Prompt 2 (3290: War and Morality 2020)

Doctrine of Double Effect and Permissibility of Rebellion

The Doctrine of Double Effect (DDE) is a controversial ethical principle that maintains that it is morally permissible for one to perform an action that may bring about some foreseeable negative outcome (like harm or death to others, who have done nothing to forfeit their right not to be harmed) in order to achieve some laudable outcome.  That is, so long as the actor does not intend the foreseeable harm—which is to say that the harm that is entailed by her action is not part of her motivation to act.  Thomson has argued that the DDE is indefensible, since there is no morally-relevant distinction between actors who intentionally and unintentionally bring about harm to innocent people (for instance, the strategic versus terror bomber).  For intention to cause harm, according to Thomson, is (should be) irrelevant to our moral calculations: noting that just as the absence of intent to cause harm (with innocent aggressors and innocent threats) does not undermine our right to use lethal force in self-defense, the absence of intent to cause harm cannot determine the moral permissibility of actions that fall within the DDE.  Consequently, the DDE seems to unjustly tolerate the violation of the right of innocent civilians not to be killed: in other words, innocent civilians retain the right not to be killed and are done wrong by even well-intentioned actors who regret the unintentional harm they create.  By introducing notions of direct and indirect “agency in the production of harm” (344), Quinn has proposed a revised doctrine that strives to address traditional concerns with the DDE, including the problem of defining intent.  Quinn proposes that a defensible version of the DDE would discriminate strongly against (that is, be intolerant of) “harmful direct agency”—where the foreseeable harm to others defines, at least in part, the purpose of one’s action—and would discriminate more weakly against “harmful indirect agency”—where the foreseeable harm to others does not define at all the purpose of one’s action. 

The significance of this debate to revolutionary violence is this: if we grant that all collective armed violence will entail some harm or death (as collateral damage) to innocent bystanders (non-combatants), and if the DDE cannot be defended and the lack of intention to cause harm is irrelevant and cannot justify this harm and death, then all revolutionary violence is prima facie morally impermissible, even against tyrannical governments or regimes that commit state-perpetrated violence against their subjects or citizens.  This conclusion seems equally controversial, as thinkers like Locke defend a substantive right to rebel and thinkers like Thomson vindicate a right to use lethal force in self-defense.

Do you believe that this problem of intention—the problem that some undeserved harm or death will befall innocent civilians—renders all revolutionary violence morally impermissible?

In answering this question, you must (a) explain how this problem of intention relates to at least one principle of jus ad bellum or jus in bello, (b) incorporate the writings of at least three of the authors assigned this week—Thomson, Locke, Buchanan, Quinn, Kant, Walzer, Humphreys and Weinstein, and Kuran—(c) reference specific passages and cite specific page numbers in these readings to justify your conclusion, as well as your interpretation of these authors, and (d) discuss one real-world example that illustrates your conclusion.

PLEASE NOTE: with these sorts of normative questions that we’ll be engaging throughout the semester, where there is no clear right or wrong answer, you must do more than merely state your opinion.  This would fundamentally fail to satisfy the expectations of these thesis-driven and evidence-based writing assignments.  Your task is to take a stand on the issue and to defend this position by writing an educated and informed response, incorporating specific ideas from the readings that support your thesis.


Filed under 3290_2020: War and Morality

13 responses to “Prompt 2 (3290: War and Morality 2020)

  1. Andrzej L.

    Guerrillas Gone Incognito: The Problem Of Indiscriminate Killing of Innocent Citizens in Revolution

    I think the problem of intention, that innocent noncombatant citizens die, does not mean that all revolutionary violence is impermissible. I think this permissibility arises obviously first, when the jus ad bellum principle of right intention has been satisfied, but more importantly is how the revolution will be fought with the jus ad bellum principle of discrimination. Some people will argue that innocent non-combatants do not forfeit their right to life, and revolutionary war is not justified ever since it violates the rights of normal citizens. The DDE tries to solve this problem by stating that it is morally permissible to violate someone’s rights and cause a negative outcome (worst case death) in order to achieve a greater good, if the intention was for the greater good, not the violation of citizens rights (which is a side effect). Thompson believes that intention has no moral significance if the outcome is the same, when he states “it is irrelevant to the question whether X may do alpha, what intention X would do alpha with if he or she did it.” (Thomson 13). I don’t believe that this statement is correct. I think innocent civilians’ right to life is violated more so when guerillas do not wear distinctive uniforms and hide among the civilians. The reason why is well described by Walzer stating, “They violate the implicit trust upon which the war convention rests: soldiers must feel safe among civilians if civilians are ever to be safe from soldiers.” (Walzer 182). By not wearing distinctive uniforms and using the disguises of civilians, the Guerilla is not respecting the non-combatants rights, since indiscriminate killing becomes more likely, and even in some cases permissible by the counter-insurgent forces. This violation of rights by the guerillas is well explained by Quinn when she states “they show a shocking failure of respect for the persons who are harmed; they treat their victims as they would treat laboratory animals. DDE might therefore seem to rest on special duties of respect for persons, duties over and above any duty not to harm or to prevent harm.” (Quinn 348). By disguising themselves as citizens guerilla fighters are using non-combatant civilians as objects, a mere means to an end, they fail to respect the civilians’ autonomy. To believe that revolutionary war is never justified seems backward, if death is inevitable from an oppressive government that is violating your right to self-preservation, then it seems necessary for people to revolt. That said guerilla fighters should wear distinctive uniforms and not fight in areas filled with innocent civilians in order to avoid the chance of indiscriminate killing by counter insurgency forces.

    The Second IndoChina War was a revolution that occurred between 1955-1975, fought between North Vietnam and South Vietnam. North Vietnam was supported by communist allies, and South Vietnam by non-communist allies. With North Vietnam winning the war in 1975. The war resulted in 250,000 civilian deaths (HistoryNet). The Viet Cong, engaged in guerilla warfare against South Vietnam, distinguishing themselves often as normal civilians which is likely the cause for such a high number of indiscriminate killings. For this reason the Viet Cong failed to respect the citizens and used them as a means to an end. Even if North Vietnam was justified in starting the war, by no means were they justified in continuing it because they allowed for indiscriminate killing by engaging in Guerilla Warfare and using disguising themselves as citizens.

    Works Cited

    Thomson, Judith J. “Thomson on Self-Defense.” Fact and Value, 2001, doi:10.7551/mitpress/2950.003.0012.

    “Guerilla War.” Just and Unjust Wars: a Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations, by Michael Walzer, Basic Books, 1977, pp. 176–196.

    Quinn, Warren S. “Actions, Intentions, and Consequences: The Doctrine of Doing and Allowing.” The Philosophical Review, vol. 98, no. 3, 1989, pp. 334–351., doi:10.2307/2185021.

    “Vietnam War.” HistoryNet,

    • Billy D.

      For the Greater Good: Why Civilian Deaths are an Unfortunate, Yet Necessary Part of Revolution

      Response to Andrzej

      I disagree with [Andrzej] because as saddening as civilian casualties are in the midst of a revolution they are an unavoidable consequence of war and furthermore serve to benefit the revolution rather than hurt it. The just war theory of proportionality states that for one to go to war the costs associated with that war must not outway the benefits. Under this assumption, civilian causalities are accepted if the threat of not killing those citizens would have caused even greater death and destruction.

      The idea of a strategic bomber is one who destroys an enemy while also killing innocent bystanders (Thompson 292). This is morally justified because while some innocents were killed by the strategic bomber, far more would have died if the enemy was not destroyed. If there is no other way to defeat a murderous foe, either through diplomacy or other means, then what else is a rebel group to do? Thompson states that this is objectively different from a Terror Bomber who might have the same intentions of ending the conflict but does so without regard for strategy and instead simply wants to sow death (Thompson 292). This is a sticky moral conundrum because there is no “fair” in war but ultimately the lesser of two evils must prevail.

      Quinn adds to this idea by further discussing intentionality. If that same strategic bomber’s intention is not to kill civilians but to only bomb a factory, however, civilians end up dying, surely that is better than if he had intended to kill the civilians in the first place (Quinn 338). While the result is similar to that of the Terror Bomber the intentions make the crime less severe. It is the same reason we differentiate between murder and manslaughter, or first-degree murder (unplanned) and second-degree murder (planned).

      To bring this back to the idea of guerilla fighters dressing as civilians, I will argue that this actually benefits the revolutionary cause. While it is true that dressing as a civilian makes it impossible for the enemy to discriminate against who is a threat and who is not, this can help the cause rather than hurt it (Walzer 180). Not identifying yourself gives the enemy justification to shoot anyone they deem a threat, guerilla fighter or not (Walzer 180). However, when a state is seen to be killing civilians it draws the ire of the international community and brings the revolution to the spotlight in international politics. The United States (or any other power for that matter) is much more interested in intervening in a conflict with high civilian causalities than in one with obviously defined groups. This may be considered proportional and strategic by the rebel group, particularly if the small amount of civilian deaths that are highlighted in the media is less than the much larger expected deaths from a drawn-out war.

      Using the example of the Vietnam War, the 2.5 million Vietnamese civilian deaths drew incredible anger from the U.S. populace and was a major contributing factor to our withdrawal from the war (HistoryNet). However, I will admit that that war was incredibly drawn-out too. It is difficult to prove that we would have stayed involved in the war longer if those civilian deaths had not occurred.

      Quinn, Warren S. “Actions, Intentions, and Consequences: The Doctrine of Doing and Allowing.” The Philosophical Review, vol. 98, no. 3, 1989, pp. 334–351., doi:10.2307/2185021.

      Thomson, Judith J. “Thomson on Self-Defense.” Fact and Value, 2001, doi:10.7551/mitpress/2950.003.0012.

      “Vietnam War.” HistoryNet,

      Walzer, Michael. “Guerilla War.” Just and Unjust Wars: a Moral Argument with Historical Illustration, Basic Books, 1977, pp. 176–196.

    • Mike C.

      Response to Andrzej

      To further the argument that Andrzej provided, I agree that it seems fundamentally illogical to say that revolution would be morally impermissible simply because some harm would befall innocent bystanders even when principles of ‘just ed Bello’ were satisfied. In other words, how can we say that the rebellion has a right to wage war, but the war cannot be fought because it cannot be fought justly? In this sense, the potential harm that would be caused to a small number of innocent civilians would outweigh the costs of the majority remaining under an oppressive regime. It is difficult to provide reasoning towards this type of argument especially in terms of utility.

      However, I do not believe that it is when guerilla fighters lack uniforms and conceal themselves within the civilian population that is the instance in which civilian rights become violated. This is more of a strategic advantage utilized when there is a large difference in power and capability. I argue that it is the nature of guerilla warfare—the idea that the success of guerillas depends on the complicity of the civilians—that negates civilian rights on the battlefield. Walzer describes that soldiers become “moral equals on the battlefield,” in terms of the rights of soldiers, but I argue we can apply this idea to civilian populations because they are the main population in which guerilla fights draw support and fighters from. (Walzer 136) Civilians are the roots of the revolution and therefore, it becomes nearly impossible to eliminate civilian casualties. I am in no way minimizing the tragedy that is non-combatant deaths, but I refer to Quinn in which he states that failing to act can cause additional harm. (Quinn 341) Failing to acknowledge that civilians are an integral part of guerilla warfare and the revolution as a whole invalidates the idea that civilians are separate in some way from the revolution. If the guerillas fail to use existing strategies such as concealment within civilians during the revolution they will be crushed and possibly cause more harm to the majority.

      Additionally, an oppressive regime’s killing of civilians is an important means of fomenting international support for the insurgency which increases the ‘just ed Bello’ principle of reasonable hope for success. Salehyan mentions that rebel groups are quite vulnerable in their initial stages, and if we view guerilla’s use of civilians as buying time to form a viable command structure or garner support, the oppressive regime is put in a compromising position in which they are internationally condemned if they kill civilians regardless of whether they intended it or not. (Salehyan et al. 716) Framing the oppressive regime as indiscriminate helps to manufacture international support for the revolution.

      I believe the idea of intent and the doctrine of double effect is the only way in which we can make harm to innocent civilians permissible during a revolution. To articulate this position, I postulate three statements that complicate just war theory. First, collective armed violence results in non-combatant deaths. Second, some wars are justifiable. Third, non-combatants cannot be harmed. If we look at these statements they cannot all be equally valid, therefore, we need some sort of exception that is the DDE. We must permit some civilian deaths if we believe that people have the right to rebel against an oppressive regime. However, what provides the exception is not only the DDE if we assume that it is defendable. In this post, I have attempted to articulate that revolution is, by nature, a civilian war. Therefore, in line with the principles that Walzer has outlined, non-combatants have forfeited their rights because they are an integral part of how guerilla warfare and revolution more generally is carried out. They become moral equals on the battlefield because it is the civilians that wage the war. We cannot distinguish between civilian combatants and civilian non-combatants; they are one and the same in the traditional sense of revolution.

      “Guerilla War.” Just and Unjust Wars: a Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations, by Michael Walzer, Basic Books, 1977, pp. 176–196.

      Quinn, Warren S. “Actions, Intentions, and Consequences: The Doctrine of Doing and Allowing.” The Philosophical Review, vol. 98, no. 3, 1989, pp. 334–351., doi:10.2307/2185021.

      Walzer, Michael. 1992. Just and unjust wars: a moral argument with historical illustrations. [New York] : Basic Books

      Salehyan, I., Gleditsch, K., & Cunningham, D. (2011). Explaining External Support for Insurgent Groups. International Organization,65(4), 709-744.

    • Will S.

      Response to Andrzej

      I think you made a great point with this “By disguising themselves as citizens guerilla fighters are using non-combatant civilians as objects, a mere means to an end, they fail to respect the civilians’ autonomy.” Citizens should not be forced to join into a revolution they want no part of through a rebel group’s civilian disguises. Using civilians as protection seems to be a coercive force. Kant says here on page 77 “The will of another person cannot decide anything for someone without injustice.”

      A question I thought of from that quote is if the will of civilians are already co-opted, is it okay to use a coercive force against that coercive force in order to liberate them. For example, if people live under a tyrannical king, am I allow to start a rebel group on behalf of the civilians without there consent. So, I would be deciding for civilians that they need a new government, let say the one I want to install is a directly democratic one. I would say this is wrong. You don’t have the right to bring people into a war they don’t want. But, in some cases, it seems necessary to do this. People can be suffering and unhappy under their leadership, and the only way out seems to be creating an opposing force without the direct consent of the people living under it. But, along with the idea of tacit consent, if enjoying something means you do consent to it, then not enjoying something would mean you don’t consent to it. Locke says on page 64 “To submit to the government, begins and ends with the en-joyment”

      Scientifically measuring enjoyment I think is quite difficult, so at times it will be necessary to understand the people’s unenjoyment through their material deprivation. I think that there is a strong causal link between material deprivation and enjoyment. So, I believe that its possible to understand when people don’t consent to a government by looking at their material conditions using the idea of tacit consent. Along with this, if your revolution will bring substantial better material conditions for people to a degree of sufficient certainty, and people will enjoy the benefits of that, do they tacitly consent to the revolution? This I guess depends on how certain you are that they will enjoy it. For example, I think that my mom consents to me cleaning her car before I even ask her. Why? Well, because I know that she will enjoy it to a sufficient degree of certainty.

      I think that it’s possible that civilians may consent to be killed in a revolution if they will, certainly, enjoy the effects of it. Though, as Walzer says on page 195 “Considerations of Jus ad Bellum and Jus in Bellum are logically independent”. I still think they should wear uniforms.

      Work Cited

      Locke, John. 1690. “Of the State of Nature; Of the State of War; Of the Beginning of Political Societies; Of the Ends of Political Society and Government.” In Second Treatise on Government, by John Locke, 8-16, 52-68. Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc.

      Kant, I., & Reiss, H. S. (1991). Kant: Political writings. Cambridge [England: Cambridge University Press.

      Walzer, Michael. 1992. Just and unjust wars : a moral argument with historical illustrations. [New York] :Basic Books

  2. Jacob J.

    Risks Taken in Conflict, From Civilians to Combatants

    I believe that in any conflict risks are taken by those who are in proximity to the conflict. Tradgic though it may be, in our world today we no longer fight with swords and shields, in far off battlefields where the civilians would be sheltered. Today we fight with weapons that can cause harm to those we may not intend for them to, such as firearms and explosives. Quinn states that “the DDE discriminates between two kinds of morally problematic agency. It discriminates against agency in which there is some kind of intending of an objectionable outcome as conducive to the agent’s end, and it discriminates in favor of agency that involves only foreseeing, but not that kind of intending, of an objectionable outcome.” (Actions, Intentions, and Consequences: The Doctrine of Double Effect, pg. 335). Here I agree with Quinn. The doctrine does seem to favor the side of those with foreseeing a possible outcome. I believe that the key word is possible. I believe that intentions are the root from which the idea of limiting casualties grows. If the intention of an action is to cause harm to noncombatants, than the people committing the action will work toward that goal to be as effective as possible. If the intention is to do an act, and a possibility is that noncombatants may be hurt, than those committing the action may strive to minimize the risk or decide not commit the act in the first place.

    I believe that Locke is correct in the idea that people have a right to rebel. If the government is acting in a way that is not approved by the majority of its citizens than I believe that the citizens have a right to act. Though peaceful means should always be tried first, sometimes violence is unavoidable. I believe that Quinn may be missing the point that sometimes power must be checked. As absolute power corrupts absolutely. If a government is allowed to act in a tyrannical way, than citizens may be harmed whether people stood against the government or not. Locke and Thompson both agree that one is allowed to rebel in self-defense of one’s life. So in this line of thought to preserve life, in extreme circumstances, the risk of life may be necessary. Thompson goes on at length asking about cases of morality extending to human life, though I believe that he is best summed up in the following “In short, it is not because of the personal fact of your special relation to those who will kill you in those cases, it is not because they will otherwise kill you, that you may proceed; it is because of the entirely impersonal fact that they will otherwise violate your rights that they not kill you that you may proceed. But that impersonal fact may be acted on by a third party as well as by you”(Philosophy & Public Affairs, pg. 308). In this Thompson gives the idea that when the most basic of human rights are being violated that you are righteous in standing up for either yourself or someone else.

    The real world example I can think of would be the most recent documentary we watched as a class. Here, in the Ukraine, initial protests were peaceful until the police violated the basic rights of one’s life by attempting to violently disband the protesters. Here the people of the Ukraine saw that others were being beaten and having their lives threaten over a cause that many agreed with. This prompted the response by the Ukrainian people to stand against their government. Here they stood for third parties, being that of the fellow citizens, and united for a cause against the governing body that led the country.

  3. Corey M.

    When Revolution is Morally Right

    I believe the problem of intention and the knowledge of harm befalling undeserved citizens does not render all revolutionary violence morally impermissible. When thinking about when revolutionary violence is morally permissible, we need to consider what scenarios would prompt revolution and why this may be problematic when thinking about the doctrine of double effect. This relates to the principle of jus ad bellum which is where we determine the justness of war before it has begun. Citizens that have a morally right jus ad bellum have justification for rebellion but, generally speaking, when would this be. According to Buchanan “a group has the right to secede only if.. the physical survival of its members is threatened by actions of the state,” (Buchanan 37). Buchanan’s view here on the Remedial Right Only Theory would indicate that if the lives of the citizens of a state are at risk it is morally justified for them to rebel. I agree with this sentiment but now let’s include the doctrine of double effect. DDE would provide the troublesome philosophical conundrum that wanting revolution to protect a state’s citizens from harm would mean coming to terms with the fact that innocent civilians would die in the process. Assuming that the intent of the revolutionaries would be saving the lives of citizens from the state, I would argue that a revolution would only be morally just if the amount of individuals that would be spared from the state’s actions is greater than the amount of people that would die from the inevitable conflict.

    When thinking about Thomson’s work, I believe we have to determine the roles of the combatants at play. A state that is threatening the lives of its citizens would obviously be seen as a villainous aggressor. The difficulty we face is determining proper course of action when a rebellion will put innocent civilians at risk. I would like to consider Thomson’s fat man problem (Thomson 287) but on the pretenses that if you do nothing, the fat man as well as yourself will die. Thomson argues that it is never alright to take the life of a bystander in self defense as their right to not be harmed by you would override your right to protect yourself (Thomson 298). However, both actions that can be taken would lead to the fat man’s death. Is it then not permissible to save a life? I would argue that saving the life of one is better than saving no lives. That is the choice a rebellion faces: whether to save the lives of some or let the villainous aggressor take the lives of all. Warren Quinn would choose to save the lives of some because when describing the actions of the doctor in the Craniotomy case (CC) as well as the doctor in the Hysterectomy case(HC), Quinn feels that the intent of both of these cases is equivalent (Quinn 337). A rebellion would more closely resemble the act of the doctor in the HC case because the rebels are not actively harming the innocent civilians. This would be justifiable in Quinn’s eyes as it resembles the HC.

    After the end of WWII, Joseph Stalin drove Russia into a harsh existence with extensive labor camps, rampant famine and executions. His harsh tactics carried on for nearly 30 years and cost the lives of more than 20 million people. Although no serious attempt was made, this would be an instance when revolution would be justified due to the threat on the lives of all citizens under the state. When your own government is executing people with totals climbing into the millions for dissent towards the government with tens of millions at risk due to the negligence of the government, revolution is necessary.

    Works Cited

    Quinn, Warren S. “Actions, Intentions, and Consequences: The Doctrine of Doing and Allowing.” The Philosophical Review, Vol. 98, No. 3, 1989, pp. 335–351., doi:10.2307/2185021.

    Buchanan, Allen. “Theories of Secession.” Wiley Online Library, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, 15 June 2006,

    Thomson, Judith Jarvis. “Self-Defense.” Self-Defense, Self-Defense, Vol, 20, No. 4, Autumn 1991, pp. 283–310.

    • Aaron L.

      Intentionality and Why it Matters

      Response to Corey

      The argument Corey provides above touches on the ‘few lives compared to all lives’ utilitarian perspective that makes it difficult for any rational person to reject the moral permissibility of revolutionary violence in every case. Nevertheless, I think it is important to discuss Thompson’s very relevant and correct argument that “not just anything goes in wartime… The fact that it is a villain who, in the course of fighting, have so arranged things that you can save your life only by killing a person does not by itself make it permissible to kill the person” (Thompson, 297). Modern war convention and Jus in Bello principles seem to agree that “no one can be threatened with war or warred against, unless through some act of his own” (Walzer, 135). When rationalizing between losing hundreds of thousands of civilians in a conflict vs. tens of thousands of civilians in a conflict, there still seems to be an important element of how each civilian is treated in the first place, and I am not entirely sure I agree that it’s as clear cut as losing all lives compared to a few in many cases of revolutionary violence. It’s ultimately the special status of non-combatants that creates moral issues when unintended harm comes to them through the inherent course of revolutionary violence.

      The doctrine of double effect is the only means to morally justify civilian casualties occurring through revolutionary violence and is defensible despite Thompson’s objection. Thompson argues that intention Is fully irrelevant in discussions of morality, but to most readers, this view would seem intuitively incorrect (Thompson, 295). One reason why is because of the implications that follow when we assign the status of moral permissibility to certain acts. By calling an act morally permissible we say it is right to act in that manner given the circumstances surrounding the act. From moral permissibility comes a subtle form of endorsement in behavior. Quinn rephrases the DDE to analyze the purpose of certain acts when judging for moral permissibility (Quinn, 343). I think that this defense of the DDE is the most effective as it draws the clearest line between the TB and SB. Claiming the SB is morally just appears to endorse bombing factories with the purpose of ending the war, but claiming that the TB is morally just is endorsing the murder of non-combatants for the purpose of ending the war. In practical terms, if Thompson is truly correct that intention does not matter, then if faced with between being forced to endorse a revolutionary group with the ideology of the TB or SB to commit an identical bombing, the choice wouldn’t matter.

      An example of the relevance of intention in revolutionary warfare appears in the Syrian Civil War. Although numerous factions emerged, only certain factions received international support. The Free Syrian army was one of them likely in part because of their strict policy and code of conduct regarding the defense of civilians and just treatment of prisoners (Breitenbücher, 2012). Although, the Free Syrian army is responsible for much of the conflict in the region, their code of conduct differentiates them from other rebel groups.

      Works Cited

      Thomson, J. (1991). Self-Defense. Philosophy & Public Affairs, 20(4), 283-310. Retrieved May 24, 2020, from

      Quinn, W. (1989). Actions, Intentions, and Consequences: The Doctrine of Double Effect. Philosophy & Public Affairs, 18(4), 334-351. Retrieved May 24, 2020, from

      Walzer, Michael. (1992). Just and unjust wars : a moral argument with historical illustrations. [New York] :Basic Books,

      Breitenbücher, D. (2012). Syria, Code of Conduct for the Free Syrian Army. International Committee of the Red Cross. Retrieved from

    • Maxwell H.

      Intent Matters Less Than Outcome in Whether Revolutionary Violence is Permissible

      Response to Corey

      The more pressing problem of permissibility of revolutionary violence and intent lies in the issue of the disparity between intent and outcome when looking at real world cases, rather than theoretical instances because there is no way to look at the collateral damage. Therefore, tyrannicide may be used as stand-in, as it is the closest any form of revolutionary violence comes to fulfilling DDE’s attempts to “discriminate in favor of agency that involves only foreseeing, but not that kind of intending, of an objectionable outcome” (Quinn 1989, 335). Because most revolutionaries think their violence is proportional, their intentions pure, it is more important to look at the aftermath of instances of tyrannicide as the epitome of “pure intentioned”/utilitarian revolutionary violence to effectively address permissibility.

      Tyrannicide is typically emblematic of the people’s will compared to terrorism and is thereby an example of utilitarian revolutionary violence preferable because one or two people die rather than full-scale revolution (Tamiolaki 2015). It is thereby defensible in the Lockean understanding because it demonstrates that “the essence and union of the society [have] one will” (Locke 1690, 108) and when he cites Caligula’s assassination, a tyrannicide, as permissible because he “cut off the worthiest men.. and he wisht [sic] that the people had but one neck, that he might dispatch them all at a blow” (Locke 1690, 121). Therefore, Locke may suggest that Fanya Kaplin who attempted to assassinate Lenin can be considered to have acted in a morally permissible way even though she caused unintended collateral damage to innocents just as Quinn’s notion of DDE suggests that since Kaplin’s intent (likely) was not causing Red Terror, then the action was justified even if she was aware it may have been a possibility (Brincat 2008)—good intention outweighs the actual outcome thereby making it permissible (Quinn 1989).

      Still, Red Terror occurred because Kaplin’s attempt so the issue of permissibility based on intent arises in the contrast between it and outcome if you consider Thomson’s logic that it “is irrelevant to the question whether X may do alpha whether X would be at fault in doing it” (Thomson 1991, 295). Even still, much of tyrannicide is impermissible as it often causes far more harm than intended (Holstun 1992). Tyrannicide, as a symbol of “pure intentioned” revolutionary violence can still cause more harm than intended, thereby making it a tenuous basis for permissibility (Turchetti 2006). Obviously, one might argue purely on Thomson’s paper that it is not applicable to revolutionary violence given that it is centered on self-defense and does not consider a third-party. However, given the comparability of the case of Alfred and his wife to tyrannicide (e.g.: killing one for the good of many), it is still morally impermissible (Thomson 1991, 293-5). Even in a utilitarian sense, the fact remains that tyrannicide is highly correlated with pure intent and disastrous outcomes in many of its uses (Bouvignies 2004). Therefore, in considering when revolutionary violence is permissible, practical evidence and models of predicting collateral damage are far more important than intent.


      Bouvignies, Isabelle. 2004. “LE DROIT DE RÉSISTANCE ET LE FONDEMENT MORAL DE LA POLITIQUE.” Revue de Théologie et de Philosophie 209-230.

      Brincat, Shannon K. 2008. “‘DEATH TO TYRANTS’: THE POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY OF TYRANNICIDE — PART I.” Journal of International Political Theory 212-240.

      Holstun, James. 1992. ” Ehud’s Dagger: Patronage, Tyrannicide, and Killing No Murder.” Cultural Critique 99-142.

      Locke, John. 1690. “Of the State of Nature; Of the State of War; Of the Beginning of Political Societies; Of the Ends of Political Society and Government.” In Second Treatise on Government, by John Locke, 8-16, 52-68. Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc.

      Quinn, Warren S. 1989. “Actions, Intentions, and Consequences: The Doctrine of Double Effect.” Philosophy and Public Affairs 334-351.

      Tamiolaki, Melina. 2015. “Rewriting the history of the tyrannicides: Thucydides versus Herodotus?” Synthesis (Crete) 9-31.

      Thomson, Judith Jarvis. 1991. “Self-Defense.” Philosophy & Public Affairs 283-310.

      Turchetti, Mario. 2006. “Droit de Résistance, à quoi ? Démasquer aujourd’hui le despotisme et la tyrannie.” Revue Historique 831-878.

    • José O.

      Is Self-Defense a Just Principle for Revolution:

      Response to Corey

      I believe that the problem of intention, which is that civilians die as collateral damage does not make all revolutionary violence impermissible. When we are looking at revolutionary violence, we need to consider what scenarios would prompt revolution in bringing this problem. In order to see this we need to think about the doctrine of double effect, which is what is thought to be a moral action can produce an unexpected moral result with is often this collateral damage. Even though collateral damage might be a negative consequence of revolution, I believe that it is done in good faith and if not actually intended makes revolution permissible. This relates to the principles of jus ad bellum, which is just intent— to bring about “good” consequences. When the civilians of the collective have a just intent, they have justification for revolting against the standing government in order to bring about theses “good” consequences. According to Warren Quinn, “the pursuit of a good tends to be less acceptable where harm is intended as a means than where it is merely foreseen. I believe that Quinn is saying that the intention of bringing good is acceptable if the negative consequences can be seen in advance,” (Quinn 335). This essentially justifies the DDE and acknowledges that if foreseen civilians as collateral damage is permissible in revolution as long as it brought about jus ad bellum. I believe that revolution is permissible if the revolutionaries acknowledge that their actions will bring collateral damage but ultimately due to the fact that their overall intent is good.

      Essentially, when an individual is threaten they have recourse to defend ones life if threatened. According to Judith Thomson, it doesn’t matter who the threat is as long as the threat threatens your life, it is permissible to defend your life. Thompson says “I think that different makes no moral difference, and this that it is permissible for you to proceed in Innocent Threat just as in Villainous Aggressor and Innocent Aggressor,” (Thomson 287). Basically, according to the DDE you will consider that your life is more valuable than the threats life so you have the right to defend yourself even though you know it will cause harm or death to said threat. This is important because you intend on saving your life which is good but you also acknowledge it its at the expense of another. I agree that according to Buchanan, “a group has the right to secede only if… the physical survival of its members is threatened by actions of the state,” (Buchanan 37). This is justified based on principles of jus ad bellum. The intention of the members was survival in the face of the states actions. This renders revolution is permissible if revolutionaries acknowledge that their actions will bring about collateral damage but ultimately due to the fact that the overall intent was good, such as survival and self-defense when state violence is perpetuated on the people.

      After the May 2018 elections in Venezuela, President Nicolás Maduro won the election even though the polls had not met international standards of freedom and fairness. Essentially, this was a corrupt and rigged election. In order to silence the opposition has had violent crackdown on street protests, jailing opponents and prosecuting civilians in military courts in order to repress the dissenting people of Venezuela. Since 2014, it is estimated that over 3 million refugees have left Venezuela and about 80 percent of the population is food insecure. This has causes a dispute for the presidency between Maduro and Juan Guaidó. This has causes ongoing protest and revolts by the people of Venezuela because essentially the government is threatening their lives. In this case the people of Venezuela are justified in revolting under the principles of jus ad bellum. The people know that to save their lives the must bring change to the standing government or Venezuela could soon be on the verge of being a failed state.

      Work Cited:

      Warren S. Quinn Philosophy and Public Affairs , Vol. 18, No. 4. (Autumn, 1989), pp. 334-351.

      Thomson, Judith Jarvis. “Self-Defense.” Self-Defense, Self-Defense, Vol, 20, No. 4, Autumn 1991, pp. 283–310.

      Buchanan, Allen. “Theories of Secession.” Wiley Online Library, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, 15 June 2006

    • Tina H.

      Response to Corey

      While I think you make some reasonable points regarding the permissibility of revolutions due to their potential for saving more lives than causing potential deaths, I do believe the problem of intention renders all revolutionary violence impermissible. The problem that some undeserved harm or death will befall innocent civilians in a revolution is reason enough to mark revolutions impermissible because of the jus in bello principles of how a war is fought justly; specifically the indiscriminate violence against innocents. It is not enough to satisfy the criteria for jus ad bellum, as you said, to make revolution morally justified.

      Several times, you discuss the proportionality of deaths caused or potentially saved by a revolution. You ask whether it is permissible to save one life in place losing all lives. Saving the life of one over saving none cannot compare to the option of waging no revolution at all. Even if the revolutionary intent was truly to do good, some innocent non-combatants would still die despite good intentions. No revolution would mean no innocent deaths and no problem of intention to contend with, though it would leave the question of whether the state would continue to put innocents at risk unanswered. Locke believes that anyone, ruler or subject, who lays the foundation for any overturning of the government is “highly guilty of the greatest crime” and must answer for the “breaking to pieces of governments” and the desolation caused by revolutions (Locke, 116). In Locke’s opinion, he who commits the egregious crime of rebellion is a “pest of mankind” and no clarification of intention would change the fact that their actions were not permissible (Locke, 116).

      Say you ask a terror bomber, “why are you killing civilians” and they answer with “to help with the war” (Quinn, 340). You cannot base the permissibility of bombing civilians off of the honesty of a combatant who would drop bombs knowing innocents would die. Their intentions render the supposed just cause of their actions mute, so says the Doctrine of Double Effect which states that the pursuit of good is less acceptable when the resulting harm is intended (Quinn, 335). Further, Kant says a revolution which seemingly has public support can experience counterrevolutionary activity once that cause is achieved (Kant, 68). The revolutionary intentions to do good, that are achieved using bad means, but end up killing civilians in the process detract from the justness of their cause due to the moral impermissibility of letting innocents die. After the revolution is won, Kant explains, the political tides may turn and more innocents may die. The cycle of conflict does not end, so revolutions are morally impermissible regardless of the intent or moral cause. To exemplify this, after the Algerien war, leaders of the revolution could not agree on post-war politics. President Ahmed Ben Bella was unseated by rebel group leader Houari Boumediene after being accused of mismanagement. 70,000 “external” National Liberation Front (FLN) troops participated in counterrevolutionary activities for several years post-independence, and Boumediene held power until his death in 1979 (The Guardian).

      Works Cited:

      Joffe, Lawrence. “Ahmed Ben Bella Obituary.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 11 Apr. 2012,

      Kant, Immanuel. Theory and Practice. 2nd ed., Cambridge University Press, 1793, pp. 72-86.

      Locke, John. Second Treatise of Government, Hackett Publishing Company, 1690. pp. 63-124.

      Quinn, Warren S. Actions, Intentions, and Consequences: The Doctrine of Double Effect. Philosophy and Public Affairs, Vol. 18, No. 4. (Autumn, 1989), pp. 334-351.

  4. Dylan A.

    The problem of Intention does not render all revolutionary violence impermissible.

    Thomson’s examples of the Pilot and Husband scenarios that were used to help illustrate the Irrelevance-of-Intention-to-Permissibility Thesis did not adequately engage with the Doctrine of Double Effect (DDE). The Pilot scenario was simply that a theoretical pilot in two different scenarios was ordered to bomb the same town; in one scenario with the intention of destroying a factory to help win the war, in the other to destroy a children’s hospital and cause terror in order to help win the war. The Husband thought experiment used the idea of a man with a sick wife who he wishes to kill. After acquiring some poison, which unbeknownst to him is the only available cure for her sickness, the question of whether or not it is permissible for him to administer the “poison” is presented to illustrate the seeming irrelevance of intention (Thomson, 293-4).

    These thought experiments are intended to illustrate that intention does not weigh in on our moral calculations. However, Thomson’s argument engages the DDE using scenario level perspective while it is intended to be instituted more at the policy level. In other words, similar to how some people may believe executing a criminal like Ted Bundy may be permissible while believing that the death penalty is an impermissible policy, Thomson is using specific examples which seem to invalidate the DDE while ignoring the vast majority of cases which the DDE is concerned with; Thomson and the DDE are arguing past, as opposed to with, each other. It seems reasonable to interpret the DDE roughly as a certain sort of risk assessment when conducting operations. Anytime a shell is fired or a rocket launched in warfare, there is a chance that it might not hit the intended target and cause collateral damage. What the DDE seems to mandate is that a certain calculation be made before executing an action which may bring about a negative outcome. In the Pilot scenario, suppose the pilot was told that there was a 50/50 chance of hitting the factory or hitting the hospital, but if the factory was hit it would bring about an end to the war by Christmas (guaranteed, of course). This is a more reasonable interpretation of the DDE because it can be loosely applied to a wider variety of wartime situations. Imagine any combatant before they pull the trigger. They are acutely aware that they may miss, and the bullet that was intended for the enemy may kill someone’s beloved Grandmother, but they accept the risk of that happening due to the necessity of fighting the enemy combatants. If Thomson was correct, and the DDE was invalid, then ALL conflict, not just revolutionary/guerilla violence, would be morally impermissible.

    This argument illustrates Quinn’s articulation of a problem with the DDE: “First, there is a difficulty in formulating it so that it succeeds in discriminating between cases that, intuitively speaking, should be distinguished.” (Quinn, 335). This does not seem to be much of a problem with the DDE, as this problem is present in many areas; if you are skeptical of that I challenge you to come up with a method of distinguishing what a sport is without running into trouble with some edge cases. We can draw upon the example of the german platoon in the french countryside that were ambushed by resistance fighters disguised as french workers (Walzer, 176-177) to draw a parallel to the tactics used by the resistance fighters and how the DDE can apply to virtually every aspect of the conflict, and is inherently concerned with the principles of jus ad bellum, particularly Proportionality. As guerilla tactics put civilians at harm’s risk, in order to determine whether the tactics are proportional for the good which they produce. The DDE abstracts this concept to every action which is taken in war.

    Contrasting two separate revolutions best helps to illustrate this conclusion. Let us consider “The Troubles” in the UK compared to the Ukrainian Revolution from the documentary in class. The IRA has been criticized for its failure to sometimes discriminate between civilians. While the underlying grievances of the Irish people may have been sufficient for the conditions of just cause, the tactics they used pushed their revolution into a much more grey area. Contrast that with the Ukrainian Revolution; the rebel forces in this conflict dedicated higher priority to the risk analysis set forth by the DDE, making the morality of the conflict easier to determine.

    Works Cited

    Thomson, Judith Jarvis. “Self-Defense.” Philosophy & Public Affairs 20, no. 4 (1991): 283-310. Accessed May 24, 2020.

    Walzer, Michael. Just and Unjust Wars: a Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations. New York: Basic Books, 1977.

    Quinn, Warren S. “Actions, Intentions, and Consequences: The Doctrine of Double Effect.” Philosophy & Public Affairs 18, no. 4 (1989): 334-51. Accessed May 24, 2020.

  5. Janie P.

    Intention does matter more or less

    I think that it is morally permissible to stage a revolution to benefit an entire people at the harm of a few. Regarding the Doctrine of Double Effect, intention does matter more or less. The Doctrine of Double Effect can be taken to extremes. It’s not quite as black and white as someone means good or someone means bad.

    In the Humphreys and Weinstein reading, the authors state that the private benefits of participating in a war or movement outweigh the private benefits of not joining (Humphreys and Weinstein 441). The reading discusses whether or not wars are justifiable due to a person’s reasoning behind participating in a war that determines their point of view on whether they believe the war is justifiable enough to participate in. It also relates to the Double Doctrine Effect since each member’s reasoning for fighting is different and the outcome may or may not be morally justifiable based on the outcome intentions. The participation in the wars must benefit the people fighting, not just the groups.

    In Thomson’s reading, the reading states that it is morally permissible to kill someone if the defense of your life (Thomson 283). I believe that this idea goes to the same towards war because staging a war could be benefiting an entire people at the harm of a few, essentially, it is important to determine the cost-benefits of going to war, if the goods outweigh the bad outcomes, this idea makes the war morally permissible, again, this idea relates to the Double Doctrine Effect.

    Concerning Locke and therefore the accord, Locke had lost faith within the peaceful coexistence of individuals in nature. Lock claims that nature needs many things. The society is claimed to be more peaceful when there are means to take care of freedom, peace, and security. to realize this end, a society of individuals must get an agreement with each other to assign roles and responsibilities to people in controlling the affairs of the state (Locke 9). This reading also relates to the policy-making of Locke as served as a revolutionary tool for radical political thinkers in history and nowadays. It set the platform for the causes of most direct action and political revolutions especially when people of the legislative order didn’t deliver the products that they were elected. These revolutionary trends still have a significant grip on the role of the state in recent times. This shows that when the states did wrong in their tasks, states that have bridged the accord goes into conflict resulting in the entire dissolution of the autocratic order as we will see in Sierra Leone’s war.

    50,000 people were killed while fighting in Sierra Leone’s war, and 80,0000 participated in the fighting. The war was justified by the insurgents who were unable to revive the economy, provide food for the people of Sierra Leone, and repel the corrupt Momo regime. Therefore, in my opinion, it is morally permissible to allow a revolution so that all people are harmed by a few people.

    Works Cited

    Humphreys, M. and Weinstein, J. M., 2008, ‘Who Fights? The Determinants of Participation in Civil War’, American Journal of Political Science, vol. 52, no. 2, pp. 436-455

    Locke, John. “Second Treatise.” John Locke: Two Treatises of Government, pp. 1–15., doi:10.1017/cbo9780511810268.011.

    Thomson, Judith J. “Thomson on Self-Defense.” Fact and Value, 2001, doi:10.7551/mitpress/2950.003.0012.

  6. Michael T.

    I Didn’t Mean to Kill Him and Why it Doesn’t Matter Even If I Did

    I do not believe that all revolutionary violence is morally impermissible, the reason for this is that intention seems to be morally irreverent. The most excepted cases of conflict are those considered to be self-defense. Thomson examines the moral problems of self-defense in various forms “it is perfectly plain, on any view, that there are no cases, cases in which it is impermissible for you to kill a person in defense of your life”(Thomson 289). The right to self-defense in cases of the Innocent Aggressor helps illustrate the moral irrelevant. The fat man that Thomson uses never had any intention of killing you, even as he goes through the action that would kill you, the man never had any intention to kill you. The moral status of his intention does not matter. Thomson Irrelevance of intention to permissibility (294) holds true for me. The moral status of the action does not have any interaction with intention.

    People who hold the doctrine of double effect, who reject the irrelevance of intention would most likely draw on the moral difference between the strategic bomber and the terrorist bomber. The strategic bomber, even if there are civilian casualties, is acting in a morally excusable way. The difference seems to be in their intention. The strategic bomber would opt to accomplish his goal without killing unnecessarily while the terrorist bomber would say that the killing of innocent civilians is necessary to complete his goal. The intent seems to be the difference between the two cases but the reason the terrorist bomber is acting morally impermissible because he is violating the rights of the people he is using in a matter different than intent. “They have a right not to be pressed, in apparent violation of their prior rights, into the service of other people’s purposes” (Quinn 350-351) it seems that the reason the terrorist bomber is acting morally impermissible is that he is violating the people he is killing’s right to not be used for some ulterior motive.

    Take the example of the Sierra Leone Civil War. While this conflict has many aspects to it there are two sides essentially fighting, the RUF (revolutionaries ) and the CDF ( government forces). While the RUF has done things that seem to be morally good, such as redisposing wealth, the revolutionaries are not justified in their actions for an entirely different reason, of those members who were serving in the RUF that were surveyed, 87.8% ( Humphreys and Weinstein 439) said they were abducted by the RUF. The RUF is acting morally impermissible and gives a just cause to the CDF because the RUF is violated these people’s rights to not be pressed into service. While this case condemns the revolutionaries, it is not hard to imagine that the tables could be turned, intention does not seem to matter when determining moral justification

    Humphreys, Macartan, and Jeremy M. Weinstein. “Who Fights? The Determinants of Participation in Civil War.” Wiley Online Library, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, 4 Apr. 2008,

    Quinn, Warren S. “Actions, Intentions, and Consequences: The Doctrine of Doing and Allowing.” The Philosophical Review, vol. 98, no. 3, 1989, p. 287., doi:10.2307/2185021.

    Thomson, Judith Jarvis. “Judith Jarvis Thomson, Self-Defense.” PhilPapers, 1 Jan. 1991,

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