Beyond the Doctrine of Double Effect: A Formal Model of True Self-sacrifice

  • Naveen Sundar GovindarajuluEmail author
  • Selmer Bringsjord
  • Rikhiya Ghosh
  • Matthew Peveler
Part of the Intelligent Systems, Control and Automation: Science and Engineering book series (ISCA, volume 95)


The doctrine of double effect (\(\mathcal {{DDE}}\)) is an ethical principle that can account for human judgment in moral dilemmas: situations in which all available options have large good and bad consequences. We have previously formalized \(\mathcal {{DDE}}\) in a computational logic that can be implemented in robots. \(\mathcal {{DDE}}\), as an ethical principle for robots, is attractive for a number of reasons: (1) Empirical studies have found that \(\mathcal {{DDE}}\) is used by untrained humans; (2) many legal systems use \(\mathcal {{DDE}}\); and finally, (3) the doctrine is a hybrid of the two major opposing families of ethical theories (consequentialist/utilitarian theories versus deontological theories). In spite of all its attractive features, we have found that \(\mathcal {{DDE}}\) does not fully account for human behavior in many ethically challenging situations. Specifically, standard \(\mathcal {{DDE}}\) fails in situations wherein humans have the option of self-sacrifice. Accordingly, we present an enhancement of our \(\mathcal {{DDE}}\)-formalism to handle self-sacrifice; we end by looking ahead to future work.


Doctrine of double effect True self-sacrifice Law and ethics Logic 



The research described above has been in no small part enabled by generous support from ONR (morally competent machines and the cognitive calculi upon which they are based) and AFOSR (unprecedentedly high computational intelligence achieved via automated reasoning), and we are deeply grateful for this funding.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Naveen Sundar Govindarajulu
    • 1
    Email author
  • Selmer Bringsjord
    • 1
    • 2
  • Rikhiya Ghosh
    • 2
  • Matthew Peveler
    • 2
  1. 1.RAIR LabDepartment of Cognitive Science, Rensselaer Polytechnic InstituteTroyUSA
  2. 2.RAIR LabDepartment of Computer Science, Rensselaer Polytechnic InstituteTroyUSA

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