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The Principle of Double Effect

A Critical Appraisal of its Traditional Understanding and its Modern Reinterpretation


Lucius I. Ugorji

One fundamental question of normative ethics that has been commanding the attention of present day moral philosophers and theologians is the problem of establishing whether deontology or teleology is the right method of grounding ethical norms. The discussion of this issue among catholic theologians has frequently revolved around the axis of the principle of double effect, a moral rule which is traditionally employed in the moral assessment of acts such as scandal, cooperation in the sin of another, the killing of an innocent person, the use of artificial contraceptive devices, sterilization and the like. Some of these theologians, dissatisfied with the traditional presentation of this rule, strive to reformulate it and to use it as the basis of propounding a teleological ethics.
This work undertakes to cast a critical glance at the traditional understanding of this rule and the recent attempts at reinterpreting it. It seeks answers to questions such as these: Have these modern theologians succeeded in interpreting this principle correctly? Or have they, by their reinterpretation, ended up in evolving an entirely new rule?
Contents: The end does not justify the means - The principle of double effect as a restrictive interpretation of deontological norms - Knauer's and Scholz' reinterpretation of the Principle.