On Meriting Death Author(s): Ramchandra Gandhi Source: Philosophy East and West, Vol. 31, No. 3 (Jul., 1981), pp.

337-353 Published by: University of Hawai'i Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1398578 . Accessed: 31/08/2013 15:00
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some case thatonlyZ. bring meriting right to understand than the idea of one hands of X. suchthatX could be prevented killing which of defensive if Y killed X. a human being killedwithout death at the meriting itself the handsof his killer. Is one in thissituation really obligedto say thatY has which this question the rightto kill X? Let us consider some difficulties creates. whichtheidea of thehumanright to kill any otherhuman being? Does any humanbeingeverhave the right Of course so. have an ailingwifeand smallchildren. thesortof case whereX is trying killing. followthat Y merited neccessarily etcetera.Y. did not merit to killX. and Y does not merit way Y can prevent deathat thehandsof X. 31 Aug 2013 15:00:10 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . have now the classic context killing. in the idea of Y not death at the kill we to to have had X. givingthe followingrepresentative or intendedto kill another example.40 on Sat.and theidea of the sanctity of sayingprecisely what it comes to less embarrassing makes the difficulty than it might be otherwise.I think. some werealso thecase thatneither to kill X. self-defensive includes. 1981).)If in this situationit Y nor Z merited deathat thehands of X. he perhapsalreadydying. To be able to answer the death at the questionlet us take a quick look at the idea of Y not meriting If Y does not merit deathat handsof X. to have the In orderto understand whatit is forY. Indeed. would stillwantto say thatY had theright The extra featuresthat have been brought in to describe the general to bear in mind.but is not restricted killing.even if it werethe would want to say thatY had the right deathat thehands of X. Even if X had the rightto kill Y. and not also Y. ? by The University Philosophy This content downloaded from 134. in thissortof situation. such thatthe onlyway Y could prevent or intended to killnot Y X. was trying X fromkilling him humanbeing.to or not introduceas early as possible the idea of human beings meriting at theUniversity Ramchandra Gandhiis Head. one mightwant to say. But thehandsof X. Or let us supposethatX was trying was by killing from Z but some otherhumanbeing. may It is important in any discussionof the human rightto life.but forthesake of of defensive are important situation killing of self-defensive restrict ourselves to thesituation let us preliminary argument to killY. him is by killing X fromkilling X. it would not death at the hands of X (Y may be old. thismeansat leastthatX does not have theright it means more than this.X.115.Z. to killY. no.This article is based on the philosophically of humanlifeis nourishment without conviction thatthe idea of the sanctity to lifeperishes.129. Pressof Hawaii. an idea even more difficult human being having the rightto kill another. Department ofHyderbad ofPhilosophy reserved. All rights East and West31. (We only to. Suppose a human being. We can see a fewthings immediately. The idea of innocence to of pointsbeyond sanctity of humanlifehas an insistence which humanlife. theonly or intends thatis. 3 (July.Ramchandra Gandhi On meriting death we encounter In thinking at itshearttheidea of theinnocence murder through of the victimof murder.

thissupposition substantiate.129. 31 Aug 2013 15:00:10 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . retaining of thesituation. The introduction of the idea of Y not meriting death at the hands of X in the example under consideration. Is it logically to do this?Can we.it would not automatically of another human being. thatX may have the right to killY. in of these. Does it followfrom to killX? (1) and (2) above thatY has theright killing If not.as has beenpointedout. in logic.338 Gandhi succeeds death at one another'shands. Let us also.40 on Sat. X is trying or intends to kill Y. and suppose thatalthoughX has the right to kill description he has no right thisright. and is exercising This content downloaded from 134. allows forthepossibility thatY may merit thatis.because even if an argument meriting in establishing to killotherhuman humanbeingshave theright thatveryoften followthat in all thesecases any human beings.hope to understand whatit is forone permissible to kill anotherin termsof what it is forone humanbeing to have the right humanbeingnotto have the right to kill another. experimentally. that all the otherelements X is (1) X is trying or intendsto kill Y.even though thelatter had theright to killtheformer. not to be objected to on the then. objectedto on anotherground.suppose thatX and Y bothknowthatX has theright to kill Y. and (2) the onlyway Y can prevent fromkillinghim is by killingX.115.or.ought or difficulty of this idea. I do not know. do away withthe postulatethatY does not merit death at thehands of X. But it could be death at the hands of X. inasmuchas the idea is groundof the complexity centralto any understanding of the human rightto life. at this into our attemptto least this much is meant.If Y does not merit thismeans. Let us imaginethatthisis in fact thecase.On theface of it.thatX does not have theright to killY. to avoid complications whichwillnot assistcomprehension at thisstage. and that(2) the only way Y can prevent X fromkilling him is by X.We will have to say that(1) in theexercise of his right to killY. thatthesetwo considering are merely Perhapstheideas of a humanbeing things oppositesof each other? havingand not havingthe rightto kill anotherhuman being requireto be understoodin essential contrastwith each other in some immediateand seemshard to intuitive way.Y has lost his self-defensive to kill?Can a humanbeingeverlose his self-defensive right kill? to right Let us for a momentbring back the human being Z fromour earliest of the situation. Some of the merited at the hands death being considerations alluded to earlierin parentheses may become decisive. althoughin act he is Y.the thoughtof the sanctity of addition to or even independently human lifemay oblige us to say that some human being or beingsdid not merit death at the hands of some otherhumanbeingor beings. and we have written understandwhat it is for Y to have the rightto kill X. to killZ.whynot?Can one say thatin view of X's right to killhim. We will in that case have to redescribe the situationas follows. Are our difficulties at an end now? The situation death at thehands of X. What is theway out then? Let us.

and (2) theonlyway Y can prevent X from Y is by killing X. or a saint. killing In thelightof theearlierdiscussionlet us return to thesimplest situation of human killinginvolving two human beings. whycannot Y Y has the right thisright. is weakerthan X's rightto kill Y? What would be thebasis forsayingthis? The idea of a self-defensive which rightto kill stemsfromconsiderations have to do withthe absolute integrity of a livingbody-in the present case a about thisidea whichsuggests that livinghumanbody-and thereis nothing the absoluteintegrity of a livinghumanbody can become undermined by the thatsome otherhumanbeingmayhave to destroy it. 31 Aug 2013 15:00:10 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions .Of courseY is unlikely to have theresources to do this.X and Y. would have the right selfkilling to killX. And why should moral or legal theorists wish to deny that a condemnedmurderer has the self-defensive to kill his executioner at the right where this is the self-defense? Would not it be more correct point onlypossible to say thatall thatmorality and law and social policyrequire. exercising in orderto defend thatis.how can he generaldefensive lose whatcan be subsumedunderthisright. thatis. the condemnedman. ifthatis the onlyway he can prevent X defensively fromkilling him. theself-defensive to right kill?Does one wantto say thatevenifY retains his self-defensive to kill.339 Y or intends to kill Z.in our example. let us suppose. in spiteof the factthatX has the right to kill X in defenseof Z.and let us further suppose thatX has commenced exercise of his right to killY. at the point right wheretheonlywayY can prevent X from himis by killing X. theright. if the preceding selfreasoning regarding defensive is sound. duly authorizedto kill Y who. despite right yields strange In orderto see this. the executioner.one can say thatY retains right the X has kill fact that the to the situation Y. is a murderer condemnedby due the processof law to death.and right his self-defensive to killX if.115. iftheonlyway X can be prevented killing to kill Y and both X Y killing X? And let us not forget thatX has the right to killY. have thesame right to X? Y the kill retains to If himself. if theyrequire this. in relationto himself. happening themoraltheory whether the"self" happensto be a murderer of self-defense. if the only way X can Y from him is by killing Y. right kill. which is describable thus:(1) X is trying or intends to killY.letus supposethatX is an executioner consequences.129. is that the condemned man ought not to succeed in this enterprise? and generalizing theargument so farwe can say this:No human Summarizing X can have to kill the another human being right being Y and exercisethis Y too acquiringa right without to kill. in relationto X. right this rightof his. But one also would be forced to say thatevenifX did right not initially have a rightto kill Y. Then.the right to kill X.40 on Sat. So X and Y have now theright to prevent killing This content downloaded from 134. he would now.but we are examining not thelikelihoodof such a thing but thetheory. Y. If thisis sound. and is and Y know this!If. Would not we want to say thatin thissituation trying from Z is by has theright to killX. One might killing say thatthesituation yieldsY's selfdefensive to killX.

129. itdoes so in an Insofar do have theright to killotherhumanbeings? of its because exposure of the theoretical apparentlyvery puzzling way.PerhapsX's X is a hardened and Y his unfortunate murderer target or him.) everybody invoking the view thathumanbeingsoften Does the preceding strengthen argument as itdoes. How can this be shown? Has not much of the preceding albeit a of an affirmation.115.I shall argue here that right alleged things as such is no there thing the human rightever to kill theycannot because human beings. This convictioncan weaken.they and frustrate weaken only the self-righteousness.and as the combat Y (perhaps a skilledAmitabh Bachchan) is it clear that becomes develops more likelyto kill X than vice versa.how weak is the may remainintact throughout to kill to defendothers. Let us supposethat coursebecomeclear thatX was on thepointof killing of attack.In fact. Even if initially defensive capacitiesare also stirred thathe had any right to killY. desperately motive at firstwas simplyto rob Y or terrorize and X's selffirst then at has resisted X. and discussionpointedin the direction argument to kill human beings? of the human right somewhatparadoxicalaffirmation.40 on Sat. In additionto noticing this. One even by condemnedmurderers. and self-defensive of containing killing. in saints as well as It is worth but it cannot be undermined murderers. only the arrogance. of self-defensive the that one's conviction killing regarding legitimacy noting one's life. in the ritualof human killing.would one to killY remains weakerthanY's selfwantto say thatX's self-defensive right thatX had to kill X? Would one insteadsay tough-mindedly defensive right asked for it and leave it at that ? As the combat develops it could also of Y. In comparison.and the idea of a human being meriting right I death at the hands of anotherhumanbeing?But in makingthisdistinction to killhumanbeingslacks out thatthe idea of the humanright was pointing This content downloaded from 134. betweenthe idea of a humanbeinghavingthe Have I not made a distinction kill human another to being. 31 Aug 2013 15:00:10 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions .340 Gandhi thewhole killeach other!Could one say thatin viewof thefactthatX started X X kill Y? What Y to kill than has to has a self-defensive greater right thing. Y. strikers need not be alarmedat the puzzlingcharacterof theseresults. of theerrorof supposing impossibility is lost by firstthat the self-defensive rightto kill.of the expectationthat a bit of argumentand a bit of accurate descriptionof situationsof human killingwill suffice suitablyto anchor in the natureof kill human to the human beings. he had not thought now. courageously. by objectiveargument. Does not thischain of reactions who are led compulthrowlighton the psychology of hardenedmurderers who offer resistance? of victims to kill those their sively expecially The conviction that self-defensive killing may always be in orderhas deep roots in human nature. now he does.(Perhaps thisis not a the right conviction regarding Think of escalations of local warfarewith weakness. would be the basic of such an assessment?Suppose both X and Y are theirself-defensive exercising rightto kill each other. universally occurring in defense of their kill to theright allies. weakly forcefully. if this is indeed a right.

31 Aug 2013 15:00:10 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . ambiguity to call such lack communications withone another. (I am not sure about enemies. it shouldbe possibleforX in principle rationally relationship Y thatX has thegivenright in relation to Y. Y. springs from in relation Y candorin their X's right. If thereasoning embodiedin theexamples just consideredis sound. a rightinconceivablewithoutthe basis of X's to convince to Y. or who thinks the minimum too exacting. does not possess thisright. whichhas essentially Whenever a human being. but do not shortly sense have to be. argument Let us not thinkof thosecases wherethe verypossibility of talk.let alone This content downloaded from 134. thinks he has theright to killanother humanbeing. as broad as the rich unitarylegal-moral-political-spiritual whenwe talk of humanrights and duties). has a right to do with another human being. to expectfromeverymember has theright of it a (2) A humancommunity minimum for the sake of the survivaland growthof sacrifice of self-interest thecommunity. casual acquaintancesor enemiesis irrational. principle again expectation springfromhis of thecommunity's in its relationship withY.But it may be inaccurate unable to of ambiguity "candor").the power to the idea of humanbeingsmeriting death at the hands of and justify generate otherhumanbeings. they X Y to be their if and are this can fail noticed and friends.X. X Y in all matters has the to expectuttercandor fromhis friend (1) right thathave to do withthebasis of their To expectsuchcandor from friendship. sacrifice claimedby thecommunity its members without from abandoningthe of such Here X's would sacrifice.129. inasmuch (An exploitative society Let X be an elderofsucha community as itis nota human and Y a community). like that. is not without though. to expectfrom friendship.341 the power its advocates have always wantedto investit with. at any rate those whose enmity in owe one careful of their assessments of and another a lack honor. to ask Y to talkabout by X.Perhapsenemiestoo. If Y is at some timeor othersignificantly in be spontaneous in relation to his friend domains cohabit in virtue of X. In sucha case X would have an indisputable right the whole thing.Y.115.Suppose now thata humanbeing. (I use theword "right"and will use the word "duty" in thisarticlein sensesthatcan be. of self-interest member thatevena minimum sacrifice on rebellious who thinks his partin relationto thecommunity would be unjustified. whichtheword "human" suggests Let as consider some examples. to Y.I shall now say more positively whyI thinkthereis no suchthing as thehumanright to killhumanbeings.40 on Sat. An analogous perception right too could hope to convinceeldersof would show thatan individual argument his community of the legitimacy of those of his rights whichthe community has not honored. redefine the minimum justifiable. it should be possible for X to convinceY in rational thatX had theright to killY. with the aid of Y.X. it would a legitimate on X's partto expectation This expectation be able to convinceY thatY owes X an explanation.If Y refuses. hardly friendship. In this situationX could legitisomething claim over Y was not unmatelyhope to convinceY that the community's at any rate he could.

However.localized or werepossiblein thesesituations. but not his right.which presupposesan environment sideration. and even if the only way Y could stop X fromkillinghim was by killingX. thisway may well yieldto suggestions X in argument. also saying. of reason. This content downloaded from 134. a condemned murderer from. forexample. and it is not beyondthe capacitiesof the humansoul in desparateperilto yieldthrough survivalist to the self-deception mostimplausible In Y and sophistries. in an academic sense.X in our exampleis one such.40 on Sat.In an allegeddialoguebetween self-confessed argument tormentor and defensivevictimthere is no place for fundamental moral of patience and rational coninquiry. he even whereX not onlythinks thathe can talkY intoaccepting thestatusof a deserving imagines perversely victim Soullessfanatics. Y wouldnot have theright to killX? I am indeedsaying that.Y.If this can be shownto be a possibility. conditioning the acknowledgment of society'srightto kill him. Am I really so counterintuitively. Let think us of situations of and and (3) prejudice self-deception presumptuous superiority thathe has theright to killY.129. be any impending mortalviolenceto worry about?Would X standin need of his right to kill Y? Yes. But let us not forget that noneofthesesituations of allegedrational have theopenendednessargument which alone can guarantee-whichis thesoul of rational equalityand freedom between humanbeings. Nazis.there to kill). it maybe Y's dutyto kill X. who is the veryobject of his argument blindness.one mightargue. would there (If rationalargument escalatory. especiallywith someone. cultural but thisis no triumph can also oftenextract forinstance.But I shallalso say thatin thatsortof situation it may well be Y's dutyto defendhimself and.let us attribute perverse unexpectedcapabilitiesto the humanmindand picturea situation whereX does initiate an argument with Y. can be ruledout. and analogous situations of military and civilianviolence. But proving can there be an academicright to kill? Torn from a context isn'tevena would-beright of passion. sparedonlyby X's mercy.342 Gandhi rationalargument. deludedideologues. Is not thisa How can Y not have theright to killX ifitcan be his dutyto strange position? do so? Is not duty thanright? In self-defense letme pointout thatit is stronger withby no means unusual forY to be underan obligationto do something.the preX-Y example of thepossibility thatin our logically judiced rejection primitive of humankilling itcan be Y's dutyto killX. 31 Aug 2013 15:00:10 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . and fantasy-inspired semiliterates come to mind. thatevenifX were apparently or kill Y intended to Y trying unprovoked by anything may have done. thena preliminary in satisfactorily generalprejudice our minds against the positionI have just statedwill be removed. Less dramatically. if thiscan be done only by killing X. Y may well tremble beforeX. Can he hope in rationalargument to convinceY thathe (X) has the right to killY? It is a moot pointwhether a personof thissortcan engagein rational at all.whereX is on the pointof a mortal blow to hurling upon Y in exerciseof what he takes to be his right killY.115. out it being the case that Y has the rightto do that thing.

A parent.in a similar a personcouldclaim a right to help someonein distress. he that allow me to care forhim?This would be an inexcusable imposition upon him.115.129. Of course some way would have to be foundof lookingafterhim if he adamantlyand irrationallyrefuseshelp.something caringbut something Do theseexamplesmake moreplausibletheclaim thateven ifit is or could be our dutysometimes to killa humanbeing.40 on Sat. althoughI am convincedthat in the sphereof the spirittruthis the most efficacious policy. the afflicted of the world. to acknowledging his duty and expressing his inclination to do so. a of it as beingsometimes a dutyalthoughnever a right seemsmost recognition likely to me to encourage the balance betweencourage and ahirhsdthat thathe has Gandhijitalkedabout.343 Considerthe poor. I thinkthe thesisI am proposingwillbe better ifwe reflect understood not of murder.would not and identification. because I love you.merely as a doctor.as a right. but it is also myright the temptationat this point to remark that.) else." I cannotresist help you. or a friend no right to help him. in addition situation. But he would have to have a veryspecialclaim over thepersonin distress. have such a claim over a patientwho refusestreatment and help.Far moredisconcerting thanany othermannerof dyingis profound the thought of dyingat the hands of a humanbeing. It can be so onlyin conjunction withtheidea thathumanbeingsneverhave any right to killone another.It is clearlyour humandutyto care forthemand alleviatetheirmisery. but not as a right. the reason it is often arrogant and organized humanitarianism to see thatit can at bestbe our duty has to do witha failure counterproductive to help the needy.rarelyour right. But is it our right to do so? Can I go to a sickman and demand.it need noteverbe our right? Let us note thata too eager acceptanceof humankilling as beingeven sometimes a right could be disastrous. a claim of love and identity A doctor. For even whereit is a dutyto kill a human being. whether or not wrongness attachesto it. I am not suggesting that the idea of human a duty(a terrible and painful to killing beingsometimes duty)is by itself likely be corrective of human overeagerness to kill. an acceptanceof it as beingsometimes botha right and a dutycan only resultin insufferable where fearand a self-righteousness sense of the tragic limitationsof the human condition are called for. not its efficaciousness.the killingstaresus in the face as a disvalue. upon the wrongness important thoughit is to do so. Such a personcould say to the patient"I want to help you.less admirable. (In theGTta. and Sri Krsna can be seen as concedingthispoint but drawingArjuna's attentionto the fact that it is under specific circumstancesthat his dutyis to kill). and conor sister. But I am arguingforthe truth of a certainthesis. it is my dutyto to do so. the deprived. 31 Aug 2013 15:00:10 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . a brother sequently might. eminently laudable though can be.Sometimes.the greateris the risk of it becomingarrogant. though. less human. but on the badnessof all humankilling.One mightask whether This content downloaded from 134. Arjunacan be seenas claiming no right to kill the enemy.The more organizedand remotecaring and then it is not becomes.

absurd?When. but withthegoodnessinherent situationof human existence today. Although is too strong. unlessof course the act of killingis itself accidental. forms of humansocial life.I should like to point out that lovinghands cannot withoutthe severestshock and guilt and moral self-stultification administer death to a loved one.115.understandthe of itsbadnessin a moraland social way.344 Gandhi fora terminal in unbearableagonyeuthanasiaadministered by a loved patient one can be seen as representing tenderness and not a profound disvalue.not its perversion.How mightit be answered? best by contrastThe badness of human killing can perhapsbe understood with the inconstant of nor the indifference it neither with "lettinglive.If we could understand the perversionof human killingwe would also. Let us considermorecloselythedisvalueof humankilling. about human killing-this is its unnaturalness-thatno accidentinvolves." ing life in of mankind. the social and of exemplification mutuality cooperativeness in the in humanbirth. path only try join them presumptuously in theirsadhana.of the principles But are mutuality and cooperationabundantly enoughin evidence perversion. in South Africa. talkof thegoodnessinherent This content downloaded from 134. like all otherkinds of death. we may stillunqualifiedly demographic has not lost its But humanbirth in humanbirth. Human beings feature distinguishing there one another. Without thissustenance intheir moraland sociallivessustain of Human killing is thenegationof thisfoundation can be no humansociety. is merely of romanticism the tough-minded rebuttal I this think theirrationality of humansocial life. For the generality of mankindthe pictureof human killing as it should.thereis force in this spoil-sport thought. Suddennaturaldeathcan be seen or as beingquite similar to deathdue to an accident(runawayblood pressure to is but not death There a for runawaycars. One might ask whether.40 on Sat. killing. The badness of human killinghas something with to do the idea of premature unavoidably for is not be all death a death. The second questiondescribesa spiritual and not merely a moral a saints can tread.he had the thought shouldnot minddyingat thehands of a brother. Let us not to path. "I Gandhiji saw a potentialmurderer approachinghim. in humansocial lifeto be itshallmark? This is an uncomfortable questionfor of theirrationality of of all kinds. every by killing premature The murder of a veryold and that thereis to the badness of human killing." thefirst of these Regarding questions.a reminder social and politicalromanticism so of humankilling. But this could dying. perversion example).That is its human society.The irrationality mostexisting of a reflection would go.abhorrent.129.and whether murder is a human the it about and death though dispensation brings tragicis not.but thisunnaturalness mustbe distinguished theunnaturalness of deathdue to accidents. I think. remains. 31 Aug 2013 15:00:10 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . althoughclearlynot due to our regret death. The of human has of course to badness killing something do premature from withtheunnaturalness of it. of mutuality and cooperation. sickman is also a shattering for thing.

though neighborsI think invariablydo.about two years.it has only become shroudedin the tragedy of qualityby quantity ironicalinstance of thegeneraldistortion in our times. it will begin to become impossiblealso for human beings to thinkof themselves as a species. is a structure of felicity.40 on Sat.nurse. if I am in to the that badness of Also. both in the world and (Could it be thatadvocates of unmitigated universalcelibacy have always unconsciouslyanticipatedsuch a fate for mankindand sought. Yet human will be theory practice killing always there. as withsuch powerand beautyin the tradition of Christian portrayed paintings on the themeof the Adorationof the Magi.in the future.I shall talk about Assumingthe validity human birthwith the confidencethat. as of now. Rampant drug-abuse normalhuman beingsto occur. theology to unravelthe moral structure of biochemistry and labor and caringwhich humanbirthas it "becomes" in the creativetimebetweenconcepconstitute tion and the acquisition of communicative capacities-a short period of withthetimelessness of selftime. conclusionis inescapable:whenhumanbirthbecomesan its goodness will lack any exemplification. beingits center.seriously both the handicapping.345 of numbers.A dyingspeciesis a speciesonlyby courtesy. thoughI have smallclaimsto wisdom. siblings.) of the qualifications made earlier. unfolding. That themehas an application outsideChristian also.the power of the formerwill be incapable of being ostensively in thought. plausibly right thinking human killing can be grasped only in contrastwiththe goodness of human thefollowing birth. 31 Aug 2013 15:00:10 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . And of course wise men do.assistedby instinct. surviving. The goodness inherent in human birthis not always immediately perceived even by those who witnessit most closely. capable of beingostensively indicated. In possible forthe conceptionof potentially will it make thattimeof a merely and not a generative.any talk of the human rightto life is significant only on the assumptionof an indefinite humanfuture. humankilling willbecome difficult to grasp. acceptability normalcywill This content downloaded from 134. sense to talk of the human rightto life?At its deepestlevel.115.father. This would be voluntary as beingsforsuch an eventuality? nongenerativeness for moral and the existential hazards of inevitable preparation nongenerativeness.by means of the self-denying whichgoes with morality the advocacyof universal to preparehuman ahimrsd celibacy.mother. and the badness of impossibility. thereis no reason for be capable of doubtingthat human conceptionand birthwill indefinitely and minimum that a certain and occurring. It takesa certain wisdom. humanity. and the of human life. the most goodness. And to be able to talkabout thehumanright life to is to be able to talkabout human life in a species-specific a nongenerative will not way. indicated.but fraught chronological whichI believe I shallnow attempt an unravelling of thisstructure. make it imand nuclearmadnessmay. to makethisassumpWhenand whereitwillbecomeimpossible tion. something humanity be able do. but ifhumanbirthcan neverbe there.129.

129. wounded human body is what it is it lost because has autonomy. Human prenatalexistence not kind. mentachievedwithout theefficaciousness of extremely positivestepsinitiated and others. perversion a spiritualself-contradiction if there is any. they runout. Never again in humanlifeare survival and development assistedby a wholly nor is a comparablefeat of survivaland developcooperativeenvironment. she makesa contribution to the quickening of her fetalprogeny.Of courseshe mustnotdo certain things.structures of felicity. it -is the goodness of a questionablyinherent environment and the of wholly cooperative goodness a formof assistanceto human life whichis significantly and substantially of anything independent that any human being does. destructive of autonomy. the condition of communion withGod by oneself Perhaps mystical is the onlyexception to what I have just said. During pregnancy the human motherdoes not have anything to do to keep the prenatalhuman being verymuch positively she harborsaliveand help it develop. she mustnot starveherself. the formof the autonomyof a livinghumanbody is set at noughtin killing witha ruthless The mortally exactitude. based not on instinct thisdangeris probablyunavoidable. onlyunquestionably possessesgoodness.With the adventof socialized infant-rearing. is a veryparticular What in birth is in of human achieved killing piece doing. The by flowing of killing of deathis thecreation is this:thecreation of destruction. Let us now contrast withtheseformsof goodness.40 on Sat.346 Gandhi attach to them." The while quickeningof life in the womb owes nothingto intentional activity. 31 Aug 2013 15:00:10 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . all theway progeny to the firm of communicative constitute a spiritual up capacities.an insane hasteningof death which is the precise perverse opposite of all that is impliedby the phrase "the quickeningof life. acquisition whosebeginning is thebringing intotheworldof a humancreature as an story is the bringing autonomouslivingbeing and whose culmination forth of the the deepest personhoodof such a creature.This is but commitment. What in human birthis the This content downloaded from 134. they proceed overwhelmingly our debt to those who do us this servicewould be crushingand instinct. the finalformof the goodnessof humanbirth. Thereis first of all in the ability perversion act of killing. Now I can say this: a formof goodness is uncentrally in prenatalhuman existence.To say such a thingwould be like and labor and by the sayingthat human life is sustainedby nourishment absence of death! The prenatal human being also presumablyhas to do nothingto surviveand develop (can any doingbe predicatedof a foetus?). fromthe timeof delivery of the human intotheworld. not the it case that from Were imaginable.Its partsand powersdo not hang together.These are deep ministrations. the unacceptableshape of human killing.But letus not say thatby not doingthesethings. killherself or killtheprenatalhumanbeingwithin her.It will become clear that its unacceptderives from a strict of theformer. the goodnessof ministration.itsgoodnessis of a singular Postnatalphases of human birth.itssituation outsidethebodyof itsmother.115. symbolized blood or vanishing breathand heartbeat.

bringing also the welcomingof a human being into the world. operation rights in whichI can by right consciousness. theright a distressing or whatever.a distressing responsibility. is the oppositeof birth. bringing is in killing thedisregard of pleas. ultimate is givento man. self-defensive and in killing that sense a duty. distressing. protests. is a terrible.(Anthropological sciousness has a rightof expansion. Raksasas them out raksasas. or defensive is a necessity.It is a measureof necessity.we must in fear and trembling not "transport"a human being beyond the cosmos. ostracization. theteasing out of personhood and speech.reis thrown The victimof human killing out of the ceivesits cosmicdimension. But can man exercisethisterrible fallswithin powerby right? and freedom-securing Glorious and freedom-defining thoughthe exerciseof is to the domain of anthropological field restricted its of is.40 on Sat. (Human killingand human birthdo not allow This is because theyare to be nonmetaphorically themselves comprehended. kali yuga's mechanistic handicap.however.Not death but killing humiliation thisis its of killing is thedeepestanthropological imaginable.) may.Where. althoughit to sacrifice oneselfis a terrible right? for be the saint or a hero. fate.only of what consciousness can neverbe of anthropological thesedomains). Self-defensive killing.but itcannotby right it). It is significant in this the former a connectionto observethat we can speak of a terrible duty. our distancefromgrace. affirmation (the "silencing"of the the world of Human birth the into a humanbeing. sting badness.347 forth of self-consciousness. In human killinganother dateless anthropological rite. 31 Aug 2013 15:00:10 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . right. (One mightask of killing whether we should be less apologeticwhenit comes to thenecessity in abound of of existence. There is hubrisin human killing.the opposite of welcoming. (One may ask whether painfulright. This is because whatI claim as territory In thisway myclaim and exercise is alreadyreallymyterritory. painful. the tragedyand The language of rightsis incapable of comprehending whereit is a or defensive extreme crisisof humankilling. situatemyself conof right or rights does not lead me beyondthe world. gation. It can conceptuallydomesticatethe transcend cosmos. consciousness.115. angst-ridden duty. We must be able to say to ourselvesthat we are the cosmos fromthe human beingwho is in dangerof doing "withdrawing" in relationto some other human being.The universe by a humanbeing. Human killingcannot be grasped withoutthe unavoidablymetaphorical to be made to traverse the thatits victim is soughtby its perpetrator thought time timelessness between the and what or cosmos is or and place placelessness and it is not our rightto tempt beyond.129. It is not a right at all.but it is is victim). Welcomingmust be among the most ancient anthropologicalrites. No. who has the power to The power of cosmic ostracization kill his fellowhuman being. supreme duty. Literalunderstanding situatedat the limitsof anthropological or of the world. bombing history surely This content downloaded from 134. painfuloblibut we cannot talk of a terrible a right.

in humankilling. humility. we land. he can toward the total be the duty of everyhuman being to do whatever will help.) into the mundane realm because duty summonsus to this edge.X. On theotherhand.by definition. is. Sri right.348 Gandhi But a raksasais identifiable as one as hardened and soullesstyrants. (Arjuna's recoilfromkilling in the GTtd fromthe frustration of his unconscious springs in killingwill show itself thathis impending as his expectation participation thrownback. withtheaid of whichwe can judge thatit is thedutyof What are thecriteria humanbeing. Indeed one could say withstrict killingis the analogy individual human that of the of human units behavior life.40 on Sat. participation obligatory killing by doubtand despair.) capacity distinguishing we are never In theperformance of right. murderers to ourselves such a or Sri Let us not a Sri Rama a Krsna.Y? Giventheabsolute a certain humanbeing.the profane and the sacred (a no-man's-land of rights whichdefine and extendbut do be theterritory cannot. in so the and is cancer just spiritualbody beings.)If we have of duty("duty" in its legal-moralin the performance not schooledourselves "human" in thephrase"humanduty"). An analogyfrommedicine humanbody. to killanother one thing is clear:it must badnessinherent all humankilling. not with submitting joy but sorrow. just as the moral and of cancer is what constitutes itsabsolute is whatconstitutes of humankilling self-contradictoriness spiritual human that badness.Our bloodlustor blindtribal we are unlikely to be summoned is reallythe edge of no-man's but the front loyalty may rushus to the front. regarding forever be threatened in will and incarnations. out the Withtheseanalogiesin mindletus boldlyturnto thetaskof spelling This content downloaded from 134.ifwe have blindness of dutyand are summonedby moral schooled ourselvesin the performance we willstay whichis humankilling. killing so is as the prevention and cure of cancer is an absolute medicalobligation. But we are not thrown back fromthisedge not transcend humanterritory.129. as opposed to theexercise between the farfrom of beingon theedge of a no-man's-land thethought very mundane and the mystical. death. sensesuggested by theprefix spiritual to a dutyto kill. the prevention and cure of killingan absolute human moral and spiritual obligation.115. An absolute abolitionof humankilling. arrogate onlyby and demoniac for between human evil. the of the no-man's-land to authority edge in ourselves in at our post there. soul-threatening of And mankind.He goes to the edge unsummonedand is violently to kill.clarity both to thejudgment and thelikelihoodof unnatural is our actions not the of given even to saints or consequences. of duty.However. 31 Aug 2013 15:00:10 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions .As a ksatriya heroit Krsna does not teachthatit is Arjuna'ssvadharma is Arjuna's svadharma to be readyto kill whenkillingis dharma. Cancer is the to theliving badnessattachesto cancerin relation behaviorof the cells of life!This biologicalself-contradiction life-threatening its absolute badness.but more likelyrajasic willhurlus headlongintomortalsin. and if we are sattvicby nature may recoil.

the prison themagistrate. 31 Aug 2013 15:00:10 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . to kill each otheror intendto do so such thatthe (2) X and Y are trying and utterly to desistfrom only way theycan not do so is foreach forthwith to do so the do and to abandon intention to so. Clearly (1) NeitherX nor Y is trying X nor Y is underan obligationto do so. Several kinds by of cases have to be considered. and thatit is not so affected the rest of mankind. (But whatifeither neither is already underan obligationto kill the other?This is to presupposethat we already understand thenatureof suchan obligation. In thissituation.or mankind is. (What ifX and Y are demonichumanbeingsmankind to kill?Interesting is underan obligation to killbut powerless thoughthiscase is thatwe understand whatit fora humanbeing. not to save his own life(Y may not be underan obligationto live). but to save Z's life. to kill the otheror intends to do so.115. and Z.in the sense of does not morally or practically affect therest assumingthattheX-Y situation of mankind.because their situation is suchthatany slackening on X's partmayenableY to killX. In fact. whether or notZ is under an obligation to live.Further. Let us givesocial identities to X. who is also not trying to killX nor Suppose there intends to do so and who is goingto be killedby X. element but let me first our simpleX-Y complicateslightly situation because we would not otherwise noticea veryimportant pointconnectedwithcapitalpunishment.The magistrate should stay the executioner's hand. is a third humanbeingZ.to be underan obligationto kill some otherhumanbeing. such thattheonlyway Z can be prevented frombeing killedby X is by Y killing X. Y. X is an executioner about to killcondemned Y and Z simultaneously or sequentially.he is This content downloaded from 134. but Y is not trying to killX nor (4) trying does Y intend Y to killX. Y would murderers be underan obligationto killtheexecutioner. whichwe do not). Let us keep the X-Y situationideallysimple. and all humanbeingsin attendance would be underan officers. dilemma. such thattheonlyway can be prevented from being killedby X is by Y killing X.) to killeach otheror intendto do so. I willcome back to thisnew in our discussion. it presupposes as a whole. It would trying be wrong to say that only X is under such an obligation.which we do not.)ClearlyX and Y are underan obligationto desist from to killeach otherand to abandon theintention to do so. obligation to kill the executioner!I cannot thinkof a stronger argument There is an easy way out of this prison house against capital punishment.129. Is Y in thissituation underan obligationto kill X? Only ifY is also underan obligationto live.40 on Sat.349 needed criteria. Clearlyeach is underan trying to desistfrom to do so and to abandon forthwith and utterly obligation trying theintention to do so. (This is the situation alluded to earlierherein.Y would be underan obligation to killX. but it is more (3) X and Y are trying likelythat X will kill Y withoutbeing killed by Y than that Y will kill X without of developedmortalcombat beingkilledby X. X is to kill Y or intends to killY.

350 Gandhi under an obligation to do so.115. once moreto our X-Y situation. Rather. with this unavoidable and important digressionout of the way. to theideallysimpleX-Y situation return whichI described at (4) above. under a moral obligationto create is the decisiveargument against capital I to some be see subtle which would justify punishment.he may be underan obligationto forgive Y. X may not be underan obligationto kill Y. When is a humanbeingunderan obligation to liveor underan obligation to die or neither? Whatever be theanswerto this vexedquestion. and I had suggested Y is underan obligationto live.129. ment lest the latterkill Y and Z! Not the grim tragedyof premeditated but the farcicalsituationdescribedearlierwhich societywould be murder. unless he prefersto be the killer of the executioner and to be killedby thelatter'sreplacement sooneror later!Better should stay his own hand. 31 Aug 2013 15:00:10 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . althoughhe must not stop still. may failing point but I cannot see in of fault the the capital punishment. and an answerwould resolvethequestionof suicide.and because mybeingalive is a necessarycondition for the dischargeof this whole range of obligations towardsothers. justification Let us. and consequently.) I will not go into the morecomplexquestionof the of capitalpunishment forsecondoffenders. I had asked whether or not in thissituation Y would be underan obligationto kill thattheanswerto thisquerywould dependon whether X. To return Y is underan obligationto live. althoughit mightbe perceived moderated by supposingthateven ifY is underan obligationto be killedby X.the questionwhether whichwould determine whether or not Y was underan obligationto kill X. one thing at leastis clear. This content downloaded from 134.ranging fromthe mosttrivial courtesies of lifeto beingsin a variety theirlives if necessary at the cost of my own lifeor at the terrible defending cost of myhavingto killotherhumanbeings.the executioner because he would also be underan obligationto kill his own replacethere. answerwill become available to the question generalizedand the following "Am I underan obligationto live?" the questionof suicide:I am underan obligationto live because I am under an obligationto help other human of ways.40 on Sat. because no humanbeingcan be underan obligationto die. an obligationto kill the would-bekillerof a humanbeingotherthan oneself than that one is undera self-evident obligationto kill the would-bekillerof oneself. any logic preceding as too strong(it could be suitably argument. The answeris this:If at any timeat all in human lifeY can come underan humanbeing. the answerto earlier.The obligation of defensive is easierto understand than killing theobligation of self-defensive It is easier to see that be one can under killing. unquestionable obligationto killthewould-bekillerof another thenhe is under an obligation to liveas far as thislies in hispowerbecausehe mustbe alive in orderto discharge theformer This answercan be obligation.But thisveryconsideration answersthequestionin our X-Y example Y is underan obligationto live.

In thisway X comes undertheobligationto kill Y. Y is under an obligationto kill X. X's obligationto killY willalso ceace. Y's obligationto let X killhimis his primary Would not we want obligation? to say thatY's primary is to releaseX from theobligation to killY? obligation Even ifyou are obligedto killme you are obligedto me! X is obligedto Y and Y can releasehimfrom thisbond. surely!Even if he could Y back to life. The only way Y can be prevented X. and X.thereis no guaranteethat Y would not succeed in bringing him to X forbringing pounce upon him again.but untilthatpointis reachedY is both underan obligationto let go of X and to letX killhim. Does ought This content downloaded from 134. How? Let us fillout our example. But would not Y be grateful back to lifeand mendhis ways?Human beingsare veryungrateful creatures. Is Y underan obligationto killX? Our first to thisquestion reaction killing is probablyto say thatifX is underan obligation to killY.129. the first Suppose.thatjustice triumphs. but it can be citedonlylater. try undertheobligationto killX. in dischargeof a clear obligationto do so. fulfill! that one can never This is another obligation surely aspect of the badnessof killing. and indeedmoreprimarily. or because it might be risky. targetof mortal attack. under an obligationto let go of X.115. obligation undoing Merelybecause it is not in our powerto bringthisabout.we cannot deny that we are under this obligation. how can Y be underan obligation obligation to prevent thisfrom and thattoo by killing X? But can we say that happening. of course. and we cannot take risks!But can thisbe a decisivereason fordisowning an of The is that the of human badness obligation? killing. Is X now under an obligationto bringY back to life?No.SupposingY does getto killX.40 on Sat. however. If even after Y ceases to be a threat to X's life. and X cease to be underan obligationto killY. A powerful-looking counterexample suggestsitselfat this point. obligationto kill Y and Y underan obligationto let himself But letus not forget thatY in thissituation is also. That beingso.X continues to will Y and intends kill then the roles be will to reversed.a point of no return here. wouldY now be under an obligationto bringX back to life?I thinkso. fruitfully to killY because X is underan obligation to killY or intends (5) X is trying frombeing killedby X is by Y to do so. Let us suppose thatY is trying to kill X or intendsto kill X (withoutthe reverse frombeing beingthecase) such thattheonlyway X can be prevented killedby Y is by X killing Y. or intending to killX does X come underan Only ifY is unstoppably trying be killedby X. but it is an obligationY (as to be underan cannotin all eternity fulfill. 31 Aug 2013 15:00:10 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . thenY is underan to be killedby X.gets to kill Y. At what point in his would-bemortal assault on X does Y come more underthe obligationto let X kill him than underthe obligationto let go of X? There is. But themoment Y ceases to tryor intendto killX. What a terrible everyman) thing. now come Y.351 in the situationunder consideration.

31 Aug 2013 15:00:10 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . situations whereY would be underan obligation to let himself But he would also be undera variety of otherobligations.Suppose X unjustifiably is stricken withremorse.and they are subtlyencouragedin this. Old and sick people fromthispiece of fantasy tinguished oftenthink. or great. This content downloaded from 134.All killing. He maywishhe weredead. to be disThere are situationsin human life which ought very carefully or anything like it. even to killourselves. ourselves to be killed.and thereis no logical impossibility obligatory must create a not. if he should necessary by killinghim. livinga lifeof humility harmlessness. simply is underan obligationto annul the arroganceand destructiveness of his act if necessary in conditionsof enforced and creativity. I would. however. am about drop harming irreversibly. not injurehim too seriously. and him. The badness of killingis too involved. that theyare an unand theyoftencontemplate suicide. anyone range possibilities But nothing ifanything of thiskindwillmake Y come back to life. humanly unallayableanxiety.352 Gandhi presupposecan? Perhaps.greatguilt. wantto killhimself. moreprimary ones. and the X. perhaps even an to killoneself. would be under the obligation to wish that somebody else would stop him.40 on Sat. Considera tricky withan incurable and unconexamplenow.If I do not say this I would needlessly in give supportto fallaciousarguments killsY and supportof suicide.Take guilt. to wishthatdespitehimself he (Y) wouldbe stoppedfrom obligation killing kill Y And insofar to as X may be lackingthepowerself-defensively Y. X is stricken tainableinfectious disease whichthreatens thelifeof mankind. I concessive in the last few paragraphsbeen reluctantly have Although to the idea we sometimes be under an that obligation die.They burdenon theirfamilies mitigated are utterly A hundred that suicide would be justified.to wishthatwe would drop dead. above example (5) be killedby X. the obligationto wish that if necessary X I dead before and so on.Is X underan obligationto killhimself or let some other humanbeingkillhim?But thisis a bizarreexampleand a dangerous example.but not in thiscase.draw attentionto the Even if we are sometimes or can be underan obligationto allow following. beinglengthy this because I want to emphasize that wheretherecan be an obligationto allow oneself to die. OnlyX's death can spare mankind. such as the obligationto let go of X.115. He not.underthesecircumstances.129.ifwe can bringto our care of theguilt-ridden a sufficient imagination. even to wish that one were dead. that In I have conceded that therecould be to assertion. human thelifeofanother obligation beinghas to be at stake. want to kill so on-the of morbid is enormous. At theend of (4) earlierI had statedthatno humanbeingcan be underan to die. could. and regarding may I feelthatmorecareful some of can enable me to withdraw although argument the concessions I have made. rather because I have alreadyprovideda counterobligation carelessly. X is underan obligationto killhimself. mistakenin thinking alternatives to suicidecan suggest themselves here.

For such an defense.not even such a thingas an individual to killhimself. 31 Aug 2013 15:00:10 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions .40 on Sat.we sanctity may be said to be underan obligationto end human lifein defenseor selfI have not wanted to retract the thesisof this article.129.sometimes and mystery. I findliberation sanctity the thoughtthat human beings do not meritdeath at the hands of one another. to take myown life?Withno one exceptmyself. thetribute of our ignorance and incapacity. by piece absurdity.Does thismean thatthey-we-merit dying death after thenature all. althoughnot at one another'shands?Do we offend of things in someunavoidableway?Is deatha kindof ransomor sacrifice? Is it These are dark and maya? deep questions. This thesisis identical withthe humanbeing'sright life life in and care of human and itself of its contemplation acknowledgment If I have also argued that. Renderthisas an X-X situation.But human beingshave been eversincetheybegan to be born. in of life. anxiety-laden always embarrassment.115.quite beyond my capacities to to even to answer here. attempt begin This content downloaded from 134. questionof myallegedright on the withself-deception day.353 or to invite 'we stillneverhave therightto kill ourselves death' It is the false makes suicides take the final that we do that would-be many supposition "I the to take own life" makes irreversible The have my thought right step.althoughoftentheyask for trouble. because withwhom can I debate the lonelinesssolipsistic and unredeemable. and an is also a tribute to the obligation. withjustice. humorless can fail to be killing by killing Only self-deception liberated this no in of There is self-defense suicide. The almost continuousthesisof this essay has been that thereis no such thingas the human rightto kill human beings. havinga field X-Y of and self-defense follows: model of the situation defense familiar logical X is trying X from or intendsto kill X such thatthe onlyway of preventing X is X X.

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