Ethical Theory and Moral Practice

, Volume 19, Issue 4, pp 1015–1030 | Cite as

The Liability of Justified Attackers



McMahan argues that justification defeats liability to defensive attack (which would have far-reaching consequences for the ethics of war, in particular for the thesis of the moral equality of combatants). In response, I argue, first, that McMahan’s attempt to burden the contrary claim with counter-intuitive implications fails; second, that McMahan’s own position implies that the innocent civilians do not have a right of self-defense against justified attackers, which neither coheres with his description of the case (the justified bombers infringe the rights of the civilians) nor with his views about rights forfeiture, is unsupported by independent argument, and, in any case, extremely implausible and counter-intuitive; and third, that his interpretation of the insulin case confuses the normative relations between an agent’s justification and non-liability (or lack thereof) on the one hand and permissible or impermissible interference with the agent’s act on the other. Similar confusions, fourth, affect his discussion of liability to compensation.


Compensation Liability Justified attackers Justification Jeff McMahan Permissibility Self-defense War 



The research presented in this paper was supported by a grant from the Research Grants Council of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, China (Project No. HKU 17610315). I am very grateful for this support. I am also grateful to an anonymous referee for useful comments.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Politics and Public AdministrationUniversity of Hong KongHong KongHong Kong

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