Saturday, June 6, 2020

Jonathan Quong's "The Morality of Defensive Force"

Jonathan Quong is Professor of Philosophy and Law at the University of Southern California. He taught previously at the University of Manchester. He is an associate editor for Philosophy & Public Affairs, an associate editor for Ethics, and an area editor for Pacific Philosophical Quarterly.

Quong applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Morality of Defensive Force, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book begins my critical discussion of what I call The Responsibility Principle. This principle states: Other things being equal, the degree of defensive harm that it is proportionate to impose on a liable attacker varies in accordance with the attacker’s degree of moral responsibility for creating a situation where at least one non-liable person is threatened with harm. Versions of this principle have been endorsed by many philosophers who work on the morality of defensive force, but I argue that it is false. Instead I defend The Stringency Principle. This principle holds, roughly, that the independent variable that explains what counts as proportionate defensive harm is the stringency of the right that the attacker threatens to violate. The more stringent the right that is threatened, the greater the degree of defensive harm that is proportionate. An important task in this chapter is thus to establish that the stringency of a right-holder’s claim—that is, how weighty or important the right is—is not determined by the duty-bearer’s degree of moral responsibility for a threatened violation.

The material on page 99 wouldn’t necessarily give the reader a good sense of the whole book since it only contains the opening of the critical discussion of the responsibility principle, and this critical discussion is only one part of the broader argument about proportionality in defensive force, which is itself only one part of the morality of defensive force. On the other hand, the reader would, hopefully, get a reasonably clear sense of the methodology that I use in the book. The page contains a pair of examples involving defensive force. Although the degree of wrongful harm threatened in the two examples is the same, intuitively the degree of defensive force it is proportionate for the defensive agent to use differs. The question is then whether the responsibility principle, or some other principle, offers the most compelling account of this pair—and other pairs—of cases. But, I argue, we also need to decide whether the principle that seems to best explain our judgments in various pairs of cases has independent support and coheres with broader views about justice and rights. This is one of the central themes of the book: we cannot understand the morality of defensive force without asking and answering deeper questions about how the use of defensive force fits with a more general account of justice and moral rights.

Learn more about The Morality of Defensive Force at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue