Criminal Law and Philosophy

, Volume 13, Issue 1, pp 1–25 | Cite as

Wild Goose Chase: Still No Rationales for the Doctrine of Double Effect and Related Principles

  • Uwe SteinhoffEmail author
Original Paper


I focus on the question as to what rationale could possibly underlie the doctrine of double effect (DDE) or related principles. I first briefly review the correct critiques of the claim that people who intend some evil as a means to a good must be “guided by evil,” and that this is allegedly always wrong. I then argue that Quinn’s claim that violations of the DDE express certain negative attitudes of the agent and that agents violating the DDE must make an additional morally problematic presumption regarding their victims is mistaken. Tadros claims that an agent violating the means principle must force his victims to adopt his goals. I demonstrate that the difference Tadros tries to construe between an agent inflicting intended harm and an agent inflicting merely foreseen harm is non-existent. Sarch’s official rationale for the DDE also fails to distinguish harming as a means from side-effect harming, and reformulations of his rationale that suggest themselves run into severe problems. Walen’s defense of the means principle in terms of the “restricting claims principle” and Øverland’s appeal to “moral obstacles” are susceptible to counter-examples and appear to be question-begging. Recently, Walen has offered a revised formulation of his Restricting Claims Principle, claiming that it overcomes counter-examples and explains the means principle. I will argue that it contradicts the means principle and does not overcome the counter-examples. Thus I conclude that so far we are still left without a reasonable rationale for the DDE or related principles.


Doctrine of double effect Means principle Moral obstacles Warren S. Quinn Rationale Restricting claims Alexander Sarch Victor Tadros Alec Walen 



The research presented in this paper is supported by a grant from the Research Grants Council of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, China (Project No. HKU 17612817). I am very grateful for this support. I also thank an anonymous reviewer for very useful comments.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Politics and Public AdministrationUniversity of Hong KongHong KongChina

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