Actions and Omissions, Intended and Lateral Effects: Consequentialism versus Intuitive Morality
Intuitively, we judge that our responsibility has more to do with what we do than what we omit to do, and that it extends more to intended effects than to side-effects of our deeds. These intuitions have been expressed in our tradition through two principles: the doctrine of acts and omissions (DDE) and the doctrine of double effect (DDE). Jonathan Glover acknowledges that these two principles are important, but believes that it is eventually better to discard them and, instead, to stick to the consequentialist view that our responsibility extends equally to all the consequences of our behavior (acts and omissions). I first examine Glover’s objections against the two principles and then present Joshua Greene’s research on the neuropsychology of moral judgment. These rest heavily on our reactions to certain moral dilemmas, in particular the trolley problem, and have recourse to neuroimaging. Greene’s conclusions go in the same direction as Glover’s more conceptual arguments. However, both authors share a common philosophical view, i.e., consequentialism. Thus, in a last section I consider some difficulties that this moral view encounters, and with the aid of other neuropsychological studies, I conclude that it is not judicious to put aside the intentions of an agent.
Copyright (c) 2019 Bernard Baertschi
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