A moral ground for the means principle


A robust, if not absolute, prohibition on treating people simply as a means sits at the core of common sense deontological morality. But the principle prohibiting such treatment, the "means principle" (MP), has been notoriously hard to defend. This paper has two parts. In Part I, I survey why the interpretation of the MP in terms of intentions does not work, and why the interpretation in terms of causes, as defended up to now, is so mysterious as to be question begging. I also explore Judith Jarvis Thomson's early and admittedly failed attempt to explain the MP in terms of rights. In Part II, I articulate and defend a new account of a causal interpretation of the MP. The principle I defend there, the Restricting Claims Principle, registers the moral significance of the fact that certain claims have a kind of moral externality: if they had to be respected as rights that would restrict what agents could do on behalf of other patients. Claims that impose that sort of externality, restricting claims, register as less weighty than claims that do not. The claims of those who would be used simply as a means (a causal notion) are not restricting, and that explains why they are stronger than competing restricting claims.



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Alec Walen
Rutgers University - New Brunswick

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