Foreseen but unintended


The whole principle of double effect rests on the notion of a “foreseen, but unintended” result of an action. I submit that this is just another cop-out. If you can foresee the result of an act, and perform the act, then you cannot defend it by saying that it was “unintended”. You did it and that is all. The rational approach is to examine if the act was “justifiable” or not. If the act and the outcome can be justified, then all is well. If not, then we condemn the action.

But, of course that would bring in the dreaded proportionalism, and that is unacceptable. The whole thread dealing with the runaway trolley revolves around this question. Both the inaction and the action will result in some deaths. It is obvious that one chooses the option which results in fewer deaths - all else being equal. By the way, there is no need to have those people be tied to the rails - that only would allow to “derail” the thread… (yes, the pun was intended). Those people are simply there, and either one or four will die due the action (or lack of).

Another similar problem is the definition of “theft” - which is considered to be intrinsically evil. Now, not even Catholics would consider it evil to steal a piece of bread to help out someone who is about to starve. So, what do they do? Redefine theft.

Same applies “to lying” - which is also considered to be intrinsically evil. So what to do when a death squad is looking for some refugees? Redefine lying, too.

All those mental gymnastics, when the solution is so simple and obvious. Stealing and lying is perfectly acceptable in some cases, and unacceptable in others.


Why, thank you! :slight_smile:

You do understand you just wrote that Catholicism has an answer to every objection? :slight_smile:

And yes, every objection to Catholicism has an answer. You are frustrated by that? Tough luck. :slight_smile:

Sure, it would have been better if you would have used a different wording for your admission. But I guess that would be too much…


Having an answer does not mean having a rational answer. Redefining terms is not one of them.


Would you please document that claim from an official Church document?


While some may attempt to redefine lying, that is not the official teaching of the Church nor of Scripture. Lying is always evil. One may not lie when the Nazis are at the door, it is still a sin.

The liar may be less culpable because of fear, however, the lie is still always and in every way sinful.

One may refuse to answer the Nazis at the door, keeping one’s mouth shut is not a lie.

But, I have a feeling that you know this already. Sure, there are people who try to defend “noble lies” but they are no different than the people who run trolley cars over people.


Would the ten commandments be sufficient for you? Exodus 20:15 - “Thou shalt not steal”.

And maybe you could familiarize yourself with the next commandment, too. Which say nothing about “lying” in general, but bearing false witness, and that relates to a court of law, under oath. Simple lies are just fine. But if you disagree, you might warn some parents. Maybe you know some families with small children. The parents lie to the children every Christmas, when you affirm the existence of Santa Claus and the elves at the North Pole. :slight_smile: What an “evil” practice!


According to Catholic morality, a bad intention can make even what is normally a good action (almsgiving) a sin, and that unless the object of the act itself is wrong without exception, it is the intent that determines the moral quality of the act (let’s not address the circumstances for the moment). Perhaps it would be clearer to use a word other than “intent”, say desire for example. It would seem obvious that we can perform acts that have both a desired and and undesired outcome - getting a shot for example. We desire the protection the medicine will provide, but we certainly don’t desire the pain that accompanies its application. What makes an act with a twofold effect immoral is not the existence of the harmful effect, but whether or not we welcome and value it.

My son and yours are playing in the barn and scrape themselves on rusty nails. I give my son a tetanus shot, and am sorry for the additional pain he experiences from the needle. I give your son a tetanus shot and am glad he feels the pain because it was his actions that got my son hurt. Even though the acts are exactly the same, the first is not a sin, and the second one is. There is no way to suggest that I desired my son to feel pain, yet I did desire your little roughneck to pay for his reckless ways…which makes my action toward him wrong, even though the acts are indistinguishable externally.


So, we have an answer to every objection, but you do not like those answers. No surprises here.

And, conveniently enough, no argument is given.

Why exactly can’t we explain what we mean by a term we use?

For example:

It is kinda important what exactly is meant by “stealing” here, isn’t it?

You know, maybe the Church knows the meaning the Church gives those words a bit better than you…

And yes, those tries do look look like something a Protestant might say - as opposed to a Catholic. Which, by the way, indicates the meaning of the saying you lashed out in the post at thread About the dilemmas, in general.

So, you didn’t know that this might well be a sin (although not a mortal one)? See, let’s say,

I’m afraid that you have a lot to learn about Catholicism.

And, by the way, if you would try to learn instead of trying to convert us (or, at least, before trying to convert us), you wouldn’t be so frustrated.


You see, this is one example which scares me. “Thought crime” was the pivotal principle in the book of “1984”, when people were tortured and brainwashed for having “sinful” thoughts. If that concept is part of the Catholic ethical system, then there is something very wrong with it.

In your example the important part is that you give the tetanus shot. It is objectively a good action. Your accompanying thoughts are irrelevant. Whether you gave it with the intent to help, or to collect “brownie points” in the eyes of the community - does not matter one bit. You don’t have to justify a good, beneficial action, it carries its own justification. I am sure you know the expression: “acts speak louder than words”.

Is it possible that you don’t understand the meaning of the word: “stealing”?

Let’s allow kids to be kids - regardless of Feser says. Not only it does not hurt them to entertain a make-believe worlds, it is actually beneficial for them to exercise their fantasy life.

I know much more about Catholicism than you imagine. There are many good sides of it, and there are some very bad, scary parts.


Good questions, Scowler. It’s getting late, so I’ll have to get back to it tomorrow, but I wanted to challenge one of your assertions:

It is not clear to me that taking someone else’s property is intrinsically evil. It is, after all, just property; it is not in the same class as human life, although it may impinge on human dignity. Taking property may be a grave matter or not. Taking bread to save a life may be morally defensible according to presumed consent; the owner of the bread, assuming he too is not starving, would gladly give it to the starving man if he knew of the need.

Are you familiar with the universal destination of goods? Here is a reference:
Is it just more theological tap dancing? I think otherwise; there is justice and wisdom in it.


CCC 2401The seventh commandment forbids unjustly taking or keeping the goods of one’s neighbour…

This sounds like intrinsically evil to me.
Scowler what exceptions can you instance?


At the very least many Catholic theologians will say that one may steal if:
(1) The things stolen are immediately necessary to the preservation of human life.
(2) These necessities are not obtainable in another way that would be morally licit.
(3) The theft does not deprive one who is themselves liable to such desperation.

So if a person is starving, or liable to freeze from lack of clothing or fuel, and there is no one who will provide freely, it is permitted to steal from those who have more than they need; however the amount should be only what is needed for immediate survival.


(A) I was really interested in Scowlers thinking.
(B) You may not understand the definition of “stealing” in the CCC.
i.e., if the appropriation is just then it cannot be “stealing” which by definition is not just.

You have confused “stealing” with “appropriating”.
Appropriating is not IE.


I agree with you, Scowler, that redefining terms is reasonably silly, and I agree that many Catholics (including perhaps, the Magesterium) do it. But that’s just semantics, and it doesn’t matter in the slightest to actual morality.

Let us allow that you would be KILLING the person in the trolley problem. Let’s use the word. Nevertheless, the principle of double effect does give us an intuitive reason why it is morally permissible to kill this person: because you do not intend for them to die (and because you’re not using them to stop the train, etc.). And surely this is possible. It is possible to do something that has an unintended effect. We do it all the time. Perhaps my son has a soccer game on Saturday, but Saturday is also the day that my father has a heart attack. Do I intend not to bring my son to his soccer game? Of course not. I want him at his soccer game. It just cannot happen. My choice to care for my father has a known but unintended effect.

So the terminology isn’t needed to make the point Catholic theology is making.


And I’m not convinced you believe your own view of proportionalism. Suppose that a person was dying and you could only save them by killing another person. The second person had two loving family members; the first had three. Would you kill this person, supposing it could be done in sufficient secrecy?


Cool thing about the Church, in her Truth She uses the term “intrinsically evil” when something is intrinsically evil.

Stealing is not an intrinsically evil act. Notice that the CCC quoted above says “UNJUSTLY taking or keeping”.

If you read further,

2408 The seventh commandment forbids theft, that is, usurping another’s property against the reasonable will of the owner. There is no theft if consent can be presumed or if refusal is contrary to reason and the universal destination of goods. This is the case in obvious and urgent necessity when the only way to provide for immediate, essential needs (food, shelter, clothing . . .) is to put at one’s disposal and use the property of others.

Okay, back to me and not the CCC. The above passage references to Catholic Doctrine of the Universal Destination of Goods. You might want to deeply examine the doctrines of the Church that you so revile. The Universal Destination of Goods doctrine is more fleshed out in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, available to anyone with an internet connection via


I dont understand your point.
If stealing is defined as unjustly taking then surely stealing is always wrong?
That is what IE is surely?

It is taking or keeping that may sometimes be just.

I dont revile anything! I agree with the CCC.
One of us has missed something. I dont think its me.


Scowler presents revulsion at the Church, I was trying to tag team onto your response. Sorry.


Killing is not the same as either murder or stealing.

Murder is intrinsically evil by definition.
Stealing is IE by definition.

Killing is not intrinsically evil by definition.
Taking anothers goods is not evil by definition.

The top two describe moral acts.
The bottom two describe behaviours which may or may not be moral when we are supplied more detail.

Its no big deal from what I can see.
Just the need to correctly understand the difference between describing behaviours and describing immoral acts.

Sure, the Church may be more precise than colloquial users when speaking of moral theology. That would seem important as mt is often complex. Which is why the Church supplies definitions we misuse at our peril.


It might be enlightening to apply this to self-defense. Now, I am not here to give enlightenment. I am seeking it, so join in and let’s figure this out.

The scenario is simple one-on-one self-defense. Assume that an unjust aggressor is going to kill you if you don’t kill him. Assume that no matter whether he lives or dies, he will pose no threat to others, so you needn’t worry about protecting future victims. Unlike the trolley dilemma, one life will be lost either way. It’s simply him or you.

Your primary intention is to preserve your life. You have no desire to kill the other. Let’s assume you bear no hatred or ill will toward the other. Just to make it interesting, let’s assume that you love the other. After all, he is an image and likeness of God, and God loves him.

You formulate a plan to preserve your life. Under the circumstances, your only option for self-preservation is to kill the aggressor. You form the intention of killing which is secondary to your intention to stay alive. You look at him with love, offer a silent prayer for his salvation, and then take his life.

Any contradictions so far?

What is the principle that makes that killing just? I looked up Aquinas here
but it’s still not crystal clear.

To further complicate things, allowing oneself to be killed in order to spare the life of the other would also be a morally acceptable choice. It could even be a morally superior choice. For example, if the aggressor were your son or daughter or spouse whom you love dearly, you might prefer to save their life rather than your own.

“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

Or, if you are a saintly sort of person, you might love a stranger that much. You might feel that your own salvation is reasonably assured, but the aggressor needs more time to repent and be saved – which he may well do after witnessing your immense faith, hope, and love.

So, in a strict, no-strings-attached, one-on-one self-defense scenario, I don’t see a compelling moral argument to kill the aggressor.

What do you think?

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