Ryan Cheyney argues that when an innocent Victim defends himself against an Aggressor by killing the Aggressor, he can justify his killing the Aggressor by saying he was not responsible for killing the Aggressor. Please bear in mind Victim has good reason to believe Aggressor is out to kill Victim and that only by killing Aggressor can Victim hope to live. Crucially, it follows from the fact that Victim is not responsible for the scenario he has found himself in that he is not responsible for his killing Aggressor.

I do not follow the step from the Victim not being responsible for being in the situation that he has found himself in to the idea that he is not responsible for the action he decides to take, whether that is killing Aggressor or allowing Aggressor to kill him.

One reason why I fail to see a connection is that ordinary language would describe the situation as follows: the Victim chooses to kill Aggressor. It seems to me choice and responsibility are intertwined. If you have a genuine choice, which the Victim seems to have, you automatically are responsible for the choice you make.

Let me explain my point by way of analogy. Suppose you are teleported by an evil scientist to a bar. No one would suggest that by being in the bar makes you responsible for being in the bar. Nevertheless, you can either stay or leave. This choice is not something the scientist who teleported you to the bar is responsible for.

In the same way that the scientist is not responsible for you being at the bar the Aggressor is not responsible for you killing him.

So, can responsibility or the lack thereof justify self-defence?

  • 2
    Being causally responsible for a decision does not automatically make one morally responsible for its outcome. The victim is responsible for his decision to defend himself, but not necessarily for the resulting killing. That is subject to meeting many additional conditions, see Is it a logical flaw to blame someone for an event if they were simply its causal factor?
    – Conifold
    Oct 11 '19 at 0:38
  • I have not read Cheyney. But he would need to overcome the law in this area, and the wisdom of the law which is developed through concrete facts. Real cases. And there is wisdom here which should not lightly be thrown aside.
    – Gordon
    Oct 11 '19 at 16:06
  • Ie Cheyney seems to say there is simply no murder by “Victim” yet he still grafts on this idea of being “justified”. I wonder if he has ever been a judge or in a courtroom. It sounds like a confused mess, though again I have not read his work.
    – Gordon
    Oct 11 '19 at 16:28

What you are asking revolves around questions of culpability in the philosophy of law. To be culpable from the WP entry 'culpability':

From a legal perspective, culpability describes the degree of one's blameworthiness in the commission of a crime or offense. Except for strict liability crimes, the type and severity of punishment often follow the degree of culpability.

Jurisprudential reckoning can be a recondite and localized topic. Recondite because most people spend their lives avoiding being entangled in the legal system, and localized because there are many different systems of laws in the world, and many different courts, sometimes even within the same nation-state. In Western Society, for instance, law can be common, criminal, civil, or maritime. In the US, there is federal and state law.

Your question is relevant to both tort and criminal law in the US. In your hypothetical case, if a person in the course of their normal, civilian life kills someone and the legal facts clearly support the claim that the defender killed the attacker, the defender has clearly committed homicide; however, there are defenses to homicide. One of them is called unsurprisingly self-defense, and is considered an affirmative defense. From the WP entry 'affirmative defense':

An affirmative defense to a civil lawsuit or criminal charge is a fact or set of facts other than those alleged by the plaintiff or prosecutor which, if proven by the defendant, defeats or mitigates the legal consequences of the defendant's otherwise unlawful conduct.

In your example, the person might be morally or even civilly liable, but may not be criminally liable. If the defender is found to be sound of mind and not non compos mentis, then they ARE responsible for their actions, but have NOT committed a crime if the self-defense theory holds under a trier of fact.

  • Good point regarding localised theories and laws. In Germany, an act of self-defense is not against the law by definition but you have responsibility for an action that fulfils both the actus reus and the means rea of a punishable charge.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Oct 10 '19 at 22:22
  • Auch hier in die Vereinigte Staaten. Action and intention. Good thing judges aren't behaviorists!
    – J D
    Oct 11 '19 at 2:12

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