Philosophy & Violence

The Philosophy of Violence:

"Leiter Reports: A Philosophy Blog" has come under some fire lately for having written this with regard to Wisconsin:

At some point these acts of brazen viciousness are going to lead to a renewed philosophical interest in the question of when acts of political violence are morally justified, an issue that has, oddly, not been widely addressed in political philosophy since Locke.
Dr. Althouse says, "And for the ordinary people outside of the circle of Leiter's respect, it's a simple matter to reject violence." Indeed, I suppose, it is a simple matter: but that's only because they haven't thought about it very much.

Leiter himself hadn't, and is therefore surprised to note (as he does in an update) that there has been quite a bit of discussion of the problem of justifiability in terrorism in the last few years. That article, like all the ones from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, is well worth reading. There have been many recent attempts to justify terrorist violence; there have been some attempts to ban it absolutely as a moral matter.

Of course, justifying violence is much easier than justifying terrorist violence: if you merely want to know when you may take up arms against the government, as opposed to a civilian population, the standards are much easier to meet. In general, too, the philosophical community has been enamored of nonviolent resistance movements like Gandhi's and Dr. King's; and they invariably miss the fact that Gandhi's movement led to the wars of partition, in which perhaps a million people were killed; while Dr. King's movement was successful not because its nonviolence swayed the violent, but because it finally forced the President to call out the National Guard. It was the Guardsmen with their rifles that made real King's reforms.

The question of violence is one that we've discussed here very often over the last eight years. I'd be damned glad to see Leiter take it up, if he has the guts for the exercise.

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