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Clarification on Moral Relativism. Distinguish the two ideas: Context Sensitivity: the permissibility of an action partly depends on nonmoral facts that hold in the context in question – facts concerning agents and their circumstances.

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Clarification on Moral Relativism

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Clarification on Moral Relativism

  • Distinguish the two ideas:

    • Context Sensitivity: the permissibility of an action partly depends on nonmoral facts that hold in the context in question – facts concerning agents and their circumstances.

      • This means that similar actions – suicide for example – can be justified in one but not in other contexts.

    • Moral Relativism: there is no universal moral truth.

  • Context sensitivity holds even if some principle, say consequentialism, is universally true.

    • For example, depending on consequences, consequentialism will justify suicide in one context but not in other contexts.


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The Principle of Double Effect


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Just War Theory

  • Theologians in the Middle Ages formulated a long-standing view on the justification of war.

  • This view deals with jus ad bellum and jus in bello as follows:

    • jus ad bellum (just cause): is a state (or some political body) justified in participating in war?

      • The traditional view: a war is permissible if and only if it is fought as being necessary to defend the attacked party from aggression.

    • jus in bello (just conduct): how may we conduct ourselves in war?

      • The standard answer has two parts:

        • Restriction on proper target: the targets of attack must be only soldiers on the other side; and,

        • Restriction on proper way of attack

          • The Principle of Double Effect is the traditional view.


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The Principle of Double Effect (PDE)

  • Roman Catholic moral theologians, such as Thomas Aquinas, have held a principle called the Principle of Double Effect (PDE). Many non-Catholics also have held this principle.

  • Many contemporary philosophers have examined whether some version of PDE is correct.

  • The core of PDE is the distinction between the intended effect and the merely foreseen effect.

  • PDE takes (1) an action with an intended harm to require more to justify than (2) an action with the same amount of harm merely foreseen. That is, according to PDE, (1) is more difficult to justify.


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The Classical Formulation of PDE (See Beauchamp, 89 for its variation)

  • Whenever an action would produce at least one good and one bad effect, then one is permitted to perform the act if and only if all of the following are met:

  • The act, apart from its effect, is not wrong;

  • The bad effect is not intended by the agent. There are two principal ways in which an effect might be intended:

    • Any effect that is a chosen end of action is intended.

    • Any effect that is a means for bringing about some intended end is also intended.

  • The bad effect is not out of proportion to the good effect.

    • (That is, the badness is much smaller than the goodness. How much? Well, nobody has specified the ratio.)


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The Alleged Categories of Effects

Expected Effects

Unexpected Effects

Merely Foreseen Effects

Intended Effects

Intended as Ends

Intended as Means

Unexpected effects and merely foreseen effects are side effects.


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The Application of PDE:Bomber Examples

  • Both Bomber T and Bomber S have the goal of weakening a really evil but super-powerful enemy. Each intends to pursue this goal by dropping bombs.

  • Bomber T’s plan is to bomb the school in the enemy’s territory, thereby killing children of the enemy and terrorizing the enemy’s population.

  • Bomber S’s plan is to bomb the enemy’s munitions plant, thereby undermining the enemy’s war effort. However, he also knows that next to the munitions plant is a school, and that when he bombs the plant, he will also destroy the school, killing the children inside.


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PDE: Bomber Examples

  • Suppose that both bombings have the good effect, i.e., weakening the really evil but super-powerful enemy, which in proportion to the harm of killing children etc.

  • If so, PDE apparently tells that Bomber T’s action is wrong while Bomber S’s action is permissible.

  • Why? Bomber T intends to kill the children while (apparently) Bomber S merely foresees his bombing will kill the children: for Bomber S, killing children is a merely foreseen side-effect. (Chart 1)

  • What do you think about this judgment?


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Chart 1: Bomber Examples

Means:

Killing the children in school and terrorizing the enemy’s population

End:

Weakening the evil but super-powerful enemy

  • Bomber T

    Action: Bombing

  • Bomber S

    Action: Bombing

Impermissible!

Means:

Destroying the enemy’s munitions plant

End:

Weakening the evil but super-powerful enemy

Permissible!


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Suicide

  • If suicide (including assisted suicide) involves the intention to put him- or her- self to death (as a means or an end), and if his or her death is a bad thing, a PDE prohibits suicide.

    • As you will see in Part 1 of Beauchamp, some people doubt whether the meaning of “suicide” implies the intention to put him- or her- self to death. However, there is no dispute about the fact that many cases of suicide involves the intention to put him- or her- self to death.

    • Aquinas and other Catholic theologians think that any innocent person’s death is always bad. However, this point can be controversial. What about the death of guilty persons? What about the death of forced conscripts? What about the death of a person who he or she does not want to continue to live because of incurable and painful illness or accident?


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Cases Possibly in Favor of PDE


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Organ Transplant Case

  • Imagine that there are five patients, each of whom will soon die unless they receive an appropriate transplanted organ: one needs a heart, two need kidneys, one needs a liver, and the fifth needs new lungs. Unfortunately, due to tissue incompatibilities, none of the five can act as donor for the others. But here is Chuck, who is in the hospital for some fairly routine tests. The hospital computer reveals that his tissue is completely compatible with the five patients. You are a surgeon, and it now occurs to you that you could chop up Chuck and use his organs to save the five others.


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PDE and The Organ Transplant Case

  • Some moral theory, such as utilitarianism, is said to imply that the surgeon’s chopping up Chuck is permissible or even required.

    • This point is controversial.

  • What about PDE? In this case, the surgeon intends to chop up Chuck (in order to save the five patients). According to PDE, intendedly harming an individual is wrong, so the surgeon’s chopping up Chuck is wrong.

  • This vindicates ordinary views on this example.


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The “Trolley” Example

  • Frank is the only passenger on a trolley whose driver has just shouted that the trolley’s brakes have failed, and who then died of the shock. On the track ahead of him are five people; the banks are so steep that they will not be able to get off the track in time. The track has a spur leading off to the right, and Frank can turn the trolley onto it. Unfortunately there is one person on the right-hand track. Frank can turn the trolley, killing the one; or he can refrain from turning the trolley, letting the five die.


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The Trolley “Example”

☺☺☺☺☺

Frank


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PDE and the Trolley Example

  • In this case, in changing the course of the trolley, Frank does not intend the harm or death of any person. Thus, the action will be permissible (only) as far as the proportionality condition is satisfied: the bad consequence – the death of one person – is not out of proportion to the good consequence – the survival of five people.

  • Then, PDE might vindicate ordinary people’s view.


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Criticisms of PDE

Counterintuitive Results

Existence of Alternative Descriptions

Doubts about the Relevance of the Distinction between Intended harm and Merely Foreseen harm


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Problem 1. Counterintuitive Results

  • Consider Foot’s “Gas” example.

    • Suppose that if a doctor operates to save the lives of five patients, this will inevitably release some poisonous gas so that he will end up killing a sixth person who cannot be moved out of harm’s way.

    • Suppose there are other ways to save the five patients. We will then think that the operation is wrong.

  • However, the doctor does not intend the harm to the sixth person. The act of operation itself seems all right. Thus, the operation is prohibited by PDE only if the harm to the patient is out of proportion.


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Can the Proportionality Condition Help?

  • However, remember what PDE says about the “trolley” example. PDE says it is permissible to change the course of the “trolley” only as far as the bad consequence – one person’s death – is not out of proportion to the good consequence – the survival of five people.

  • Consistency seems to require that if this is not out of proportion, one person’s death is not out of proportion to the survival of five people in Foot’s “Gas” example.

  • That is, if it is permissible to change the course in the “trolley” example, the operation is also permissible in the “Gas” example; and if the operation is not permissible, changing the course is neither permissible. Either way, PDE diverges from ordinary views somewhere.


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Problem 2: Alternate Descriptions: Ex. Self-Defense

  • PDE is often used by many (e.g., Aquinas) to justify certain types of self-defense. However, consider the following case.

  • Suppose that someone is coming closer to kill you with a gun. You are convalescent and weak, and all you have is a stick of dynamite. If you light and throw it to your assailant, he will certainly die and you will be saved. If you do so, do you intend to kill the assailant? Or do you intend to stop the assailant with merely foreseeing the death of the assailant?

  • Depending on how your intention is described, PDE makes different judgments.


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Which Description Should be Used?

Permissible! (The Catholic Theologians?)

Means: Stopping the attacker

End:

Saving oneself from death or serious injury

Action:

Throwing a dynamite

Side effect: Death of the attacker

OR

Impermissible!

End:

Saving oneself from death or serious injury

Means:

Blowing the attacker to bits

Action:

Throwing a dynamite


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The Problem of Alternate Descriptions: Nagel’s Quandary on Indiscriminate Attack (Nagel, 131)

  • “…if one bombs, burns, or strafes a village containing a hundred people, twenty of whom one believes to be guerrillas, so that by killing most of them one will statistically likely to kill most of the guerrillas, then isn’t one’s attack on the group of one hundred a means of destroying the guerrillas, pure and simple? If one makes no attempt to discriminate between guerrillas and civilians, as is impossible in an aerial attack on a small village, then one cannot regard as a mere side effect the deaths of those in the group that one would not have bothered to kill if more selective means had been available…


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Continued

  • …The difficulty is that this argument depends on one particular description of the act, and the reply might be that the means used against guerrillas is not: killing everybody in the village – but rather: obliteration bombing of the area in which the twenty guerrillas are known to be located. If there are civilians in the area as well, they will be killed as a side effect of such action.”


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Which Description Should be Used?

Permissible!

Means:

Obliteration of an area

End:

Destroying the guerrillas

Action:

Aerial Bombing

Side effect: the death and injury of civilians in the area

OR

Impermissible!

End:

Destroying the guerrillas

Means:

Killing everybody in the village

Action:

Aerial Bombing


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Problem 2: Alternative Descriptions

  • In many cases, it seems that there is no way to say which description of the agent’s intention is appropriate to use (in applying PDE). If so, PDE cannot give determinate non-arbitrary judgments.

    • PDE might call one and the same action right and wrong, depending on which description is used.


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Problem 3: RelevanceThe Loop Variant of the “Trolley” Example

  • Rex is the only passenger on a trolley whose driver has just shouted that the trolley’s brakes have failed, and who then died of the shock. On the track ahead of him are five lean people; the banks are so steep that they will not be able to get off the track in time. The track has a spur leading off to the right, and Rex can turn the trolley onto it. Rex knows the tracks don’t continue to diverge – they circle back. But there is one very fat person on the right-hand track, who can’t move swiftly due to the steepness of the bank. Rex can turn the trolley, killing the fat guy and having his body stop the trolley from hitting the five; or Rex can refrain from turning the trolley, letting the five die and their bodies stop the trolley from hitting the one.


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The Loop Variant of the “Trolley” Example

☺☺☺☺☺

Rex

  • If Rex turn right to save the five, he intends hitting the fat guy as a means. PDE says it is

  • Compare this w/ the original case, where Frank doesn’t intend harm. Is Rex’s turning right more problematic than Frank’s?

impermissible.

But is it really impermissible?


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Problem 3: Relevance

  • In considering the Bomber examples and the Trolley examples, you might wonder whether the distinction between intended harm as means and merely foreseen harm is, even if possible, really morally relevant: a merely foreseen harm might be as objectionable as an intended harm as means.

    • After all, the damage to the victim does not change whether it is intended or not.

  • Thus, the defender of PDE needs to show that an intended harm as means might be more objectionable than a merely foreseen harm.


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(Ir)relevance of Intending Harm as an End

  • Thus far we have only talked about a harm intended as a means. Is the distinction between intending harm as an end and merely foreseen harm morally relevant? That is, does a harm intended as an end makes an action wrong?

  • [The Populist Dictator] Suppose in a very poor country, there is a rich dictator who oppresses people’s liberties and democratic activities. He aims at solidifying his oppressive regime. As a means, he intendedly donates a great portion of his private riches, which are earned in a decent way, to an organization helping the needy part of the populace.

  • According to PDE, this act of donation will be…

    wrong and prohibited because the dictator intends a bad effect – solidifying his oppressive dictatorship – as the end.

  • But you might think the action of donation is not wrong: the guy with a bad end is wicked, but he still takes a right action.


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Assignment

  • Read Tom Beauchamp, pp.69-71, p.79 for his final definition of suicide, and pp. 83-92.


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