Supreme Emergencies Revisited

34 Pages Posted: 8 Aug 2006

See all articles by Daniel Statman

Daniel Statman

University of Haifa - Department of Philosophy


Supreme Emergencies are situations in which some group faces a very grave threat, one which conventional means are unable to counter while unconventional means that fall under what I call 'special permissions' have a reasonable chance of success. The purpose of my paper is to explore what kind of justification - if any - could ground such permissions. I start by rejecting the view that such a justification is utilitarian, as well as the view that it is based on moderate deontology. I then turn to the view that the justification for Special Permissions is based on the right to self-defense. This view faces the objection that no argument for self-defense can justify the killing of the innocent. I examine three suggestions to counter this objection; the argument from minimal responsibility, the argument from shifting responsibility, and the collectivist argument. I argue that none provides a valid justification for Special Permissions, which leads to the unacceptable and, indeed, unbearable conclusion that sometimes groups under attack have to submit to mass murder or enslavement and that the international community has no choice but to stand by while such atrocities take place.

Keywords: just war theory, self-defense, emergencies, utilitarianism

Suggested Citation

Statman, Daniel, Supreme Emergencies Revisited. Ethics, October 2006, Available at SSRN:

Daniel Statman (Contact Author)

University of Haifa - Department of Philosophy ( email )

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