Criminal Law and Philosophy

, Volume 10, Issue 4, pp 763–776 | Cite as

The Psychological Origins of the Doctrine of Double Effect

  • Fiery CushmanEmail author
Original Paper


The doctrine of double effect (DDE) is a moral principle that distinguishes between harm we cause as a means to an end and harm that we cause as a side-effect. As a purely descriptive matter, the DDE is well established that it describes a consistent feature of human moral judgment. There are, however, several rival theories of its psychological cause. I review these theories and consider their advantages and disadvantages. Critically, most extant psychological theories of the DDE regard it as an accidental byproduct of cognitive architecture. This may provide philosophers with some reason to question its normative significance.


Moral psychology Doctrine of double effect Cognition Reinforcement learning 



This research was supported by Grant N00014-13-1-0281 from the Office of Naval Research.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA

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