Ambiguity in Moral Choice by Richard A. McCormick

By Richard A. McCormick

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It is pre- Page 27 cisely this intention or purpose which unites the intermediate stages and makes the action human. For example, "the human action of surgical intervention . . " At this stage of his analysis Van der Poel makes two important points. First, not any material effect can be used to obtain a good result. There must be a proportionate reason which makes the occurrence of physical evil acceptable within the whole act. " But they are (I presume he would say, though he nowhere says it) disproportionate, not sufficient to render the evil caused acceptable.

This has happened, I believe, to Van der Poel. Speaking of self-defense, he says: "We do not weigh the independent value of the human life of the unlawful attacker against the independent value of the life of the person who legitimately defends himself against the attack. "42 Here Van der Poel is left dangling helplessly on his own petitio principii. For the precise point of his own criterion is not whether "this was the Page 34 only way to defend himself," but whether self-defense in such desperate circumstances is community-building or not.

The matter can be urged in another way. Suppose we are faced with a situation (suggested by Philippa Foot) with the following alternatives: an operation which saves the mother but kills the child, versus one that kills the mother but saves Page 51 the child. In either choice Grisez's use of double effect would seem to apply. That is, there is a single indivisible process one of whose aspects is good, one evil. And the act is life-saving. But unless one uses functional criteria (the "greater value" in some sense of the mother's or child's life) is there a proportionate reason for choosing mother over child, or child over mother?

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