The Phenomenology of Paid Killing

Author:  Laurie Calhoun

Publication Date:  2002

Abstract:  Three types of paid killing are considered: state execution, killing in war by soldiers, and contract killing by hitmen. In order to render comprehensible how agents can bring themselves to do what may seem unthinkable, the similarities between illegal and legal killings are explored. Because paid killing, whether legal or illegal, involves the same schema, [commander→killer→victim], the rationality of following a commanders orders to kill is examined, with special attention to the soldiers and the executioners epistemological situation. When an agents own interpretation is taken into consideration, it emerges that legal execution and killing in war do not differ in any morally significant way from the killing involved in many cases usually labelled as murder. Because the commonsense distinction between legal and illegal killing has no substantive moral basis, anyone who condemns contract killing should, in consistency, condemn state execution and military killing as well.

Full Citation:  Calhoun, Laurie. ‘The Phenomenology of Paid Killing’. The International Journal of Human Rights 6, no. 1 (2002): 1–18. doi:10.1080/714003752.

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