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The Ethics of Assassination

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Image Credit The United States recently assassinated Iran’s Qassem Soleimani which raises, once again, moral questions about targeted killings of this sort. While it is easy to get bogged down in the particulars of this assassination, I will focus on the general matter of the ethics of assassination. While the definition of “assassination” can be debated and the term has a negative connotation, the general idea is that it is a targeted killing aimed to achieve a political, economic or ideological end. While one could quibble over the fine points of various definitions, I will not do that here. My main concern is with the issue of whether assassination can be morally warranted. It can be argued that I am misguided to even consider this issue. Some might point out that an assassination is killing and killing is wrong—thus there is no need to discuss the specifics of assassination. This would be true if all killing was wrong; which would nicely settle all debates involving this matter. For what follows I will assume, perhaps incorrectly, that at least some killings are morally acceptable. Others might raise a different worry, namely that ethics does not enter the matter. Someone could take the purely pragmatic approach that a country should kill when doing so is advantageous—that, as Hobbes would say, profit is the measure of right. This is certainly a viable approach but has the clear implication that if the United States is justified in killing Soleimani on pragmatic grounds, then everyone else is equally justified in engaging in assassination when doing so is to their advantage. One can certainly reject ethics as part of the decision-making process of killing and accept the pragmatic justification of “kill when doing so is to your advantage.” But this principle would also justify anyone killing you who regarded it as advantageous—such as wanting your property or who saw you as an obstacle or threat. This would seem to be a problematic. . .

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News source: A Philosopher's Blog

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