Self-defence among Innocent People

In: Journal of Moral Philosophy
Gerhard ØverlandThe Ethics Programme, University of Oslo, Norway, Email:

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I explain the asymmetry between innocent aggressors and their (innocent) victims, and attempt to separate justified and unjustified defensive force when both parties are innocent. I propose the principle of initiating behaviour, which states that: ‘In order for one person to be justified in using defensive force the other party must initiate the apparently threatening behaviour, but the defendant’s interpretation of that behaviour, as being threatening, would have to be reasonable.’ We can thereby maintain the view that there is a significant relation between an act being justified and which party ought eventually to be given priority in a conflict situation. If we know that an act is justified, we know that we have to give preference to its agent when there is a choice between imposing equal harm on him or her and his or her victim.

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