KILLING OTHER PEOPLE OR THEIR BODIES AGAINST
In the first instance it is murder to intentionally cause
the death of another person when
'e does not want to die,
or to intentionally cause the death of
'er body when 'e has expressed
the wish that 'er body be kept alive.
This is why active involuntary euthanasia is murder.
There is no conceivable case in which it can be justified.
Even if someone's well-being is
threatened in that 'er future life is going to be 'utterly
hellish' this is no reason to override 'er autonomy as a person.
No-one knows for sure that a life, or a future life, will on
balance be more unhappy than happy, and even if it is, it is
only in utilitarianism the sole thing that counts. Nonutilitarians
may come to a different decision, and so may
utilitarians, because even inconsistence does not override
Insofar as it does not harm the integrity of other people, people do even
extrinsic right to lead
'utterly hellish' lives.
In the event that the human, or other sentient, being in question 'cannot
grasp what it will be like', it is either no person or a person who does
not accept someone else's advice.
If it is not a person (but, for example, a small infant), then the act of
euthanasia is not involuntary but nonvoluntary; if it is a person who does
not accept another person's advice, then it is 'er extrinsic right not to
accept the authority of other people, even when this is foolish.
If active involuntary euthanasia is wrong, that is, the
intential killing of people who are ill (if not fatally ill),
injured (if not severely injured) or whose well-being is
threatened by external factors (if not seriously threatened),
then intentionally killing other people against their will who
are not fatally ill, not severely injured and whose well-being
is not seriously threatened by external factors, is definitely
wrong, one would say.
It is wrong, then, both from a
metadoctrinal and from a
doctrinal point of view, and as
such plain murder.
Or, is it?
If it is indeed murder per se, then assassinations, killing people in
times of war and executions are murders too.
Absolute pacifists may agree on this.
Yet, absolute pacifism is too fast and facile a conclusion here, for there
is something that still requires our special attention in questions of
killing others against their will.
It is that the reason why it is wrong to kill these others is primarily
based on their extrinsic right to life and our
extrinsic duty not to interfere
But what if someone contemptuously flouts the rules of
the extrinsic right-duty
'E may be in good health, 'e may not have any injuries, and 'er well-being
may not be threatened by any external factor, least of all by us.
The situation is analogous to that in questions of discrimination: we must
not discriminate between people, but we may make a distinction between
people who do and people who do not discriminate for or against others.
Similarly, we must not interfere with other people's freedom against their
will, but we may interfere with the freedom of other people who interfere
with other people's freedom against their will.
Those who discriminate deliberately cannot appeal to
the norm of inclusivity, or to a principle of
relevance, in order not to be discriminated against themselves; and
those who deliberately infringe the rules of the extrinsic right-duty
constellation cannot appeal to
the right to personhood, to a
metadoctrinal principle, or to a principle of liberty, in order to be left
But this means that not all cases of killing another person who does not
want to die, are wrong, even not all cases of intentionally killing such a
The clearest cases that it is not, are killings
in self-defense in which the person attacked has not provoked
the attack. (Provoked in the sense that 'e
interfered with the right to personhood of the person killed.)
But even these cases have their complications. May you solely
kill another person in self-defense when you are completely sure
that 'e wants to kill you personally, and when you have never in
any way interfered with 'er right to personhood before? May you
kill another person if 'e 'only' wants to enslave (but not kill)
you? May you kill another person if 'e merely attempts to occupy
a negligible part of what is your property in terms of the
extrinsic right-duty constellation (the loss of which will not
affect your material well-being at all)? The doctrinal counterpart
of these primarily metadoctrinal questions is should you
kill such a person?
The most simplistic answer to the may questions is that one
may not, or must not, kill such a person, and that only 'the
state' or 'the government' may do so, with the possible
exception of that form of killing which is needed for immediate
self-defense. This is a legalist position which takes no notice
of the fact that the questions posed are independent, normative
questions. What this means, becomes clear at once, when 'the
state' or 'the government' itself is the person, or personified
being, that must be able to justify 'er own acts of killing.
This applies then both to the killing of 'er own citizens or
residents and to that of foreigners, that is, armed or unarmed
citizens or residents of other countries. May a country A kill
persons of another country B if they only want to enslave the
citizens and residents of country A? May this country A kill
persons of country B if they only want to occupy a negligible
part of what is A's territory in terms of the extrinsic
right-duty constellation? And if so, should it?
In the above questions, in which we have personified 'the
state' and 'the government', we have assumed that that
government itself is somehow legitimate. But what if a government
murders its own citizens or residents, for example, citizens who
have always respected the extrinsic rights of other people, both
with regard to their bodies and with regard to their external
possessions? Such a government cannot be legitimate, unless it
takes appropriate measures to undo the evil done (if possible).
In the above questions we have also assumed that a person or
country would take property away which belongs to another person
or country according to the metadoctrinal principle. But what if
a supposedly legitimate government legally considers something
the property of a resident, or of its own, which is not 'er, or
its, property in the normative sense of the extrinsic right-duty
constellation? Also such a government interferes with the
freedom of other 'persons' (the citizens, residents or countries
whose valid claims are ignored) before its own freedom is
If a person or country has not violated any extrinsic right
to one's own body or any extrinsic right to one's own external
possessions, then killing such a person against 'er will and on
purpose is murder, and then attacking such a country is an
unjust war or terrorism.
But in all other cases the aforementioned problems illustrate very well
how hard it is to prove that the killing of a particular person against
'er will is just or unjust, or that the killing of more or less arbitrary
members of a particular group against their will is just or unjust (unless
—again— the person or group concerned have not violated any
right to one's own body and any right to one's own external possessions on
the same metadoctrinal principle).
It is relatively easy to provide some answer to each question; what makes
it difficult is to remain consistent throughout — a necessary
criterion for both
Suppose that it is agreed that a cruel tyrant, who keeps 'er subjects in
great poverty by stealing from them what normatively belongs to them, may
be killed ('assassinated') to liberate 'er subjects, even
tho 'e is not
directly or indirectly responsible for the deaths of other people.
Does it not follow that a legitimate government may execute a person for
committing a crime which need not be as serious as murder?
If not, why not?
It is plausible to assume that someone who has never killed
another person against 'er will other than in self-defense must
never be killed 'imself against 'er will other than in self-defense.
(What is defended must then be one's body or life, not
one's external property.)
dictator will probably be at least indirectly responsible for the deaths
of other people, and cannot appeal to the right to life, but if 'e is
solely responsible for cruelties other than murder, 'e could on
this interpretation still appeal to the right to life.
All that could be done, is to expose 'im to the same cruelties and/or to
take all 'er external possessions, while disallowing 'im to make
use of anyone else's. This would amount to imprisonment with or
without corporal punishment. Should 'e try to prevent this by
killing, or attempting to kill, 'er opponents, 'e will forfeit
'er right to life. It is then, indeed, that 'e may be killed
in spite of what was the case before.
Often we do not need to have an answer to the metadoctrinally
Ananormative may question before
being able to tackle the neutral-inclusivist should question.
We merely need to know the answer to the may question when the
answer to the should question is in the affirmative.
One would say that it is particularly those who profess that wars are
'required by the world spirit' or that wars are 'sublime' or that all
murderers 'must die', who always need the solution to the additional
However, these people are usually the very people who
cannot be bothered by the difference between doctrinal and
metadoctrinal considerations: their (doctrinal) should is held
to be automatically a (metadoctrinal) may, and vice versa.
(Incidentally, the philosopher who said that 'even if a society
were to dissolve itself, the last murderer remaining in prison
had first to be executed', was the same one as the one allowing
the killing of children born of parents not married to each
other. It would seem therefore that his murderers did not
refer to unmarried mothers killing their children, nor to
As neutralists we reject any idea of the sublimity or
necessity of war, and as neutralists we reject the obsession
with punitive retribution or the
theodemonist law of
retaliation which requires retaliative punishment.
On our view also murderers and thieves are
happiness-catenal and living
beings, and if they should be killed or otherwise punished in spite of
considerations of happiness-catenality and life, then only when we can be
sure that this will in the long run serve, or also serve, people's respect
for each other as persons.
Under certain circumstances retaliation may be a necessary evil to prevent
reoccurrence or to restore an equilibrium, but it must never
degenerate into an end in itself. If a person may be killed
against 'er will, because 'e has killed another person against
'er will who never violated anyone's right to personhood, then
it is still the case that this person should not be killed,
unless 'er killing has a stronger crime-preventive
function, or is a much more effective crime deterrent
than, for example, life imprisonment. (An execution is said to
be a crime-preventive measure if, and insofar as, the person
excuted would have committed other crimes; it is said to be a
crime-deterrent if, and insofar as, it frightens off other
persons from also committing a crime.) The 'crime' we are
talking about must then be a crime in the normative sense of the
extrinsic right-duty constellation.
It is not a 'crime' like witchcraft or cursing one's parents which used to
deserve the death penalty in ancient religious times and in later times
still dominated by ancient religious writings, nor a 'crime' in the
factual-modal sense of the law of the land
(according to which, in certain countries or states, even passive
euthanasia performed by a doctor at the request of a terminally ill
patient might be designated "a crime" and made illegal).
The question if, and to what extent, capital punishment or
—if the two need to be distinguished— the death penalty does
prevent and deter real crimes is an empirical question, the answer to
which may vary from place to place and from time to time.
But if it cannot be made very plausible at a particular time and place that
the number of lives saved due to the existence of capital punishment at
that time and place clearly exceeds, and continues to exceed, the number of
executions, then capital punishment is definitely murder.
It is then murder not necessarily because no-one may be executed,
but because no-one should be executed.
And no-one should be executed, because it is the killing of a living being
and the killing of a happiness-catenal being, and because of its bad, if
not horrible, side-effects.
If assassination is defined as deliberate, nonlegal
killing of a particular person against 'er will for impersonal
motives, then assassination is not (necessarily) murder, that
is, not wrong by definition. It has been pointed out that the
issue of assassination in this sense closely resembles that of
execution. Thus, as with execution, the bad side-effects of
assassination are sufficient in themselves to set severe limits
to any policy of simply maximizing the number of lives saved
(the assumption being that the death of one particular, public
figure would at least save the lives of two or more other
However, unlike impartial executions (if they exist), political, or other
ideological, killings set a precedent —as has been rightly
argued— 'which can soon build up a tradition of attempts to change
society by violence rather than by persuasion'.
The same applies to an even greater extent to terrorist killings
whose targets are more or less arbitrary members of particular groups.
Add to this the fallibility of assassination and terrorist killing in
bringing about the change aimed at, and it is evident that a public figure
or members of certain groups should solely be killed against their will
under exceptional circumstances, and solely if they may be killed because
of their serious violation or violations of other people's rights of
(Violations which are either their personal responsibility or their shared
responsibility as members of a certain group.)
Consequently, saving exceptional circumstances and conditions,
assassination and terrorist killing are murder.