Dissertation, Queen's University (2014)

James Murray
Queen's University
In recent years, philosopher Jeff McMahan has solidified an influential view that moral desert is irrelevant to the ethics of self-defense. This work aims to criticize this view by demonstrating that there are cases in which moral desert has a niche position in determining whether it may be permissible to kill a person in self- (or other-)defense. This is done by criticizing McMahan’s Responsibility Account of liability as being overly punitive against minimally responsible threateners (MRTs), and by demonstrating, through reference to Saba Bazargan’s Hybrid Account of liability to defensive harm, that further justification than mere liability is necessary in the justification of killing these kinds of threateners. It is also argued that other kinds of justifications like lesser-evil justifications are not necessarily strong enough to justify killing MRTs, even on top of established liability. This paper puts forward the view that, where a strong enough moral difference between threatener and innocent victim cannot be established, a justification on the basis of the implications of prior moral acts might, on some occasions, give us reasons to kill or not kill MRTs in self-defense.
Keywords Self-Defense  Lesser-Evil Justification  Moral Responsibility  Implications of Culpable acts  Liability  Liability to Defensive Harm  Moral Desert
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