When a person is in danger, their instinct is to do everything they can to protect themselves and others from that danger. When this instinct goes beyond simply avoiding the danger, but involves actively protecting oneself or others, we call it self-defense or (more commonly) defending yourself. Self-defense is a controversial topic because of the actions that it often involves. When an individual feels threatened, they react as they think they must to remain safe
. But are these actions always justified? Do we always have a moral obligation to defend ourselves? Or are there certain circumstances that make it wrong to defend yourself? Self-defense has been discussed for centuries by philosophers and religious thinkers who see it as something of a conundrum; is it right to attack another person to stop them from attacking you again? Or does that not justify attacking another person at all, even if it’s for your good?
The Argument for Self Defense
The idea behind self-defense is, to a certain extent, the same as the idea behind any other form of defense, whether it’s military or economic. Self-defense is the defense of your life, your possessions, your loved ones, and your community. This is a very broad definition and can include anything from fending off an attacker with a knife to protecting your country from an invading army.
The act of self-defense is not taking an action against someone who has not yet harmed you but rather preventing them from harming you or your loved ones in the first place. If a person is running towards you with a knife and you shoot them before they get close enough to stab you then that is self-defense. If a person is running towards you with a knife but you shoot them after they’re mere feet away from you then that would be considered revenge or murder.
Self-Defense as a Moral Dilemma
At its heart, the debate over the ethics of self-defense comes from a question of morality: is it ever right to harm another person? And if so, when and why? The person attacking you is, in most cases, not doing so because they’re having a bad day and want to vent their frustrations on you. They’re doing it because they want to hurt you. The mistake many people make is to think that the only reason a person would attack another is if they’re driven by a desire for revenge. The reasons to attack another person are endless. Some people attack others because they’re mentally ill or suffering from a condition like depression and don’t know any better.
Some people attack others because they’re poor and struggling to get by and are driven to desperation. Some people attack others because they want to manipulate or control others. Some people attack others because they’re angry or feel threatened and want to lash out. Some people attack others because they’re just plain evil. And when we add self-defense into the mix, it gets even more complicated. If we’re faced with a situation where we have to defend ourselves, we have to decide whether or not taking action against the person threatening us is ever justified. Because if we decide to defend ourselves, we’re taking a certain degree of action against them to protect ourselves.
Self-Defense and Retaliatory Attacks
The fact that a person is attacking you doesn’t make it okay to take action against them. If you respond to their attack with an even greater attack of your own, you’re not defending yourself; you’re taking revenge. Retaliatory attacks are never justified because they don’t prevent further harm.
When someone attacks you, your only concern should be how to stop them from hurting you again. If you attack them back, you’re not stopping them from hurting you again; you’re taking revenge for their attack on you. If you’re in a situation where you have to defend yourself and you respond with an attack of your own, you have to make sure that your attack is proportional to the attack you’re facing. If someone attacks you with their fists, you can defend yourself with your fists, but you can’t defend yourself with your gun.
Self Defence and the Protection of Others
One important thing to consider when defending yourself is whether or not you’re defending yourself or protecting other people. When you’re in a situation where someone is threatening you, you have every right to defend yourself by any means necessary. But if an attacker is threatening a loved one, you have a moral obligation to defend them as well.
When someone is threatening you, your priority should be to protect yourself. You may end up protecting a loved one as well, but you don’t have the same obligation to them that you do to yourself. When someone is threatening a loved one and you can defend them, your moral obligation is to protect them. If you’re able to defend yourself and a loved one and leave the threat unharmed, that’s great. But if you can only defend yourself or a loved one, your moral obligation is to defend the person who is in the most danger.
At its heart, self-defense is a moral dilemma. We have to decide whether it’s okay to take action against a person who is threatening us. And the decision is not a simple one. The action we take could save our lives, but it could also take a life. We have to decide at the moment when we don’t have time to stop and think things through, but taking action comes with consequences: we could kill someone and suffer the guilt of taking a life; we could be badly injured and suffer the consequences of our injuries.
Self-defense is not something that any of us ever want to have to deal with, but it’s important to have a good understanding of the moral issues involved. The better equipped you are to make the right decision at the moment, the less likely you are to suffer from the guilt of taking a life or the consequences of your injuries.