Measure for Measure, Double-Effect, and Cooperation with Evil

Shakespeare's _Measure for Measure_ and Aquinas Treatise on Law
Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure and Aquinas’ Treatise on Law

Associate Professor of Philosophy Justin Gable, OP, Dominican School of Philosophy & Theology, taught our Spring class called “Biomedical Ethics.” My final paper was “Measure for Measure, Double-Effect, and Cooperation with Evil.” The paper starts:

This ethics paper is structured around William Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure in the context of cooperation with evil and the principle of double-effect as a way of understanding both the principles and the play’s ethical circumstances. The first example of the principal of double-effect was given by St. Thomas Aquinas in his 1485 Summa Theologica. He writes about the lawfulness of killing in self-defense, “Nothing hinders one act from having two effects, only one of which is intended, while the other is beside the intention.” Wellesley College Professor of Philosophy, Alison McIntyre summarizes current understanding of double-effect as, “the distinction between causing a morally grave harm as a side effect of pursuing a good end and causing a morally grave harm as a means of pursuing a good end.” I will analyze five instances of double-effect, considering whether harm is a side effect or a means to the end.

Recently, while reading the part of Angelo in Measure for Measure with my Shakespeare group, I noticed instances of the double-effect morality. I was intrigued that Shakespeare’s last comedy, Measure for Measure, was written in 1603, just 115 years after St. Thomas describes double-effect (although I found no indication that Shakespeare read St. Thomas). The moral principles of cooperation with evil and double-effect do not seem to have been extensively examined in analyses of Measure for Measure. In addition to considering morality, this paper asserts that great storytelling can more effectively support ethical understanding and teaching.

For more, read the entire paper

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