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Moral Philosophy Seminar Week 3 TT12

Event Name Moral Philosophy Seminar Week 3 TT12
Start Date 7th May 2012 4:30pm
End Date 7th May 2012 6:30pm
Duration 2 hours

Ulrike Heuer (Leeds)  'Intentions, Permissibility, and the Reasons for Which We Act' to be held in the Lecture Room, 10 Merton Street, Oxford - Moral Philosophy Seminar webpage


If you injure me, it matters morally whether you meant to do so, whether it was an accident or you did it intentionally, and whether you did it because you thought it’ll be fun. Any ethical theory must be able to explain why this is so.

There are two dominant views in the current debate about the moral significance of an agent’s intentions, or the reasons for which she acts: The one is that the intention with which someone acts at least sometimes determines whether what she does is right or wrong (permissible or impermissible). Proponents of the so-called doctrine of double-effect (DDE) hold that an action which has certain bad outcomes may yet be permissible if the bad consequences are only foreseen, but impermissible if they are intended either as a means or as an end. This is not the only way in which intentions or the reasons for which an agent acts could make a difference to the action’s permissibility, but it is the best-known defense that they do.

According to the second view, intentions and reasons don’t matter in this way: they do not determine the permissibility of an action. They do matter, but in a different dimension of normative assessment: They determine whether the agent is a good or a bad person (Thomson); or alternatively: they determine the “moral worth” of an action (Markovits) or its “meaning” (Scanlon), including its praiseworthiness or blameworthiness; and in addition they may determine the severity or gravity of a wrong-doing. The main thesis is what Thomson calls “The Irrelevance-of-Intentions-to-Permissibility Thesis” (for short: IIP)

[IIP] “It is irrelevant to the question whether X may do alpha what intention X would do alpha with if he or she did it.”

I am going to discuss the reasons for accepting IIP, and in particular Scanlon’s arguments for the second approach more generally. I will show that those arguments are not successful, and that there are independent reasons for rejecting the view.

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