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Ethical Theory and the Standard Justifications Arguments against Violence Universal Duties and Moral Partiality

Glossary Communitarian Ethics Moral theories that view moral values and claims as grounded in the practices, rules, associations, and ways of living of specific moral communities and associated traditions. Consequentialism Moral theories or forms of ethical reasoning in which actions or rules are thought to be right or wrong according to the value of their consequences. Deontological Ethics Moral theories or forms of ethical reasoning in which certain acts are thought to be right or wrong in themselves regardless of their consequences. Moral Subjectivism Theory that moral values and judgments are a matter of subjective preference and

Violence involves the infliction of harm or damage on persons and property, and for this reason its use calls for justification. The subject of justifications for violence in mainstream Anglo-American philosophy and political theory has conventionally focused on political violence, which usually refers to acts and strategies of violence (by political movements, or even individuals) for political ends excluding those carried out by states and including terrorism, guerrilla warfare, and assassination, as well as riot and violence in demonstrations, protests, and picket lines. Inquiry about the justifiability of state violence tends to fall under the headings of just-war theory and justifications for punishment. Whether the conventional distinction between the standing of state and nonstate violence, as subject matters, is defensible will not be addressed in this article, although it is a matter of argument in discussions of both. (Since the first edition of this volume the declaration of a war on terror by several states

Conclusion Further Reading

that moral disagreements are akin to differences of taste. Principle of Utility Utilitarian ethical principle, according to which actions, rules, and states of affairs are good to the extent that their consequences include a greater overall balance of pleasure, happiness, or wellbeing over pain or suffering. Universalist Ethics Moral theories or forms of ethical reasoning involving principles that are considered to be binding on all persons, regardless of community, national, political, family, or other associations and whatever limited moral obligations or loyalties are bound up with them.

has supplied additional reasons for doubt about that distinction, and the aim of ‘regime change’ can be evaluated according to the consequentialist justification of violence set out below.) A justification for violence will urge that some or other violent action or campaign was or is the right thing to do, or anyhow permissible. Philosophical inquiries into the justifiability of violence typically focus on what general conditions must be satisfied by any defensible moral justification for violence.

Ethical Theory and the Standard Justifications Much philosophical discussion about political violence is taken up with argument about whether and to what extent acts of violence can be justified as means to good ends. According to deontological ethics there are limits on what


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may justifiably be done in pursuit of good or worthy ends. Although many actions can be justified by their beneficial consequences, some actions are simply wrong in themselves. Immanuel Kant famously argued that it is wrong to tell a lie, even to save a life. Many deontologists would accept that bad actions can sometimes be justified in extreme or catastrophic situations – Fried suggests that killing an innocent person would be justified if it will save a whole nation – while maintaining that in normal circumstances such actions are morally prohibited regardless of their consequences. Deontologists typically take the view that, other than in circumstances of war, the only acceptable justification for violence is that of self-defense or defense of others from wrongful attack. Persons have moral rights not to be wrongfully injured or killed and, consequently, they have the right to defend themselves against wrongful physical attack. It is also sometimes argued that to violently attack someone who is not engaged in or threatening violence is akin to punishing someone who is innocent. Conversely, one who engages in wrongful violence against another may be said to have relinquished his normal rights not to be attacked. We can only be justified in using as much violence against an attacker, however, as is required to defend ourselves. Thus, according to Elizabeth Anscombe, a person could not be justified in poisoning someone they believe to be out to kill them. Defensive violence must be exactly that: if a state allows huge inequalities among its population or denies freedom to a dominion, it may justly be opposed for doing so, but if it does not order or permit violent persecution by its police or armed forces, acts of political violence carried out by or on behalf of those it oppresses cannot be considered acts of defense. For many deontologists, therefore, political violence is only likely to be justifiable where it is undertaken in defense against murderous states, police, or militia. A campaign of political violence in which activists are prepared to sacrifice their lives for national self-determination or religious expression is unlikely to be given a convincing or straightforward justification in such terms. Deontologists have also claimed that violence can only justifiably be directed against those who are directly involved in it or responsible for it. Failure to prevent murder or injury, they argue, although it may be blameworthy in some circumstances, does not make one responsible for it. If, for example, members of an ethnic group or an occupied territory are routinely tortured, beaten, and murdered by soldiers and police, other citizens may be considered blameworthy for failing to protest or put pressure on their government, but they cannot be held responsible for the murders, tortures, and beatings: they are innocent of those crimes. If they pay taxes and provide services to the army, their responsibility for death and injury is not increased by that. Bombs planted or detonated in order to

kill such citizens, and thereby to terrorize the population, could not count as a defense against the actions of the army and police. To be responsible for a person’s death requires that one has intentionally caused their death. (Not necessarily that one intended that the specific victims of one’s actions should die, as with assassination, but that the bombs were detonated, the plane was crashed, the water supply was poisoned, etc., with the specific aim of bringing about deaths.) Only those involved in carrying out murders and beatings, and their political masters, may properly be considered responsible for them and only they can be legitimate targets for defensive violence. While we may agree that there are limits to what can justifiably be done for good ends under normal circumstances, many might wonder how extreme or catastrophic circumstances need to be before political violence that is not strictly defensive can be justified. Taking Fried’s example, one can reasonably ask whether only the saving of a whole nation is enough to justify the killing of one innocent person. In addition, if there is no justification for the intentional taking of innocent lives, what should be said about acts of terror that are intended to intimidate rather than take life, but with some foreseeable risk of causing death or injury? And what of explosions and acts of sabotage aimed at causing economic and political instability with, say, only a small foreseeable risk of causing death or injury? A well-known and chilling hypothetical case in which many lives might be saved by the ending of one is described by Bernard Williams in Utilitarianism: For and against. Williams tells a story about Jim who stumbles into a South American town in which 20 people are about to be executed by the army as a warning against recent protests in the area. As an honored visitor Jim is offered the privilege of shooting one of the townspeople and, if he does so, as a mark of the occasion, the remaining 19 will be spared. Both the captives and the other townspeople implore him to accept. What ought he to do? According to deontological ethics shooting the one cannot be justified since it would involve intentional murder of an innocent person. It is true that whoever Jim chooses would be killed anyway, along with 19 of his fellows, but that would not be an intentional act of Jim’s: the foreseeable villainy of the army cannot justify him in murdering once in order to prevent it. William’s example is employed as part of a critique of the chief competitor of deontological ethics in modern moral philosophy: utilitarianism. For utilitarians the right thing to do is obvious and straightforward: the lives of the many outweigh the life of the one. According to Williams, while many of us might agree with the conclusion, we would not regard it as so obviously and straightforwardly the right thing to do as utilitarian thinking would have it. One reason why we would not, as deontologists have emphasized, is that we each have a sense of responsibility

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for our own actions. Should Jim fail to take up the army’s offer, the loss of 19 lives will be a consequence of his inaction, but their murder will not be his doing. As Williams observes, it is difficult to see how any moral outlook could get by without treating the distinction between action and inaction as morally significant, but at the same time we do hold people responsible for things they could have prevented but chose not to. As things stand, at any rate, the question of whether taking lives can be justified if doing so will save more lives is given clear, unequivocal, and opposing answers by deontological and utilitarian ethics, neither of which is easy to embrace with conviction. Consequentialist ethics, of which utilitarianism is a kind, holds that actions are right or wrong not because of their intrinsic characteristics, but because of their consequences. One should decide how to act according to whether one’s actions are likely, on balance, to cause more good than harm or more right than wrong. In Jim’s case, the consequences of his acting violently or of his refusing to do so are obvious, straightforward, and considerable. In reality any beneficial consequences of acts of political violence, particularly in relation to their aims, are often far from obvious. By contrast, the immediate consequences of violent action tend to be all too clear and weigh against their justifiability. Most consequentialists take the view that the harms caused by acts of violence are only likely to be outweighed by their helping to bring an end to substantial evil or injustice. For consequentialists a justification for political violence should satisfy the following three conditions: (1) that it aims and can realistically be expected to rectify serious and remediable wrong; (2) that it does not bring about worse consequences than would happen without it; and (3) that there are no alternative means of securing its aims that would have better consequences. Whether an act of violence satisfies the first condition would depend among other things on one’s view of what counts as a serious and remediable wrong. In the classical utilitarianism of Jeremy Bentham, good is identified with happiness and evil with suffering; happiness in turn is equated with pleasure. A serious and remediable wrong, in this view, would be any state of affairs involving needless and substantial suffering. Later utilitarians have rejected Bentham’s equating of happiness with pleasure, and have variously identified it with wellbeing or the satisfaction of desires. Nevertheless, however they define good and evil, all utilitarians accept some version of the Principle of Utility, according to which the rightness or wrongness of actions, social arrangements, and rules depends on the extent to which their consequences increase good and reduce evil. How one should act is therefore decided according to what action is likely to produce the best overall balance of good over evil.


A standard deontological criticism of utilitarianism is that it can routinely justify theft, deceit, violence, and murder, provided that the harm done is outweighed by the good they cause. A related set of criticisms, touched on in William’s example, concerns the way in which utilitarian thinking conflicts with our ordinary notions of responsibility and agency. A person’s moral liability to attack, and to other kinds of harsh treatment such as punishment, is standardly thought to follow from what s/he has done and from her/his responsibility, as an agent, for what s/he has done. The exclusive emphasis that utilitarianism places on the consequences of actions appears to conflict with this notion in two ways. In the first place, it rules out any principled distinction between a person’s responsibility for what s/he does intentionally and what are foreseeable but unintended consequences of her/his actions or of her/his failure to act. In addition, it does not allow any principled basis for differential treatment of people according to what they have done and what they are responsible for. It therefore allows, in principle, that anyone might be a legitimate target of political violence, regardless of their responsibility for whatever evil or injustice the violence is aimed at ending. Utilitarians can argue that acts of violence against ordinary civilians are unlikely to be effective in achieving their aims, but this is debatable and many would regard the effectiveness of violence in securing its ends, in any case, as an inadequate basis for determining who may justifiably be attacked (a view that may be tacitly accepted by those terrorists and their supporters who have justified targeting civilians on the grounds of their putative responsibility for the actions of their governments). Some consequentialists (including some utilitarians) have responded to these difficulties by arguing that the rightness or wrongness of an action is not determined by the consequences of the action itself, but rather according to whether it respects rules of conduct whose general observance is productive of more good than harm or more right than wrong. Such rule consequentialists therefore aim for a kind of compromise between moral concerns about consequences and deontological claims that some actions are prohibited, under normal circumstances, whatever their consequences. Although the assassination of a brutal police officer, for example, might realistically be expected to have more good consequences than bad, a rule consequentialist would argue that, in general, abiding by laws prohibiting murder has better consequences than if everyone were to decide whether or not to kill according to the likely consequences of doing so. The rule consequentialist method of determining how to act does not, however, yield a general prohibition on the use of political violence. If, for example, the laws prohibiting violence in a particular state apply in practice only to the civilian population and are not enforced

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against the police or the army, observance of the law by civilians might have dire consequences for the population. A society’s rules can be evaluated as a whole and according to context, and abiding by a law that might have beneficial consequences in a just society may be the wrong thing to do under a violent dictatorship or occupying power. One question that arises here is whether, for rule consequentialists, acts of political violence, in an unjust society, are to be assessed according to their consequences or according to general rules of conduct such as the rules of engagement in wartime. If we think of political violence as a departure from normal rules of conduct, the idea that it might be justified according to some general rule of conduct looks like a contrivance. There have been political struggles in which rules about permissible use of violence appear to have been followed, but it is implausible to think that all decisions about violence in such struggles either were or ought to have been carried out according to rules. There is no obvious contradiction, for example, in supposing that an act of violence carried out according to general rules of conduct that have consequentialist backing according to the three conditions set out above, might lack such a justification when considered according to its own specific consequences. Moreover, the good consequences of normal rules of conduct, especially laws, depend on their being generally respected. It is difficult to see how the claim could be made for rules governing the uses of political violence.

Arguments against Violence Duties to Support and to Oppose In an ideally good or just society, we may suppose, violence for political ends will not satisfy the consequentialist conditions for the justification of violence mentioned above, either because such a society, by definition, would not permit a serious and remediable wrong or because it would have effective legal and political alternatives to violence for remedying wrongs and injustices. Thus, for consequentialists, whether political violence is justified will depend to a large extent on how far short of good or just a given society’s arrangements, practices and laws fall. According to the Principle of Utility, a good society is one whose institutions, practices, and social arrangements maximize overall happiness and minimize overall suffering. Critics of utilitarianism have pointed out that a good society, understood in this way, is compatible with, and in some circumstances may positively require unfair and unequal rules and social arrangements, even slavery. In A theory of justice John Rawls argues that the regulative principles according to which the consequences of rules and social arrangements should be assessed are those that embody the idea of justice as fairness. Rawls argues,

against utilitarianism, that the right is prior to the good and cannot be reduced to or defined as that which will maximize the good. A just society, according to Rawls, must satisfy what he describes as the Principle of Liberty and the Principle of Difference. The Principle of Liberty stipulates that all members of society should have the maximum liberty consistent with equal liberty for all. The Principle of Difference calls for as much inequality as is required to make the worst-off better off than they would be in a more equal state of affairs. The Principle of Liberty takes precedence over the Principle of Difference. This has the consequence that restrictions on liberties, which could include property rights, cannot be justified in order to make the worst-off better off. For a Rawlsian consequentialist, therefore, what would qualify as serious and remediable wrong are rules, practices, and social arrangements that seriously violate the two principles. Given the ordering of the principles, it is unlikely that serious violation of the Principle of Difference alone would be sufficient to justify political violence since it is difficult to see how any act of violence could fail to infringe someone’s liberties. Thus, for a Rawlsian, political violence is only likely to be justified in states that seriously restrict freedom in a way that is not required by maximum equality of liberty for all (although, as Rawls notes, different conceptions of liberty provide considerable scope for disagreement about whether a given society satisfies the principle). Egalitarian critics of Rawls, such as Ted Honderich, have suggested that while the two regulative principles are superior to the Principle of Utility, they would allow far more inequality than could properly be called fair. Honderich also argues that given the egregious history of claims about the benefits to the poor of various inequalities, the Principle of Difference, although formally acceptable, would be a poor or ineffective regulative principle by which to judge the fairness of existing societies. Egalitarian consequentialists such as Honderich therefore argue that a just or fair society can only be one that is governed by a Principle of Equality. Certainly there are difficulties in formulating what kinds of measures are called for by such a principle and how to judge to what extent existing societies have failed to satisfy it. According to Honderich, it requires that a priority be made of ‘leveling up’ the worst-off in society. Many egalitarians would argue that existing societies fail to satisfy the principle to such an extent that the justifiability of violence aimed at rectifying this cannot be quickly dismissed. All consequentialists would agree that we have a general duty to abide by and support those institutions, practices, and arrangements that have good or just consequences, and also a duty to oppose those whose consequences are bad or unjust. If a state’s institutions, practices, and arrangements, taken collectively, have

Justifications for Violence

consequences that are decently close to good and just, we have a general duty to support it and abide by its laws. If, instead, the consequences are far from good and just, then that duty will be either lacking or reduced. Many would argue that contemporary Western societies, while certainly open to improvement, are close enough to good or just that their citizens have a duty to abide by their laws, and perhaps also to support their political institutions. Such societies would not, in that case, suffer from the kind of serious and remediable wrong that might justify political violence. Egalitarian consequentialists, as we have noted, have a less sanguine view about serious and remediable wrong in contemporary societies, including Western societies. In consequence, they are apt to be more skeptical about our supposed duties to abide by the laws and institutions of such societies. They also argue that Western societies have grave responsibilities for serious and remediable wrongs elsewhere in the world. While such wrongs might be enough to satisfy the first condition of political violence, however, the nature and sophistication of modern military and law enforcement technologies, taken together with a judgment about the lengths privileged elites will go to in order to defend their interests, has led some egalitarian consequentialists to the view that violence for egalitarian ends is unlikely to satisfy the second of the consequentialist conditions: that it should not make matters worse than they would be without it. In Hierarchic democracy and the necessity of mass civil disobedience Honderich comes to the dispiriting conclusion that attempts at large-scale egalitarian redistribution by nonviolent and constitutional means are unlikely to satisfy it either. Radical egalitarians might have no intention or desire that their actions – violent or otherwise – should provoke violence in defense of entrenched interests, but if such violence were a foreseeable consequence of their actions it would count against a consequentialist justification for them. (Similar reflections may account for the diminution of recognizably egalitarian claims and trends within contemporary political movements engaged in or associated with political violence.) Honderich has also argued, however, that if egalitarian political violence is not justified, we may consider it less worthy of blame than the intransigence of vested interests and governments that could do much to remedy inequality but that work instead to perpetuate it. Obligations to Obey Setting aside questions about whatever duties we may be said to have to abide by the laws of existing societies, it is also argued that as beneficiaries of laws, of systems of law enforcement and, not least, of the law abiding behavior of others, we incur obligations to abide by laws. The benefits of living under laws are not restricted to protection from murder and injury, but this can certainly be counted


among the principal benefits. Socrates famously argued that one who accepts and benefits from the protection of law is clearly obliged by that to obey the laws himself, even if, as Socrates was, he has been wrongfully, but legally, condemned to death. The notion that enjoying the protection of the law or the state places us under some obligation to abide by and support them has been urged and argued for in different ways by many political thinkers. It is sometimes expressed in the idea that properly constituted states and laws have an authority that gives them, within limits, a right to our obedience or compliance. The claimed authority is also thought to give the state a right to use violence to whatever extent needed to enforce the law and to protect the country from its enemies. The lack of such authority has been claimed as part of what is meant by political violence. Political violence is unauthorized, and as such, some would argue, beyond justification. There are several questions to consider about obligations to obey the law and what moral weight they have. In the first place, if one has enjoyed or accepted the benefits that come with laws and their enforcement, does the obligation that arises from that take precedence over any other duties one might have? If one has reason to believe that others are less well protected by the law than one, does the protection one has received place an absolute limit on what steps one may take to help them? In addition, how do one’s obligations stand if one’s protectors engage in unjust violence toward others? And how do things stand if one’s protectors uphold a system that allows children needlessly to go hungry? Or if they provide support to other states that do so? The benefits one derives from laws are not, it may be thought, owed solely or as such to the state that upholds them. We may think that our obligations to obey the law are, in a sense, obligations to those others whose lawabiding behavior we benefit by. If we consider our legal obligations in this way, further questions present themselves. For example, if one has reason to believe that the most law-abiding of one’s fellow citizens are those who would have most to lose if laws were not observed, do whatever benefits one derives from their law-abiding behavior place a limit on what one may justifiably do to help others who have much less to lose? Or if there is reason to believe that those with least to lose could have more if only those with most to lose were prepared to have less, how much should one consider oneself bound or obliged by the benefits one receives from the lawabiding behavior of the latter? We might also ask: what are our obligations to law-abiding citizens who, without threat of serious legal penalty, deliberately allow and benefit from working conditions that can cause physical ruin and death to those unfortunate enough to have to work in them?

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Discussions about political obligation often assume that all are equal under the law: that all are equally protected. If, in a spirit of realism, we drop the assumption and consider the case of those who are relatively poorly served by the law, what should we take their obligations to be? Do they have obligations to obey that are weighty enough to rule out their having any justification for engaging in illegal defensive or vigilante activity? And would they be wrong to engage in political violence aimed at creating a system of law enforcement that serves them as well as it currently does others? None of the questions just considered are enough to undermine the idea that people have obligations to obey the law, or to dismiss it as ideological contrivance. They do, however, call for careful consideration, especially if one is inclined to think that our legal obligations block all possibility of justified political violence. We might also wonder whether considerations about legal obligation, or the authority of the state and law, do justice to what can be said against political violence. If, for example, we suppose that a terrorist has somehow managed not to avail himself of the benefits and protection afforded by the law, should his actions be considered less blameworthy on that account? Violence and Reason Violence, according to some thinkers, is mostly irrational. Their claim is not, and could hardly be, that there are never circumstances in which a person might have good reasons for acting violently. There are, to mention one reason, violent and murderous people in defense against whom violence is sometimes the only reasonable resort. The claim, as advanced by Karl Popper and others, is that to resort to violence as a means of settling disputes is irrational or unreasonable. Other things being equal, to settle a dispute by reasoning or arguing it through is preferable to using violence to do so. If one reasons with an opponent, one may persuade him by one’s arguments and get what one wants without injury to either. Alternatively, one may be brought to see the force of one’s position and to give up one’s claims. That one should be open to either possibility is characteristic of what Popper takes to be the attitude of reasonableness: a commitment to give-and-take discussion. This, it will be noticed, is allowed for and indeed required by the third of the consequentialist conditions for the justification of violence mentioned earlier. The point of Popper’s claims may be to emphasize that condition against those who are too ready to conclude that reasoning and discussion will be ineffective or too ready to give vent to feelings such as anger and vengefulness. Perhaps many who resorted to violence in pursuit of their political ends did give insufficient time and thought to reasoning with their opponents. It can scarcely be denied that had the outcomes of many

violent struggles and wars been decided by reasoning, millions would have had longer lives, millions now dead would still be with us, and millions would have been spared grievous injury. Ought we therefore to conclude, with Popper, that violence is the precise opposite of reason? Whether violently attacking someone is the precise opposite of reasoning with him, to do the one, undeniably, is not to do the other. Does it follow that violence, if not exactly an opposite, stands at some distance from reason or rationality? This would follow if it were a requirement of reason or rationality that we should always attempt to reason with someone with whom we are in disagreement or dispute. That it is not has been mentioned already and is insisted on by Popper himself: it may not be possible to reason with someone who would rather shoot you than reason with you. When faced with violence and intolerance, violence and intolerance can be reasonable responses and presumably what makes them so under those circumstances is that those circumstances, coupled with an assumption that we do not wish to be injured or murdered, give us reason for using violence. Violence under those circumstances, far from being the precise opposite of reason, may be rational: rational in the familiar sense of being the best means to our ends. Still, what would make violence rational, in that case, is the unreasonable violence of our opponent. The implication is that, were it not for the fact that some people behave unreasonably and intolerantly, there would never be a reason for violence. While this might not make violence exactly the opposite of reason, it does imply that the occurrence of violence always requires a lack of reason or rationality on someone’s part. The claim that violence always involves unreasonableness or irrationality on the part of at least one antagonist appears to be supported by what we have already noted about past wars and violent struggles: that if their outcomes had been decided by reasoning matters through, millions of people would have had longer or healthier lives. One objection to putting the matter like this is that the outcomes of such struggles might have gone differently had they been carried out by reasoning. The concern expressed is that what good has been achieved through violent struggle might not have been achieved, or that less might have been achieved, had matters been decided by reasoning. The ready reply is that violence has no better claim as a means to justice than reasoning: if anything, it has most likely a poorer claim (although Georges Sorel and others have denied this). Mistaking Your Opponents Intentions or Capabilities A more telling objection is that in many disputes that have been brought to a conclusion by reasoning, give-and-take discussion, negotiation, and the like, it took violence by

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party A to bring party B to the negotiating table. Let us suppose, then, that party A tries every reasonable means – petitions, lobbies, demonstrations, civil disobedience, and so forth – to get a hearing for its case before resorting to violence. If party B simply refuses to negotiate or to listen, but otherwise behaves peacefully, party A’s violence would lack the justification of defense from attack. It would not follow, without further assumptions, that it lacked any justification or that it lacked reason. Ought we to say, instead, that it is party B that is behaving unreasonably in refusing to listen or negotiate, thereby leaving party A with no alternative means of getting a serious hearing for its case other than resorting to violence? This might depend on the nature of party A’s claims. Is it reasonable to negotiate with someone whose claims are unreasonable? The obvious difficulty facing us here is that what is judged to be reasonable is often linked to prior and arguable judgments about the fairness, propriety, and reasonability of the status quo as well as the legitimacy and moral standing of constitutions, property rights, freedoms, and sovereignty. That we lack any means of resolving arguments about them that commands common agreement is a fact of social and political life. Judgments about reasonability and about what should be given a hearing, moreover, are also colored by material interests. Judgments colored in this way are often described as ‘ideological’ but such labeling does not come close to establishing truths on which all can agree. Suppose party B’s refusal to negotiate issues from a hard-headed refusal to relinquish established and valued advantages and interests: does it follow from this that its obduracy is irrational? According to Popper, when opposing interests are at stake the only alternatives are reasonable compromise or to attempt to destroy one’s opponent. But violence in pursuit of interests may be directed at less extreme ends than outright destruction of an opponent. The intent of party A’s violence, we can suppose, is to give party B a reason for ending its refusal to negotiate. If party B could have foreseen that party A would use violence successfully to force it to the negotiating table, it would have been rational, other things being equal, for party B to begin negotiating without being forced. If party B’s intelligence was that party A would not resort to violence, or that it lacked the means to use it effectively, its refusal would not have been obviously irrational. What should also be noted here is that violence need not only be a means of bringing opponents to the negotiating table, but can be a key element in negotiating. Supposing, again, that party B is committed to defending its established interests, what kind of argument would give it reasons to concede party A’s claims? It is possible to think of arguments that try to show that selfishly pursuing only one’s own interests is self-defeating or unfulfilling, and such arguments can be telling, but they typically fall short of conclusively proving the case. If


party B is unmoved by such arguments, or by considerations of justice or sovereignty, then it may be that the only effective argument in favor of its meeting party A’s claims will be one that demonstrates that it is in its interests to do so. The threat of violence, backed up by concrete demonstrations, is clearly relevant in calculations of material interest. Just as judgments have to be made in disputes about the strength and determination of opponents, likewise judgments must be made about what reasoning and negotiation are likely to achieve. If there are reasons for thinking that one’s opponent’s willingness to negotiate is a pretense, or that negotiations are being deliberately drawn out, this can also be weighed against alternative means. An occupying power, for example, might intend to negotiate with a liberation movement only until world attention has been distracted elsewhere. And while negotiations are dragged out injustices may persist and people may starve. Such considerations show that it is far from obvious that it is always rational to reason with an opponent who is willing to come to the negotiating table. To be prepared to reason with our opponents, and to do so in a spirit of give-and-take, is doubtless a good general policy. Looking back on many wars and violent struggles we may judge that things would have gone better if the policy had been followed more often. But the judgment is based on a view of the outcomes of past struggles that was obviously unavailable to those involved. While it may be true that many violent struggles would have been better resolved by reasoning, it is, at any rate, not a necessary truth that any occurrence of violence requires irrationality or lack of reason on the part of at least one of the protagonists. It can also be added, in line with our discussion of material interests, that violence and the threat of it cannot by definition be excluded from what can count as reasoning. According to Hannah Arendt and others, even if not all violence is unreasonable, violence for revolutionary or large-scale egalitarian goals is: violence is only ever likely to succeed in achieving short-term concrete aims. Success of larger more far-reaching aims depends on many variables: entrenched interests, economics trends, balance of political forces, and so forth. The variables are not such as to allow for sound prediction. Violence that aims at largescale change cannot, therefore, be based on a wellfounded judgment that it will be successful. In that case, its use for such ends must be irrational. The argument is clearly related to the first consequentialist condition for the justification of violence: that it can realistically be expected to meet its aims. Few would take issue with the argument: the various premises have much support from human experience and social science and the conclusion, if not exactly tight, is difficult to resist. But how relevant is it? It is hard to think of real examples of political violence that did not have short-term concrete

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ends. Indeed, it is difficult to think of any long-term political campaign that would not require the adoption of short and medium-term aims and to consider what actions were required to realize them. Neither are shortterm aims always just means to the long-term end. Violence might aim at the release of a group of political prisoners or an end to their torture. Should we consider such violence to be irrational because its concrete short-term aim will also serve a less predictable longer-term aim? That would require more argument than has been given. Violence and Democracy Persuasion and give-and-take discussion have also featured in arguments that political violence is necessarily undemocratic. Democracy requires freedom to vote in accordance with our beliefs and preferences and, arguably, the opportunity to persuade others by argument as well as the opportunity to be so persuaded by the arguments of others. Since violence necessarily involves force rather than reasoned persuasion, some have argued, it is incompatible with democratic process. Violence can be thought of as democratic if it is directed against undemocratic systems, the argument continues, but only in that sense. Our duties to uphold and support democratic systems and our obligations to abide by democratic decisions, it is claimed, rule out any justification for political violence against or within democratic states. (The claim has also featured in arguments against measures to restrict various rights and freedoms that are thought to make it more difficult to apprehend or successfully convict terrorists: such restrictions, it is argued, may lead to weakening of respect for democracy and law.) It can be argued that since it is possible for democratic majorities to behave unjustly toward minorities political violence aimed at rectifying democratic injustices might, in some circumstances, be justified. Many would argue, however, that such circumstances are rare or nonexistent in contemporary Western democracies, which have effective legal and constitutional channels for pursuing minority grievances. By contrast, Honderich has argued that if we set aside ideal notions of democracy, as involving free and open debate, in which representatives vote solely according to their assessments of reasoned arguments, and look instead to the actual operation of political decision making in Western democracies, we can consider political violence as a way of bringing persuasive pressure to bear on governments and legislative assemblies that is akin to the pressures exerted by wealthy and powerful interest groups in such democracies. Some political violence may be viewed, in that case, as helping to rectify the undemocratic influence of wealthy and powerful elites, thereby helping to achieve greater democracy. If an act of

violence could properly be thought of as democratic in this way, it would not be enough to justify it, although it might well be relevant to its justifiability.

Universal Duties and Moral Partiality The deontological and consequentialist models of ethical reasoning we have considered, as well as the subsidiary arguments about political duties and obligations, reason, and democracy, are all universal in scope; which is to say, they appeal to principles for judging the rightness and wrongness of actions, which according to their supporters ought to be accepted by any person. For deontologists a person’s rights not to be violently attacked or unjustly imprisoned are not dependent on or mediated in any way by their membership of a nation or community or by that of a potential attacker. Likewise, for consequentialists, the principles according to which the consequences of institutions, rules, or actions are to be evaluated are indifferent to gender, creed, class, or association. Both kinds of moral reasoning can, within the terms set by their principles, allow some kinds of partiality toward others. Both can agree, for example, that parents have obligations to their own children that they do not have to children generally. Both can agree that to be a citizen of a country or a member of an organization entails obligations and duties to other members that do not extend to outsiders. Nevertheless, both kinds of ethical reasoning have been criticized for the ways in which their universalism has been thought to limit, unreasonably or immorally, the scope of affiliations, bonds, citizenship, and material interests. Suppose the children of a community have died or suffered severe illness as a result of advertising, misinforming parents and health workers that a baby milk formula is better for their children than mother’s milk. The manufacturers have also supplied free formula milk to maternity hospitals, causing newborn babies to become dependent on it. Community activists have explored all effective nonviolent means of putting an end to these practices. They have protested to the manufacturers, to their own government and that of the manufacturers’ country. They have, in addition, brought the matter to the attention of the international press and broadcasting media, as well as international regulatory bodies, and they have campaigned for legislative change. But the manufacturers have persisted in their practices, using inducements to secure the acquiescence of government, as well as counterpropaganda and manipulation of legal loopholes. The resources of local activists are negligible in comparison to what is available to the manufacturers. They have had some success in getting the dangers of the formula across to mothers and health workers, but this has been hampered by their limited resources, human gullibility in the face of sophisticated

Justifications for Violence

advertising, continuation of supplies of free milk to hospitals, and legal challenges from the manufacturers. Having explored all realistic nonviolent alternatives without success and with children continuing to suffer and die, what are the activists to do? While deontological ethical reasoning may recognize the immorality of the manufacturers’ behavior, it rules out any justification for violence against them. The manufacturers may be behaving in a harmful way, but they are not engaged in violent attack and do nothing to force mothers to use their product. If the activists judge that only resorting to violence against the manufacturers, their directors, employees, and collaborators is likely to bring them to mend their ways, especially if the violence intentionally causes death or injury, there can be no justification, on a strictly deontological view, for their doing so. The rights of, say, a company executive (whose own children are healthy, well-fed, and otherwise well cared for) not to be murdered or attacked must take precedence over any consideration about the certain harm that will be caused to more of the community’s children if drastic measures are not taken to stop it. Anti-universalist critics of deontological reasoning would argue that it is perverse to suggest in such a situation that concern for one’s children or the children of one’s community would be morally trumped by a duty to respect the rights of those whose behavior causes them avoidable harm. Even if we suppose that the activists decide that it would be wrong to injure or murder, many would consider it strange or contrived – absurdly legalistic, even – to imagine that the force of the moral concerns that limit what the activists feel can justifiably be done to protect their community’s children issues from a respect for the rights of members of the manufacturing company. It might be thought that the objection to deontological reasoning is not, in a strict sense, anti-universalist. Much of the force of the example derives from concerns about the well-being of children: the special duties we have to children, a universalist might argue, are duties to all children. The example reminds us, moreover, that there are other ways of causing harm than what we may call (to forestall an unpromising argument about whether the company’s actions constitute a kind of violence) open violence. In that case the implicit criticism of deontological reasoning is not directed at its universalism, but at its assumption that violence can only be justified in defense from open violence. While duties to children and defense against harm caused by means other than open violence do raise distinct problems for deontological reasoning, however, there is a further significant element in the example that concerns the special obligations we have toward our own children: obligations that are additional to any universal duties we may have to children as such. (It is also worth noting that in communities living in circumstances that make mutual interdependence and


loyalties strong, special obligations to protect and nurture children may extend to community members other than parents and relatives in ways that would not, in the same way, be true of most parts of Europe and the United States.) Obligations to one’s own children or those of one’s community are partial in scope: they not only allow but positively require us to give partial consideration to the well-being of our own children. Such obligations may not always outweigh consideration or respect for the rights of others, but they do require what can be called a moral partiality in our actions toward our children. In contrast to deontological ethical reasoning, consequentialism might allow that acts of violence against the company could be justified, provided the consequences for overall happiness, justice, or equality are best served by it. But consequentialist universalism requires that in reasoning about the right course of action the consequences for the children should have no greater individual weight than those for company members. It is unlikely that such calculation would approximate closely to the moral reflections of the activists. A familiar consequentialist response to the likely dissonance between the activists’ moral reflections and consequentialist calculation would be that judgments made according to ordinary moral concerns about, for example, loyalty and obligation do involve weighing up of consequences and will generally approximate those that would follow from consequentialist calculation. The approximation to consequentialist calculation, it is suggested, can be thought of as an approximation to an ideal. There is certainly room for doubt about whether the claim is well founded in respect of ordinary moral reflection in general and whether it can safely be made in respect of reasoning about violence for political ends. In addition, talk of approximation to an ideal moral calculation would appear to suggest that to whatever extent the activists’ reflections depart from the model of consequentialist reasoning – for example, in showing partiality toward their children – it lacks moral authenticity. Understanding Islam Moving beyond partial obligations to one’s children, the anti-universalist argument against both deontological and consequentialist thinking can be strengthened by drawing on other obligations and duties that present difficulties for their universalism. Ties and obligations to members of one’s community, nation, religion, or class based on mutual dependency, need, or common oppression have all been cited in support of the claim that universalism not only places unrealistic requirements on moral agents, but that it is unrealistic about the nature and grounding of morality, moral claims, and moral psychology. Philosophers such as Aristotle, Hegel, and, more recently,

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communitarian theorists, have all argued that a person’s rights, duties, obligations, and moral values are always grounded in the practices, rules, associations, and ways of living of the moral community to which she belongs, whether clan, city, or state. The argument can be extended to embrace other moral communities such as religious groups. If rights, duties, and obligations are always grounded in a particular community and its way of life, they will be, to some extent, partial in their source and in their scope. Authentically moral judgments about what to do follow from one’s commitments within and to a community, rather than from dispassionate assessment of universal rights or interests. Another influential contemporary argument against both deontological and consequentialist universalism is that it is only within a community with well-established practices and traditions that we can take for granted the kind of shared ethical understanding that will allow us to agree about matters concerning well-being, justice, and right and what they permit or require us to do or prohibit us from doing. It is a feature of modern life, according to thinkers like Alasdair MacIntyre, that such agreement is increasingly stymied by the fragmentation and breakdown of community and tradition. A related attitude toward the possibility of common moral agreement can be seen in the writings of thinkers such as Marx and Fannon who see moral rules and beliefs as reflecting class and group interests. Such thinkers, while being ready at times to engage in moral condemnation of exploitation, racism, and dehumanization, are consequently skeptical about the effectiveness of appeals to justice and morality in securing social change. While there may be some agreement across classes, or between oppressors and oppressed, that poverty and squalor are evil, differences of material interest and social location (and consequent differences about moral priorities) rule out any possibility of agreement on what to do about them. For these same reasons, and for as long as existing forms of exploitation and oppression persist, no actions – violent or otherwise – taken in pursuit of political and social ends can hope to be given a justification that could, even in principle, command universal assent. At the same time Marx and Fannon, along with many who have shared their attitudes, acted and argued for action in ways that reflected clear moral commitments to those classes and peoples whose interests they championed. While both have been accused of amoralism, it is more likely that they believed that the actions and strategies they advocated had moral justifications (although Marx’s attitude to insurrectionary violence was markedly more sanguine than Fannon’s), but justifications that were partial in scope, appeal, and effectiveness. A standard objection to arguments for moral partiality is that obligations and responsibilities to community, family, and country must be limited by duties to respect

the rights or interests of human beings in general, if we are not to be left with a moral indifference to those with whom we have no ties of kinship, citizenship, or community. Rejection or downgrading of universal rights and duties would leave us with no basis for condemnation of imperialism or of xenophobic genocide. The arguments for and against anti-universalism on this point would take us beyond the subject matter of this article but it should be noted that the anti-universalist claims considered above do not entail any straightforward denial that we have duties to human beings as such (whatever the claims of anti-universalists such as Fannon and Sartre) or that universal duties are always trumped by claims of community and kinship. The case against universalist justifications or prohibitions of the use of political violence can roughly be summarized as follows: (1) that human beings have special responsibilities, obligations, and duties that are partial in scope; (2) that these moral claims arise from associations and practices of kinship, community, and citizenship, as well as common interests and mutual dependency, common endeavor, and even love; (3) that they sometimes permit us, and to some extent require us, to override or disregard what duties we may have to respect the rights or interests of others, particularly those who are our enemies, aggressors, and oppressors; and (4) that, given the grounding of moral claims mentioned in (2) there is no possibility of any justification for (or prohibition against) political actions, least of all violent actions, that can command universal moral assent.

Conclusion It has been argued that support for and opposition to campaigns of violence is necessarily rooted in ideological commitment, which is, perhaps, just a shorthand way of expressing the anti-universalist reflections already mentioned in relation to Marx and Fannon. In support of this it can be claimed that many of the arguments about political violence we have considered are, precisely because of their universality, so general and abstract as to offer no clear guidance about the justifiability of violence in particular and concrete circumstances. The point has already been made in respect of the argument about the comparative rationality of violence for short and longterm ends. And how often, after all, has political violence been undertaken in order to remedy what its agents believed to be minor wrongs and injustices? or in the conviction that their ends would be better or less harmfully served by other means or by doing nothing? It is only when we move beyond the schoolroom generalities of consequentialist treatises, it may be argued, that any real and substantive argument about the justification of violence can begin; and the real and substantive is inevitably

Justifications for Violence

bedeviled by uncertainty about alternatives and their consequences and framed by the claims of ideological commitment and moral partiality. It has also been claimed that the moral outlook of those who place constraints about universal rights and absolute wrongs in the way of what may be done to achieve greater social justice and equality is typical of those who have little to benefit from greater social justice and equality: their principles, it is suggested, are as rooted in ideology as everyone else’s. If such claims about ideology, commitment, and partiality are set against those of the standard deontological and consequentialist models of ethical reasoning, the obvious and familiar conclusion we may come to is that, as we would expect of any matter that touches on substantive concerns in morals, philosophy, or politics, political violence and what may be said in justification of it is a matter of irreconcilable disagreement and unbridgeable division. The conclusion can be resisted. In the first place, it comes close to an endorsement of the claims of one of the disagreeing parties since at least one intent of the claim that attitudes toward political violence are ideological is to say that it is a matter of practically irreconcilable disagreement. Moreover, none of the arguments and principles considered in this article could properly be thought of as issuing from ideology and nothing more. Each of the claims we have considered, about rights and bad means to good ends, consequences and alternatives, rationality, political obligation and authority, community and moral partiality, and finally, about ideology and the efficacy of moral argument, has recommendations. The recommendations can be evaluated, disputed, made more precise, and compared, which may take us beyond entrenched disagreement, assuming that is all we have in the first place. If none of us is entirely open to persuasion, there is nothing in any of the arguments we have considered that would place its adherents entirely beyond persuasion. It is unrealistic to hope that persuasion might bring all of our opponents to see matters as we do, or to entertain the idea that we, and those who think as we do, are, in principle, entirely open to persuasion. It is similarly unrealistic, and would presuppose a kind of faith in universalism, to think that we might, through argument and persuasion, come to a hitherto unelaborated position on which all might agree. But agreement on a general moral approach to political violence is, arguably, neither necessary nor sufficient for agreement about actual cases. Debate and disagreement about violent and nonviolent means is not peculiar to political theory and philosophy: it has been a feature of many modern struggles against injustice. One large recommendation of philosophical reflection about political violence is that it supposedly enables us to disengage from party and ideological commitment, as well as the details and peculiarities of particular struggles, so that through dispassionate inquiry


we may reach agreement about the general principles according to which violence can be justified. Such a procedure is also supposed to enable us to determine what constitutes an authentic moral justification for violence, freed from the amoral, political, or merely pragmatic considerations that enter into the arguments and debates of political agents and their followers. It can be argued, however, that, far from disengagement, philosophical reflection introduces additional commitments and further possibilities for disagreement: about whether, for example, the moral status of actions or rules is to be assessed according to their consequences or whether certain actions are wrong in themselves. Moreover, despite the generality of philosophical and theoretical argument, it is often tacitly or explicitly conducted with an eye to the moral standing or legitimacy of existing states, institutions, and social arrangements and what may legitimately be done within or against them. Wherever published philosophical and theoretical reflection about political violence may stand in relation to ideology, those who engage in it are certainly, as Honderich has argued, in the business of advocacy: their arguments are intended to issue recommendations about the political ends we should seek and the means we may adopt in pursuit of them. This is not to say that philosophical and theoretical reflection about violence is a fruitless exercise: there are, after all, general issues or principles concerning political ends and the means used to achieve them that can and should be considered to some extent in abstraction from particular cases. But there are grounds for skepticism about what special authority might, on account of its generality and disengagement, be claimed for such reflection and also for wariness about being drawn into arguments about general ethical theory. It might be thought that since justifications for violence must appeal to ethical first principles, general ethical theory must have a logical or reflective priority over ethical thinking about violence. What this overlooks, however, is that the standing of any ethical theory or reasoning about first principles can be, and often is, assessed according to its implications for particular subjects such as the moral status of acts of violence and what we would otherwise be inclined to think or say about them. With this in mind let us set aside commitments and arguments about first principles and consider what scope for agreement about political violence might be gained by doing so. Say that the community activists considered earlier were reluctantly to conclude, in light of their obligations to protect the children of their community, that they have no decent alternative but to resort to violence against the representatives of the baby milk manufacturers. If one takes the view that this would be an unjustified violation of the rights of the company representatives, one might still consider that the intentions of the activists, albeit wrong or mistaken, do issue

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from genuine ethical reasoning about the issues. It would be a mistake to think that their actions and intentions would be on a par with violent robbery carried out for selfish gain and without thought to victims. Likewise, if a political movement allows the interests or rights of their own community, class, or citizens to override those of their oppressors or the citizens of a colonial occupier, their violent actions may lack the recommendation of either deontological or consequentialist reasoning, but if members of the movement act as they do in the belief that their obligations call for them to give preference to their own over others, we should view their actions differently than if they are simply indifferent to the rights, interests, or humanity of anyone else. Conversely, a member of the same group who hinders or endangers the group’s actions in order to avoid harm to an innocent member of an occupying power might be condemned by his comrades but they would be wrong to view his actions as of a piece with that of a hired informer. Where an agent’s judgment about political violence is at odds with any of the standard lines of reflection we have considered, therefore, it does not follow from this that s/he must be indifferent to the concerns or principles they contain or that her/his judgment must somehow fall short of being genuinely moral. An agent may arrive at a judgment about political violence that differs from one or more of the standard models because of a different appreciation of the morally relevant considerations; in other words, that those considerations weigh differently with her than what is required by the standard model. If this is so, then philosophers and theorists who wish to have anything to say to such an agent must engage with her assessment of the relevant considerations, including the relevant facts. The relevant facts may include those about inequality; for example, that the gap in average life expectancy between the wealthiest in the wealthiest countries and the poorest in the poorest countries comes to what, according to Honderich, can be described as a ‘species difference’, and that the shorter lives contain far less of what makes life worth living. The relevant facts would also include those about violence and its effects: facts about who or what is attacked, about the scale of injury and death, and about what is intended and what foreseen as well as facts about the violence of governments. Facts are relevant, however, not simply as objects of an agent’s thinking and judgments about means to political ends: rather her experiences of certain facts and the significance she attaches to them will affect and figure in her assessment of other relevant considerations. Whether one considers that moral rules and principles are universal and absolute or local and relative, one can accept that if someone has never owned and had never had security of property, s/he lacks a significant reason for respecting the property of others. Similarly, it may be argued, one who lives among the poorest tenth of the poorest countries

(or even one who has strong sympathies with those who do) may be thought to lack a reason for giving equal weight to the rights of the wealthiest tenth in the wealthiest countries not to be attacked or killed. As a proposal for the conduct of reflection and discussion about political violence and what may be said for or against it, some will reject this suggestion as a discreditable moral subjectivism. A person’s duties and obligations, whatever they may be and whatever their relationships to facts, are independent of her/his experiences of facts and of her/his subjective assessments of the morally relevant considerations. One can take this view, however, as well as holding to the view that only defensive violence can be justified or that morality requires that the interests of all agents who will be affected by an action must weigh equally in any justification of it, while still allowing that the bad or mistaken judgments of those who think differently may issue from recognizable moral perspectives. If we think that an agent does not give due weight to the rights or interests of all persons, or, alternatively, if we urge that s/he has given insufficient weight to her/his obligations to her/his own community, we must provide her/him with reasons for thinking differently and that will require some understanding of why s/he sees things as s/he does. It may also call for a rigorously Popperian openness to counterarguments about our own moral assessments and how they relate to our situation and experiences. To adopt the proposal might be to go too far in the direction of substantive political argument and also of moral anthropology than some philosophers believe to be proper for the discipline. Some may also be suspicious of the claim that wrong or bad moral judgments may issue from authentically moral reasoning. But those who reject the proposal and continue to confine their inquiries to the general conditions for the justification of violence ought, one might think, to have something to say about the point of the enterprise: providing the materials for well-argued endorsements or denunciations of acts of violence hardly seems enough.

See also: Just-War Criteria; Law and Violence; Means and Ends; Terrorism; Violence as Solution, Culture of

Further Reading Anscombe, G. E. M. (1981). War and murder. In Ethics, Religion and Politics: The Collected Philosophical Papers of G. E. M. Anscombe 3, 51–61. Oxford: Blackwell. Arendt, H. (1970). On violence. London: Allen Lane. Edgley, R. (1974). Reason and violence: A fragment of the ideology of liberal intellectuals. In Korner, S. (ed.) Practical reason. Oxford: Blackwell. Fannon, F. (1967). The wretched of the Earth, with preface by J. P. Sartre. Harmondsworth: Penguin. Fashima, O. (1989). Frantz Fannon and the ethical justification of anti-colonial violence. Social Theory and Practice 15, 179–212.

Just-War Criteria Fried, C. (1978). Right and wrong. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. French, P. A. (1974). Morally blaming whole populations. In Held, V., Morgenbesser, S., and Nagel, T. (eds.) Philosophy, morality and international affairs. New York: Oxford University Press. Gomberg, P. (1990). Can a partisan be a moralist? American Philosophical Quarterly 27(1): 71–79. Honderich, T. (1995). Hierarchic democracy and the necessity of mass civil disobedience. London: South Place Ethical Society. Honderich, T. (2003). Terrorism for humanity: Inquiries in political philosophy (rev. edn. of Violence for equality: Inquiries in political philosophy). London: Pluto. Honderich, T. (2006). Humanity, terrorism, terrorist war: Palestine, 9/11, Iraq, 7/7. . .. London: Continuum. Khatchadourian, H. (1991). Terrorism and morality. In Almond, B. and Hill, D. (eds.) Applied philosophy: Moral and metaphysics in contemporary debate. London: Routledge. MacIntyre, A. (1981). After virtue. London: Duckworth.


Margolis, J. (1974). War and ideology. In Held, V., Morgenbesser, S., and Nagel, T. (eds.) Philosophy, morality and international affairs. New York: Oxford University Press. Nielsen, K. (1972). On the choice between reform and revolution. In Held, V., Nielsen, K., and Parsons, C. (eds.) Philosophy and political action. New York: Oxford University Press. Popper, K. R. (1972). Violence and Utopia. In Conjectures and refutations. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Rawls, J. (1955). Two concepts of rules. Philosophical Review 64, 3–32. Rawls, J. (1973). A theory of justice. New York: Oxford University Press. Sorel, G. (1950). Reflections on violence. London: Collier Macmillan. Williams, B. and Smart, J. J. C. (1973). Utilitarianism: For and against. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.

Relevant Websites – Ted Hunderich’s website. http:/

Just-War Criteria Brien Hallett, University of Hawaii, Manoa, Honolulu, HI, USA ª 2008 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

The Criteria Evaluating the Criteria

Glossary Consequentialist Ethics The view that decisions should be based primarily on the consequences of action. Deontological Ethics The view that decisions should be based primarily on principles of moral duty.

The just-war criteria organize discussions of war. They provide a language and structure for choosing the lesser of two evils. Consequently, they do not provide an external or mechanical means to calculate the justice or injustice of either side’s decision to wage war. Initially, the jus ad bellum criteria are used to organize the debate as to whether or not to begin a war. Subsequently, when the decision is for war, the jus in bello criteria are used to organize debates over appropriate diplomatic, economic, or military actions during the war. The empirical foundation of the criteria is the principle of double effect, the principle that every action produces both good and bad, intended and unintended consequences. Because of this double effect, decisions concerning which of two evils to choose should be made only after a thorough investigation of both the justification and the prudence of the

Issues Raised by the Criteria Further Reading

Jus ad bellum ‘The law or right to war’, the criteria that should be debated before deciding ‘to’ initiate a war. Jus in bello ‘The law or right in war’, the criteria that should be debated before deciding to use this or that strategy, tactic, or weapon during a war.

alternative courses of action and the means by which each alternative will be accomplished. It is the specific purpose of the criteria to ensure that this investigation is disciplined and thorough, none of the important perspectives or circumstances having been left out.

The Criteria The just-war criteria, as the three versions in Table 1 indicate, are not fixed and immutable. Through the millennia different authors have compiled different lists, shifting and changing the emphasis as their interests and circumstances demanded. For example, in his Summa Theologica, Thomas Aquinas was content with listing the three justificatory criteria of the ad bellum criteria – competent authority, just

Justifications for Violence  

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