On Killing Threats as a Means

Philosophia 43 (3):869-876 (2015)
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Jonathan Quong Ethics, 119, 507–537 has recently argued that the permissibility of killing innocent threats turns on a distinction between eliminative and opportunistic agency. When we kill bystanders we view them under the guise of opportunism by using them as mere survival tools, but when we kill threats we simply eliminate them. According to Quong, the distinction between opportunistic and eliminative agency reveals that there are two different ways of killing someone as a means to save your own life. Call this the Means Distinction. In this note, I argue that although the Means Distinction seems prima facie plausible it is not a sufficient explanation for the permissibility of killing threats. My argument against the Means Distinction is two-fold. Most non-consequentialists accept that the Means Distinction carries some moral significance, but I argue that this is a mistake: we do not have any reason to believe that opportunistic killings are, in general, worse than eliminative killings. Following this, I argue that even if we accept the Means Distinction, there are threat-type scenarios in which there is no intuitive difference between killing a threat opportunistically and killing a threat eliminatively



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