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Social Philosophy Today

Volume 28, 2012

Freedom, Religion, and Gender

Matthew R. Silliman
Pages 177-185

Is Terrorism, or War, Ever Justified? Comment on Nathanson’s Terrorism and the Ethics of War

Nathanson asks how we can properly understand terrorism such that it is (a) always unjustified, and (b) does not thereby preclude justified warfare. By means of a novel ruleutilitarian argument bolstering the inviolability of noncombatants, he hopes to have crafted such an understanding. While praising Nathanson’s rigor and originality, this paper questions the moral-theoretic completeness of his procedure, and then raises challenges from two directions: (1) an argument for the justifiability of terrorism in certain circumstances, and (2) an argument against the justifiability of warfare under any circumstances. The first challenge can probably be met by the argumentative resources of the book; it is possible that the second cannot, though perhaps it unfairly asks the author to go beyond the scope of the project.

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