A Heap of Double-Effect

November 6, 2008 § 7 Comments

Suppose I am considering doing X, and doing X is a participatory cause of some sorites outcome Y. Suppose further that the sand pile in question is made of millions of grains of sand, and that in doing X I am adding one grain: that is, the end result will be a sand pile whether or not I do X (or whether or not I even exist, for that matter). I can only do X once, unless I live in Chicago.

Doing X will have two kinds of effects: effects which depend on our sand pile being larger than some other group’s sand pile, and effects which will only occur if I personally do X.

Proposition: Under double-effect, if doing X has evil effects which obtain whether or not our sand pile is larger than their sand pile, I can only justify doing X on the basis of good effects which obtain whether or not our sand pile is larger than their sand pile.

That is, I am first and foremost morally responsible to justify the effects which directly flow from my own act.

(Cross-posted)

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§ 7 Responses to A Heap of Double-Effect

  • Anon says:

    <> That is, I am first and foremost morally responsible to justify the effects which directly flow from my own act. <> You mean, don’t you, that you are first and foremost responsible to justify those effects which come about whether or not our heap is bigger than their heap? Because all of the effects of the X act flow from your own act since that was what X was – your own act. What if the entire root rationale for doing X lies in results that come about only if our heap turns out bigger than their heap? If that condition holds, then it would be fundamentally impossible to first and foremost justify those effects which come about whether or not our heap is bigger than their heap, before ever considering the effects in the portion of cases where our heap does turn out to be bigger than theirs. In other words, voting is an irrational act when there are any negative effects of your vote when your vote may fail of its hoped for result. But it is worse than that – it would be fundamentally impossible to justify any act whose hoped for positive effect was not certain and which has a known and certain foreseeable negative impact. Like surgery, for example, which ALWAYS cuts, and only sometimes heals. You first have to justify the effect that always obtains cutting, regardless of whether the other effect ever comes about.

  • zippy says:

    <>What if the entire root rationale for doing X lies in results that come about only if our heap turns out bigger than their heap?<>Then it is an “irrational” act, in the case of a million-grain sorites. But buying into that conception of what is rational is not necessary, it seems to me.There are four possible outcomes, ignoring side (outcome-independent) effects:1) We win, and would have won with or without me doing X;2) We lose, and we would have lost with or without me doing X;3) We win because I did X.4) We lose because I did not do X.I am morally certain that (3) and (4) are not going to happen in a million-grain sorites; so any proportionate reason to do X has to be justifiable, if it is justifiable, under the other two conditions.Now I may be morally certain that (1) or (2) will obtain (say the race is basically a done deal), in which case X has to be justifiable only under that result. But in any case no appeal to the difference between (1) and (2) can justify X, because that would be conditions (3) or (4), which I am morally certain will not obtain.As for whether voting is or is not rational given these facts, well, I’ll just say again that I think modern people tend to have a very limited conception of what is rational.

  • [...] our act as an objective matter.   That means applying the principle of double effect: and it means applying it to a sorites, because that is what a mass-market universal suffrage national election is.  The bishops do not [...]

  • [...] this harm is independent of the election outcome, any proportionate reason to justify it would also have to be independent of the election outcome.  If as an objective matter you actually do have a [...]

  • [...] of double effect (we’ve already assumed material, not formal cooperation with evil here) requires us to consider primarily the outcome-independent effects of our personal acts, since our personal acts effectively have no material outcome-dependent effects. Voting in [...]

  • Elspeth says:

    Ha! I was so excited that I got this joke:

    I can only do X once, unless I live in Chicago.

    But yes, this makes sense. Thank you for referring to it.

  • […] the fact that many moral questions do not have bright line boundaries that apply in all circumstances doesn’t mean that as long as we don’t crash upon the […]

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