Proportionality matters. Intuitively, proportionality sets the ceiling on the amount of defensive violence that is permissible. A plausible view is that what justifies proportionality also justifies other defensive-violence requirements—for example, discrimination and necessity—and shows why other purported requirements are mistaken—for example, imminence. I argue that if defensive-violence proportionality is a part of moral reality, then there is a systematic justification of it. If there is a systematic justification of proportionality, then there is an adequate equation for it. There is no (...) adequate equation for proportionality. Hence, proportionality is not part of moral reality. As a result, non-consequentialism does not justify defensive violence. The last part of this paper briefly applies these findings to vaccine mandates. (shrink)
In punishment, proportionality is the systematic mathematical relationship between the significance of the wrongdoing and the amount of punishment that may be imposed on the wrongdoer. In this chapter, Kershnar argues that there is no adequate equation for proportionality. The lack of an adequate equation rests on intuitions and the absence of a shared metric. If there is no equation for proportionality, then there is no proportionality. This is because if there is no equation for proportionality, then there is no (...) general justification for proportionality. Purported justifications of punishment that lack proportionality—specifically, consequentialism and consent theory—are implausible. The lack of proportionality, then, is a threat to the notion that some punishment is justified and, more generally, non-consequentialism. (shrink)
In this article, I press a line of objection to Jonathan Quong's moral status account of liability to defensive harm. The claim on which I rest my critique is captured by the article's title: if one can’t lose such a right in these circumstances, one never had it in the first place.
Some, but not all, of the mistakes a person makes when acting in apparently necessary self-defense are reasonable: we take them not to violate the rights of the apparent aggressor. I argue that this is explained by duties grounded in agents' entitlements to a fair distribution of the risk of suffering unjust harm. I suggest that the content of these duties is filled in by a social signaling norm, and offer some moral constraints on the form such a norm can (...) take. (shrink)
MMA fighting in a competition is not necessarily wrong and is often, as far as we can tell, permissible. Our argument has two premises. First, if an act does not infringe on anyone’s moral right or violate another side-constraint, then it is morally permissible. Second, MMA-violence does not infringe on anyone’s moral right or violate another side-constraint. The first premise rested on two assumptions. First, if a person does a wrong act, then he wrongs someone. Second, if one person wrongs (...) a second, then the first infringes on the second’s right. We then looked at Nicholas Dixon’s powerful Kantian argument that MMA fighting is wrong. (shrink)
In her inventive and tightly argued book Defensive Killing, Helen Frowe defends the view that bystanders—those who do not pose threats to others—cannot be liable to being harmed in self-defence or in defence of others. On her account, harming bystanders always infringes their rights against being harmed, since they have not acted in any way to forfeit them. According to Frowe, harming bystanders can be justified only when it constitutes a lesser evil. In this brief essay, I make the case (...) that some bystanders can indeed be liable to harm. They can be liable, I will argue, because they can be morally responsible for threats of harm, and in becoming responsible they can forfeit their rights. While bystanders cannot be responsible for initiating threats, they can become responsible for the persistence of threats, and for culpably failing to prevent them from being initiated in the first place. (shrink)
This essay sketches various conceptions of dignity and how those conceptions might be relevant to police brutality and legal rights. It is an edited, draft excerpt from chapter 1 of my book, The Retrieval of Liberalism in Policing (Oxford, 2019).
A regulative norm for permissible defense distinguishes the conditions under which we will hold defenders to be innocent of any wrongdoing from those in which we hold them responsible for assault or manslaughter. The norm must strike a fair balance between defenders' security, on the one hand, and other agents’ legitimate claim to live without fear of suffering mistaken defensive harm, on the other. Since agents must make defensive decisions under high pressure and on only partial information, they will sometimes (...) make mistakes. We have reason to want a norm that considers a mistake permissible when it was highly likely on the evidence that defense was proportionate and necessary to avert a threat. However, adopting an evidentialist norm under non-ideal conditions is treacherous business. I briefly survey empirical data suggesting that the type and extent of bias prevalent in the US renders a straightforward evidentialist norm unjust, and thus since the legal practice in the US relies on such a norm, we must explore avenues for reform. Preferably this will take the form of adopting a modified evidential norm, and I explore some promising options. If this proves impossible, however, then we have to accept a strict regulative norm (which does not consider any mistakes permissible), as the sole just alternative. (shrink)
This book looks at a family of views involving the pro-life view of abortion and Christianity. These issues are important because major religious branches (for example, Catholicism and some large branches of Evangelicalism) and leading politicians assert, or are committed to, the following: (a) it is permissible to prevent some people from going to hell, (b) abortion prevents some people from going to hell, and (c) abortion is wrong. They also assert, or are committed to, the following: (d) it is (...) permissible to use defensive violence to prevent people from killing innocents, (e) doctors who perform abortions kill innocents, and (f) it is wrong to use defensive violence against doctors who perform abortions. In this book, I argue that these and other principles are inconsistent. (shrink)
In this paper, I defend the following thesis: The Problem of Symmetrical Attackers does not falsify forfeiture theory. The theory asserts that except in the case where violence is necessary to avoid a catastrophe, only those who forfeit their rights are liable for defensive violence. The problem focuses on the following sort of case. Symmetrical Attacker Case Al and Bob are doppelgangers. They both mistakenly but justifiably think that the other is about to attack him. They both respond with violence (...) that is necessary and that they think is necessary to prevent the attack. The problem is that one person forfeit his right if and only if the second does not and that it appears to be impossible for both or neither to forfeit. I argue that the forfeiture theory is not falsified by this problem because the problem is equally damaging to every plausible theory of permissible defensive violence. (shrink)
Some are blameless for posing a threat to the live of another because they are not morally responsible for being a threat. Others are blameless in spite of their responsibility. On what has come to be known as the "moral responsibility account" of liability to defensive killing, it is such responsibility, rather than blameworthiness, for threatening another that renders one liable to defensive killing. Moreover, one's lack of responsibility for being a threat grounds one's nonliability to defensive killing. In "Killing (...) the Innocent in Self-Defense" (1994), I offered an early formulation and defense of such an account. In Section I of this chapter, I renew my defense of the claim that it is impermissible to kill a passive nonresponsible threat in self-defense. In Section II, I renew my defense of the claim that it is permissible to kill a blameless but morally responsible threat in self-defense. (shrink)
If one can judge a society by how it treats its prisoners, one can surely judge a society by how it treats cognitively- and learning-impaired children. In the United States children with physical and cognitive impairments are subjected to higher rates of corporal punishment than are non-disabled children. Children with disabilities make up just over 13% of the student population in the U.S. yet make up over 18% of those children who receive corporal punishment. Autistic children are among the most (...) likely to receive corporal punishment. -/- Although they may deny or redescribe particular instances of corporal punishment or their use of restraints, educators defend such actions as legitimate punishment. In this paper, I assess the logic underlying the use of restraints and corporal punishment on autistic children by educators. The rationalizations for the corporal punishment or restraint of autistics stems from the educator’s desire to control the autistic children so as to end typical autistic behaviors such as rocking, repetitive verbalizations, or “flapping” but also the autistic child’s non-affective responses such as not appearing to feel remorse or shame or the absence of a verbal acknowledgement of remorse or shame. The educators assume that the autistic’s failure to exhibit the desired responses is evidence of the autistic’s moral incorrigibility and is, therefore, evidence of the appropriateness of corporal punishment. But this assumption of the incorrigibility of the autistic child is questionable. -/- Indeed accepting this incorrigibility assumption reveals two important problems. First, instructors using physical punishment on autistic children do not understand autism. Second, they are not working with a tenable conception of punishment. Any action undertaken to induce socially acceptable behaviors (whether it be the end of autistic acts or responses such as remorse) is to fail to understand what the legitimate punishment of children is about. (shrink)
In Prosecuting Domestic Violence: A Philosophical Analysis, Michelle Madden Dempsey focuses on the dilemma prosecutors face when domestic violence victims are unwilling to cooperate in the criminal prosecution of their abusive partners. Starting from the premise that the ultimate goal should be putting an end to domestic violence, Dempsey urges prosecutors to act as feminists in deciding how to proceed in such cases. Doing so, Dempsey argues, will tend to make the character of the prosecutor’s community and state less patriarchal (...) and thus help stamp out domestic violence. This article analyzes two issues arising from Dempsey’s work: first, whether prosecutors can justifiably be viewed as representatives of their states and communities; and, second, how prosecutors committed to using their discretion to battle both domestic violence and patriarchy would go about determining in a particular case whether to pursue criminal charges against the wishes of a victim. (shrink)
Extremely harsh treatment (for example, unanesthetized tooth, branding with a hot iron, violent shaking, repeated beatings, and car-battery shocks to the genitalia) is often considered unjust. On different accounts, extremely harsh treatment fails to respect persons because it infringes on an absolute right, fails to respect a person’s dignity, constitutes cruel or inhumane treatment, violates rules that rational persons would choose under fair and equal choosing conditions, or results in a person losing his agency to another. Others respond that in (...) some cases extremely harsh treatment is just because some individuals forfeit their moral rights against extremely harsh treatment or because it is the fair way to distribute a danger that was created by the person to be so treated. In this paper, I develop an argument that is designed to sidestep these criticisms. (shrink)
This book is an analysis and evaluation of torture. My take on torture is unique for four reasons. First, it provides a distinct analysis of what torture is. Second, it argues that on non-consequentialist grounds, specifically rights-based ones, torture is sometimes permissible. Third, it argues that torturers are not always vicious. Fourth, it argues that it is plausible that these conclusions apply to some real world cases. In short, it fills the following gap: it evaluates torture from a rights-based perspective (...) and finds that in some cases it is permissible. My book is a unique philosophical exploration of torture. It combines a philosophical analysis of torture with a moral evaluation of it. The philosophical analysis of torture has not received a lot of attention. My analysis defends a minimal view of torture and one that distinguishes the analysis of the concept of torture from the moral evaluation of it. The resulting theory, the minimalist theory, differs noticeably from other analyses. My moral evaluation of torture sharply differs from the rest of the literature. The evaluation focuses on the non-consequentialist approach to morality, that is, it assumes that what makes an action right is not solely whether it brings about the best results. Using the central feature of non-consequentialism, moral rights, I argue that torture is justified in a number of theoretical contexts, including defense, punishment, and when the person to be tortured consents. I then look at the actual world and argue that it is plausible to think that there are real-world cases where torture is justified. My analysis also looks at whether torture is virtuous in an attempt to get at what intuitively repels us about torture. My analysis is not only the first look at the issue, but it also ties in with recent developments in virtue theory. As in the analysis of the permissibility of torture, I try to show that my findings with regard to virtue are not merely of theoretical interest, but are plausible given some real-world cases. (shrink)
According to its author, Engineered Death is not a book about the morality of homicide but about intellectual self-consistency—in particular about the self-consistency of the “liberal” view of homicide. The “liberal” view is defined by Woods as the view that murder is morally wrong because, and only because, it is a violation of rights. He tells us that he is concerned to defend neither liberalism in general nor its notion of individual rights in particular, but only to work out the (...) implications of these assumptions for the problems of abortion, suicide, euthanasia, and senecide. It is only in this sense that Woods' disclaimer about the non-ethical nature of his book can be taken seriously. In every other respect it is a treatise on ethics. It puts forward and defends moral theses that are independent of, and in some cases even contrary to, traditional ethical liberalism. (shrink)