Against Liability: Toward a Reasons-Based Account of Self-Defense

Against Liability: A Reasons-Based Account of Self-Defense, in Ethics of Self Defense, Christian Coons and Michael Weber, eds. (Oxford University Press, 2016)

Villanova Law/Public Policy Research Paper No. 2016-1033

19 Pages Posted: 25 Oct 2016 Last revised: 30 Aug 2017

Date Written: 2016

Abstract

In the past decade, the central puzzle in the philosophical literature regarding self-defense has often been framed in terms of liability: specifically, under what conditions is someone morally liable to defensive harm? In this chapter, after offering a few general gripes regarding the creep of liability discourse from the legal to philosophical realm, I argue that liability-based accounts are deficient for two reasons. First, they endorse deeply counterintuitive views regarding the moral status of someone who kills another human being in self-defense. Second, they obscure considerations that we should hope to understand more clearly if we wish to provide a comprehensive and fine-grained evaluation of the morality of self-defense. In place of liability-based accounts, I offer an alternative set of tools for evaluating the morality of self-defense, which I refer to as a reasons-based account. By applying such an account, I hope to demonstrate its capacity both to avoid counterintuitive views regarding the moral position of those who kill in self-defense, and to make salient a wider range of considerations regarding the morality of self-defense than is possible under a liability-based account.

Keywords: Self-Defense, Liability to Harm, Practical Reason

Suggested Citation

Dempsey, Michelle Madden, Against Liability: Toward a Reasons-Based Account of Self-Defense (2016). Against Liability: A Reasons-Based Account of Self-Defense, in Ethics of Self Defense, Christian Coons and Michael Weber, eds. (Oxford University Press, 2016), Villanova Law/Public Policy Research Paper No. 2016-1033, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2858382

Michelle Madden Dempsey (Contact Author)

Villanova University School of Law ( email )

299 N. Spring Mill Road
Villanova, PA 19085
United States

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