• Bob Ross
    1.4k
    I have changed my mind about the Principle of Double Effect (or PDE for short), which I owe mainly to @Leontiskos, and now accept a form of it. The version of PDE that I accept is that it is permitted to bring about a bad effect in the case that:

    1. The action in-itself is good;
    2. A good effect is foreseen from that action;
    3. The foreseen bad effect is not directly intended (from that action);
    4. The good effect cannot be brought about without the bad effect;
    5. The alternative means for producing that good effect also cannot be used without bad effects;
    6. The bad effect for the means chosen is less severe than or on a par with the alternative bad effects from the alternative means (consequentially); and
    EDIT: 7. The good effect significantly outweighs the bad effect.

    Although directly intending something bad for the sake of something good is always immoral, it is not so apparent that it is always immoral to indirectly intending something bad which is not for the sake of—but a rather bad side effect of—something good. Sometimes it is less respectful of human life, in the case that one has to choose between bad side effects, to let something bad happen than to do something good (viz., than to avoid that bad effect by way of an action) which has a bad side effect.

    A good example is a tactical bomber: anyone planning on bombing an enemy’s military base can foresee, as a statistical certainty, that they will kill at least one innocent human being, but refusing to bomb the said base (and presumably all others like it) will have worse side effects than the bad side effect of killing that innocent person; and so, when comparing bad side effects of each possible action or inaction one could take, it seems better to go with the least bad side effect.

    This version of the PDE gives an astute account of many ethical dilemmas, and I will go through just a couple of them for now.


    1 vs. 5 Trolley Problem

    The morally relevant difference between throwing some bystander onto the tracks to save the five and pulling the lever (thereby killing one person) to save the five is that:

    1. The former scenario uses an innocent person as a means to save the five, thereby making the killing directly intentional and (thereby) immoral; whereas

    2. The latter scenario uses the lever as a means to saving the five but that means has a side effect of killing the one, thereby making the killing indirectly intentional.

    In the case of the latter, it is morally permissible and obligatory to pull the lever because either choice (of action or inaction) will result in a bad side effect (of either the deaths of five or the killing of one) and the bad side effect of pulling the lever is consequentially less severe than the bad side effect of not pulling it.


    Traditional Abortion vs. Hysterectomy

    The morally relevant difference between killing an unborn human being to be rid of an unwanted pregnancy and killing an unborn human being by performing a hysterectomy to save the mother from cancer is that:

    1. The former scenario uses an innocent person as a means to bring about the desired end (of not being pregnant), thereby making the killing directly intentional and (thereby) immoral; whereas

    2. The latter scenario uses the hysterectomy as a means to saving the mother’s life from cancer and doing so has a bad side effect of killing an unborn human being, thereby making the said killing indirectly intended.

    The latter scenario is morally permissible because either choice (of action or inaction) will result in a bad side effect (of either letting the woman die of cancer or killing the unborn human being) and the bad side effect of killing the unborn is on a par with letting the woman die of cancer.

    Thoughts?
  • I like sushi
    4.4k
    The Principle of Double Effect is utilitarian. What is there is agree or disagree about other than the overall balance of outcome (which is precisely what the PoDE is describing)?
  • Leontiskos
    2k


    I am glad to see that you have revised your position on this. Truth be told, PDE is an unwieldy principle. There are cases (such as the hysterectomy) where it seems to obviously apply, but it has often been noted that in other cases the principle can be easily abused. Our topsy-turvy discussion in the other thread got at some of the nuance involved.

    Two simple points regarding that nuance:

    it is morally permissible and obligatory to pull the leverBob Ross

    In the other thread I ended up in the end saying that it is not permissible to pull the lever, but I think it is uncontroversial the PDE does not make it obligatory to pull the lever. Thus:

    because either choice (of action or inaction) will result in a bad side effect (of either the deaths of five or the killing of one) and the bad side effect of pulling the lever is consequentially less severe than the bad side effect of not pulling it.

    ...

    The latter scenario is morally permissible because either choice (of action or inaction) will result in a bad side effect (of either letting the woman die of cancer or killing the unborn human being) and the bad side effect of killing the unborn is on a par with letting the woman die of cancer.
    Bob Ross

    The key here is that the PDE does not apply to omissions, and this is because omissions (non-acts) do not have proper effects. So I would say that you have two principles operating: the PDE which renders the act permissible, and another principle regarding omissions which renders the act obligatory.

    In the other thread you were quite adamant to distinguish commissions from omissions, and you got a lot of pushback. I never actually opposed that distinction, but I put it off as a separate topic. What I would say is that there is a morally relevant difference between a commission and an omission, but this does not mean that we are never responsible for omissions, or that omissions are always permissible.

    Classically speaking, you misstate the proportionalist/consequentialist condition of PDE:

    6. The bad effect for the means chosen is less severe than or on a par with the alternative bad effects from the alternative means (consequentially).Bob Ross

    The proportionalist condition classically compares the good effect(s) to the bad effect(s) of the single action, not the effects of different actions. For example, in the case of the tactical bombing the circumstances will determine the proportion of good effects to bad effects, and if the bad effects are significantly greater than the good effects then the bombing should not be done, even if the other conditions are met.

    This second principle you are utilizing is distinct from double effect, and involves a comparison between multiple acts or between positive acts and omissions. Double effect is more restricted, and has nothing in particular to say about that. It is only about the moral permissibility of an act which has more than one effect, some of which are undesirable.
  • Leontiskos
    2k
    The Principle of Double Effect is utilitarian. What is there is agree or disagree about other than the overall balance of outcome (which is precisely what the PoDE is describing)?I like sushi

    gave six different conditions and only one of them is consequence-based. For the consequentialist good consequences are sufficient to justify an act. For the PDE good consequences are necessary but not sufficient for the justification of an act.
  • I like sushi
    4.4k
    The point of the Principle is to weigh the good against the bad in outcome AND the burden of proof to lie on those wanting to carry out the act, correct?

    Which still leaves me asking what this thread is about? Consequentialism is necessarily entangled with utilitarianism, they do not exist in a separate voids.
  • Banno
    23.7k
    Yep.
    The Principle of Double Effect is utilitarian.I like sushi
    Nuh.

    It's much more complex than that. If anything, it's Catholic...

    Not a strong recommendation in my opinion.
  • Fire Ologist
    493
    I have changed my mindBob Ross


    That is impressive in itself - intellectual honesty on display. Cudos to you, brother Bob.

    And the dialogue between you and Leontiskos has been very instructive.

    I agree that the PDE is instructive of good morality when making certain decisions. But I also think one needs to be rigorous when essentially justifying bad effects. It’s a real tightrope with real pitfalls.

    I like the pilot problem (to crash where less people are or not) or the car crash problem (4 or 2 must die) better than the trolley problem to think through the PDE.

    For the trolley fiasco, I still think it is ridiculous to suspend the rest of the context and hand the lever or the seat over to someone on the trolley and ask them what is the right thing to do.

    My inclination is that, without some context the choice of tracks cannot be made morally - neither is the right move. You need context, like for instance, the trolley driver passsd out, you happen to already know how to drive a trolley so you take control, which basically puts you in the same seat as the car driver and the pilot. NOW you see 5 people on one track and 1 on the other and can be asked - what would you do? That’s enough to ask a question like this. Because without the context, you have to decide to take any control and responsibility for any outcome by becoming a trolley driver. You have to instantly become a trolley driver and choose who dies all at once. That’s dumb. Like being pushed out of an airplane with 5 other people and four parachutes, with no prior experience and being told it’s all up to you who lives and you have to be one of the people who lives. Just ridiculous, and if that situation actually arose I would never blame any of the falling people for any outcome. Too surreal to inform a question of morality.

    If I was magically placed near the helm of an out of control trolley and saw all of these people on the tracks, the moral decision is to yell “who is driving this trolley - what is supposed to be done - what do you want me to do!” And with no answer, besides a moral dilemma (you get to decide by pulling that lever or not), why would anyone have a duty to make any decision on that trolley? The trolley problem is too unrealistic and so presents an unfair question. It’s like a trick question where the answer should be “I wouldn’t do either, which although it has the effect of not pulling the lever is not my intended outcome.”

    So maybe the PDE sneaks in as a justification for choosing not to participate in the trolley problem. You aren’t morally responsible for choosing to let 5 people die or choosing to kill 1 person, you are morally responsible for choosing not to take on a duty to make any decision given those facts, and the bad effect of 5 people dying is not intended by you. The right thing to do is say “I reject this demand which up until I was asked belonged specifically to the trolley driver and what the hell is with all of the people on the tracks - is that normal for trolley drivers??” The outcome is bad effects either way, but none are the intention of your decision to reject that there is any sense at all to asking you to jump up and grab the lever and decide any next steps.

    So I don’t pull the lever not because it commits an act of killing one, and I don’t think pulling the lever is justified by PDE either. But the act of rejecting such a crazy scenario that results in 5 people dying, may be justified by the PDE.

    I don’t know. I may never take a trolley ride. Because if I do, it seems I might have a duty first to learn the controls and levers, and learn how to manage foot traffic on the tracks in case of emergency - because I like being moral.

    Good conversation.

    Curious if I’m still way off in either of your estimations.
  • I like sushi
    4.4k
    Well, no. It is not that complicated at all.

    The nuances of specific situations make such decisions difficult to measure against each other for obvious reasons, but the underlying principle is pretty straight forward.

    This is why I was puzzled how anyone can 'change their mind' about this. It is like saying I have changed my mind about hedonism being about pursuing pleasure. It is doesn't matter. That is true, so your opposing opinion on the matter is irrelevant - there is no 'mind changing' only agree or disagreement with the principle.
  • Leontiskos
    2k
    It's much more complex than that. If anything, it's Catholic...

    Not a strong recommendation in my opinion.
    Banno

    It was nurtured in a Catholic context, but that is true of more philosophical concepts than you would care to know. The principle is common parlance in bioethics and has arguably always been part of medical ethics. The seeds of the principle are traced back to Aquinas, but he doesn't take himself to be stating anything novel:

    I answer that, Nothing hinders one act from having two effects, only one of which is intended, while the other is beside the intention...Aquinas, ST II-II.64.7: Whether it is lawful to kill a man in self-defense?

    Regarding the common use in medicine, see for example:

    To this effect, Dr. Mary S. Calderone tells of a group of eminent doctors who implicitly affirmed the validity of this aspect of the principle when they refused to classify hysterectomy for uterine fibroids as a therapeutic abortion, even though therapy had lead to the destruction of the fetus.

    At the Symposium on Aspects of Female Sexuality, heId in New York in 1958, Dr. S.A. Cosgrove made a similar though somewhat marginal statement. He stated in this respect that he would not perform a therapeutic abortion since he did not consider it "good medicine", but that he would treat a definite life-threatening disease even if fetal death might result from the treatment.
    — Paul Micallef, A Critique of Bernard Häring’s Application of the Double Effect Principle
  • Fire Ologist
    493
    I answer that, Nothing hinders one act from having two effects, only one of which is intended, while the other is beside the intention...Aquinas, ST II-II.64.7: Whether it is lawful to kill a man in self-defense?

    The principle of double effect points to where intention exists. In one single act, having multiple effects, intention can lie in all, or only one, or some of those effects. Intention draws a direct line from a precise agent to his/her specifically intended effects, and that line may not exist in all of the effects that exist.
  • Leontiskos
    2k
    - Right, although even the foreseen effects that are not part of the principal intention have some indirect relation to the intention of the agent, insofar as the agent accepts their occurrence and acts despite foreseeing them. Thus, if the foreseen effect is particularly undesirable then the agent will refuse to engage in the act which causes it.
  • Bob Ross
    1.4k


    In the other thread I ended up in the end saying that it is not permissible to pull the lever, but I think it is uncontroversial the PDE does not make it obligatory to pull the lever.

    The key here is that the PDE does not apply to omissions, and this is because omissions (non-acts) do not have proper effects. So I would say that you have two principles operating: the PDE which renders the act permissible, and another principle regarding omissions which renders the act obligatory.

    Within my formulation, I think it would be obligatory; because, as you noted, my version compares the bad side effects of each foreseeable means (towards the end) and not just the good effect (of that end) and the bad side effect being considered (of an action).

    I agree that there is a morally relevant difference between omissions and commissions; but, for me, it is when considering doing something directly intentional bad vs. directly intentionally letting something bad happen. In the cases I expounded in the OP, it is about doing something directly intentionally good with a bad side effect vs. directly intentionally lettings something bad happen.

    E.g., the driver that swerves to save the two at the expense of the other two, instead of killing all four, is choosing to directly intentionally save the two with a bad side effect of killing the other two; whereas if they chose to do nothing and kill all four they are directly intentionally respecting the two with a bad side effect of killing all four. In both cases, they are intending something good but both have bad side effects; so the less severe one should be chosen. On the contrary, a person that refuses to kidnap and harvest the organs of one person to save five ill patients which results in the five patients dying, is letting the five die because they cannot directly intend something bad (like using the one as a means to save them).

    In the other thread you were quite adamant to distinguish commissions from omissions, and you got a lot of pushback. I never actually opposed that distinction, but I put it off as a separate topic. What I would say is that there is a morally relevant difference between a commission and an omission, but this does not mean that we are never responsible for omissions, or that omissions are always permissible.

    Agreed; but I think, now that I have refined my understanding of an intention, my distinction only applies to direct intentions.

    The proportionalist condition classically compares the good effect(s) to the bad effect(s) of the single action, not the effects of different actions.

    Yes, I agree. I just see that as a weakness in the classical formulation: it is completely silent on if one should pick the means with the least severe bad effects, and instead only comments on whether the bad effect does not outweight the good effect. Both are arguably important.
  • Bob Ross
    1.4k


    That is impressive in itself - intellectual honesty on display. Cudos to you, brother Bob.

    You too, brother. It is always a joy conversing with you (:

    It’s a real tightrope with real pitfalls.

    Very true, indeed; and this is why I had to be more specific with my PDE in the OP than the classical definition.

    Just ridiculous, and if that situation actually arose I would never blame any of the falling people for any outcome. Too surreal to inform a question of morality.

    To a certain extent I agree; but I would say that one, as I am understanding it, should pull the lever because:

    1. They have two options: let the five die to directly intentionally respect the life of the one or kill the one to directly intentionally save the five;

    2. Either option is an action or inaction which is a result of directly intending something good but is accompanied by a bad side effect;

    3. The option with the least bad side effect, in the instance that they all have bad side effects, should be taken; and

    4. The killing of the one is less severe of a bad side effect than the deaths of the five (all else being equal).

    So pulling the lever is obligatory; because I make no distinction between the inaction and action in #2. Now, perhaps it is relevant and I am missing something.

    You aren’t morally responsible for choosing to let 5 people die or choosing to kill 1 person, you are morally responsible for choosing not to take on a duty to make any decision given those facts, and the bad effect of 5 people dying is not intended by you.

    I only see omissions as a morally permissible when one can only directly intend something bad by performing an action; and so any other case one is equally morally responsible for the results of their inactions.
  • Bob Ross
    1.4k


    Not a strong recommendation in my opinion.

    Why not? What are your thoughts, Banno?
  • Leontiskos
    2k
    Within my formulation, I think it would be obligatory; because, as you noted, my version compares the bad side effects of each foreseeable means (towards the end) and not just the good effect (of that end) and the bad side effect being considered (of an action).Bob Ross

    That's fine, but what you're describing is not the principle of double effect. The principle of double effect never obliges, because it determines whether an act with a bad effect is permissible. You are giving a principle which tells us what to do given two or more legitimate choices, and this is not the principle of double effect.

    In both cases, they are intending something good but both have bad side effects; so the less severe one should be chosen.Bob Ross

    I will continue to call this the second principle (as opposed to the principle of double effect). This second principle of yours is more straightforwardly consequentialist than the principle of double effect, and @I like sushi's comments make more sense in light of this.

    Yes, I agree. I just see that as a weakness in the classical formulation: it is completely silent on if one should pick the means with the least severe bad effects, and instead only comments on whether the bad effect does not outweight the good effect. Both are arguably important.Bob Ross

    They are two different questions. Suppose you are going golfing and you take a club to the golf pro, and ask him if the club is fit for use. This is the first question. Then you go on to show him a second club, and you ask him which of the two clubs should be preferred. This is the second question. Answering the first question does not answer the second question, and an answer to the second question is not the same as an answer to the first question. It is not the job of PDE to compare acts one to another, or to determine whether something is obligatory. To call this a "weakness" of the PDE would be like calling it a weakness that a rake cannot cut down trees. It was never meant to cut down trees. A rake is not an axe.

    -

    Edit:

    The frame of your definition is correct:

    The version of PDE that I accept is that it is permitted to bring about a bad effect in the case that [all six conditions hold].Bob Ross

    I.e. "It is permissible to bring about a bad effect if..." Note that, by your own words, the matter is not one of positive obligations or of choosing between acts. If your version of PDE tells us what is permissible then it does not tell us what is positively obligatory, for what we are permitted to do is not the same as what we are obliged to do.
  • Banno
    23.7k
    Well, the interminable nature of discussions of trams and trolleys might show us how easily any principle can be undermined. Principles seem reasonable when used to explain one's actions post hoc, and yet folk can dream up convolute circumstances too difficult for any given principle. (This is more than just a technical problem for undergrads; it is part of the way language, and hence thinking, works. see again Davidson's A nice derangement of epitaphs.)

    Foot points out that “It is not always rational to give help where it is needed, to keep a promise, or even… always to speak the truth”

    Which to my eye serves to somewhat undermine deontology as a feasible approach to ethics.

    The problems with taking Catholic Doctrine as worthy of taking into account in one's ethic considerations have become fairly explicit in the last few decades.

    My present inclination is to "reject the demand that moral actions fit with a preconceived notion of practical rationality" - SEP

    It's just more complex than that. Hence, again, doing ethics might better be seen as seeking growth rather than seeking rules to govern our behaviour.
  • Leontiskos
    2k
    and yet folk can dream up convolute circumstances too difficult for any given principleBanno

    The problem with "dreaming up convolute circumstances" is that the contrivance that has been dreamed up is superficial. Moral principles pertain to human life, and those who are playing games by dreaming up artificial scenarios are not involved in human life.

    In real life we are made to go beyond daydreaming. If, say, conjoined twins are sharing an organ that cannot support them both, then you're bound to think about the principle of double effect whether you want to or not, and no moral platitude or genetic fallacy regarding Catholicism will help you in that case.
  • Banno
    23.7k
    Sure. There are cases in which one does not have the answer before one encounters the problem. That's kinda my point. Making decisions is not always algorithmic.
  • creativesoul
    11.6k
    1. The action in-itself is good;
    2. A good effect is foreseen from that action;
    3. The foreseen bad effect is not directly intended (from that action);
    4. The good effect cannot be brought about without the bad effect; and
    5. The alternative means for producing that good effect also cannot be used without bad effects; and
    6. The bad effect for the means chosen is less severe than or on a par with the alternative bad effects from the alternative means (consequentially).
    Bob Ross

    This could be used to justify knowingly causing preventable harm. 4, 5, and 6 presuppose omniscience of all means capable of bringing about the desired 'good' effect.
  • Leontiskos
    2k
    There are cases in which one does not have the answer before one encounters the problem.Banno

    And the formulation of the PDE was occasioned by encountering new problems. The PDE is a result of that encounter.

    Making decisions is not always algorithmic.Banno

    Do you mean algorithmic, or rational? Presumably when we encounter a novel problem we may need to formulate new principles, because if we make unprincipled decisions then we are not being rational. It is not so easy to roll one's eyes at principles without also rolling one's eyes at rationality. One can think about morality too algorithmically, but one cannot think about morality without principles.
  • Banno
    23.7k
    Do you mean algorithmic, or rational?Leontiskos

    Algorithmic. Following an explicit rule.

    Or principle.

    ...if we make unprincipled decisions then we are not being rational.Leontiskos
    Buridan's Ass will die unless it makes an arbitrary decision. So sometimes it is rational to make arbitrary choices.

    ...one cannot think about morality without principles.Leontiskos
    Why not instead think about morality in terms of values?
  • Leontiskos
    2k
    Buridan's Ass will die unless it makes an arbitrary decision. So sometimes it is rational to make arbitrary choices.Banno

    But is eating arbitrary? When we decide to finally stop deliberating and make a decision our decision is not arbitrary, even if certain aspects of it are underdetermined. The way you and other's assess Buridan's Ass involves a rather odd way of specifying the act, as if the act lay in choosing this rather than that, instead of simply choosing to eat. Technically speaking we should say that the choice lies in eating, and that it is an open question whether choosing this side rather than that side is even a choice or a deliberation at all.

    Why not instead think about morality in terms of values?Banno

    In that case one must still provide principles for the interaction of those values.
  • Banno
    23.7k
    Don't over egg your pudding. Which trough the beast heads towards is arbitrary, and a decision that must be made.

    In that case one must still provide principles for the interaction of those values.Leontiskos
    Demonstrate why, rather than values being needed in order to choose between conflicting principles...
  • Leontiskos
    2k
    Which trough the beast heads towards is arbitrary, and a decision that must be made.Banno

    For Aristotle you would be misusing the word "decision." Here is what Aquinas says:

    Objection 3. Further, if two things are absolutely equal, man is not moved to one more than to the other; thus if a hungry man, as Plato says (Cf. De Coelo ii, 13), be confronted on either side with two portions of food equally appetizing and at an equal distance, he is not moved towards one more than to the other; and he finds the reason of this in the immobility of the earth in the middle of the world. Now, if that which is equally (eligible) with something else cannot be chosen, much less can that be chosen which appears as less (eligible). Therefore if two or more things are available, of which one appears to be more (eligible), it is impossible to choose any of the others. Therefore that which appears to hold the first place is chosen of necessity. But every act of choosing is in regard to something that seems in some way better. Therefore every choice is made necessarily.

    Reply to Objection 3. If two things be proposed as equal under one aspect, nothing hinders us from considering in one of them some particular point of superiority, so that the will has a bent towards that one rather than towards the other.
    Aquinas, ST I-II.13 - Article 6. Whether man chooses of necessity or freely?

    Presumably then we could opt for one side on the basis of chance or a mental coin flip, seeing that we are hungry and both sides are equally capable of satisfying our hunger. There is no proper decision because our opting is not the consequence of deliberation.

    "Why did you choose the left side?" "Because I was hungry and wanted to eat." "But why did you pick the left side rather than the right side?" "For no particular reason—only because the coin showed 'tails'."
  • Banno
    23.7k
    For no particular reason.Leontiskos

    Indeed. No "principle" led to choosing this trough and not the other.
  • Leontiskos
    2k
    Indeed. No "principle" led to choosing this trough and not the other.Banno

    And thus you falsely conclude that we require no principles to make decisions, because you think a coin-toss is a decision.
  • I like sushi
    4.4k
    A stochastic experience is needed to possess an iota of valuation. The coin is the two-sided thing you are battling with here. Values and principles are quite likely two-sides of the same coin?
  • Banno
    23.7k
    Your approach here is quite obtuse. You appear to be pretending that going to this trough, rather than that, is not making a choice... An odd way to think about it.

    No principle can be used by Buridan's Ass to choose which trough to go to. Yet it would be irrational not to make the choice. Therefore it is sometimes rational to make choices that are not governed by principle.
  • Bob Ross
    1.4k


    Upon thinking about it more, I updated the OP: now it resembles the traditional PDE.

    Couple updates to note:

    1. My PDE no longer mandates anything as obligatory, as I was thinking of when there is no action or inaction one could take which didn’t have a bad side effect—and that is a separate question from whether or not it is permissible to do good sometimes when there will be a bad effect;

    2. My PDE accounts for the comparison of the good effect and the bad effect (of the currently selected means of achieving the former): this is an essential aspect that my PDE was completely missing; and

    3. My PDE still finds comparing the alternative means (towards the end) necessary (because if there is a means that has no bad side effect to bring about the same good, then that is the best option even if the good effect significantly outweighs the bad effect of the currently selected means) but it does not obligate anyone either way; and

    4. The good effect must significantly, as opposed to merely, outweigh the bad effect—otherwise, it resembles too closely (although it is not) directly intentionally doing something bad as a means towards a good end (e.g., if there are two sick people and there is a means which could cure the one but kill the other, then it seems immoral to use that means).

    Number 4 gets me into dicey waters, because I am uncertain if I can still hold my expounded position on the hysterectomy: is saving the mother of cancer significantly outweigh the death of an unborn child? I am not sure.
  • Bob Ross
    1.4k


    I am not a deontologist either; so I can appreciate that. By the principle of PDE, I am referring to a generally applicable moral principle. There might be a situation where I would oppose using it, even as I depicted it; but it seems to work well in most controversial situations, and I certainly am not about to become a straight up particularlist about morals (;
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