Objective Double Effect and the Avoidance of Narcissism

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  • The Doctrine of Double Effect [DDE] states roughly that it is harder to justify causing or allowing harm as a means to an end than it is to justify conduct that results in harm as a side effect. This chapter argues that a theory of deontological constraints on harming needs something like the DDE in order to avoid the charge that it reflects a narcissistic obsession with the cleanliness of our own hands. Unfortunately, the DDE is often interpreted as maintaining that we must avoid acting with certain intentions, which, this chapter contends, embodies an equally narcissistic obsession with the purity of our own hearts. The chapter argues that the DDE is better interpreted as a denial of the Machiavellian idea that beneficial ends justify harmful means. On this view, the objective fact that our conduct will secure benefits for some individuals at the expense of other individuals weakens the extent to which those benefits count as reasons to engage in that conduct. This version of the DDE provides a plausible, non-narcissistic foundation for deontological constraints.

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    © 2013 H. Nye. Reproduced by permission of Oxford University Press (
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    • Nye, H. (2013). Objective Double Effect and the Avoidance of Narcissism. In M. Timmons (Ed.), Oxford Studies in Normative Ethics, (vol. 3, pp. 260-286). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
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