Is Murder Sometimes Justified?


A woman who is horribly abused by her spouse might be pushed to the point where she has to kill him in his sleep.

Q1 Analysis

If you would consider this murder, and you believe murder is always wrong, then this is a Q1 violation.

Q2 Analysis

If you would blame someone for trying to kill you because they thought you were seriously abusing them, then this is a Q2 violation.


There are two ways to define murder. Legally, murder is specifically defined by legislation. Morally, murder is any unjustified killing of another human being, whether that killing is illegal or not. Depending on the circumstances, a soldier who shoots a civilian during a time of war might be committing murder in a moral sense, but not in a legal sense. The question at hand is whether it’s possible to commit murder in the legal sense, but not in the moral sense.

Most people would agree that it is moral to physically defend yourself against an attacker. Many people would also argue that it is moral to use deadly force to defend yourself against an attack that makes you fear for your life. If we take these two points as given, is it possible to justify killing another person when you are not immediately in fear for your life?

To answer this question, we need to consider many factors:

For many people, Q2 is difficult or impossible to get around where this question is concerned. Is there really any situation in which you would not blame someone for trying to kill you? Consider this: if you had been drinking heavily and somehow managed to stumble into the wrong house in the middle of the night, would you say that someone who mistook you for a burglar and hit you with a baseball bat was morally in the wrong?*

If you want to be morally justified in physically defending yourself against an attack (or perceived attack), you must agree that another moral person could physically defend themselves against you. The more of a right you claim for yourself, the more right you give to those who see you as a threat. It might help to try to imagine a situation in which you’d say, "If I were as bad as that person, I wouldn’t blame someone who tried to kill me."

*Assuming you think it’s morally justifiable to hit a burglar with a baseball bat.

You are encouraged to leave your answers to the questions posed in this post in the comments section. This post is based on an excerpt from Ask Yourself to be Moral, by D. Cancilla, available at and See the 2Q system page for details of the philosophical system mentioned in this post.

Posted on September 28, 2010 at 10:35 am by ideclare · Permalink
In: 2Q

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