Moral (Im)Permissibility of Terrorism and Suicide Attacks

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Shunzo Majima


The purpose of this article is to examine the moral (im)permissibility of terrorism and suicide attacks from the perspective of war ethics. On the one hand, terrorism in general is hardly morally justifiable, but it could be permissible – theoretically at least – under exceptional circumstances where a specific set of criteria for justification is met. In reality, however, actual cases of terrorism, past or present, that are considered morally permissible are hard to find. On the other hand, the moral (im)permissibility of suicide attacks may be determined primarily by the jus in bello (justice in war) criterion of just war theory, which is one of the dominant approaches in the field of war ethics. Jus in bello proposes a general rule (the so-called ‘principle of distinction’) that prohibits attackersfrom targeting civilians and civilian objects. At the same time, however, it also propose an exceptional rule (the ‘principle of proportionality in means’) that allows collateral damage to civilians and civilian objects if a given attack is solely aimed at combatants and military objects, and if any damage to civilians and civilian objects is unintentional and proportionate to the military gains the attack brings. I conclude by arguing that terrorism by its nature is hardly ever morally justifiable, whereas a suicide attack solely aimed at military targets could potentially be permissible under certain conditions.

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How to Cite
MAJIMA, Shunzo. Moral (Im)Permissibility of Terrorism and Suicide Attacks. Annals of the University of Bucharest - Philosophy Series, [S.l.], v. 66, n. 2, p. 165-179, feb. 2018. ISSN 0068-3175. Available at: <>. Date accessed: 22 nov. 2019.