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Choosing Your Reasons for an Action: Moral Permissibility, Willful Action, and the Doctrine of Double Effect


Alec D. Walen


Rutgers School of Law, Camden

June 28, 2011


Abstract:     
I argue here that you can choose both to perform an act that you are morally required to perform, and to do so without acting on a reason that you take yourself to have and take to be sufficient for action. This argument is significant because it undermines one of the arguments Judith Jarvis Thomson makes against the Doctrine of Double Effect (DDE), one that presupposes that you cannot perform an act and at the same time avoid doing so for whatever reasons you take yourself to have and take to be sufficient for action. The argument offered here is also significant for the light it shines on the linked notions of moral permissibility and choice. If we are to take seriously (a) that permissibility applies only to choices that you can make, and (b) the limits of what you can choose, then the ability to choose willfully—that is to choose to act contrary to what you think you have sufficient reason to do—is crucial to permissibility covering the range of choices we think it covers. This point is relevant both to the possibility of being required to choose your reasons and to the possibility of being required to act in certain ways. Choice is at best only guided, not determined, by reason. The will fills the gap between reasons and actions, and it is crucial for understanding choice to remember that the will may act rationally, a-rationally, or irrationally (i.e. willfully).

Number of Pages in PDF File: 28

Keywords: Choice, Doctrine of Double Effect, Permissibility, Reasons, Willful Action, Judith Jarvis Thomson, Tim Scanlon

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Date posted: August 12, 2009 ; Last revised: July 2, 2011

Suggested Citation

Walen, Alec D., Choosing Your Reasons for an Action: Moral Permissibility, Willful Action, and the Doctrine of Double Effect (June 28, 2011). Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1447042 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1447042

Contact Information

Alec D. Walen (Contact Author)
Rutgers School of Law, Camden ( email )
217 N. 5th Street
Camden, NJ 08102-1203
United States
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