Responsibility and Self-Defense: Can We Have It All?

Res Publica 23 (3):367-385 (2017)

Adam Hosein
Northeastern University
The role of responsibility in our common-sense morality of self-defense is complex. According to common-sense morality, one can sometimes use substantial, even deadly, force against people who are only minimally responsible for posing a threat to us. The role of responsibility in self-defense is thus limited. However, responsibility is still sometimes relevant. It sometime affects how much force you can use against a threatener: less if they are less responsible and more if they are more responsible. Is there a well-motivated theory that can explain both why the role of responsibility is limited and why it is sometimes relevant? It is hard to see what theory could unify these disparate elements of our common-sense morality, and if one cannot be found then we may simply have to revise some of our pre-theoretic beliefs. But it would be an important advantage of a theory if it could justify those beliefs. I will argue that there is a theory of this kind: surprisingly, the familiar rights theory of self-defense, defended by Judith Thomson, can do so if it is suitably supplemented. Along the way I will survey some alternative theories of self-defense and show why they are not up to the task.
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DOI 10.1007/s11158-016-9321-6
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