirty hands exists. Thus, action that produces positive consequences may not be morally justified.

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Mika Suojanen
University of Turku (PhD)

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