The Ethics of Violence

On the ethical question of violence, the answer is quite similar to terrorism and war; based on definition it is important to arrive at conscious ethical solutions that result in a calling for violence only in the most necessary solutions. Violence (by definition) refers to acts which intend to cause injury to persons, animals, and/or property. Violence has traditionally been constituted into two categories: random and coordinated violence. The former being unpremeditated and no apparently motivated violence; while coordinated violence refers to acts committed by sanctioned and unsanctioned groups with certain aims or goals behind their actions.

Whether or not violence can be condoned or condemned should be left up to the ethical principle of act utilitarianism. By applying act utilitarianism, we can examine individual cases in which violence may be applied justifiably, as opposed to random violence for the sake of destruction or harm. Utility can sometimes be preserved and/or sought through violent methods, such as revolutions, or state sanctions against violent criminals who pose a threat to society. In these cases, rule utilitarianism may be applied as well, but generally speaking violence has such an appalling, devastating ramification for numerous parties involved its best to justify it through the act utilitarian model as opposed to rule utilitarianism.

Evidence that supports this justification of violence can be seen in evidence in the criminal just and political spectrum in which, much like warfare and terrorism, violence has been used to preserve utility or actively used to achieve it.

In the political spectrum, violent and semi-violent revolutions which have resulted in widespread utility for the masses such as the Iranian Revolution against the Shah, and the Russian Revolution against the Tsar would be classified as justifiable violence.

In criminal justice systems, violence in the form of capital punishment can be used to incapacitate violent criminals, or criminals whom pose a threat to society.

Also in criminal justice, using violence as a punishment for crimes may act as a deterrent (if applied appropriately).
Violence used in a manner in which the state maintains order and control and preserves society from anarchy and political nihilism.

Violence used to protect societies from aggressors may be deemed justifiable; such as Allied forces battling against Axis powers in WW2.

These forms of violence represent justifiable means to an end which ultimately constitutes the greatest amount of utility to the greatest amount of people, in strict adherence to act utilitarian principles.

On the question of applying violence, there are times in which the act utilitarian must concede that violence is not necessary, and such instances do exist. Instances that would degenerate to unwanted ends through the use of violence would be considered immoral. Such acts include spousal abuse, child abuse, individual assault, rape, cruelty to animals, etc. These forms of violence do not fall under the moral umbrella of act utilitarianism and would not result in the given utility of any individuals outside perhaps the perpetrator himself.

If however, instances where assault, rape, domestic violence could be proven to provide utility, such cases would indicate that violence would be a moral choice in the matter. Although this is highly unlikely, it’s one of the main reasons act utilitarianism (not rule) should applied to answering such a moral question. Moral and ethical questions that have consequences as heavy as violence deserve critical analysis when considering whom is going to benefit-and if the answer does not conclude to the greater population, the act is henceforth immoral or unethical.

The consequential evidence through justifying the use of violence for certain instances can often times be a burdensome means to a benevolent end. The aestheticization of violence isn’t the goal, in fact it should never be looked at as attractive or glorious, but only as an exclusive solution to only the most extreme situations. If we can justify violence through act utilitarianism, we can thus assume that it has moral weight only in instances where society is in danger, whether it be from internal or external threats. This in some ways makes violence attractive by utilizing the glamour behind success; meaning that if people make the association that violence is successful (since it is only applied when absolutely necessary) then they may make the false assumption that it is also a good aspect of social organization and administration, and this is not within act utilitarian principles at all.

In conclusion, violence (like warfare and terrorism) needs to be approached on a situational basis with the goal of utility in mind. Utility is a precious thing that should be protected by all means necessary, including violence. When the line between violence in the name of utility becomes random violence is when it takes a sudden turn into the unethical realm. It’s imperative for societies to abstain from this type of behavior if utility is ultimately going to be reached.

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