Supreme Emergencies and the Continuum Problem

19 Pages Posted: 29 Jun 2011

See all articles by Daniel Statman

Daniel Statman

University of Haifa - Department of Philosophy

Date Written: June 28, 2011


Many believe that in “supreme emergencies” collectives are granted what I elsewhere call “special permissions”, permissions to carry out self-defensive acts which would otherwise be morally forbidden. However, there appears to be a continuum between non-emergency, emergency and supreme-emergency situations, which gives rise to the following problem: If special permissions are granted in supreme emergencies, they should apply, mutatis mutandis, to less extreme cases too. If, to save itself from wholesale massacre, a collective is allowed to kill thousands of noncombatants on the side of the aggressor, then to save itself from a less murderous campaign, a collective should be allowed to kill several hundreds of noncombatants, and so on. But this conclusion seems to undermine the most fundamental ideas of just war theory. The purpose of the paper is to discuss possible solutions to this problem (the “continuum problem”). I contend that a contractarian view of the war convention offers the most attractive solution, though, at the end of the day, I am not sure that it will work.

Suggested Citation

Statman, Daniel, Supreme Emergencies and the Continuum Problem (June 28, 2011). Available at SSRN: or

Daniel Statman (Contact Author)

University of Haifa - Department of Philosophy ( email )

Eshkol Tower, 19th Floor
Haifa 31905, 31905
+972-4-656-8343 (Phone)


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