violence

Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: May the Use of Violent Civil Disobedience Be Justified as a Response to Institutional Racism?

This essay was the joint runner up in the graduate category of the 7th Annual Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics.

Written by University of Oxford student Oshy Ray 

The summer of 2020 saw people across the world participating in racial justice protests, demanding the end of state violence against Black people, and calling for the eradication of institutional racism. While these protests were largely peaceful, the use of violence by some protestors was criticised. I argue that some forms of violent civil disobedience—henceforth, VCD— may be justified as responses to institutionalised racism. By “justified,” I mean that something can be made morally permissible—that its outcomes are good enough to warrant the “badness” of its means.

First, I argue that some forms of VCD may be justified as a response to institutional racism. Then, I consider the objection that instrumentally, violence is too uncontrollable to guarantee that desired ends (such as successful social change) may be brought about. In response, I distinguish between violence against persons and violence against objects. Acknowledging that violence against persons may rarely be justified, I claim that violence against objects is more easily justifiable. Finally, I conclude that VCD against objects may be justified as a response to institutional racism. I do not argue that violence can always be a justified response to institutional racism. Rather, my claim is more moderate; I claim that certain forms of VCD may be justified as a response to institutional racism.[1] Continue reading

Religion, War and Terrorism

In a fascinating, engaging, and wide-ranging talk in the New St Cross Special Ethics Seminar series, Professor Tony Coady provided several powerful arguments against the increasingly widespread assumption that religion, and religions, have a tendency to violence, particularly through war or terrorism. Continue reading

A punch in the nose from Pope Francis (using religion to justify violence)

Pope Francis has made a couple of statements in response to the recent Charlie Hebdo killings that seem hard to reconcile. On January 13th he spoke in Sri Lanka and informed the world that religion must never be used to justify violence. Today he spoke en route to the  Philippines and is reported as saying that making fun of religion was unacceptable and that anyone who does so can expect ‘a punch in the nose’. The punch in the nose comment is of course, in effect, an appeal to religion to justify violence. The underlying assumption here is that religion is deserving of respect and that at least some (low-level) violent responses are justified in response to displays of disrespect towards religion.

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The feminist case for gun rights

There has, in recent weeks, been a relatively vigorous debate over gun control in the US.  This was undoubtedly precipitated by the horrendous Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, in which 20 children and 6 adults were gunned down, but the issue has long been simmering in a country alternately outraged by gun violence and resistant to limitations on the people’s ability to keep and bear arms.  There are a number of issues here, but perhaps the most general (and ethically interesting) is whether, in modern societies, the state should significantly restrict the ability of citizens to purchase and carry firearms.  The New York Times’ blog The Stone ran a nice series of philosophical commentaries on guns; however, perhaps unsurprisingly given the typical liberalism of philosophers, all were to varying degrees in favor of gun control (or even prohibition) and not sympathetic to gun rights.   I imagine those in the UK will be similarly disposed, but in this debate it is important to look for the strongest possible cases on both sides.  For my own part, I find the most compelling defense of strong gun rights to come not from the need to check government or general libertarian freedom, but feminism.  This may be somewhat surprising given feminism’s typical association with liberal causes, but on consideration it is not so strange. Continue reading

Turning the Camera Around: What Newtown Tells Us About Ourselves

On the morning of December 14th, 20-year old Adam Lanza opened fire within the halls of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, killing 20 children and six adult staff members before turning his gun on himself. In the hours that followed, journalists from every major news station in the nation inundated the tiny town, and in the days that followed, the country as a whole started down a familiar path characterized best by the plethora of ‘if only-isms’.

It began in the immediate hours following the shooting: if only we had stricter gun control laws, this wouldn’t have happened. This is perhaps an unsurprising first response in a country that represents 4.5% of the world’s population and 40% of the world’s civilian firearms.[1] Over the next few days, as a portrait of the shooter began to emerge and friends and family revealed that he was an avid gamer, a second theory surfaced in the headlines: if only our children weren’t exposed to such violent video games, this tragedy never would have occurred.[2] [3] And just in the past few days, public discourse has converged on the gunman’s mental health, the general conclusion being that if only we had better mental health services in place, this wouldn’t have happened.[4][5] (The National Rifle Association [NRA] even tried to jump on board, suggesting that “26 innocent lives might have been spared” if only we had an armed police guard in every school in America.[6] They seem to be the only ones taking themselves seriously.[7]) Continue reading

Sex or violence—Which is more harmful to children?

Serious warning: this post contains images and descriptions of graphic video-game violence. The intended audience for this post is adults.

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The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last week, in a 7-of-9 majority, that the State of California may not prohibit the sale of violent video games to minors. Such a ban, the majority argued, restricts the free speech rights of the video-game manufacturers, and is therefore unconstitutional. Read the ruling here.

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