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Long time reader, first time commenter. I'm not expertly grounded in logic or philosophy, so please accept my apologies in advance if my statements sound overly simplistic. I found this particular entry confusing when it came to stating certain points through examples. For instance: "If we assert a general Retributive right against harm, we would be saying that it always permissible to forcefully prevent another from harming you. But any potential victim who acts in self-defense aims to harm the person who is threatening him. Does the threatening agent then have the right to self-defense? ... Baker is angry at Able. So angry he starts throwing punches. Able hits back. Baker blocks the punch hard, breaking Able’s arm. At that point others intervene to stop the fight. Suppose that the broken arm was the only injury in the fight. If Able demanded compensation from Baker for the injury could Baker argue that the injury was inflicted by a permissible act of self-defense?" This is confusing because, to me, the issue is not who is being defended, but what is being defended. Able is defending his right not to be harmed by defending himself. Baker, on the other hand, is defending his right to harm Able by defending himself. This confusion is further enforced by your second example on this topic: "Suppose I am standing on your property-- or on your foot-- without your permission. You ask me nicely to step away. I refuse. In that event it may be morally permissible for you to push me off. But if it is morally permissible for me to push back, given my general right not to be pushed around, the morally permissible mayhem is likely to get out of hand." Again, it appears to me that the object of defense (the what) is being confused and as such the issue of moral permissibility is debated on the wrong terms. In addition, the thought experiments only seemed to make things more confusing rather than less. To that end, let me offer a parallel thought experiment (in the broader sense) to your first: A woman goes to a bar by herself and gets wildly drunk. She meets a man in the bar and makes out with him for a while, eventually going back to his place. They make out on his couch a bit more and then she goes to his bedroom, gets undressed and gets in his bed. He excitedly gets undressed and gets in bed with her, they make out some more and just as he begins to have intercourse with her, she says "No!" When the man doesn't immediately stop and pull away, she slides her hand down to her purse, grabs her mace and sprays him in the eyes, which leaves him permanently blinded. She escapes. Would this, too, not be so clear a case of self-defense? She did, after all, deprive herself of virtually all pre-emptive defenses leading up to the ultimate moment. The same could similarly be said of a homeowner who leaves their windows open at night in the summer and ends up having to shoot and kill an armed robber who snuck in through one of them. Were their actions morally impermissible merely because all possible precautions were not taken? That aside, the first experiment completely ignores the moral agency of the others involved in the situation. Able is not responsible for Baker's drinking, if the bartender is concerned that Baker's drinking may get him into trouble then he is responsible for the decision to cut Baker off. Similarly, if Able's friends are concerned that Baker might try to kill him then they are responsible for calling the police; they do not need Able's permission. And that is all an aside to the fact that Baker, too, is a moral agent. Able did not force Baker into any of his actions; Baker chose to get his gun, Baker chose to go onto Able's property, Baker chose to raise his weapon to try to kill him. There is nothing about this situation that speaks to premeditated murder, much less manslaughter with depraved indifference. Is Able a truly despicable person for attempting to coerce Baker's actions? Aboslutely, but he is no Jack Wilson. The Falling Man thought experiments represent a completely different situation, but I feel that they have unnecessarily confused the moral significance of the original. In the original version there are two totally innocent people. In these newer thought experiments there is clearly only one. The "victim" is not a victim at all, but an aggressor. He is not defending his right not to be harmed, whether he intended to be in the path of his falling rival or not; he is defending his right to kill his rival. Morally impermissible, but not because of who, but what. I hope even some portion of this makes sense. Anyway, compliments on an interesting attempt to tackle the right of self-defense.
Toggle Commented Mar 28, 2011 on Self Defense at
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Mar 27, 2011