The Senses of Terrorism

Review Journal of Political Philosophy, Vol. 6, Fall 2008

36 Pages Posted: 22 Aug 2008 Last revised: 24 Sep 2008

Date Written: August 21, 2008


This articles exposes the methodological errors involved in attempting to operationalize or value-neutralize the concept of 'terrorism.' It defends, instead, an effects-based approach to the taxonomy of 'terrorism' that builds out from a central conceptual connection between the term's negative connotation and a widely shared moral presumption against the killing of innocent non-combatants. Although this approach to the core meaning of 'terrorism' is far from value-neutral, it has a number of virtues to recommend it. First, it has the political virtue of even-handedness in the way it enables competing appraisals of asymmetric conflicts. Second, it is has the ethical virtue of being flexible enough to accommodate nuanced appraisals of various modes and degrees of terrorist violence. And third, it has the empirical virtue of being useful for purposes of rigorous social scientific research.

Keywords: terrorism, definition, operationalism, non-combatants, just war theory

Suggested Citation

Rigstad, Mark, The Senses of Terrorism (August 21, 2008). Review Journal of Political Philosophy, Vol. 6, Fall 2008, Available at SSRN:

Mark Rigstad (Contact Author)

Oakland University ( email )

Rochester, MI 48309-4401
United States


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