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The definition of the term terrorism is ambiguous. Terrorism means different things to different people. This situation makes it difficult for most researchers and scholars to handle the ethical question of terrorism in an appropriate manner. All in all, terrorism is a term which is broadly used to describe the use of violence or force in order to achieve certain social and political goals (Dingley, 2010).
Terrorism has become a popular concept in the modern world of politics and it has come along with important moral questions that need to be deliberated. One of such questions is whether terrorism can ever be justified. Terrorism has always been considered to be morally wrong in that it leads to the loss of many innocent lives. However, in situations where terrorism is used to prevent more harm, it can be justified. This paper uses Kantian ethics and utilitarian ethics to examine whether terrorism can ever be justified.
Why Terrorism Cannot Be Justified
According to the Kantian ethics, an action should be judged based on its maxim (the principle or rule behind it). If the maxim of a given action is serving the duty of the moral law, then that particular action is justified (Shafer-Landau, 2012). Therefore, if the maxim of terrorism is not serving the moral law, then the act of terrorism cannot be justified.
Therefore, since the acts of terrorism are normally perpetrated by people and groups which do no have a just cause for going to war, there is no way it can be justified (Waller, 2011). Any form of violence practiced needs to be proportional to the level of wrong which is being resisted. Terrorism also tends to be more of an illegitimate war which normally leads to the death of many innocent people (Nathanson, 2010). Any action which leads to such serious moral disasters can never be justified.
Why Terrorism Can Sometimes Be Justified
Although terrorism is normally perceived as being always morally wrong, there are certain circumstances under which it can be justified. According to the utilitarian ethics, an action should be judged according to its utility or usefulness. Any action which seeks to maximize happiness and reduce suffering is considered to be a proper course of action (Shafer-Landau, 2012).
Therefore, if terrorism is used to achieve these goals, there is no reason as to why it cannot be justified. For instance, if terrorism is the only way through which an important political change can be achieved, it may be necessary for it to be applied against a tyrannical regime (Waller, 2011).
Such cases have been witnessed in France, Russia, Italy and South Africa. Terrorism can also be justified if the harm it prevents overweighs the one it causes (Wall, 2003). For example, a terrorist who shoots and kills some people in an airport is likely to compel the government to allocate enough money and other resources on precautionary measures against terrorism.
The above argument shows that terrorism can be justified if it is preventing human suffering and promoting happiness. This is common in cases where it is used in driving political changes and promoting precautionary measures. However, it needs to be pointed out that the general action of terrorism is morally wrong, especially when considered to be a war.
This kind of consideration brings in the issues of whether terrorism is a just war or not. According to the just war theory, there must be enough reasons as to why a given war should be waged. This theory also specifies how a given war should be fought (Evans, 2005). Both historical and theoretical aspects can be used to determine whether a given war is just or not.
The historical part entails various regulations which various generations have applied to wars. The theoretical part is based on ethical justifications of wars and the course they have taken over years. Terrorism is not driven by any historical or theoretical justifications of war. It occurs unexpectedly and it normally leads to the loss of innocent lives. Therefore, there is no way terrorism can ever be justified. It is ethically wrong.
Dingley, J. (2010). Terrorism and the politics of social change: A Durkheimian analysis. Farnham, Surrey, England: Ashgate.
Evans, M. (2005). Just war theory: A reappraisal. Edinburgh: Edinburgh Univ. Press.
Nathanson, S. (2010). Terrorism and the ethics of war. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Shafer-Landau, R. (2012). Ethical Theory: An Anthology. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons.
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Wall, T. F. (2003). Thinking critically about moral problems. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Waller, B. N. (2011). Consider Ethics: Theory, Readings, and Contemporary Issues. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.