Shortcomings of and Alternatives to the Rights-Forfeiture Theory of Justified Self-Defense and Punishment

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I argue that rights-forfeiture by itself is no path to permissibility at all (even barring special circumstances), neither in the case of self-defense nor in the case of punishment. The limiting conditions of self-defense, for instance – necessity, proportionality (or no gross disproportionality), and the subjective element – are different in the context of forfeiture than in the context of justification (and might even be absent in the former context). In particular, I argue that a culpable aggressor, unlike an innocent aggressor, forfeits rights against proportionate defense, including unnecessary defense (as well as rights against the infliction of proportionate non-defensive harm). Yet, I demonstrate that this stance need not lead to the abandonment of the necessity condition of justified self-defense in the case of a culpable aggressor. Since justification and liability are not the same, there is no reason to assume that the necessity condition of justified self-defense must be explained under an appeal to the aggressor’s rights. Parallel arguments apply to the other limiting conditions of permissible self-defense as well as to the limiting conditions of permissible punishment. Accordingly, I also sketch alternative explanations of the proportionality requirement and the subjective element. All these alternative explanations appeal to a principle of precaution: instead of explaining the unjustifiability of unnecessarily harming a culpable attacker or wrongdoer by an appeal to the rights of the attacker or wrongdoer himself, one can also, and better, explain it by a requirement to take reasonable precautions against violating the rights of innocent people.
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Archival date: 2015-11-21
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