This paper examines a number of issues arising from an analysis of the relationship between intentions and permissibility. This analysis is developed in response to the straw man position, ‘IIP’; that the content of the intentions held by an agent in performing some act are irrelevant in determining the moral permissibility of that act. This is done intentionally as assurance that IIP is not confused for my own position.
The crux of this paper has its origins in my resistance to accept double effect reasoning as I understood it and the work of both Tim Scanlon and Judith Thomson on the matter. Examples regarding double effect reasoning, in cases such as euthanasia, can often tend towards unappealing results. You want voluntary euthanasia. Under most versions of the Doctrine of Double Effect, someone who intends to relieve your pain, foreseeing your death may permissibly euthanize you. However, someone who intends your death, though foreseeing this will relieve your pain may not permissibly euthanize you. That the permissibility is hinged on the agent’s intentions rather than, more plausibly, the subject’s consent, is dissatisfying. My aim, then, is to discover whether there is a method of cashing out the relationship between intentions and permissibility, specifically examining whether this relationship is less comprehensive or encompassing than traditionally thought. To do this, I will begin by offering some motivation for the initially implausible view that intentions serve no role in determining the permissibility of an act, and work up by providing plausible exceptions to such a position. Throughout I work under the assumption that permissibility is a binary term, insofar as an act is either morally prohibited or it is not. For this reason, positive moral duties or requirements are usually categorised as ‘at least permissible’.