Moral Ethics in the Doctrine of Double Effect by W. Quinn Essay

July 12, 2021 by Essay Writer


One of the most profound doctrines in the exploration of moral ethics of actions is the “Doctrine of Double Effect,” which is abbreviated as DDE. DDE was originally developed by Thomas Aquinas. The doctrine focuses on the exploration of the permissibility of actions that are deemed to result in serious effects like the death of a person. This paper explores the defense of the DDE doctrine by Warren Quinn to unearth the rationale that is presented by Quinn.

Overview of DDE by Aquinas

DDE seeks to explore the level of permissibility in moral actions that result in serious harm, like death. Aquinas focuses on the intentions of an actor as a basis on which the determination of the level of the permissibility of an action that results in serious harm is made.

However, the main problem in justifying the permissibility of action is the scale of adherence to the law in action. The implication of this observation as opined by Aquinas is that there has to be a substantial amount of moderation of the harmful course in action even if the action results in serious harm (Malpas para. 1-3).

Quinn’s version and rationale for the DDE

The latest theses on the DDE, such as the thesis by Quinn, focus on bringing out the distinction between the moral grave of action as a mere side effect of pursuing a morally right action by an agent. The latest assessments are inclined on exploring the scale at which the will and the permission of the harmful effect can be assessed and justified.

Quinn argued that the DDE is not dependent on the differentiation between the intended harm and the merely foreseen harm from an action. According to Quinn, the DDE can be easily pegged on the differentiation between direct and indirect agency as far as an actor is concerned. This view implies that cases entailing self-sacrifice and self-defense can be categorized under the direct agency. Therefore, an account of moral significance in actions that entail serious harm is well covered in the moral thesis that is presented by Quinn.

Quinn explores the basis on which a moral judgment can be made in the attempt to qualify direct agency and indirect agency in an action that entails severe harm. Quinn presents the issue of weighing between the rights of the victims of action and the agent of the same action.

Severe harm that comes from justified punishment or fair competition does not infringe on the rights of the victims. In this situation, severe harm is justified even if it is done intentionally. Therefore, it can be said that Quinn helps to rationalize and complete the views of Aquinas about the rating of actions that results in harmful consequences (Fischer, Ravizza, and Copp 708-715).

DDE and consequentialism

The DDE goes further as far as exploration of the impacts of actions relative to the moral situation that presents itself in the course of an action that results in serious harm is concerned. Therefore, it can be argued that DDE presents a deeper explanation of the nature of effects that come from moral actions and the moral course of the actors.

In this regard, the DDE can be easily incorporated in consequentialism to aid in exploring the nature and severity of actions and the basis on which the severe harm can be morally analyzed, something that was left unexplored by a substantial number consequentialists.

In conclusion, Quinn defends the DDE by bringing out the distinction between indirect and direct agency as far as the action is concerned. This is critical in exploring the moral scale of an action relative to the ethical motivation on the side of the agent in a given action.

Works Cited

Fischer, John Martin, Mark Ravizza, and David Copp. “Quinn on Double Effect: The Problem of “Closeness”.” Ethics 103.4(1993): 707-725. Print.

Malpas, Jeff. “Doctrine of Double Effect.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2012 Edition). 2012. Web. 23 Jul. 2013, http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/double-effect/

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