Tuesday, April 23, 2013

More on Foot and the Doctrine of Double Effect

**This is from guest blogger Chelsea**

Philippa Foot’s “The Problem of Abortion and the Doctrine of the Double Effect,” raises many points about how we synthesize moral rights and wrongs.  Foot discusses the Doctrine of Double effect. It is best to explain this doctrine through example. A doctor is charged with the care of a very ill patient who is in a monstrous amount of pain. This doctor gives the patient an absurd amount of morphine to end her life. This is morally impermissible because the doctor directly intended to bring about her death. However, if the doctor gave the patient the same measure of morphine with the sole intent of easing her pain and merely predicted it might end her life a tad early, then the physician would be acting within the realm of moral permissibility. Basically, the Doctrine of Double Effect (DDE) is the idea that one’s intentions and the predictableness behind the same action dictate its moral permissibility. Through the discussion of DDE, however, the abortion problem came no closer to being solved.

I believe that the intentions behind an action do not play a part in the morality of the action. Let us explore an example. There are two countries at war- country X and country Z. X decides that the best route towards ending the war in victory is to bomb Z’s military headquarters. These headquarters are sprawling and play a large part in the community; refugees, orphans, and cute fluffy animals live here because the military takes them in and cares for them. Country X knows this, but bombs anyway. It was not their intent to kill, wound, and maim all those civilians, but they still did. I believe they are still morally responsible for any and all pain and suffering they have caused. Regardless of their intentions, the harm that was a direct result of their actions occurred.

For a less intense example, I am a storekeeper. There is a rowdy child who kept spilling all my lima beans onto the floor. He comes to the register to buy a candy. He hands me a 10 dollar bill to pay for his 75 cent gummy worms. I want to shortchange him because I know he can’t count. I do not, however, because I know his mother will yell at me tomorrow and her voice is really annoying. I give him $9.25. Regardless of why I did the right thing, I did.

The only time someone knows all of another person’s intentions is when they are making up wonky examples and situations in a philosophy class. When it comes to morality, I find that actions speak louder than words (or intentions). Thoughts?


Dan S said...

I guess I'm slightly confused by the first example that you give, mainly because you state that country X knows that Country Z's military headquarters contains orphans, refugees, and cute fluffy animals. It seems that this scenario is suggesting that country X's intent is "To end the war", when, in reality, country X's intent is influenced by their knowledge of Y's military base and then becomes "To end the war, at all/any cost". I think in the first idea of intent we could create a scenario in which Country X acts morally. Perhaps Country Z is a powerful dictatorship that subjects their citizens to grueling torture and is only at war with Country X in order to enslave them. I think most of us would agree that country X's intent "To end the war" is a morally acceptable intent. But, if they have been informed and have credible knowledge that there are innocents within the same building as the military compound, then the intent "To end the war, at all/any cost" seems to be an immoral intent. Perhaps a Utilitarian could respond to me by saying that the death of the innocents is a lesser loss in happiness than the enslavement of country X, but I still wouldn't agree that the utilitarianistic claim would make the intent any less immoral.

Eric Bumbaca said...

Chelsea, I like your example and conclusion regarding the potential war between countries X and Z. However, if we use the same reasoning for other examples, are we still as convinced that country X has made the immoral decision? Lets use the train example where we must kill one person via train or kill 5 people via train. It is not the intent of the train conductor to kill the single person, but he still does kill that single individual. Do we still put the same moral blame on him that we do to the leaders of country X?

Cassy K. said...

I'm somewhat inclined to agree with Chelsea. I can't say that intentions don't matter at all, because to some extent I think they probably do. However, I think they probably factor in more through determining severity of punishment than anything. For example, homicide in the strict sense is "worse" than manslaughter. I think Chelsea is right in suggesting that much of this "intentions" talk is basically just speculation, since we don't have epistemic access to other people's intentions.

JPH Stephens said...

I am inclined to say that intentions are important, for exactly the same reasons that Cassy has outlined above. Nevertheless, I cannot subscribe to a system of morally that is wholly dependent upon intentions. Subjectivity, while perhaps it has a place in discussions of morality, seems to go too far in this case.

Let us pretend that a psychologically deranged man is told, after the death of someone he knew, that "he is in a better place now". With this newly acquired knowledge, the insane man goes on a killing spree out of feelings of charity. He does not, for whatever reason, weigh the pros and cons of death like the average person. When he kills, he is doing so entirely out of the goodness of his heart. He doesn't enjoy or derive pleasure from killing, except for the fact that he likes helping others and believes that he is doing so by "putting them in a better place". Surely this man is not acting morally, yet it seems that his intentions would weigh out as such.