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Our actions and their effects weigh more than our feelings and desires in the moment.

Perhaps driven by character and feeling, I have always considered effect to be at least as important as intent--and almost always more so.

When it matters, intent tends to augment, mitigate, or determine the degree of fault or laudability, rather than rendering an act moral or immoral. If no one is actually harmed (or is at some point likely to be) by an act, we don't generally worry too much about it. If you accidentally push somebody in a crowd, or push them to get past while being chased by murderous mobsters, that's not so bad as pushing the same person simply because you can, and it may be excused, but you probably still owe them an apology. If they stumble and fall after you shove them, you are responsible for whatever injury may occur. If you push them into traffic, and they are run over, your possible sentence and likely charge may be less than if your actions had been malicious, but there's a good chance you'll need legal representation.

Broadly, if no one gains from an act (or is at some point likely to), we don't usually reward it. If people tend to be hurt by something, even if no one wants that to happen, then we typically will eventually legislate or argue against that thing in some way. If people tend to gain from something, even if no one intends it, we will probably (eventually) encourage it.

We discourage and punish drunk driving, texting and driving, locking emergency exits, having too few life-boats on large vessels, and shooting guns into the air because these things can lead to grievous injury and death, even though that is almost never what was intended. We encourage people to wear safety-belts because (regardless of their feelings or intent) doing so can save their lives and lessen the likelihood of injury in the event of a crash. We reward and encourage people who have helped others, usually without putting them through a battery of tests to determine their mind-set, goals, and desires at the moment of action. There are many moments where we react without thinking. Such an explanation will not stop you from getting fired if you hastily tell your boss to fuck off, any more than it should stop someone from thanking you if you quickly pick up something they dropped and hand it to them.

Much of what we do is considered and justified after the fact, rather than during or before. When we think things through and thoroughly reason them out beforehand, we bear responsibility for the consequences of our actions--if not to the same degree as when we react in the moment, then more so.

Hence, the doctrine of double-effect strikes me as rather contrived and convenient. Its focus on intent is misguided, possibly harmful in making public policy, and inconsistent with how we tend to think and act. I consider it generally more clever and lawyerly (in the sophist's tradition) than realistic or straightforward. Put charitably, I think it reflects an interesting understanding of the mind, society, and ethics which predates much relevant study by at least 600 years.

It is, therefore, disappointing (if unsurprising) to read of SCOTUS nominee Neil Gorsuch's support for such backward thinking. They say he is brilliant, highly skilled, and well qualified. Yet this is no deterrent to idiocy. Such is the human condition. We all do and believe dumb things from time to time. The problem is, this stupid belief undergirds the whole of his judicial philosophy. Alas.


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