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McPherson, Lionel K.. Is Terrorism Distinctively Wrong?
2007, Ethics 117(3): 524-546.
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Added by: Helen Morley
Introduction: Many people, including philosophers, believe that terrorism is necessarily and egregiously wrong. I will call this “the dominant view.” The dominant view maintains that terrorism is akin to murder. This forecloses the possibility that terrorism, under any circumstances, could be morally permissible—murder, by definition, is wrongful killing. The unqualified wrongness of terrorism is thus part of this understanding of terrorism. I will criticize the dominant view. Some philosophers have argued that terrorism might not be impermissible on either a rights‐based or a consequentialist analysis. But I will not pursue the question of whether terrorism could ever be justifiable. Rather, I will argue that the dominant view’s condemnatory attitude toward terrorism as compared to conventional war cannot be fully sustained. I propose that a version of the argument that terrorists do not have adequate authority to undertake political violence—and not the prominent argument that noncombatants should be immune from deliberate use of force against them—is the most plausible basis for finding terrorism objectionable.

Comment: McPherson challenges the view that there is something distinctively wrong about terrorism as compared to conventional warfare. In addition to a discussion on terrorism it presents challenges to traditional interpretations of just war theory.

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