Human Values pp 217-235 | Cite as

‘Double Effect’ or Practical Wisdom?



The Principle of Double Effect (PDE) traditionally has had two related functions: the primary function has been to explain why an action which apparently contravenes some absolute moral principle is after all not wrong; and the secondary function to provide a kind of test matrix into which any permissible action must fit, and hence to offer a decision procedure for dealing with complex cases. PDE, occurring perhaps only once in the writings of Aquinas,1 associated with the Jesuit casuists in Louvain and lambasted by Pascal, is still a source of controversy.


Ectopic Pregnancy Moral Quality Practical Wisdom Double Effect Individual Piece 
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  1. 2.
    Sophie Botros, ‘An Error about the Doctrine of Double Effect’, Philosophy 74 (1999): 71–83. She cites J.T. Mangan in Theological Studies 10 (1949): 41–61. Also Timothy Chappell, ‘Two Distinctions that Do Make a Difference: The Action/Omission Distinction and the Principle of Double Effect’, Philosophy 77 (2002): 211–33.Google Scholar
  2. 9.
    H. Davis, S.J., Moral and Pastoral Theology, Vol. II (London: Sheed and Ward, 1946): 144. For lying, see 413–14.Google Scholar
  3. 10.
    The American Law Institute, in Restatement of the Law of Torts (Philadelphia, 1934), Vol. I: 8.Google Scholar
  4. 13.
    Chappell, op. cit: 224–7. In his contribution to this book, Chappell suggests that the crucial test is one of ‘normal causal separability’. I regard this, too, as unsatisfactory. As I shall argue, what one might claim to be doing in other circumstances (let us say, ‘normal’ circumstances) is beside the point. The question is what one can properly be said to be doing in the circumstances obtaining at the time. Chappell concedes that there is a problem about the relevant description.Google Scholar

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© Gerard J. Hughes 2004

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