Published online by Cambridge University Press: 08 July 2013
I argue that the Doctrine of Double Effect is accepted because of unreliable processes of belief-formation, making it unacceptably likely to be mistaken. We accept the doctrine because we more vividly imagine intended consequences of our actions than merely foreseen ones, making our aversions to the intended harms more violent, and making us judge that producing the intended harms is morally worse. This explanation fits psychological evidence from Schnall and others, and recent neuroscientific research from Greene, Klein, Kahane and Schaich Borg. It explains Mikhail and Hauser's ‘universal moral grammar’ and an interesting phenomenon about Double Effect cases noted by Bennett. When unequally vivid representations determine our decisions, we typically misjudge the merits of our options and make mistakes. So if Double Effect is a product of unequal vividness, it is likely to be mistaken. This argument, I claim, fits Berker's specifications for good empirically grounded arguments in ethics.
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7 McIntyre, ‘Doing Away With Double Effect’, p. 219. McIntyre argues that Double Effect examples can't be captured under any simple principle. They provide a ‘gallery of miscellaneous objections to simple forms of direct consequentialism that can be expressed, with more or less strain, using the distinction between intended and merely foreseen consequences. They are tied together by nothing more penetrating than the claim that the distinction between what an agent foresees and what an agent intends sometimes matters, and matters a great deal, to moral evaluation’ (‘Doing Away With Double Effect’, p. 255).
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10 Here I must take ‘harms intended’ to include harms close to what we intend. The ‘straightforward view’ of intention in the section on Bennett's phenomenon will characterize them as not really intended.
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27 Klein, ‘Dual Track Theory’, p. 143.
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30 Kahane et al., ‘Neural Basis’, p. 401.
31 Kahane et al., ‘Neural Basis’, p. 396.
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33 Borg et al., ‘Consequences, Action, and Intention’, p. 809.
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37 This notion of branching off is nicely illustrated by the act-trees in Mikhail, John, ‘Rawls’ Linguistic Analogy’ (PhD dissertation, Cornell University, 2000)Google Scholar.
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40 I take this argument to be subject to the most severe problem that Berker presents for the best neuroscientific argument against deontology he considers: that instead of drawing on the force of any empirical results, it simply rests on armchair identification of some factors as morally relevant and others as irrelevant (Berker, ‘Normative Insignificance’, pp. 325–6).
41 Many moral theorists have noted the importance of equally vivid representation of options for good decision-making. See Hare, R. M., Moral Thinking (Oxford, 1981)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Firth, Roderick, ‘Ethical Absolutism and the Ideal Observer’, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 12 (1952), pp. 317–45CrossRefGoogle Scholar. For a discussion of how unequally vivid representation of options leads to systematically irrational action, see Sinhababu, Neil, ‘The Humean Theory of Practical Irrationality’, Journal of Ethics & Social Philosophy 6 (2011), pp. 1–13CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
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44 Berker, ‘Normative Insignificance’, p. 328.
45 Berker, ‘Normative Insignificance’, p. 329.
46 Berker, ‘Normative Insignificance’, p. 329.
47 This article was improved by comments at Waikato University, the University of New South Wales, Macquarie University, the University of Western Australia, Michigan State University, the University of Illinois at Chicago and the Ian Ramsay Centre at Oxford. Travel to present this article as a paper was enabled by generous support from the National University of Singapore. Andrew Higgins, Colin Klein, Selim Berker, and an anonymous referee for Utilitas helped me with a variety of issues and pointed me to important empirical literature. Encouragement from Jesse Prinz and Walter Sinnott-Armstrong was also greatly appreciated.