Terrorism and several moral distinctions

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In this article, I examine several distinctions that may be relevant to the morality (and conceptual characterization) of terrorism: (1) the state/nonstate agent distinction, (2) the combatant/noncombatant distinction, (3) the intention/foresight distinction, (4) the means/side-effect distinction, (5) the interrelated necessary/nonnecessary means and produce/sustain distinctions, (6) the mechanical/nonmechanical use distinction, (7) the military/political distinction, (8) the harm/terror distinction, and (9) the harm-for-terror/terror-for-goal distinction. I conclude that some of these factors (though not those most commonly cited) account for the prima facie wrongness of terrorism and that the nondistinctive properties of terrorism (which it shares with some nonterrorist acts) are what make it most seriously wrong. I also provide a conceptual examination of terrorism as we commonly think of it and its relation to torture. In the course of discussing the distinctions and also in concluding the article, I consider why terrorism may sometimes be morally permissible.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)19-69
Number of pages51
JournalLegal Theory
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2006
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Philosophy
  • Law


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