July 29, 2007 § 30 Comments
William Luse has a couple of interesting posts up at WWWtW which deal with double-effect. Of particular interest is the second post in which Professor Luse quotes Anscombe at length. I found the following excerpt of particular interest:
The distinction between the intended, and the merely foreseen, effects of a voluntary action is indeed absolutely essential to Christian ethics. For Christianity forbids a number of things as being bad in themselves. But if I am answerable for the foreseen consequences of an action or refusal, as much as for the action itself, then these prohibitions will break down. If someone innocent will die unless I do a wicked thing, then on this view I am his murderer in refusing: so all that is left to me is to weigh up evils. Here the theologian steps in with the priniciple of double-effect and says: “No, you are no murderer, if the man’s death was neither your aim nor your chosen means, and if you had to act in the way that led to it or else do something absolutely forbidden.” Without understanding of this principle, anything can be – and is wont to be- justified, and the Christian teaching that in no circumstances may one commit murder, adultery, apostasy (to give a few examples) goes by the board.
On this understanding, double-effect serves virtually the opposite purpose to which so many modern people attempt to put it in order to justify atrocities like the Tokyo, Dresden, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki bombings: double-effect justifies refusing to do evil when that refusal has unintended evil consequences.