Date of Award


Document Type

Dissertation - Restricted

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

William Starr

Second Advisor

John E. Naus

Third Advisor

Patrick J. Coffey

Fourth Advisor

Joseph Boyle

Fifth Advisor

Mary F. Rousseau


This work considers the fundamental structure of the conditions which constitute the principle of double effect. The purpose is to examine what positions need to be defended in order for the principle to be workable. The first section of the work examines the principle in its Thomistic origins. It is argued that the principle as we now know it was implicitly present in St. Thomas Aquinas' treatment of self-defense found in Summa Theologiae, II-II 64, 7. The second section examines a contemporary challenge (Proportionalism) to traditional understandings of the principle. In this section it is argued that while proportionalists and advocates of traditional double effect use similar language and provide, in some cases, a similar analysis, they differ on one fundamental and important point. They disagree on whether an action can be evaluated morally apart from a consideration of the ends and circumstances of that action. This part concludes with the assertion that while one need not maintain a structure of hard moral absolutes, some system in which certain actions are evaluated by their object must be accepted for the coherence of the principle. The third section examines the structure of intention and what must be defended about intention for the integrity of the principle. The first part sets out a basic description of intention which allows for the distinction between what is intended and what is foreseen to be morally significant. The second part examines a challenge to this position and addresses that challenge with a counter-example. The conclusion is drawn that the responsibility one bears for an end is greater than the responsibility one bears for a foreseen side-effect even though both are serious considerations for the moral agent. The fourth and final section examines the condition of proportionality and how this most difficult requirement needs to be understood. This condition is examined in light of two ancillary principles: the principle of impartiality and the principle of moderate force. If one acts in accord with these secondary principles, the demands of proportionality will be met.



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