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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

A moral evaluation of terrorism
by Thurmond, Angela, Ph.D., The University of Oklahoma, 2010, 140; 3412126
Abstract (Summary)

The purpose of my dissertation is to provide a moral evaluation of terrorism from a rights-based perspective. I define terrorism as the use or credible threat of systematically random attacks on the vital interests of civilian noncombatants, with the intent to coerce an indirect target into a desired course of action. It is not limited to nonstate actors or actors with unjust causes.

I argue that terrorism is never right because it harms those who have committed no aggression. Some soldiers may deserve to be attacked in virtue of their aggression. However, terrorists target civilian noncombatants who have not committed aggression against the terrorists. Although particular civilian noncombatants may be responsible for aggression, the direct target of terrorism—the civilian collective—is not.

I argue that an act of terrorism is excusable if the terrorist faces a genuine moral dilemma in which he has no option but to choose between violating conflicting obligations. I think that this situation exists when the collective survival of a rights-respecting political community faces an imminent threat of destruction; when this community faces what Michael Walzer, following Winston Churchill, has called a “supreme emergency.” Many authors have argued that Walzer's attempt to justify terrorism in these circumstances on consequentialist grounds undermines his rights theory. I believe that his argument is an excuse, not justification, and that it does not succumb to consequentialism. In supreme emergencies, the community's leaders face the conflicting duties of protecting the existence of their community and upholding civilian noncombatants' right to life. They confront a genuine moral dilemma. Any action they choose is wrong. However, terrorism is excusable in supreme emergencies because its use allows the rights-respecting community to survive and prevents it from being replaced by one that systematically violates rights. Consequences, therefore, are morally relevant in this rights-based excuse. It is because rights are worth protecting that terrorism is excusable in some supreme emergencies.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Badhwar, Neera
Commitee: Heinze, Eric, Irvin, Sherri, Olberding, Amy, Trachtenberg, Zev
School: The University of Oklahoma
Department: Department of Philosophy
School Location: United States -- Oklahoma
Source: DAI-A 71/08, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Ethics, Philosophy
Keywords: Excuse, Moral, Supreme emergency, Terrorism
Publication Number: 3412126
ISBN: 978-1-124-09462-5
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