Some believe that murder is only committed due to an emotional or moral action, but can you ever justify it with reason?

  • 1
    Well, sure, if by "reason" or "logic", you simply mean pragmatically. The issue is that people (especially those you're proposing to murder) will quibble with you over whether your argument is actually reasonable or logical, given some particular ethical framework. Mar 23, 2012 at 20:11
  • 1
    Do you really mean "moral action" here? If it's a moral action, then it is by definition (morally) justified. It's hard to answer without know what you mean there, and also how you define "murder". Murder in a legal sense or in the more general sense? If you mean the general sense, you should provide a clear definition too.
    – stoicfury
    Mar 24, 2012 at 5:32
  • 5
    What do you mean by "murder"--could you define the term as you are using it, please? If you define it as "morally unjustified killing", which is pretty close to what it often is defined as, then obviously the answer is tautologically no.
    – Rex Kerr
    Mar 25, 2012 at 21:30
  • Murder is easy to justify using reason. Everyone does it, from governments to footsoldiers. There is a story that the Buddha committed murder in his past which is preserved, no doubt, to show that context is everything and moral absolutism is unworkable. It is not difficult to imagine a situation in which murder is the morally correct action.
    – user20253
    Dec 28, 2017 at 12:26
  • Can any action be justified exclusively by reason (or logic)? Dec 28, 2017 at 20:12

5 Answers 5


Yes and no.

This question yearns for the comparison between two views:

Moral Absolutism and Consequentialism.

Moral Absolutism:

Moral absolutism is an ethical view that certain actions are absolutely right or wrong, regardless of other contexts such as their consequences or the intentions behind them. Thus stealing, for instance, might be considered to be always immoral, even if done to promote some other good (e.g., stealing food to feed a starving family), and even if it does in the end promote such a good.


Consequentialism is the class of normative ethical theories holding that the consequences of one's conduct are the ultimate basis for any judgment about the rightness of that conduct. Thus, from a consequentialist standpoint, a morally right act (or omission) is one that will produce a good outcome, or consequence.

These two contrasting views dictate what you may and may not do.

While Moral Absolutism is only with respect to the barebones of one's actions (and cares about nothing else), consequentialism takes into account the final objective/result that one strives to achieve.

Let me give you an analogy:

Imagine you have committed a crime, and thus, you are now on trial. You are given a drink that forces you to only tell the truth when prompted.

Scenario A (Moral Absolutism):

The judge asks you whether you committed murder. You respond by saying, "yes". The judge then immediately sentences you to 25 years in prison.

The judge does not know (and does not care) that you were abducted, kidnapped, and tortured, and that the only way to escape was to kill your captor while he was distracted, take the keys from his pocket, and unshackle yourself and escape.

Scenario B (Consequentialism):

The judge asks you whether you committed murder. You respond by saying, "yes". The judge further asks questions to find out why you committed the crime. He finds out what the true reasoning the murder was and thus, merely sends you to a rehabilitation center to prepare you to re-enter society.

Hopefully, these analogies gave you an idea of each view.

Each view has its pros and cons. Of course, scenario A was fairly unjust (no pun/oxymoron intended) because the basis of the deeds was not taken into account. But on the other hand, consequentialism can also be twisted to reflect Machiavelli's "The ends justify the means" and be taken advantage of.

Many questions come on the borderline and are difficult to answer such as killing one innocent person to save a thousand.

The ultimate answer to your question lies with your decision of which view you believe to be the most suitable for the situation.

  • 2
    So the actual answer here is "Yes", because the question says "possible in any way" and you cited at least 1 way.
    – cregox
    Apr 17, 2012 at 20:11
  • @Cawas Ah of course, you're right. :) But whether it's justifiable in a given situation is debatable...
    – Outlier
    Apr 17, 2012 at 22:47

No. Murder cannot be justified through logic, reason, emotion, or any other means. If it can be justified, it's not murder-- it's justifiable homicide, or manslaughter, or an act of combat, or self-defense, or capital punishment, or euthanasia, etc.

Now, if you are asking if homicide can ever be justified, the answer is obviously yes. It is almost universally accepted (across cultures and ethical systems) that there are some circumstances where the killing of another person is justifiable.

  • This is the correct answer. Murder is an unlawful type of killing. Now, if your question read "Is it possible in any way to justify killing using reason or logic?", that, to me, would be a more interesting question. Jun 26, 2015 at 1:08
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    Isn't the distinction between "murder" and "homicide" totally subjective and rather arbitrary?! Aug 30, 2016 at 8:28
  • @RonRoyston: This answer indeed provides some careful distinction between (premeditated) murder and other kinds of killing, which the other answer does not (because it includes all kinds of killing). However, it is then a matter of terminology, which of course should have been made clearer in the question.
    – user21820
    Aug 31, 2016 at 11:27
  • @user21820 What's especially interesting is that the concept of justified killing vis a vis capital punishment exists in Judeo-Christian societies despite Romans 12:19 "Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord." Aug 31, 2016 at 18:44
  • @RonRoyston: That's going off-topic, so I hope Michael doesn't mind the discussion. I'm not advocating Christian doctrines, but that quote is about wrath (uncontrolled anger), which is (ideally) not there in capital punishment. I personally feel that life-imprisonment can suffice to deal with willful murderers, but of course one has to address many issues such as humane treatment of inmates, useful prison work, outsider perceptions and prison costs. It is undeniable that people have often chosen the easy way out, and it is that lazy attitude that is immoral, even if capital punishment is not!
    – user21820
    Sep 1, 2016 at 5:08

This sort of question is easy. It is always justifiable to murder in order to prevent two murders, all else being equal.

  • How would you know whether killing one person would prevent any other murders? Dec 28, 2017 at 20:10

Yeah. It isn't a special or unique action. It is moral if it makes no one's life worse. And it won't make the victim's life worse, as they will be literally incpable of caring.

Psychopaths may say that only their lives matter. Truly, the most logical standpoint. But I have empathy, so it is not valid for me.

  • This answer introduces a great deal of thinking. Can you expand on these thoughts? Dec 29, 2017 at 2:47

Murder is illegal killing : killing another person with the intent to kill, with the conscious objective of killing. (This is the everyday sense; I cannot do full justice to legal precision.) Only on a tight connection between law and morality can murder be unjustified merely because it is illegal.

  1. So we have to start again. There can be at least one perfectly logical reason for killing someone, namely that it is helpful to my purposes to do so if they are blocking some intention or goal that I have. I do not suggest that this would morally justify killing them but it would be rationally and logically justified - justified by means/ end rationality.

  2. It may also be logical or rational to kill someone if on a careful sekf-interested or altruistic calculation this is the only way to prevent their causing, or continuing to cause, disastrous harm to others. This could have a moral justification as well unless one subscribes to some such principle that it is always wrong to take a human life, whatever the consequences.

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