San Diego Law Review

Library of Congress Authority File


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What is self-defense? Most theorists of self-defense are mainly interested in explaining why and when we are morally justified in defending ourselves from a threat posed by another. The moral questions here are important, not just because self-defense represents an interesting moral conundrum, but because morality, at least in this case, is, or should be, a reliable guide to the law. So theorists of self-defense often start with paradigm cases—the culpable aggressor, the justified aggressor, the innocent aggressor, the innocent threat, and so on—and try to explain moral intuitions about them with the help of moral theory, whether Hohfeldian, utilitarian, Thomist, or other. Progress has been achieved in this way, but, like Uwe Steinhoff, I think it is worth asking the question of what, exactly, is supposed to count as self-defense.