If you have not done so please read part 1 before proceeding.
Now starting with this article we will break down each of the criteria to make more sense out of them.
- ‘The action itself is not bad or evil; it needs to be either morally good or morally neutral.’
So we must first remember when talking about the Principle of Double Effect (PDE) that it is meant to determine if an act is good to do or not good to do based on its effects. There are many acts, however, that are bad regardless of what their effects are. For example, if a person steals a cat from another, then that person has committed a wrong. It does not matter that the good effect was that the cat is no longer destroying all forms of furniture and carpeting in his owner's house, nor does it matter that the bad effect is that the evil incarnate is now ruining the thief's house (sidenote: I do not like cats). It is always wrong to steal because the deprivation from a person of something that rightly belongs to them is inherent to the act of stealing itself and thus is always wrong to do.
This is what the first criteria establishes. PDE is not meant to discuss acts that are already immoral to do in their own right. It focuses only on those acts that are morally good or at the very least morally neutral.
Now what constitutes a morally good act seems to speak for itself. Donating money to a reputable, well-meaning and effective charity, for instance, is of course a morally good act. Whether or not the effects warrant one the ability to do such an act, however, is a question that the other criteria will help determine. But to be sure, something like this is not immoral in and of itself. Perhaps mandatory declawing of all cats would be another such example.
A morally neutral act would be something like what we saw in our first two analogies in the previous article. A doctor removing blood is neither good nor bad, it just is. You pushing a button on a train is similarly an act that does not necessarily carry any sort of morality to it.
In each of these situations the first criteria is satisfied fairly easily. But there are many scenarios where it takes a little more thought and discussion to reach such a conclusion. For example, concerning the third analogy used in part one, some people might think that defending oneself to the point of killing someone would be wrong to do and thus not satisfy the first criteria. Using examples from the Old Testament and soldiers serving in our military, the Catholic will hopefully have enough to show that such beliefs are based on a misunderstanding of the morality of death and killing.
The point is that sometimes the morality of a particular act is universally agreed upon and sometimes it is not. And in the case of the latter this must be resolved before continuing with the rest of the criteria.