Friday, November 18, 2011

A Draft Of Some Thoughts On The Right To Self-Defense

The reason-based, fundamental justification for self-defense is difficult to explain, because it is so obvious, and there is not much to explain about it.  Defense is the justification for just uses of force.  Other justifications, which arguably are not defensive, are linked to defense, as enforcing a positive obligation that, if not carried out, would be an injustice, just as the offensive use of force against another person would be.  However specious the assertion of those positive obligations may, at times, be (and as much as some people might disagree with my use of the word "defense" in reference to any positive obligation), there is, regardless, no question that a valid obligation of this type, positive or negative, may be enforced (that is the nature of this type of obligation).  It cannot be objected that it involves force, where it negates aggressive (and unjust) force, or prevents an equivalent injustice from being inflicted by omission.  It preserves or otherwise vindicates freedom and justice and true peace (rather than a false peace where the violence is threatened and inchoate, but present through its consequences).  By definition, what it preserves or revives is just, and what it destroys is unjust.

Where it may appear to have other consequences, such as an increased chance of injury to the wrongdoer or the defender, or to third parties who are innocent as well, this is, of course, the fault of the wrongdoer, even though the act of defense does contribute to turning that possibility into a reality.  The ethics of this situation are as follows: First, the wrongdoer puts himself at risk by justifying action against him and by creating the situation where another person's vindication of his rights could result in harm to the wrongdoer.  So far as the wrongdoer contributes to that situation, he consents by his actions to his own injury, and to the extent that injury is inflicted upon him by the defender (who must use reasonable force), it is simply justified.

Second, the defender may bring injury upon himself by defending against an injustice.  So far as it concerns his own contribution to this injury, the defender consents to it, again, by his actions, and has done nothing wrong.  So far as the wrongdoer contributes to the situation that results in injury to the defender, the wrongdoer is, of course, at fault.

Third, when innocent third parties may be harmed, this possibility impacts the reasonableness of various acts that the defender could take in his defense.  Additionally, here, there is a collision of rights of the innocent which makes it impossible to judge as a matter of justice (though good sense and morality can supply a rule of action for the case).  Many of the ordinary things that people do pose some risk to other people, but the wrongdoer's implicit consent to injury does not justify any amount of force by the defender against innocent people.  Yet, this does not affect the fitness of the wrongdoer's conduct as an object of the defender's resistance -- the defender has as good a right to prevent or end the wrong against him as any innocent bystander has to not be affected by such an affray.  However, despite  the fact that both the defender and the bystander has a right to not be wronged, and even though those rights may conflict with each other, in this situation, I see two rules which should govern the actions of the defender, in this situation.  First, as indicated above, the possibility that force will affect the rights of innocent people affects the reasonability of the various actions which the defender might take as force against the wrongdoer.  Just as the defender is obligated to avoid using more force than reasonably seems to be necessary, against the wrongdoer, in order to defend his rights -- this restriction being for the benefit of the wrongdoer, who is a person, after all, and may not have invited or justified deadly force against him, depending on what he did -- the reasonability of whatever the defender might be justified in bringing against the defender clearly must be affected by the likelihood that it will somehow affect the rights of others, which the defender has no right to do, and therefore must account for, or be held accountable for.  Second, good sense and morality, as I wrote, also offer something here, because we ought to treat our fellow people equitably, and ideally, to value their rights as our own.  For this reason, if not for the first reason, the defender probably ought to avoid firing a gun at a wrongdoer when he suspects that innocent people may well be hit instead (or as well), unless the wrongdoer poses a credible, immediate threat to someone's life (or possibly health; pure reason is difficult to translate entirely into positive rules, and, beyond a certain point, it is unreasonable to hold people to a standard of pure reason, especially when they are being threatened).

The principles of these simple scenarios can be applied to more complicated or unusual ones, as, for example, when a police officer with a lawful warrant enters a home, and an occupant mistakes him for a criminal intruder.  (He ought to be able to use force that is reasonable in its direction, degree, and manner, based on what he knows or should know, with the intention of preventing or terminating an unjust use of force.)

However, aside from its possible impact on third parties, and stating again the qualification that only "reasonable" force is defensive -- which ideas both work to form the contours of the very concept of self-defense -- I can imagine no justification for stripping away this fundamental right.

It is not reason alone that guarantees the right to self-defense, though.  What was generally known as the "first law of nature" could hardly have been more firmly established than it is.

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