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Volume 24 • Number 3

July 2010



Terrorism as Ethical Singularity

by Matthew Noah Smith

Virginia Held, in her thoughtful collection of essays How Terrorism Is Wrong, explores many facets of the moral significance of terrorism. Perhaps the most important contribution Held makes is a step toward a more rigorous contextualization of terrorism within the broader spectrum of violence, and in particular within the context of war. This welcome subtlety prompts the discussion of terrorism found in this essay. In particular, I eschew making any axiological or deontic judgments about terrorism and instead attempt to further contextualize terrorist violence within a broad spectrum of human violence by exploring what I take to be the distinctive phenomenology of terrorism.

My thesis is composed of a constellation of claims. First, terrorism is best understood as a spectacle that is read by the targets of the terrorist act as expressing or evincing commitment to what I call existential values, which are values that play a central role in constituting a person's identity. Second, the existential values expressed by terrorist acts are experienced by the targets of these acts as what I shall call ethical singularities: ethical commitments that are extremely powerful and impossible to assimilate into one's own ethical worldview.

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ISSN: 2152-0542