The Means Principle
Michael Moore believes there are deontological constraints on actors’ pursuit of good consequences. He believes these constraints are best conceived of as agent-relative prohibitions such as “you must not intentionally kill, batter, rape, steal, etc.” I, joined in recent years by Kimberly Ferzan, believe that the best interpretation of deontological constraints — the interpretation that best accounts for our intuitions about certain stock cases — is that they are constraints on the causal means by which good consequences may be achieved. We believe those constraints can be unified under a single deontological principle, what we call the “means principle.” It forbids actors from achieving otherwise good consequences by using, without their consent, others’ bodies, labor, talents, or the resources that are rightfully theirs. The means principle can be viewed as a jurisdictional limitation on the reach of strong (legitimately enforceable) moral obligations. Its focus is on the causal structure of how good consequences are to be achieved, not on the mental states of those attempting to achieve them. Actors’ mental states can affect their culpability but not whether their acts are morally permissible. Even with respect to culpability, actors’ beliefs rather than their intentions are the primary determinants. Their intentions can affect only the level of their culpability if they are culpable, but cannot render an otherwise nonculpable act culpable. Thus, the means principle is a stark contrast to Moore’s agent-relative, intention-focused account of deontological constraints.
Digital USD Citation
Alexander, Larry, "The Means Principle" (2014). Institute on Law and Philosophy Scholarship. 21.