We are seeing things being done in the world by some organized group of people. And I am trying to understand something. Certainly, as a group, they act on a defined agenda. This must imply a philosophy behind their actions, i.e. they must have a system of explanation of their lifestyle to themselves, and a goal, which amount up to a rather firm and all-encompassing world-view. What is this philosophy? What is the cornerstone of this world-view? What is their philosophy as a group and as an individual? Are these even known?

What familiar philosophical systems can relate or have something to say about it?

  • There seem to be at least two disparate questions here. Also, the question is really asking us to speculate in a way that is not ideal for the SE-format or for the parameters of this SE. – virmaior Nov 15 '15 at 0:48
  • @virmaior can you propose an edit, or is it a subject for being closed? – noncom Nov 15 '15 at 0:52
  • @virmaior btw, your hint to speculation implies that their philosophy is unknown and not understood. So we do not know, what are they thinking. This could count for your choice of an answer. – noncom Nov 15 '15 at 0:55
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    @noncom, the problems with your question: (1) there are multiple different terrorist groups, with potentially different philosophies, (2) even within a single group that has a particular philosophy, participants might be more or less motivated by that philosophy. – James Kingsbery Nov 18 '15 at 20:28
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    @noncom: I think this is just too broad because every moral philosophy or philosophy of law has some kind of terrorism as its negative, though not explicitly in every case. Kant, Fichte, Hegel, Kelsen, Schmitt, Plessner, Horkheimer, Adorno, Habermas, Honneth to only name some names in the German tradition of philosophy. Honneth to be the best adressee for terrorism as an excplicit case. – Philip Klöcking Nov 19 '15 at 15:42

To discuss terrorism from a philosophical point of view, one first must realize that terrorism has a pretty precise definition: Achieving a political objective by terrorizing a civilian population. The group committing terrorist acts sees that it doesn't have the power to achieve it's political aims directly (via negotiation, or via conventional force - i.e. using a traditional army and conventional warfare), so it resorts to terrorism against civilian populations instead. Presumably the civilian population in question has enough influence on its own government that it will exert pressure on it to comply with the terrorists objectives out of fear of further terrorist attacks.

Various terrorist groups have had all sorts of objectives. Sometimes they are clearly wrong (imposing their religious or political views on the rest of society).

Other times their objectives were more understandable: Freedom from oppression or occupation, fighting against racism, etc....

The philosophical debate becomes the following:

  • Is it legitimate to sacrifice innocent human lives for the sake of a higher cause? If so, which causes?
  • Why is it legitimate for innocent civilians to die in conventional warfare, as collateral victims to attacks conducted by regular armies under conditions of a declared war, but not legitimate for innocent civilians to be killed by non government actors?

Personally I think that there are many arguments against both terrorism and conventional warfare, but that the biggest argument of all is that no one should make the decision to sacrifice another's life for a cause, no matter how good the cause. If one chooses to risk or sacrifice their own life for a cause, so be it. But the moment someone starts making that decision on behalf of others, both terrorism and conventional warfare loose any legitimacy whatsoever.

  • The argument against violence is easy; the hard part is actually arguing in favor of the alternatives. – user6559 Nov 17 '15 at 5:42
  • "no one should make the decision to sacrifice another's life for a cause, no matter how good the cause.".. What about punishing a criminal? How is that justified by the above statement? – WYSIWYG Nov 19 '15 at 7:09

I find the most common feature of such groups is the fundamental belief that they believe what they have is worth more than that of others. Most often this comes in the form of belief in a piece of knowledge that is, to them, utterly without reproach.

Unfortunately, that is also the common trait of a large number of major world groups. It leads you to wonder what defines a terrorist anyways...

Going one step deeper, I do believe terrorism calls for a belief that if you just strike out against the not-good hard enough and long enough, "good" will prevail. I find a common attitude that fighting against not-good is, itself good.

Unfortunately, this also shows up in many groups, just not the terrorists.

From this perspective, it might be reasonable to argue that terrorism is simply an extreme of a spectrum, and thus can be understood remarkably well by nearly any school of philosophy which recognizes that there is a spectrum to humanity. Its often said that one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. The mindset may be closer to ourselves than we think.

  • Is terrorism devoid of humanism? If not, then what sort of humanism is present in such a mindset? – noncom Nov 15 '15 at 1:25
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    Terrorism is not always devoid of humanism. In this time and age, we often associate terrorism with religious extremism, but the extremists do not have a monopoly on terrorism. Indeed, there are cases where humanism has been used to permit extreme persecution of others simply through clever manipulation of what is "human." A great deal of atrocious behavior can be warranted under the presumed goal of raising an animal up to be a human -- all one has to do is make sure the subject has been stripped of their humanity before proceeding. – Cort Ammon Nov 15 '15 at 2:44

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