Moral Philosophy Seminar (Week 4, TT18)

Moral Philosophy Seminar

Many philosophers believe in the doctrine of double effect (DDE) - that there is a morally important distinction between intentional and merely foreseen harm, and that intentional harm is all else equal harder to justify. The DDE requires us to classify harms as either intentional or merely foreseen. This has proved tricky. However, the literature largely focuses on unrealistic cases in which we know precisely how much harm we will do and exactly what it will achieve (for example, if you turn the trolley it will kill one for sure, and save five for sure). Here I focus on the DDE under uncertainty. How should we draw the line between intended and merely foreseen harms when we are uncertain as to which harms will eventuate, or how much good they will do? When an act will result in one of several different harmful outcomes, which ones should be counted as intentional and which should be counted as merely foreseen? I find that no single line seems intuitively satisfactory, and I speculate that this is because the DDE is actually an amalgamation of several independent morally important distinctions that come together under certainty, but can disaggregate under uncertainty.

Moral Philosophy Seminar Convenors: Prof Jeff McMahan and Dr Tom Sinclair