Daniel Hill’s ‘Tortue and Self-Defense’: Comments
Third, I am surprised at what you say about innocent threats: the child playing with the hand-grenade and so on. It is well-established in the debate—obviously not infallibly so—that one can intend to harm innocent threats, and I should like to see a full-length argument against this view. (Innocent threats are distinguished in the Catholic tradition as ‘material aggressors’, as opposed to ‘formal aggressors’.) There is a very good reason for this: in the paradigm case of the just war, the subjective guilt of enemy combatants has got to be irrelevant to one’s right to kill them. One may even be quite sure that the enemy soldier is convinced, on the basis of the information available to him, of the justice of his cause. But the right to self-defence, public or private, is not removed by this. What it depends on is the objective rightness of the situation: if you know he’s wrong to be attacking you, you can resist. The same goes for the child and the grenade: he’s a material aggressor; the aggression is unjust; one may resist the aggression.
Fourth, I am extremely wary of distinctions between ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ actions and the like. Do you have a neat and tidy criterion for the distinction? You need to state what it is. Personally, I think that Jonathan Bennett has buried that whole approach in ‘The Act Itself’. But I’ve got a paper about it if you’re interested, which is also relevant to my solution below (‘A Use for the Act-Omission Distinction’).
On the major issue: now that you’ve convinced me that we have to talk about intending harms and pains in self-defence, it would seem that the right to self-defence comes down to the right to inflict harms and pains on people. So the problem is: why do our intuitions tell us it is ok to inflict pain on a paradigmatic aggressor, like the 11-yr-old, and on the terrorist reaching for the bomb switch, and not ok to torture a terrorist into telling us where the bomb is hidden, and things like that? Let alone the terrorist’s otherwise innocent wife, who knows the secret, or the retired bomb-disposal expert, who is reluctant to help. (Nice examples.)