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Social Theory and Practice

Volume 43, Issue 3, July 2017

Blake Hereth
Pages 613-635

Against Self-Defense

The ethics of self-defense is dominated by the Orthodox View, which claims that at least some cases of self-defensive assault are permissible. I defend the radical view that there are no permissible instances of self-defensive assault. My argument proceeds as follows: Every permissible act of self-defensive assault could, in principle, have its permissibility be massively overdetermined. Such ‘super-permissible’ acts of assault are ones in which agents are objectively permitted to perform those acts in morally trivializing or cavalier fashion: that is, agents need not ‘think twice’ about inflicting or permitting harm and are permitted to assault persons as if it were morally insignificant. Yet this is never true, since assaulting persons is always morally serious. It follows that there are no acts of permissible self-defensive assault.

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