The Bounds of Defense: Moral Responsibility, Autonomy, and War

Date of Completion

January 2012






This dissertation examines when it is permissible to kill in defense, the moral responsibility surrounding such killing, how that permission can extend to groups of people, and what values undergird the permissibility of defense, such as individual autonomy. I argue for a rights-based account of permissible defensive harm and an evidence-relative basis for the responsibility criterion required for proper liability attribution. I endorse the recently ascendant revisionist approach to just war theory and offer some arguments in its defense against various objections. Further, I show how my evidence-relative account of liability attribution supports revisionist just war theory in a variety of helpful ways. I go on to offer a new proposal for how targeting in war could better align with respect for the rights of individual persons. Finally, I turn the theoretical work in this dissertation to two applied issues of important note: the rise of unmanned drones in warfare and the recent killing of Osama bin Laden. ^