Philosophy behind self-defense/guns etc.


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Isildur
May 8, 2007, 01:16 PM
I'm still a student and we recently discussed the issue of guns, violence etc. in philosophy and we will continue this discussion at sometime in the future. This made me think of the philosophic backgrounds in favor of weapons and self-defense.
Politically it's all quite clear, if someone tries to kill me, I'm allowed to stop him, if necessary kill him. But what's the philosophical background for that?
In one "article" on www.a-human-right.com I read something about the "spirit of the enlightened warrior". Do you know of any literature or philosophical ideas/believes concerning the issue?

It seems like every intellectual person is condemning weapons etc. and here in Germany even the priests teach that the bible is pacifistic. But I guess, as all of this is very one-sided(if there would be no weapons we would all be happy, so weapons are bad), that there are intellectual frameworks for an armed society, for the right to self-defense, distinguishing between the violence of the aggressor and of the victim. The only problem is:I don't know it and have got no real idea where to look for it. That's why I ask here if anyone has information on that issue.
For example I just found this (http://www.amazon.com/Stoic-Warriors-Ancient-Philosophy-Military/dp/0195152166) book accidentally while surfing through the net. I haven't read it but it sounds promising. But I welcome any material concerning the topic.

ps:If you have got any questions feel free to ask.

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roscoe
May 8, 2007, 01:50 PM
You might want to check out all the unresolveable philosophical flaws in pacifism, too. Wikipedia is a good place to start.

JesseL
May 8, 2007, 02:09 PM
It's pretty easy to derive the right to self defense from the principle of self-ownership (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-ownership). See also the non-aggression principle (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-aggression_principle).

Honestly, I think that most people opposed to armed self defense do not really believe that you are the sole and sovereign owner of your life and body. In their hearts they desire to see you enslaved to their own goals, doctrines, & desires.

RPCVYemen
May 8, 2007, 02:19 PM
unresolveable philosophical flaws in pacifism

I would think that you'd have a pretty hard time find a philosophical flaws in any reasobably mature pacificism (Quaker views, maybe Bertand Russell), etc. This is at least true if you mean "inconsistency" when you say "unresolveable philosophical flaw".

In general, I think that most of the varieties of pacifism adopt a different sets of axioms than non-pacifist philosophies. If you start with different axioms, you derive different results.

For example, here is one religious basis:


Axiom: Human life is sacred.
Everything that is sacred belongs to G-d.
Only G-d may destroy that which belongs to G-d.
Human beings are not G-d.
Human beings may destroy any that is sacred.
Therefore, human beings may not kill other human beings.


I think that the axioms are wrong - but there is no "unresolvable flaw" this in this argument.

... that there are intellectual frameworks for an armed society, for the right to self-defense, distinguishing between the violence of the aggressor and of the victim. The only problem is:I don't know it and have got no real idea where to look for it ...

I suspect that if you look for that Catholic Church's discussion of a "just war", you'd find some philosophical discussion about what it means to an agressor, and what it means to be a victim.

I suspect that you will find that it gets complicated fairly quickly.

Even the Founding Fathers finally had to punt - "endowed by their Creator", "inalienable rights", etc. - which may be true, but is not much of a philisophical argument.

Mike

pax
May 8, 2007, 02:47 PM
For some historical perspective on the religious side of things (keeping in mind that religion and philosophy go hand in hand, and that much of Western Civ has its roots in Judeo-Christian philosophy), you might look up what St. Augustine had to say about the idea of a Just War.

pax

JohnL2
May 8, 2007, 03:01 PM
If only there was a philosophical discipline that considered all of it. Human nature, psychology of "evil", virtue and vice, history of violence from groups upon other groups in all their contrivances.
Try out Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. Especially the chapter on Courage. It lays a good foundation for reasoned argument. Also if you can, try Marcus Aurelius. Stoic philosophy is rife with the idea of mastery of self in relation to the external world.
Innovations come and are utilized and widespread. But human nature is pretty much a constant. Therein lies a level of predictability.
Intellectual arguments are great mental gymnastics, but ultimately what do you do when you face-down a psychopath or twisted dogma? Would they truly be open to reason?
Is it better to live a slave or die a free man? What kind of person are you and what do you value?

Leif Runenritzer
May 8, 2007, 03:27 PM
I've wondered about this myself and my answer is individualism (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Individualism). When i argue for gun-ownership, individualism is the ground i stand on.

DogBonz
May 8, 2007, 03:29 PM
I think that you will find a good source in the Eastern religions. They have a long standing tradition of viewing the balance between forces of nature, god and man, man and himself, etc.

Also, I would look at the writings of Voltaire, Jefferson, Franklin, Paine, and other Deists who believed that not only live was worth defending but also ideals and the basic rights of humans.

TallPine
May 8, 2007, 03:30 PM
here in Germany even the priests teach that the bible is pacifistic. But I guess, as all of this is very one-sided(if there would be no weapons we would all be happy, so weapons are bad),

Well, in Genesis the Bible tells about Cain murdering Abel with a blow to the head with a rock. So I guess that all we need to is ban rocks and we would all be happy :rolleyes:

Patrick_Henry
May 8, 2007, 03:30 PM
In terms of Christian teaching on pacifism verses defense at least here in the US pacifism is a minority view in the church. To me the Bible seems to say that it 1. Okay to defend yourself and that 2.You are responsible to defend a. the helpless (others in need-maybe even future victims of a criminal you don't stop) and b. your family. And that you will be held guilty of sin if you don't defend them. As Pax already pointed out I'd check Augustine's just war stuff on this one although there are plenty of others. Just look up Just War and you'll find a lot. Also you could study moral equivalence those two topics would probably keep you busy with the philosophy of defense for a very long time...

RPCVYemen
May 8, 2007, 03:35 PM
Also if you can, try Marcus Aurelius. Stoic philosophy is rife with the idea of mastery of self in relation to the external world.

My (very very very) vague recollection is of the Stoics being pacifists. Am I wrong about that?

Mike

obxned
May 8, 2007, 03:47 PM
I am a pacifist!! But you never will have a peaceful world if you allow evil to flourish.

El Tejon
May 8, 2007, 03:50 PM
Springs from a variety of sources including, The Bible, Old and New Testament, Saxon Law, The Greeks, The Romans, the Italian republicans, The English Common Law.

DogBonz
May 8, 2007, 03:57 PM
For example, here is one religious basis:

Axiom: Human life is sacred.
Everything that is sacred belongs to G-d.
Only G-d may destroy that which belongs to G-d.
Human beings are not G-d.
Human beings may destroy any that is sacred.
Therefore, human beings may not kill other human beings.


If life IS sacred, and IF it belongs to God, then that means that if you let someone kill someone or let them kill you, and you do nothing to stop it, then you are condoning the destruction of God's property. :p

crebralfix
May 8, 2007, 03:59 PM
It is biologically based. Everyone wants to live. It's hardwired into our systems and requires extraordinary effort to override. You don't need a religious document or a teacher to tell you this. It's the way we're built.

redbearde
May 8, 2007, 04:01 PM
the philosophy of right to self-defense... Is there a similar philosophy of right to reproduce?

I always thought the right/responsibility to defend myself was more axiomatic than resulting from deduction.

CWL
May 8, 2007, 04:06 PM
Here's a great quote from the Dalai Lama about the reasonableness of self-defense (and inherent preparedness by having one's own weapon).

According to the Dalai Lama, "If someone has a gun and is trying to kill
you, it would be reasonable to shoot back with your own gun." (Seattle
Times, May 15, 2001).

Vern Humphrey
May 8, 2007, 04:28 PM
From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
Legitimate defense

2263 The legitimate defense of persons and societies is not an exception to the prohibition against the murder of the innocent that constitutes intentional killing. "The act of self-defense can have a double effect: the preservation of one's own life; and the killing of the aggressor. . . . The one is intended, the other is not."65

2264 Love toward oneself remains a fundamental principle of morality. Therefore it is legitimate to insist on respect for one's own right to life. Someone who defends his life is not guilty of murder even if he is forced to deal his aggressor a lethal blow:


If a man in self-defense uses more than necessary violence, it will be unlawful: whereas if he repels force with moderation, his defense will be lawful. . . . Nor is it necessary for salvation that a man omit the act of moderate self-defense to avoid killing the other man, since one is bound to take more care of one's own life than of another's.66

2265 Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others. The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm. For this reason, those who legitimately hold authority also have the right to use arms to repel aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their responsibility.

65 St. Thomas Aquinas, STh II-II,64,7, corp. art.
66 St. Thomas Aquinas, STh II-II,64,7, corp. art.

Stickjockey
May 8, 2007, 04:32 PM
Thomas Paine was a Quaker and a pacifist. Here's what he had to say on the matter:

"I am thus far a Quaker, that I would gladly argue with all the world to lay aside the use of arms and settle matters by negotiation, but unless the whole will, the matter ends, and I take up my musket and thank Heaven He has put it in my power."

Vern Humphrey
May 8, 2007, 04:34 PM
Thomas Paine was a Quaker and a pacifist. Here's what he had to say on the matter:

There was the Quaker who discovered a burglar in his house one night and told him, "Friend, I would do thee no harm. But thee standest where I am about to shoot."

ChristopherG
May 8, 2007, 04:55 PM
Dualism makes it pretty easy.

Zoroastrianism posits a good and an evil force at continuous battle on the playground of the cosmos. It is also the evident root of dualistic apocalypticism in 2nd temple (i.e., post-exhilic) Judaism and its apocalyptic child, Christianity. I expect a study of American Christians who find a message of empowered conflict against evil in both natural and supernatural guises would find that they subscribe to a strongly apocalyptic strain of Christianity.

That's probably not going to fly in German intellectual circles, though. I would second the reference to Aurelius, who was a thoughtful Stoic but also a campaigning emperor--so he, at least, wasn't a pacifist.

Myself, I'm an Epicurean, but that system doesn't give explicit consideration to the question that I know of. In general, I wouldn't expect philosophers to treat the question of SELF-defense as much as they would the question of how and when to use force in defense of what's RIGHT. I would build my justification of self-defense on the goodness of my freedom to live without threat from another, and the badness of that other's unwarranted attack on my freedom.

romma
May 8, 2007, 05:30 PM
My philosophy is simple,,, Keep Breathing.

RPCVYemen
May 8, 2007, 05:36 PM
f life IS sacred, and IF it belongs to God, then that means that if you let someone kill someone or let them kill you, and you do nothing to stop it, then you are condoning the destruction of God's property.

To argue that this is a contradiction, then you would have to demonstrate two things:

1) Pacifism implies "you do nothing to stop [killing]". Can you derive that from the argument presented? In fact, most pacifists I know would argue that you must resist all killing - but that you cannot kill to prevent a death.

2) That if you witness an action and do nothing to prevent that action, you are condoning that action.

Can you demonstrate either of these?

Mike

Chui
May 8, 2007, 05:37 PM
Esu Jmmanuel/"Jesus" was no pacifist. He admonished his disciples that did not have a sword to sell their robes and purchase one. A pacifist is amongst the lowest of human beings because he refuses to take any risk or responsibility for the defense of society.

Try The Art of Peace by Morehei Ushiba, founder of Aikido.

RPCVYemen
May 8, 2007, 05:59 PM
Thomas Paine was a Quaker and a pacifist.

If he picked up a weapon, intending to use it to kill another human being, then most pacifists would argue that he is no longer a pacifist. Most pacifists would consider "I'll only stop killing if everyone else does so first!" not to be a form of pacifism.

Paine's father was a Quaker, and his mother was Anglican. I don't know if Paine joined a Meeting for Worship or not. In those days, I am pretty sure that he would have been read out of Meeting for advocating any kind of violence. Quaker who accepted a call for a (violent) revolution against Britain called themselves "Free Quakers", and were rejected by there more traditional brethren. The same kind of thing happened during the Civil War.

However, not all Quakers are pacifists, though many are. I think all Friends who call themselves Conservative reject violence, but the more liberal Quakers do not always do so. Richard Nixon was a Quaker.


Mike

coelacanth
May 8, 2007, 06:27 PM
http://www.a-human-right.com

coelacanth
May 8, 2007, 06:31 PM
flying in German intellectual circles.....man, talk about restricted airspace. :scrutiny:

Chad
May 8, 2007, 06:39 PM
If you can find a copy of "That Every Man Be Armed" by Stephen P. Halbrook, it is a chronological look at the evolution of the Second Amendment.
The first chapter deals with the philosophers, thinkers and writers from Aristotle up to the 18th century that influenced the thinking of those who wrote or influenced our Constitution.

roscoe
May 9, 2007, 02:30 AM
I would think that you'd have a pretty hard time find a philosophical flaws in any reasobably mature pacificism (Quaker views, maybe Bertand Russell), etc.
What I mean is that, in true pacifism, one cannot do violence even to assist another person. So, to give an example (from Utilitarianism), you could not break a terrorists arm to stop him from throwing a grenade into a schoolbus. A pacifist would argue that he had no moral obligation to stop the terrorist because there is no crime of omission.

Part of the problem is holding the morality of yourself above the actual real-world circumstances of those around you. In other words, your personal morality is more important than what happens to the schoolkids.

Furthermore, if you are merely obligated to do no harm, rather than obligated to act to help others, then you can permit any manner of horrible things to occur.

Pacifism is best viewed as a tactic that is effective in some circumstances (India circa 1949, USA circa 1960), but not others (Soviet Union 1930, China 1950).

ConfuseUs
May 9, 2007, 06:47 AM
I would say look at the philosophies (that were written down) of warrior societies to start out with. They are really more a set of values that are used to construct codes of honor than intellectual frameworks though. The ancient Chinese military theorists are also a good place to start; they are very anti-war and anti-violence but paradoxically the most sophisticated military thinkers in history.

I think that German intellectual circles are trying to pretend that the only philosophy is pacifist philosophy, which is wrong. Philosophies can run in a continuum from absolutely no violence to violence is the reason for being, depending on the social values behind the philosophy.

ServiceSoon
May 9, 2007, 08:40 AM
Even the dalai lama of Tibet has an army.

Isildur
May 9, 2007, 09:14 AM
Wow thank you for your numerous replies! You've already helped me a lot!

@pax: The HP in your sig seems to provide some pretty good arguments as well. :)
@DogBonz: Do you know any specific persons, groups, believes etc. of these Eastern religions? It would be a lot easier to find relevant information/sources then, I guess.
@CWL: Cool. I wouldn't have thought that the Dalai Lama says something like that.

Sylvan-Forge
May 9, 2007, 09:52 AM
Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

RPCVYemen
May 9, 2007, 10:54 AM
Part of the problem is holding the morality of yourself above the actual real-world circumstances of those around you. In other words, your personal morality is more important than what happens to the schoolkids.

The alternative, of course, is to let your actions be determined by the actions of the most evil person i around you. Do you want to surrender that?

I suspect that there are lengths that all of us would not go to in order to saver other children. Here's a contrived situation: If shooting you own child would save a bus school of schoolkids, would you do it? I would not. Isn't that saying my personal morality is more important than what happens to the schoolkids?

Pacifism is best viewed as a tactic that is effective in some circumstances (India circa 1949, USA circa 1960), but not others (Soviet Union 1930, China 1950).

I think that pacifists would argue that it's always effective - but they would have a different understanding of what it means to be effective.

Johnny B
May 9, 2007, 11:37 AM
Thomas Aquinas wrote that killing in self defense is not right, but is morally permissible as long as one does not take another's life for any reason other than that it appears to be the only effective means of preserving one's own life. I assume, since Aquinas was in the Aristotelian tradition, that self-preservation was ultimately in the interest of the "common good", and anything with that teleological significance is worth sustaining. However, once you start using self-defense as a justification to knock off folks you don't like, you're getting yourself in trouble. And again, as others have written, there is the just war theory of Aquinas and Augustine, but that is not necessarily applicable to individuals. As a matter of fact, Aquinas wrote that only a state could go to war, and only then against another state. Don't know if that helps, but there it is.

RPCVYemen
May 9, 2007, 12:25 PM
I assume, since Aquinas was in the Aristotelian tradition, that self-preservation was ultimately in the interest of the "common good",

That sounds correct. I would expect that a philosophical discussion of self-defense would either hinge on the notion of the "common good", or on the construct of the notion of a "right." I haven't read much philosophy, and I have never come across the discussion of a "right" in philosophy.

Nietzsche would have something astonishingly eloquent to say - but I think that he would argue that only the ethics of slaves (by which he would mean Christianity, socialism, etc.) restrict the powerful from killing whoever and whenever they desire. He would probably also argue that the powerful would demonstrate their power most eloquently through transformation of self ("becoming").

Mike

Johnny B
May 9, 2007, 02:08 PM
With Nietzsche, the powerful, or "aristocratic class" would simply be acting according to their nature if they dominate the slaves. This, to Nieztsche, is preferable to the "slave revolt" in morals that manufactures the distinction between good & bad and good & evil.

Okay, so I'll confess: I study philosophy in school and I am a total nerd for political theory. There's all kinds of natural right philosophy, and one need look no further than Locke's assertion of the right of all men to life, liberty and property and our nation's fathers for this doctrine. It can be easily extrapolated that the right of life includes the right to whatever means needed to protect our lives. Self-defense crops up all over in political thought. Fear of violent death is at the core of Hobbes' political thought, and according to him, it is the prime motivator, along with the uniquely human faculty of reason, in establishing the social contract under which all are protected from such threats to their well being. In fact, the first law of nature in Hobbes' theory is that our right to self-defense CAN NEVER be forfeited. Any sovereign power that demands such a thing does not command the obedience of its people, and any individual that attempts to take the life of another can be killed in turn. Anyway, total nerd stuff, but I hope this helps.

roscoe
May 9, 2007, 02:22 PM
I suspect that there are lengths that all of us would not go to in order to saver other children. Here's a contrived situation: If shooting you own child would save a bus school of schoolkids, would you do it? I would not. Isn't that saying my personal morality is more important than what happens to the schoolkids?
Not really, because a pacifist would say that the rule applies in ALL circumstances. In the circumstance you describe, I might act one way, while KNOWING that it was ultimately wrong (on the other hand I might not, but I would certainly know what was ultimately the right thing to do). Pacifism is wrong because it tries to apply a simplistic formula to all circustances. Something that applies even one more layer of calculations of right and wrong, like Utilitarianism, is much better (although I am not a Utilitarian).

I think that pacifists would argue that it's always effective - but they would have a different understanding of what it means to be effective.
Well, if they want to redefine words, then there is hardly any point in using them. I can't imagine that most people would recognize a pacifist protest as a sucess if the result was everyone being killed, and no other gain in what they sought. Unless you want to make metaphysical claims about places like heaven. In that case, you have essentially surrendured to spitituality, and there is no reason to make philosophical claims that others can examine.

dvan
May 9, 2007, 07:41 PM
There is a highly-detailed history of the right of self-defense in a new law review article by Dave Kopel.

The article can be viewed at:

http://www.davekopel.com/2A/LawRev/The-Human-Right-of-Self-Defense.pdf

Riz58
May 9, 2007, 07:56 PM
Read Leviticus and Numbers in the Bible. They lay out the philosophy in the form of Levitical law concerning the difference between murder and self-defense.

twenty711
May 9, 2007, 08:34 PM
"We Germans are not a warlike people" - The Simpsons

RPCVYemen
May 9, 2007, 10:00 PM
Not really, because a pacifist would say that the rule applies in ALL circumstances. In the circumstance you describe, I might act one way, while KNOWING that it was ultimately wrong (on the other hand I might not, but I would certainly know what was ultimately the right thing to do).

Couldn't a pacifist do the same thing - knowing they were wrong - and still claim to be as consistent as you are?

It seems to me that coming up with a philosophical defense that you jettison in difficult situations is not very difficult or interesting.

I can't imagine that most people would recognize a pacifist protest as a sucess if the result was everyone being killed, and no other gain in what they sought.

There's no redefinition you defining "success". For most of the pacifists that I know (who are mostly Quaker) the goal is to respond to violence with love. Dying as a witness to virtue may be success. Consider the last words of Mary Dyer (a Quaker hung in Boston - who returned to Boston to die to force the repeal of laws she considered unjust):

Nay, I came to keep bloodguiltiness from you, desireing you to repeal the unrighteous and unjust law made against the innocent servants of the Lord. Nay, man, I am not now to repent.

Maybe by your definition, her protest was not a success. Many historians would agree (I think) that her protest helped bring religious tolerance to the United States.

roscoe
May 10, 2007, 02:44 AM
Maybe by your definition, her protest was not a success. Many historians would agree (I think) that her protest helped bring religious tolerance to the United States.
Well, you have made my point. It was judged a success because it furthered her goals. If she had died anonymously, it would not be a succes except possibly by her own standards.

The other point is that, if non-violence is the goal, then it relieves you of the need to make difficult moral decisions like in the scenario you outlined. In my case it was a difficult call. To a pacifist, there is no quandry - you always choose the path of not acting violently. And that puts the pacifists morality above the real-world lives of the people affected. So what they are, in essence, saying is that clinging to their morality (responding to violence with love) is more important than saving the lives of others. To me, that is unsatisfying.

Nomad, 2nd
May 10, 2007, 02:55 AM
Well now, I'm just a simple Marine who doesn't know how to work many things much more complicated than a 249.

My Philosophy is simply that it is better for my enemy to die than me or my buddies. And I will insure this by any means possible.

As for the bible being against violence... Luke I think chapter 22 about verse 35 where Jesus tells his followers that now that he is going to depart if they do not own a sword (The premere OFFENSIVE weapon of the day) to sell their cloak and buy one. When they said "look lord, here are 2 swords." he said "That is enough."

Nomad, 2nd
May 10, 2007, 02:56 AM
http://www.theforbiddenknowledge.com/hardtruth/pass_the_ammo.htm


PRAISE THE LORD AND (PLEASE DO) PASS THE AMMUNITION

By Duncan Long

http://duncanlong.com/ammo.html



Unfortunately much of the task of disarming the free world is being carried out by many churches and so-called Christian groups. Many of these people claim that their ideas are based on the Bible. However a close look at their most often quoted source, the Bible, can actually turn pacifist arguments against self-defense on their heads. A close look at the Bible will also reveal the moral inadequacy of these groups just as thoroughly as their logical inadequacy was detailed in the previous article. A close look at the Bible actually gives the moral justification in self-defense which many are looking for.

Before launching into even a brief study of the Bible, it's wise to remember that an overview gives a fuller and better idea of what's going on than does a detailed look at a few fragments of the whole. The old joke of the guy who decides to pick out two key verses in the Bible to live by and ends up with "And Judas went and hanged himself" and "Go thou and do likewise" may be funny; unfortunately, those who do this same type of thing by picking and choosing verses to support moral arguments can cause a lot of needless suffering among those foolish enough to pay any mind to them. Nowhere is this more true than when it comes to self-defense.

(By this same token, many liberal theologians like to pick and choose which parts of the Bible were "really inspired" or are factual. Those who argue that some areas of the Bible--which don't support their particular dogma--"don't count" should bare in mind that, by the same logic, those which support their ideas don't necessarily "count" either. If the idea that only part of the Bible "counts" morally is followed, the next logic step is that the whole Bible would then be thrown out and every man will decide morality by his own standards or a when-in-Rome-do-as-the-Romans type of wishy washy value system. And if that's done, the self-defense advocates have won since the majority in the US feel self-defense is justified and the laws support the act as well.)

As to what is actually in the Bible, an overview shows that, far from being an outline of pacifism, the book does support both an individual's--as well as a country's--right to not only defend themselves but to take aggressive action toward enemies. A quick look at Jewish history, as outlined in the early "books" of the Bible, reveals that the Israelis not only went into battle and conquered their enemies, they did so at the COMMAND of God and went with his BLESSINGS.

The Mosaic law (that given to the Jews by Moses and believed by most religious Jews and Christians to have come directly from God) also covers the methods of waging war (in Deuteronomy chapter 20). This chapter makes no mention of NOT killing enemies; rather, it commands the Jews to not destroy the land so that it can't support them after they win the wars they wage.

On the personal level, much the same idea applies. The Bible is NOT inconsistent when it comes to self-defense.

Probably the most misinterpreted passage of the Bible when it comes to persons defending themselves (or countries waging war or capital punishment) is the commandment "Thou shalt not kill." One of the Ten Commandments, this is to be found in Exodus 20: 13.

Unfortunately, what many so-called religious authorities fail to tell when arguing against self-defense by quoting this bit of scripture is that there are several words in the Hebrew language which express the verb "kill." The Hebrew word used in this commandment ALWAYS means "murder" and ONLY in what would now be called a "pre-meditated" murder at that.

Unfortunately, the word "kill" has changed since the time of King James when the first major translation of the Bible into English was carried out. The "kill" would more properly be translated as "murder" as far as modern English usage is concerned and, in fact, many modern translations of the Bible generally use "murder" in this passage. Check it out in a modern language translation of the Bible or--better yet--with someone who knows Hebrew.

This Bible passage deals with murder, not self-defense and it's a grave mistake to interpret is as prohibiting self-defense. Thus the commandment is simply "Thou shalt not MURDER." (And any religious leader using this as an argument against self-defense should be dismissed as a liar or sent back for more theological training.)

Throughout the first few books of the Bible, a basic theme emerges: the Jewish society was to treat crime as a disease to be eliminated. When necessary, criminals were banished from the society or, if they refused to stop their crimes, often even put to death. The idea was to keep the society as pure as humanly possible by purging it of crime.

Where does self-defense fit into the Bibical scheme of things?

In fact, the Bible makes the assumption that men and women will defend themselves against someone intent on harming them. (It's interesting that only in our "enlightened" times do intellectuals start questioning the idea that people have a perfect and natural right to defend themselves.)

However, there's one passage of Mosaic law which does cover accidental killings as well as outlining what constitutes a murder. While it doesn't outline what constitutes self-defense in itself, it does show what it is NOT. The passage is to be found in Deuteronomy, Chapter 19. Here we find that a person who accidentally kills someone has the right to flee to a sanctuary city so that those out to avenge the death of a loved one can't murder the accidental killer before their emotions cool and reason returns.

This Chapter goes on to outline what will be done to a murderer. Anyone who is guilty of premeditated murder and flees to one of these cities was in big trouble. The elders of the city "hold court" and if he was found guilty, he was delivered to the "avenger" (a relative of the person murdered) and put to death with no appeals or pleas of "cruel and unusual punishment."

It is interesting to note the limited specification of just what constitutes murder in this passage. In the 11th verse of this chapter, we find what constitutes murder: "But if any man hate his neighbor, and lie in wait for him, and rise up against him, and smite him mortally that he die..."

Two requirements had to be met BEFORE a man was guilty of murder. First, the murderer had to "hate" his victim. Though this would be hard to prove since it is impossible for a human judge to look into a criminal's mind, it was probably not a point of defense for those charged with murder since their actions would prove hateful intent; undoubtedly this "hate" included hating a victim because he was rich, had something the criminal wanted, was from a certain family or the like.

Second, the murderer had to be waiting somewhere to commit his act; in effect the crime had to be premeditated. (It should be noted that Mosaic law required that at least two witnesses be available to testify against a law breaker and that their testimony agree; consequently, the intent to commit the crime would have to be gleaned from the testimony of the witnesses or the crime would be "thrown out of court" as it were.)

Obviously, someone who is uses lethal force to defend himself against a stranger (who has broken into a home suddenly assaults a citizen on a dark street) doesn't fit into the category of being a murderer. In such a case, a citizen would not be killing out of hate (how could he hate someone he didn't know anything about) and he would not have been lying in wait to commit his act against the criminal who had singled the citizen out. The bottom line is that a person defending himself against criminal attack does so without breaking any Bibical laws or commandments.

Of course there is the "religious" argument that people shouldn't have weapons. What does the Bible say about weapons? Are they evil (as some religious leaders would have us believe)?

There are NO admonitions not to carry weapons in the Bible. In the Old Testament, men carry swords, bows and arrows, spears or whatever freely and without restrictions as long as the nation remained under its own sovereignty. Only when Israel was taken over by enemy nations were the people forced to give up weapons.

All right. But how about Jesus? Wasn't he a meek leader who refused to take any forceful actions on his own?

In fact, this isn't the Jesus portrayed in the New Testament.

The Bibical Jesus is far from meek. He apparently drove those breaking Jewish laws from the temple in Jerusalem once (and possibly twice) and wasn't above risking life and limb to point out very publicly and vocally where things needed to be changed among corrupt religious and government leaders.

During this period of Jewish history, a Roman "ban" on weapons was in place and the average Jew was disarmed with weapons legally allowed in the hands of special Jewish "police" groups charged with enforcing the law (both Roman and Jewish religious law) as well as in the hands of the occupying army.

Even in this situation, the Jews often carried short swords or daggers concealed on their persons. In fact, Jesus tells his disciples on one occasion, "... he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one." (This is in Luke 22: 36--a passage not often used for sermons in churches advocating pacifism!).

This same Bible passage also tells that the disciples told Jesus that they had two swords with them already (apparently concealed on their persons!). Jesus, who is facing the his own death in a short time, does NOT admonish them that this having weapons is a sin! Rather, he says that two swords are enough.

Later, Peter even went so far as to use one of the swords to attempt to lop of the head of one of the men who had come out with swords and clubs to arrest Jesus; Peter missed taking off a head but did get an ear. Jesus averted a slaughter of his outnumbered disciples by healing the injured man and giving himself over to the group that had come to capture him. His disciples fled into the night, with one even shedding his clothes in the process (Mark 14: 50-52).

Certainly these passages suggest that both Jesus and his disciples were not the timid, passive characters many church leaders would have us believe. Rather they were active men capable to taking action to defend themselves against enemies.

It would, of course, be wrong to think that the New Testament advocates a violent life style. Verses like "Blessed are the peace makers" (this was before any revolver had that title, remember) and "He who lives by the sword dies by the sword," among others would counter any arguments with such a thrust. But the New Testament hardly advocates total pacifism in the face of danger, either.

Another argument often made is that "we should be like Christ" and--according to liberal thinking--be pacifists. Disregarding the nearly (to many) blasphemous idea that a person can be perfect like Christ, those making this argument are guilty of a vary limited view of what the New Testament has to say about Jesus.

While Jesus allowed himself to be killed by his enemies, the whole Bibical account also has him raised up from the dead and finally judging his enemies as well. The conquering Christ that breaks his enemies apart with a rod of iron and has a sword in his mouth (capable of waging war on enemies) is ignored by these people. If anything, the admonition to be "like Christ" would make us more like Rambo than Gandi.

The New Testament teaches that "Christians" should obey the laws of the land they are in, provided the laws aren't immoral according to Bibical principles (Hebrews 13: 17). This has some important ramifications for those interested in self-defense.

While laws may vary slightly from one place to another, generally laws in the US and most Western countries allow a person to defend himself or any member of his family from what he perceives as being an immediate threat of grave bodily harm or death. For those living in such countries, self-defense is legal and, as we've seen, it isn't non-Bibical. Therefore, self-defense is a moral and "Christian" thing to do if we're to take the bibical admonition to obey the laws of the land.

Some thought should be given as to just WHY Judo-Christian laws, as well as those of most other civilized societies, have been so harsh on criminals and have allowed good men to defend themselves against criminal attack. The short answer is that this is the only way to protect the society and--in the long run--protect those unable to protect themselves.

How can this be?

It must be remembered that most criminals are REPEAT offenders. Anyone who would assault or kill a person if he doesn't defend himself will probably commit other serious crimes in the near future. That means that, should you choose to "live and let live", letting a criminal rob and kill you simply allows him to go on to another innocent victim later on. In effect, your lack of action may well cause other innocent people to be hurt or killed.

With this in mind, certainly anyone interested in being "his brother's keeper" should realize that stopping a criminal with force would very possible save a number of other people untold misery and possibly even their lives.

Likewise what kind of "bother's keeper" sits by passively while a criminal robs, beats, or kills and innocent victim? Again, the moral imperative is to take action. The passive bystander is definitely guilty of being immoral when he refuses to defend others or himself.

Everyone must "know himself" and what he believes and feels before deciding to defend himself or others. Failure to give thought to his inner self may cause him to hesitate at a critical moment when he should take decisive action. Such hesitation can spell death in a self-defense situation. But a person should never hesitate because of what misguided religious leaders who wish to rewrite both the Bible and Western law have preached. The Bible doesn't preach becoming a whimp. Rather, it teaches being a good citizen who is capable of defending himself. In the US, those prepared to fight back against a criminal when he has left them no other choice are legally AND morally justified in doing so.

When faced by a criminal who has murder in his eye, a good citizen should just mutter, "Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition."

Zen21Tao
May 10, 2007, 05:31 AM
Under the western mindset self-defense falls into the realm of ethics. The three major systems in ethics are Utilitarianism, Deontology and Virtue Ethics. In each case, one can argue that self-defense is a morally right act.


Utilitarianism:

The consequence with the greatest utility is the most morally correct choice. The greatest utility is of course the preservation of the human species. As such, self-preservation is a necessity for any species to survive therefore it offers for more utility on the grand scale for each subject to defend his own life against the threat of death.

Deontology:

Most would agree that the preservation of human life is an a priori morally right act. But what about if one has to take a life in order to save one’s own life or the life of someone else? In this condition deontologists use the Reciprocity Principle. Under the Reciprocity Principle, when a murderer kills, or tries to kill, he tacitly, by the implication of his act, claims the right to kill. Since he is, in fact, no different from his human victim, he thereby grants to others the right to kill him, at least in self-defense, if not punitively. He cannot consistently argue that he has the right to kill others, but others do not have the right to kill him. In other words, an attacker’s actions against you remove the moral wrongness of killing as it applies to him.


Virtue Ethics:

The moral rightness or wrongness is based on what a “virtuous” man would do. Throughout history there have been a great number of virtuous men (and women) that have acknowledged that self-defense is ones right.


Double Effect Doctrine of Thomas Aquinas:


Thomas Aquinas is credited with introducing the principle of double effect in his discussion of the permissibility of self-defense in the Summa Theologica (II-II, Qu. 64, Art.7). Killing one's assailant is justified, he argues, provided one does not intend to kill him. Aquinas observes that “Nothing hinders one act from having two effects, only one of which is intended, while the other is beside the intention. … Accordingly, the act of self-defense may have two effects: one, the saving of one's life; the other, the slaying of the aggressor.” As Aquinas's discussion continues, a justification is provided that rests on characterizing the defensive action as a means to a goal that is justified: “Therefore, this act, since one's intention is to save one's own life, is not unlawful, seeing that it is natural to everything to keep itself in being as far as possible.”

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/double-effect/


Just War Doctrine:

In reference to the “Just War Doctrine” Pope Pius XII says “[o]wing to the increasing destructiveness of weaponry … war can not be waged morally except as an act of self-defense.” So, then the flip side must be true. If war or battle is waged for the purpose of self-defense then it is done so morally.
http://everything2.com/index.pl?node=just%20war%20doctrine


As for Eastern Philosophy, all on has to do is look at how intertwined Eastern thought is with Martial Arts. In the Tao Te Ching the need for the use of weapons for defense is acknowledged. What separates the wise for others is the frame of mind one has regarding having to use such weapons. The wise choose to use weapons for defense when absolutely necessary but view having to use the weapons as a sad and solemn occasion.

Dr. Dickie
May 10, 2007, 07:56 AM
In the end, to me, it comes down to a belief in evil or not.
Most of the touchy, feely, pacifists of today do not believe in the use of force for self-defense because they do not believe that some people are just plain evil.
Not necessarily in sense of the Biblical Satan evil, but evil as in people who know what they are doing is wrong and evil, but do it anyway. Some even get enjoyment out of doing it BECAUSE it is evil.
The pacifists think that trying to understand the motivation and underlying feelings of the evil person is the key to stopping them from being evil. They are not evil, they are simply misunderstood.
For pacifists like Ghandi, he succeeded because he knew that the British we not evil, and that by not giving them a reason for brutality their own moral compass would lead them to self-correction.
As a Taoist, I see evil as another manifestation of the Tao. If there is good, then there is evil, and we have a right to protect ourselves from evil.
The pacifists of today, want to blame society for the evil they see and call it misguided behavior.
BAH!

Waywatcher
May 10, 2007, 09:25 AM
The wise choose to use weapons for defense when absolutely necessary but view having to use the weapons as a sad and solemn occasion.

This reminded me of an experience the other day. I was looking through a knife/gun/ammo catalog and thought how sad it is that there are so many ways to destroy human life. Doesn't mean I'm going to give up my guns and knives though.

I see evil as another manifestation of the Tao. If there is good, then there is evil, and we have a right to protect ourselves from evil.


I have thought about this a lot too. I am no daoist but I came to the same conclusion, without evil there can be no such thing as good, and vice versa. It would be a paradox, because they cant be measured in a vacuum.

lysander
May 10, 2007, 11:56 AM
Isildur...

You've already been bombarded with a great deal of good info regarding much of the written philosophical material that addresses this issue. It is one that I struggle with myself on a routine basis. So, in order to get you away from the more academic offerings that have been suggested...let me offer this:

As a teenager I read a great piece of science fiction titled Armor (http://www.amazon.com/Armor-John-Steakley/dp/0886773687/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1/002-9230203-2572836?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1178808410&sr=8-1) by John Steakley. It is an admittedly derivative work (borrowing the idea of a war with space bugs from Starship Troopers), but I do enjoy it and still read it frequently. In that book, one of the main characters explains that killing is never the right thing to do...just the last and worst possible choice you are left with as a result of all the very bad choices you made leading up to the killing. That is a sentiment that makes sense to me.

For an excellent cinematic exploration of this issue allow me to recommend a film called The Mission starring Robert DeNiro and Jeremy Irons. It does a commendable job of addressing both the religious and pragmatic implications of violence...largely leaving the viewer to come to his/her own conclusions regarding the rightness or wrongness of the characters.

The Mission (http://www.amazon.com/Mission-Two-Disc-Special-Robert-Niro/dp/B00003CXBH/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1/002-9230203-2572836?ie=UTF8&s=dvd&qid=1178807445&sr=1-1)

RPCVYemen
May 10, 2007, 01:11 PM
Most of the touchy, feely, pacifists of today do not believe in the use of force for self-defense because they do not believe that some people are just plain evil.

One of the strongest pacifists I know (knew) was a professor in college. He was a Holocaust survivor - the only one in his family to escape. He told me on time that all of the members of his family that he had known growing up were in the ash pit at Auschwitz. I am guessing the man had a pretty good idea about evil - probably more than you or I.

Mike

-terry
May 10, 2007, 01:46 PM
Dr. Dickie,
That is what Plato said. He believed that to know the good was automatically to do it. Evil only exists because some people don't know the good.

Roscoe,
So the pacificists would claim, as the sig line says, that "A woman raped and strangled is morally superior to one with a dead rapist at her feet.", right?

RPCVYemen
May 10, 2007, 01:46 PM
The "kill" would more properly be translated as "murder" as far as modern English usage is concerned and, in fact, many modern translations of the Bible generally use "murder" in this passage. Check it out in a modern language translation of the Bible or--better yet--with someone who knows Hebrew.

Here is a discussion of the topic from people that know Hebrew (BTW, Artscoll is a publishing house pretty closely associated with Orthodox Judaism) - arguring about the proper translation:

As I remember it, Rabbi Bidderman explained that the staff at ArtScroll
had met on this subject of how to translate the word "tirtzach" (murder
according to most translations). The reason they rejected the "murder"
translation is because it is not 100% accurate. The example he brought
up was when someone kills someone accidentally it is NOT murder but yet
it is still forbidden under the commandment "Lo Tirtzach". Since this
type of accidental killing is also forbidden and since it is not murder
per se, ArtScroll decided that it was better to stick to a more
encompassing translation like "kill" rather than a very specific one
like "murder" which does not include the concept of accidental killing
according to my semantic understanding of the word.

Personally, I have always felt that the best translation for "Lo
Tirtzach" (You shall not ...) is -You shall not shed innocent blood-.
Although somewhat wordy, I feel that this seems to cover all bases as it
were.


I am not sure that I like "Do not shed innocent blood" - if the writer(s) of the Torah had wanted to say "innocent blood", they could have said "innocent blood".

In general, I think that the Torah accepts/endorses the notion of self defense. But that doesn't to my mind constitue a philosophy - the discussion of accidental vs. intentional murder is really part of a legal system. One might try to derive a philosophy from the Torah, but I don't think of the Torah as a philosophical document.

Don't get me wrong - I love the Torah, and have accepted the covenant as my spiritual path (incuding gettting circumcised at 53 years old - ouch :) ). But I don't think of the Torah as a philosophical document. From a philosophical point of view, "Because the Bible says so!" is sort of a dead end.

The Bibical Jesus is far from meek.
Pacifism does not imply meekness (even if the meek shall inherit the earth). If you ever read the Journal of George Fox (Quaker leader), you will not find him a meek man.

But I notice that yiou skipped over the "turn other other cheek" stuff. Did I miss your discussion of this quote? That's the most common verse I hear from Christian pacifists.

Mike

AntiqueCollector
May 10, 2007, 02:14 PM
Don't forget though where Jesus said to buy swords.;)

My interpretation of the "turn the other cheek" thing, is that Jesus was arguing against resorting to violence over insults and the like, but mentioning buying swords, suggests self-defense would be acceptable. Which would fit with the Old Testament and Jewish teachings Jesus and others at that time knew.

willbrink
May 10, 2007, 02:32 PM
"It seems like every intellectual person is condemning weapons etc."

Only the stupid ones. Would Ayn Rand not be considered one of the worlds best known intellectuals? She was very much in favor of law abiding people having guns.


"and here in Germany even the priests teach that the bible is pacifistic."

Then they must be reading a different Bible than the one the rest of the world reads, 'causs it's far from a pacifist document. Speaking of pacifists, two of the worlds best known had this to say on the matter:

"Among the many misdeeds of the British rule in India, history will look upon the Act depriving a whole nation of arms as the blackest." -Mohandas K. Gandhi

and

"If someone has a gun and is trying to kill you, it would be reasonable to shoot back with your own gun." -- The Dalai Lama, (May 15, 2001, The Seattle Times) speaking at the "Educating Heart Summit" in Portland, Oregon, when asked by a girl how to react when a shooter takes aim at a classmate

Isildur
May 10, 2007, 03:37 PM
"It seems like every intellectual person is condemning weapons etc."

Only the stupid ones. Would Ayn Rand not be considered one of the worlds best known intellectuals? She was very much in favor of law abiding people having guns.Yeah but we don't have a lot of these folks here, that's probably because I don't know about them. This is one of the main reasons I love American or international forums and the more I think about this issue the more I think about moving to the US after school.

@lysander:Thanks a lot. I will have a look at it.
@Nomad:Wow impressive article, at least for someone like me who has never got to know these quotes and this interpretation of the bible.

And would like to thank all of you. This discussion provides me with a lot of new ideas, sources and thoughts. It's like I always somehow knew that self-defense was a right and that many folks here were wrong(probably the simple use of reason told me that) and now I start realizing why this is the case.

Johnny B
May 10, 2007, 03:46 PM
Germany also has a very strong Lutheran heritage and anyone who has read Luther knows that he condemned violence for the purpose of self-defense. It was not Christian to defend oneself, since it was not "turning the other cheek"; however, it is, for some reason, inherently Christian to take up arms and defend others, and when it is necessary, a Christian has the duty to do so. Also, Luther Regularly referred to "two kingdoms": the kingdom of God, or that which is governed by God's laws, i.e., the church, and the kingdom of earth, which is essentially a smaller subset of the kingdom of God, in that the legitimacy of a ruler of the kingdom of earth was derived from God. The kingdom of earth, or what we would call "civil" or "secular authority", was meant to see to it that order was kept and that no Christian was prevented from being able to behave like a Christian. It's primary task, however, was to keep the sinners in check. For this reason, Luther referred to the state as "the sword"; while the church could never use violence or compulsion against others, it was necessary that the state did simply so that there could be a Christian church at all. Otherwise, sinners would run free and a true Christian could find no quarter. Armed rebellion against the state was never permitted, and the only recourse a subject had in the event of oppression would be either to leave or to endure. However, once the state, whose jurisdiction is over men's bodies, began trying to make laws that governed men's souls, its subjects could disobey, or simply not comply; this should not be confused with rebellion, however, since disobedience is passive, where rebellion is active. Additionally, if the state gets its authority to rule from God, to rebel would be to rebel against God. Anyway, sorry to chime in again, but I thought it was an interesting sidebar. Plus, the reformers have been one of my favorite things to study in my academic career. I just figure it helps to look at the history to understand why Germans might have such a pacifistic take on the bible.

RPCVYemen
May 10, 2007, 07:15 PM
Also, Luther Regularly referred to "two kingdoms": the kingdom of God, or that which is governed by God's laws, i.e., the church,

That's interesting to know. I didn't now about Luther's "two kingdoms" beliefs. At least part of the Quaker pacifist view is the we are currently living in the Kingdom of God - that the second coming has already happened. They read things like "Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who shall not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom." pretty literally. They claim that the notion that this meant sometime hundreds or thousands of years later is un-Scriptural.

By which second coming thou and you understand his outward coming; for which you have no ground to say, that he bid them observe it, till his outward coming so many hundred years after: for the Scripture speaks nothing so, ...

Now we say, he did come according to his promise, in a spiritual and inward way of appearance in their hearts, feeding them with the heavenly food and refreshment of his own life and Spirit, which is the substance. And concerning his coming he speaks unto them in many places, particularly John xiv. 18.



Back to topic (more or less): Quaker pacifism is predicated on the notion that you can now live in the kingdom of God, and if you chose to do so, you are obligated to speak to that of God in every man. You can't do that while using violence against him or her.

It looks to me as though you can start with one set of axioms and derive pacifism, you can start with a different set of axioms and derive a right to self defense.

If you want to find justification for self-defense in the Bible, you can. if you want to find justification for pacifism in the Bible you can (though it's a good deal harder to do that in my Bible than in this New Testament thing you guys keep bringing up :) ).

Pacifism can be consistent, biblical, and still wrong.

Mike

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