The Success Condition for Legitimate Self-Defense

43 Pages Posted: 15 Sep 2006 Last revised: 24 Sep 2008

See all articles by Daniel Statman

Daniel Statman

University of Haifa - Department of Philosophy


The paper explores a neglected condition for legitimate self-defense, 'The Success Condition,' according to which otherwise immoral acts can be justified under the right to self-defense only if they are likely to gain protection from the perceived threat. The idea behind this condition is that if measures cannot reasonably be expected to provide defense, they cannot be justified under the title of self-defense. The success condition also accords well with the other constraints for legitimate self-defense, namely necessity and proportionality. However, it gives rise to a disturbing paradox for it prohibits self-defensive measures in cases where we feel that such measures are not only fully permissible but even heroic. To dispel this paradox, I develop 'The Honor Solution,' according to which the success condition is retained in these cases, because the self-defensive acts succeed (or are expected to succeed) in protecting the victim's honor. Finally, I explore the implications of the success condition, coupled with the honor solution, for the morality of wars. I argue that the restrictions on the defense of honor are stronger in wars than in individual self-defense, which explains why the "reasonable hope of success" condition in jus ad bellum usually refers to success in staving off the actual attack of the enemy, not to success in merely defending the honor of the country under attack.

Keywords: self-defense, war, proportionality

Suggested Citation

Statman, Daniel, The Success Condition for Legitimate Self-Defense. Ethics, Forthcoming. 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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