Episode 21. Jon Quong on Self-Defense

In thinking about the rules of war, the trend in contemporary political philosophy has been to start from individual conduct and scale up. War is just many instances of individual self-defense, so the rules about individual self-defense will frame the principles of just warfare. Our guest today, Jon Quong, wants to flip that on its head. To understand whether a given individual is acting rightly in harming another, we need to first settle our views about the social context in which it takes place.

Jon Quong is a senior lecturer at the University of Manchester. He has links to many of his papers on self-defense on his website. Interested readers might start with ”Killing in Self-Defense,” Ethics 119, no. 3 (2009).

Click here to download the episode (32:30, 19.6 mb, MP3), or click on the embedded media player below. You can also download the transcript.


As Quong mentions, the much-discussed case of the man falling down a well originates with Robert Nozick, in his Anarchy, State and Utopia (New York: Basic Books, 1974).

A discussion of eliminative harmful agency and opportunistic harmful agency can be found in Warren S. Quinn, “Actions, Intentions, and Consequences: The Doctrine of Double Effect,” Philosophy and Public Affairs 18, no. 4 (1989).

Jeff McMahan’s views on self-defense are set out in some detail in Killing in War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009). Michael Walzer’s can be found, among others, in his Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations, 4th Ed. (New York: Basic Books, 2006).

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