Double Effect and the Criminal Law

Criminal Law and Philosophy, Forthcoming

USC Law Legal Studies Paper No. 15-26

43 Pages Posted: 1 Sep 2015 Last revised: 9 Sep 2015

See all articles by Alex F. Sarch

Alex F. Sarch

University of Surrey School of Law

Date Written: September 8, 2015


American criminal law is committed to some version of the doctrine of double effect (“DDE”). In this paper, I defend a new variant of the agent-centered rationale for a version of DDE that is of particular relevance to the criminal law. In particular, I argue for a non-absolute version of DDE that concerns the relative culpability of intending a bad or wrongful state of affairs as opposed to bringing it about merely knowingly. My aim is to identify a particular feature of the former in virtue of which it is pro tanto more culpable than the latter. Providing an agent-centered argument of this kind for a culpability version of DDE, I argue, is an especially attractive route to take for those who are interested in vindicating the way the criminal law actually encodes DDE.

Keywords: Doctrine of Double Effect, Intention, Purpose, Knowledge, Foresight, Mens Rea, Culpability, Criminal Law, Treason

Suggested Citation

Sarch, Alex F., Double Effect and the Criminal Law (September 8, 2015). Criminal Law and Philosophy, Forthcoming, USC Law Legal Studies Paper No. 15-26, Available at SSRN:

Alex F. Sarch (Contact Author)

University of Surrey School of Law ( email )

United Kingdom


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