The utilitarian principle focuses on consequences of actions. It says that an agent ought to perform the action amongst the avaliable alternatives with the overall maximal utility. We adopt an act-utilitarian interpretation which does not distinguish between doing and allowing, i.e. the causal structure of the situation is not taken into account. Thus the action which the agent ought to perform is the one which leads to the best possible situation, i.e. the highest utility, regardless of what the agent causes and intends.
Do No Harm principle
The Do No Harm principle says that an agent may not perform an action which has any negative consequences. The Do No Harm principle is fulfilled in case the agent remains inactive as there will then be no negative consequences and since we regard the act token of remaining inactive itself as neutral. The distinction between doing and allowing is relevant to this principle, as it is the causal consequences of an action which are considered. The intentions of the agents are not considered ethically relevant for our interpretation of this principle.
Minimize Harm Principle
The Minimize Harm principle says that an action is permissible if the sum of its negative consequences is minimal taken the alternative actions into account. It works as a generalization of the Do No Harm principle: If there are actions that do no harm, then the Do No Harm principle and the Minimize Harm principle will permit all of these actions. In case the Do No Harm principle permits no action at all, the Minimize Harm Principle picks the action with least sum of negative consequences.
Principle of Double Effect
The Principle of Double Effect says that an action is permissible if 4 conditions hold.
- The act itself must be morally good or indifferent.
- The positive consequence must be intended and the
negative consequence may not be intended.
- The negative Consequence may not be a means to obtain.
- There must be proportionally grave reasons to prefer.
Several actions may be permissible according to the Principle of Double Effect.
The deontological principle takes only the intrinsic utility of an act into account. An action is permissible if and only if the act itself is morally good or indifferent. This condition is equal to the first condition of the principle of double effect. Thus, every act that is permitted by the principle of double effect is also permitted by the deontological principle. The converse is not true.
Second Formulation of Kant’s Categorical Imperative
According to the second formulation of Kant’s categorical imperative (also called “Humanity Formula”), an act is permissible if and only if everyone who is treated as a means by this act is also treated as a goal by the same act.