Christian Ethics Research Paper

Example Research Paper on Christian Ethics:

One of the aspects of Christian Ethics that is often made a subject to arguments and disputes is the Doctrine of Double Effect. Even its name, to begin with, looks quite confusing. Is the Doctrine of Double Effect another mean of justification the inconsistency of religious world view or a useful tool in deciding on the questions of ethics? This paper will discuss the peculiarities of the Doctrine of Double Effect and will attempt to investigate the answers to these questions.

The society has always tried to automate its functioning – since the very beginning of the civilization, the society created neuro-social programs in form of sets of moral rules, ethical principles, and religious guidelines. This installation is put into the mind of people for good and bad needs. The actions of people are often made a subject to evaluation and judgments according to the content of the programs. The situation is quite opposite regarding the mentioned programs which stand behind people’s acts and judges’ trials. Therefore, it is wise to analyze what stands behind people’s actions. Michael Banner presents Christian Ethics in a slightly different way, as he argues that “the task of Christian Ethics is to understand the world and human kind in the light of the creedal affirmations of the Christian faith, and to explicate this understanding in its significance for human action through a critical engagement with the concerns, claims and problems of other ethics.” An example of a set of principles designed to provide guidance is the Doctrine of Double Effect, a part of the Christian Ethics.

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The Doctrine of Double Effect, according to the encyclopedic definition, is a thesis in Christian ethics, which is often attributed to Aquinas. Despite the fact that various authors present the doctrine in different ways, the Doctrine of Double Effect generally puts forward the idea that there is a moral difference between the two models of action provided below:

  1. A person intentionally causes harm in order to promote some good.
  2. A person promotes some good in such a way that harm is caused as a foreseen side-effect.

The defendants of the Doctrine of Double Effect argue that the first model of action is, from the moral perspective, worse than the second, given all other conditions equal. Thus, the Doctrine of Double Effect claims that in some cases it is morally permissible to bring about as a foreseen but unintended consequence a bad effect that it would be morally wrong to bring about as a strictly intended consequence.

The Doctrine of Double Effect has numerous practical applications. Its implementation is found, for example, in fair war theory, where the deliberate targeting of civilians to demoralize the enemy are considered immoral, but the bombing of military plants may be accepted, even if both cases result in the same number of deaths, end the war in the same time length, etc. The Doctrine of Double Effect is also applied to specific medical cases, i.e., the use of a high dosage of painkillers is can be allowed for the relief of pain in cases of terminal illness, while as the death itself is considered a side effect. Some of the Doctrine’s defendants claim that this is morally different from euthanasia on purpose of the relief of pain. Of course, such situations cause much confusion and argument. Michael Banner himself writes that “the exact character of, say, the particular practices in question may be difficult to determine, perhaps of their complexity or because the existing accounts of them are so persuasive, including within the Christian tradition itself, that even those who sense something of their inadequacy must struggle to escape from them.”

The main thesis of the Doctrine saying that on one hand it is morally permissible in some cases to cause harm as a foreseen but unintended consequence of the action, but, on the other hand, that it would be immoral to cause that same amount of harm in the same circumstances as an intended consequence, meets much criticism.

The main argument against the Doctrine of Double Effect is that in some cases it can be used to serve as a justification of crime or unethical action. This is followed by another argument which claims that if one takes into consideration only means but not the results of the action, this creates a situation with much confusion and opportunity for speculation.

This is based on the fact that means, reasons, and motives are not absolute, but relative.Purposes and intentions are too relative and easy to speculate on to be taken as a normative for making decisions on wrongness or rightness of a particular action. A striking example can be found in the history of Christian church itself – the Holy Inquisition. The Inquisitors had the best purposes of “defending the world from the evil” and “protecting the faith”, when they burned people at the stake, destroyed scientific work books, and oppressed the social development. According to the Doctrine of the Double Effect, thousands of murders committed in the gloomy dungeons and during “glorious” Crusades, were just a side effect of the good the Inquisition officers pursued.

There is even more criticism of the Doctrine on the ground that it is not clear how one should differentiate between intended and unintended consequences. The situation becomes critical if several results are intended, which happens quite often. Another attack of critics is aimed at the fact that usually the results of applying the Doctrine of Double Effect depend too much on how the case is described and interpreted. Moreover, the Doctrine assumes operating in the ideal conditions; so that the final solution of the problem depends on what exactly «all other things being equal» or «exactly the same consequences» mean. Given the proposition that both of the two can be also speculated, the situation with the Doctrine of Double Effect becomes even more controversial.

Philippa Foot describes the case of Cave Explorers in which several cave explorers are trapped in a cave, where the flood waters are rising. As the first member of the party tried to escape through the tunnel, he got hopelessly stuck in the middle. The explorers had to use a stick of dynamite to blast the man out of the cave in order to allow others to escape. On one hand, this action killed the man but, on the other hand, it saved the others. The question is whether the death of the man was intended or merely foreseen. Basically, in this case the murder act appears to be foreseen but not intended. Philippa Foot, herself, does not propose the solution for the problem of the case.

While some prominent writers, such as Castaneda, appeal to the people to “take responsibility for their actions”5, the Christian Ethics models face more and more critique. The most categorical critiques of the consistency and applicability of Doctrine of Double Effect argue that motive and intention are always and in all situations irrelevant to defining moral rightness and wrongness of an action. Critics, and especially, utilitarians, build their arguments on the idea that people have rights consisting of the ways they should not be treated, and these rights should not be violated. From this perspective, if an agent intents to do evil, but the outcome is good, the agent is assumed to be right.

Basically, the Doctrine of Double Effect relies solely on the principle of faith or religion, i.e. on the presence of a supreme deity who is going to judge people based on the principles, intentions, and other components of the internal world of a person. Only the person afraid of judgment or indulging in the feeling of guilt and self pity will argue that intentions are more important than actual outcomes.

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