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The Acorn

Volume 17, Issue 2, Fall 2017

Charles K. Fink
Pages 101-117

Nonviolence and Tolstoy’s Hard Question

Pacifists are often put on the defensive with cases—real or imagined—in which innocent people are threatened by violent criminals. Is it always wrong to respond to violence with violence, even in defense of the innocent? This is the “hard” question addressed in this article. I argue that it is at least permissible to maintain one’s commitment to nonviolence in such cases. This may not seem like a bold conclusion, yet pacifists are often ridiculed—sometimes as cowards, sometimes as selfish moral purists—for their refusal to use violence in defense of others. In this article, I try to show that such scorn is unjustified.

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