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Double Effect, Doctrine of

  The doctrine of double effect, in philosophy, says that actions are morally permissible even if we can foresee that they will have bad consequences, provided these consequences are not intended by us. For instance, a nation at war may bomb enemy cities with the intention of destroying military targets. These targets are known to be close to areas where civilians live and many civilians will die in the bombardment. But since the intention is only to destroy the military targets and not to kill the civilians, the bombing is permissible.

The doctrine of double effect is popular with some moral theologians, but it is difficult to reconcile with ordinary notions of responsibility. I don\'t intend to drive my neighbours to distraction by playing loud music all the time; I only want to enjoy myself. I am nevertheless held responsible for the discomfort I knowingly cause them. The doctrine of double effect is anti-consequentialist in that it claims that we are not to be held responsible for all of the foreseeable consequence of our actions, but only the ones we intended. AJ

See also consequentialism.Further reading H. Hart, ‘Intention and Punishment’ in Punishment and Responsibility; , G. Williams, The Sanctity of Life and the Criminal Law.



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