Doctrine of Double Effect and Permissibility of Rebellion
The Doctrine of Double Effect (DDE) is a controversial ethical principle that maintains that it is morally permissible for one to perform an action that may bring about some foreseeable negative outcome (like harm or death to others, who have done nothing to forfeit their right not to be harmed) in order to achieve some laudable outcome. That is, so long as the actor does not intend the foreseeable harm—which is to say that the harm that is entailed by her action is not part of her motivation to act. Thomson has argued that the DDE is indefensible, since there is no morally-relevant distinction between actors who intentionally and unintentionally bring about harm to innocent people (for instance, the strategic versus terror bomber). For intention to cause harm, according to Thomson, is (should be) irrelevant to our moral calculations: noting that just as the absence of intent to cause harm (with innocent aggressors and innocent threats) does not undermine our right to use lethal force in self-defense, the absence of intent to cause harm cannot determine the moral permissibility of actions that fall within the DDE. Consequently, the DDE seems to unjustly tolerate the violation of the right of innocent civilians not to be killed: in other words, innocent civilians retain the right not to be killed and are done wrong by even well-intentioned actors who regret the unintentional harm they create. By introducing notions of direct and indirect “agency in the production of harm” (344), Quinn has proposed a revised doctrine that strives to address traditional concerns with the DDE, including the problem of defining intent. Quinn proposes that a defensible version of the DDE would discriminate strongly against (that is, be intolerant of) “harmful direct agency”—where the foreseeable harm to others defines, at least in part, the purpose of one’s action—and would discriminate more weakly against “harmful indirect agency”—where the foreseeable harm to others does not define at all the purpose of one’s action.
The significance of this debate to revolutionary violence is this: if we grant that all collective armed violence will entail some harm or death (as collateral damage) to innocent bystanders (non-combatants), and if the DDE cannot be defended and the lack of intention to cause harm is irrelevant and cannot justify this harm and death, then all revolutionary violence is prima facie morally impermissible, even against tyrannical governments or regimes that commit state-perpetrated violence against their subjects or citizens. This conclusion seems equally controversial, as thinkers like Locke defend a substantive right to rebel and thinkers like Thomson vindicate a right to use lethal force in self-defense.
Do you believe that this problem of intention—the problem that some undeserved harm or death will befall innocent civilians—renders all revolutionary violence morally impermissible?
In answering this question, you must (a) explain how this problem of intention relates to at least one principle of jus ad bellum or jus in bello, (b) incorporate the writings of at least three of the authors assigned this week—Thomson, Locke, Buchanan, Quinn, Kant, Walzer, Humphreys and Weinstein, and Kuran—(c) reference specific passages and cite specific page numbers in these readings to justify your conclusion, as well as your interpretation of these authors, and (d) discuss one real-world example that illustrates your conclusion.
PLEASE NOTE: with these sorts of normative questions that we’ll be engaging throughout the semester, where there is no clear right or wrong answer, you must do more than merely state your opinion. This would fundamentally fail to satisfy the expectations of these thesis-driven and evidence-based writing assignments. Your task is to take a stand on the issue and to defend this position by writing an educated and informed response, incorporating specific ideas from the readings that support your thesis.