I defend the doctrine of double effect and a so-called ‘strict’ definition of intention: A intends an effect if and only if A has it as an end or believes that it is a state of affairs in the causal sequence that will result in A's end. Following Kamm's proposed ‘doctrine of triple effect’, I distinguish an intended effect from an effect that motivates an action, and show that this distinction is morally significant. I use several contrived cases as illustrations, (...) but my position does not depend on intuitive judgements about them. Instead, it follows from the view that the moral permissibility of an action depends at least partly on how it forms the agent's character. I also respond to some objections presented by Harris, Bennett, McIntyre, Thomson and Scanlon to the doctrine of double effect. (shrink)
Manuel Velasquez and F. Neil Brady apply the doctrine of double effect to business ethics and conclude that the doctrine allows a pharmaceutical company to sell a drug with potentially fatal side effects only if it also has the good effect of saving lives. This forbidsthe sale of many common products, such as automobiles and alcohol. My account preserves the virtues of the doctrine of double effectwithout making it too restrictive. I apply the doctrine to a pharmaceutical company’s decision to (...) market a drug with dangerous side effects and argue that free markets often offer the best way to compare the good and bad effects of business decisions. I conclude that the doctrine does allow a business to sell a potentially fatal product that does not save lives, provided that it warns consumers about the danger. (shrink)
I argue that Kant identifies the only principle that refutes war realism, or the view that warring nations should do whatever they can to win the war as quickly as possible. According to Kant, warring nations must follow principles that preserve the possibility of entering a peaceful condition, and the peaceful condition is not merely an end to hositilities.
In a recent contribution to this journal, Patrick Tully criticizes my view that the doctrine of double effect does not prohibit a pharmaceutical company from selling a drug that has potentially fatal side-effects and that does not treat a life-threatening condition. Tully alleges my account is too permissive and makes the doctrine irrelevant to decisions about selling harmful products. In the following paper, I respond to Tully’s objections and show that he misinterprets my position and misstates some elements of the (...) doctrine of double effect. I also show how the doctrine constrains some decisions about marketing drugs with potentially fatal side-effects. (shrink)
I argue that the contralife argument, which new natural law theorists have proposed as an argument against contraception, also would rule out altered nuclear transfer, which has been proposed as a way of procuring human stem cells without destroying human embryos.
This paper argues that Kant identifies what is morally good as what allows people to fulfill their essential purpose. In After Virtue, Alasdair MacIntyre contends that the Enlightenment project of justifying morality had to fail because Enlightenment thinkers did not treat moral judgments as teleological judgments. However, Kant claims in his Critique of Judgment that judging something to be good always refers to a purpose. I reconcile this claim with some passages from Kant’s writings that seem to contradict it, including (...) passages about a good will, the categorical imperative, and the boundary of human knowledge. I also explain how following the moral law allows humans to fulfill their essential purpose of becoming worthy of happiness. (shrink)
In a recent issue of this journal, Steven Dezort criticizes two versions of the contralife argument, including my version and a version defended by some prominent new natural law theorists. In this essay, I argue that people should accept the contralife argument even if they disagree with other principles of new natural law theory. To defend this thesis, I correct some misstatements about the contralife argument and identify basic disagreements about defining actions and respecting human life.
I clarify Kant's classification of duties and criticize the apocryphal tradition that, according to Kant, perfect duties trump imperfect duties. I then use Kant's view to argue that judges who believe that an action is immoral and should be illegal need not set aside their beliefs in order to comply with binding precedents that permit the action. The same view of morality that causes some people to oppose certain actions, including abortion, requires lower–court judges to comply with binding precedents. Therefore, (...) someone's opposition to legal abortion, by itself, does not justify opposing that person's nomination to a lower court. (shrink)
The author uses the central insight of the principle of double effect—that the distinction between intended effects and foreseen side effects is morally significant—to distinguish contraception from natural family planning. After summarizing the contralife argument against contraception, the author identifies limitations of arguments presented by Pope John Paul II and by Martin Rhonheimer. To show that the contralife argument does not apply to NFP, the author argues that agents do not intend every effect that motivates their actions. This argument supplements (...) the action theory of Germain Grisez, Joseph Boyle, John Finnis, and other proponents of new natural law theory. National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly 11.1 : 83–97. (shrink)
I present the strict definition of intended effects and pose two questions for its critics: Apart from rationalizing moral intuitions about the craniotomy and other controversial cases, why classify an effect as intended if it does not explain the action? What definition of intended effects can people use to guide their actions? These questions show that broad definitions of intended effects have no basis in action theory and are too vague to guide people’s actions. I suggest that broad definitions seem (...) plausible because people confuse what someone intends and what someone is responsible for causing. (shrink)
Petitionary prayer might seem pointless. If God is omnipotent and omnibenevolent, then why wouldn't God give us what is good for us regardless of whether we ask for it? I answer this question by arguing that the efficacy of petitionary prayer does not contradict the doctrines of divine omnipotence and omnibenevolence.
The principle of double effect has a long history, from scholastic disputations about self-defense and scandal to current debates about terrorism, torture, euthanasia, and abortion. Despite being widely debated, the principle remains poorly understood. In Intention, Character, and Double Effect, Lawrence Masek combines theoretical and applied questions into a systematic defense of the principle that does not depend on appeals to authority or intuitions about cases. Masek argues that actions can be wrong because they corrupt the agent's character and that (...) one must consider the agent's perspective to determine which effects the agent intends. This defense of the principle clears up common confusions and overcomes critics' objections, including confusions about trolley and transplant cases and objections from neuroscience and moral psychology. This book will interest scholars and students in different fields of study, including moral philosophy, action theory, moral theology, and moral psychology. Its discussion of contemporary ethical issues and sparse use of technical jargon make it suitable for undergraduate and graduate courses in applied ethics. The appendix summarizes the main cases that have been used to illustrate or to criticize the principle of double effect. (shrink)
After reading Kant's claim that only the moral law and respect for the moral law can motivate moral actions, readers sometimes caricature Kant's moral theory as a bizarre form of rule-fetishism that provides no good explanation of why people should act morally. My dissertation challenges this caricature by defending the thesis that Kant correctly maintains that moral actions always benefit the agent. ;This thesis seems to contradict Kant's claim that self-love cannot motivate moral actions and his distinction between acting morally (...) and pursuing happiness. However, the first chapter of my dissertation argues that a sound moral theory must show that acting morally always benefits the agent in order to provide an adequate explanation of why people should act morally. Remaining chapters show that Kant does not distinguish acting morally from pursuing happiness because he denies that acting morally always benefits the agent. Instead, he makes this distinction because he argues that being rational causes people to pursue an end other than happiness . Far from denying the claim that acting morally benefits the agent, Kant's discussion of the incentives of moral actions presupposes this claim. According to Kant, moral actions benefit humans by allowing them to realize the highest good for rational beings. Therefore, moral actions allow people to reach a state in which all of their interests are satisfied. (shrink)
The author argues that an action is morally wrong if any of its steps serves no purpose apart from preventing the existence of a human being. This principle entails that contraception and some proposed techniques for altered nuclear transfer are morally wrong, but it does not preclude producing stem cells through parthenogenesis. His argument depends on the premise that human life always is a good, including human life produced through immoral actions. The immoral action, not the life caused by the (...) action, is the evil that should be prevented. National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly 10.2 : 257–264. (shrink)
Many philosophers assume that the principle of double effect (PDE) is meant to cover trolley cases. In fact, trolley cases come from PDE’s critics, not its defenders. When philosophers stretch PDE to explain intuitions about trolley cases, they define intended effects too broadly. More importantly, trolley cases make poor illustrations of PDE because they focus attention away from the agent and onto the victim. When philosophers lose sight of the agent, some intuitions that fit PDE survive, but the rational basis (...) of these intuitions collapses. I avoid these problems by defending a minimalist, agent-based version of PDE. My version is minimalist because I do not try to turn PDE into a complete checklist that explains intuitions about every case. It is agent-based because I consider the agent’s perspective to define intentions and to make moral judgments. (shrink)
I argue against the view that modern biology has undermined traditional moral rules, including the prohibition of abortion and restrictions on human embryonic stem cell research, by blurring the distinction between humans and other animals. I argue that this view depends on the false premise that an organism can be wronged only if the organism has conscious interests. I then defend a rule against harvesting stem cells in a way that kills an organism with a rational nature. Finally, I apply (...) this rule to proposals about altered nuclear transfer and animal-human chimeras. (shrink)
I argue that contraception is morally wrong but that periodic abstinence (or natural family planning) is not. Further, I argue that altered nuclear transfer—a proposed technique for creating human stem cells without destroying human embryos—is morally wrong for the same reason that contraception is. Contrary to what readers might expect, my argument assumes nothing about the morality of cloning or abortion and requires no premises about God or natural teleology. Instead, I argue that contraception and altered nuclear transfer are morally (...) wrong because they fail to treat humanity as an inviolable end. (shrink)
This paper discusses the analogies that proponents of contralife arguments have used to distinguish contraception from periodic abstinence or natural family planning. I criticize these analogies and present a new analogy that better illustrates how contraception can be contralife when periodic abstinence are not.