The idea of double effect –
in war and business
Gregory Reichberg and Henrik Syse
Most of us have little difficulty acknowledging that some kinds of behaviour are inherently wrong – murder, torture, rape, and fraud readily come to mind. Other actions seem to present us with borderline cases – bribery or lying, for instance, which are ordinarily wrong but which nevertheless may be warranted in some narrowly specified contexts. Finally, some deeds carry few or no negative moral connotations. Providing medical care to the sick, teaching youngsters how to read, or trading in needed commodities seem prima facie to be morally good. Yet even such acts can produce harmful results, as when the manufacture of a morally legitimate product results in serious pollution or upholds a repressive political regime.
When morally legitimate acts have undesired effects, we enter the area of “side-effect harm”. To what degree should the ethical implications of side-effect harm be factored into corporate decision-making? What weight should be given to such harm in the deliberations of business people – leaders or even rank-and-file employees – who are concerned about “doing the right thing”? If moral accountability for corporate behaviour is not restricted solely to purposive actions by members of the corporation – and indeed it is a central premise of this book that un- intended consequences must also be taken into account – then we must