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.
If you would consider this murder, and you believe murder is always wrong, then this is a Q1 violation.
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:
- Does the person considering killing feel that they are being threatened, even if there is not an immediate threat? Is it reasonable for the person to feel this way?
- How much of a threatening feeling is sufficient to justify killing? Must there be a threat of death? Is not-fatal physical abuse enough? What about emotional abuse? False imprisonment? Stalking?
- What if the threat is not toward the person considering doing the killing, but toward a loved one? What if the threat is toward both the person considering killing and a loved one?
- Have other options been considered? That is, is lethal force being used as a last resort, a first resort, or something in between?
- Does it make a difference if part of the motive for killing is revenge?
- Does the method of killing make a difference? For example, would shooting a sleeping person be morally different from holding the person’s head under water in a bathtub? Is it ever moral to kill a defenseless person?
- Might non-lethal force (wounding, crippling, dismembering) be sufficient?
- Is it certain that the person who will be killed is the one to blame? Is it possible that innocents will be harmed?
- Was this a spontaneous or a premeditated killing?
- Is the person willing to accept legal punishment for the killing?
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 LuLu.com and Amazon.com. See the 2Q system page for details of the philosophical system mentioned in this post.