Intentions and moral permissibility: The case of acting permissibly with bad intentions

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Many people believe in the intention principle, according to which an agent's intention in performing an act can sometimes make an act that would otherwise have been permissible impermissible, other things being equal. Judith Jarvis Thomson, Frances Kamm and Thomas Scanlon have offered cases that seem to show that it can be permissible for an agent to act even when the agent has bad intentions. If valid, these cases would seem to cast doubt on the intention principle. In this paper, I point out that these cases have confounding factors that have received little attention in the literature. I argue that these confounding factors undermine the putative force of these cases against the intention principle. Indeed, when cases without these confounding factors are considered, it becomes clear, so I argue, that intentions can be relevant for the permissibility of an act.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)703-724
Number of pages22
JournalLaw and Philosophy
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy
  • Law


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