SEARCH

SEARCH BY CITATION

ABSTRACT William Cooney has recently argued (The Journal of Applied Philosophy, Vol. 6, pp. 201–204) that the social programme of affirmative action, though controversial, can be supported by the doctrine of double effect in that, according to the doctrine, responsibility falls on the side of intended consequences and not on that of unintended consequences. The point of affirmative action is to include certain disadvantaged groups; it is not to exclude other groups, though this is an inevitable and foreseeable by-product. In this article I contend that Cooney's argument ignores two important conditions of the doctrine of double effect; namely, that the good which results from the intended effect must be at least commensurate with the harm that results from the unintended effect; and, that the intended good effect is causally separate from the unintended harmful effect. Any use of the doctrine which neglects these conditions leads to morally problematic cases. Further, once we take the conditions into account, we have good reason to think that the doctrine of double effect has no relevance to the affirmative action debate.