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The Proceedings of the Twenty-First World Congress of Philosophy

Volume 1, 2007


Simon Glynn
Pages 207-211
DOI: 10.5840/wcp2120071295

Some Reflections upon the Supposed Moral Distinction between Terrorism and the Legitimate Use of Military Force

Defining "terrorism" as the intentional targeting of non-combatant civilians, the paper argues that, other things being equal, it is not possible to effectively distinguish morally between "terrorism" and use of military power against combatant targets which might reasonably be expected to produce some guesstimable quantity of "collateral" or non-combatant civilian casualties; that it is upon the expected likely consequences of actions rather than upon the intentions underlying them, that actors should be morally judged. Furthermore I argue that other attempts to rationalize the use of conventional military force, as retaliatory for prior "terrorist" actions, or as preemptive, also often largely fail either on historical grounds ("terrorists" often see their actions as responses to previously unjustified killing or letting die of the non-combatant civilian population they see themselves as representing) or pragmatic grounds (as the unintentional killing of non-combatant civilians often increases the sense of righteous indignation which helps recruit further "terrorists").