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Volume 25 • Number 3

July 2011



A Straightforward Analysis of Terrorism

by Joshua Glasgow

Sometimes we descriptively name that which we condemn. “Hate crime” is such a name: it not only identifies the crime, it also refers to what we think is morally unique about the crime—its hatefulness morally sets it apart from other actions. On one theory of terrorism, “terrorism” is a similar name. What is morally special about terrorism, according to this view, is built right into the name itself: it aims to terrorize. C all this the straightforward analysis of terrorism. The straightforward view is inconsistent with a number of recent attempts to identify what, if anything, is morally distinctive about terrorism. Some are skeptical that terrorism really should be thought of as morally unique, on the grounds that its morally relevant properties are exhausted by more general qualities, such as causing harm, being coercive, or violating autonomy. David Rodin, for example, believes that there is no morally relevant quality typically displayed by terrorism (as ordinarily defined) that is not also found in acts of conventional war. Others do think that terrorism is morally distinctive, but they nonetheless conclude that its morally distinctive feature is something other than its aim of producing fear. For example, we will see below that Robert Goodin, Jeff McMahan, and Samuel Scheffler maintain that the morally distinctive feature of terrorism is not the aiming to cause fear itself, but an intention to use that fear to bring about certain further effects. For Scheffler the unique problem lies in terrorism’s use of fear to undermine order in the society that the terrorist targets; for Goodin it is the terrorist’s use of fear for sociopolitical ends that is especially troubling; McMahan, finally, holds that the morally special aspect of terrorism is that it is the intentional harming of innocent people in order to intimidate and coerce others.

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ISSN: 2152-0542