"Double-effect" doesn’t mean "licensed circular reasoning"
February 17, 2008 § 149 Comments
The first criteria of the principle of double-effect is that the principle of double-effect only applies when an act is not intrinsically immoral. As the Catechism puts it,
The object of the choice can by itself vitiate an act in its entirety. There are some concrete acts – such as fornication – that it is always wrong to choose, because choosing them entails a disorder of the will, that is, a moral evil.
Isn’t it odd, then, that so many Catholics, including a number of well respected theologians in their non-magisterial texts, appeal to the principle of double-effect in order to demonstrate that a proposed act is not intrinsically immoral? This is exactly backward. The principle of double effect doesn’t determine whether or not an act is intrinsically immoral: rather, the PDE applies only to acts which are not intrinsically immoral.
In order to apply the principle of double-effect, it must first be established that the act is not intrinsically immoral in itself as a specific kind of chosen behavior or concrete act. Appealing to the structures of double-effect – intended effects versus unintended, an intended end caused or not caused by the evil effect, etc – is something which takes place only after it is first established that the act is not intrinsically immoral. The cart comes after the horse.
(UPDATE: The original post which is the discussion context for this one is here.)