Can There Be Justification for Terrorism Term Paper

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Terrorism Be Justified

Is terrorism justified?

A definition of terrorism is hard to put forth, mainly because it depends on which side the definition comes from. However, the UN definition could be successfully used. As such, terrorist acts are "criminal acts, including against civilians, committed with the intent to cause death or serious bodily injury, or taking of hostages, with the purpose to provoke a state of terror in the general public or in a group of persons or particular persons, intimidate a population or compel a government or an international organization to do or to abstain from doing any act" (UN Security Council Resolution 1566)

Arguments pro-terrorism lack Rhetorical Power because they involve the violence and death of innocent people. These people cannot be collectively guilty because (1) they are not making the contested decisions and (2) the scope of terrorism is usually to intimidate and not to target the collectively guilty.

The lack of Rhetorical Power does not affect Rational Strength because Rational Strength depends only on how good the evidence is in support of the argument.

Construct a Utilitarian Argument for Terrorism

Utilitarian ARG

1. Sometimes terrorism is used to end repression and exploitation

2. Sometimes violence is the only option left to end repression and exploitation

3. Sometimes violent acts of terrorism are justified to end repression

4. Terrorism can be judged as the only instrument by which a greater good can be achieved, even at the expense of other damages it may cause.

Example -- allies of Nazi Germany (or even internal sabotage acts committed) going to war so as to end the repression and exploitation of the Jewish people


Terrorists could work within the existing political system to bring about change

Terrorism could use media to alert the world to the exploitation and repression

Terrorism could be more open to nonviolent communication

Terrorists could directly attack the guilty party

Terrorism may have higher utility than these alternatives because:

loss of life weakens the position of the political power, forcing it to take quicker action it would take much longer to get the terrorists' points across with a peaceful approach terrorists may not have the necessary majority to withhold the changes terrorism is the last alternative

Present Louch's Unspecifiable Benefits Objection

The Principle of Rational Belief is attacked because the overall evidence in the case of the justification of terrorist acts, according to Louch, is negative, because there is no concrete evidence of specific benefits that can be obtained through the act. This means that a statement supporting terrorist acts should be rejected.

A critic would respond to Louch's objection by stating that, in the case of uncertainty, the expected value or the expected utility will be used instead of the Principle of Rational Belief. With this, an act will be judged according to its estimated utility.

Construct a self-defense Argument for Terrorism

1. Sometimes terrorist acts are used for self-defense and against perceived oppressors. Terrorism is never directed at other terrorists.

2. Sometimes violent practices of self-defense are justified.

3. Sometimes violent acts of terrorism are justified.

Example: If two countries are at war and an opposing country is on your soil and has conquered you, it would not be wrong of the conquered citizens to engage in acts of sabotage.

Collective Guilt

Collective guilt implies that all individuals in a community bear the responsibility of a respective act.

The idea of collective guilt is when the wrong being done is so monstrous that the only means of fighting it is by using terrorism and self-defense; then terrorism is justified.


Germany taking collective guilt for starting WWII

If a son goes out kills someone, the parents are collectively guilty for the son's actions.


The arguments around the ethical viability of terrorism have been going on for the past couple of centuries. Along with the obvious negative ethical perspective that terrorism brings about through the harmful acts against potentially innocent people, analysts have also pointed out situations in which, from one philosophical perspective or another, terrorism could be accepted as a form of self-defense. The aim of this paper is to describe some of the utilitarian arguments for terrorism, present and assess Louch's unspecifiable benefits objection and point out to some of other types of arguments in defense of terrorist acts, namely the self-defense argument and the concept of collective guilt.

Any argument would have to start with a definition of terrorism. This is hard to put forth, mainly because it depends on which side the definition comes from. However, the UN definition could be successfully used. As such, terrorist acts are "criminal acts, including against civilians, committed with the intent to cause death or serious bodily injury, or taking of hostages, with the purpose to provoke a state of terror in the general public or in a group of persons or particular persons, intimidate a population or compel a government or an international organization to do or to abstain from doing any act" (UN Security Council Resolution 1566).

As one can see from this definition, there are several things that this definition includes and which are fundamental to the argumentation below: the terrorist act is targeting civilians, in different forms, the purpose is to create and provoke a state of terror and to intimidate and the final target is the compelling of national governments or international organizations in a certain direction, complying with the objectives of the terrorists.

Utilitarian Argument for Terrorism

From an utilitarian perspective, the main argument that can be used in favor of terrorist action is the argument according to which the terrorist instrument is the only instrument by which a greater good can be obtained, even at the expense of other potential damages it may produce. This statement also carries the additional corollary that terrorism is the only alternative that can be used for an oppressed people or in the case of repression.

There are several things worth discussing here. First of all, such an argument implies that other instruments have been used, but the results were significantly less than those that could be obtained with terrorist tools. The utilitarian argument cannot be used in the case of Hamas, for example, simply because Hamas has never resorted to any other instruments (negotiations, discussions, open communication, mediation) to state its claims. At the same time, this argument can be used (as Wilkins pointed out) to justify potential actions of the Jewish population during the Second World War: the oppression and repression could only be fought with terrorist tools, as the only ones that would have produced better results (or any results in this case).

Plausible alternative from a utilitarian perspective can include working within the existing political system to bring about change, using media to alert the world to the exploitation and repression, being more open to nonviolent communication and attacking the guilty or responsible group of individual rather than simply targeting the entire population in an act of intimidation. All these can be seen as communicative alternatives rather than alternatives that prefer force and intimidation such as a terrorist act would be. At the same time, these are induced to create a sense of confidence between the opposing parties and the appropriate framework for a peaceful solution.

However, from an utilitarian perspective, an argument to reject these alternatives would be that terrorist instruments are simpler and quicker ways of getting the necessary attention. Unfortunately, a terrorist attack will always have more coverage than a negotiated solution, probably because of the way that individuals are formed psychologically. The terrorist instrument works not only with the public (through the act of intimidation), but also with the opposing government or international organization, because it weakens the political base and public support that the respective entities have. Finally, terrorism may sometimes be the last alternative that a group can resort to, in some conditions.

Louch's Unspecifiable Benefits Objection

According to Louch's Unspecifiable Benefits Objection, the Principal of Rational Belief can be attacked because there can be no clear way in which one can obtain and evaluate specific benefits from a terrorist act. This argument can be supported by evidence from practice. In many cases, one cannot evaluate whether the resolution in a certain has come from the terrorist instrument or through a number of additional factors that can include political or economic pressure and electoral pressure, none necessarily related with the terrorist instrument.

For example, the constant bombings in Baghdad cannot be evaluated as the direct cause of the U.S. Army deciding to pull out by 2010. At the same time, one cannot concretely estimate the impact of Baghdad bombings with the population - the overall evidence is most likely negative or, at most, neutral.

Nevertheless, some may argue that this argument does not stand its ground, because instead of the Principle of Rational Belief, one can use the expected utility to construct an argument. The expected utility would imply that in such cases of uncertainty, one can simply…[continue]

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