Questions for philosophy paper: should be in paragraph form 
 1. One of the central philosophical debates on terrorism concerns the question of what terrorism is; that is, how terrorism should be defined. Philosophical accounts of terrorism typically have 4 main elements: agents, targets, purpose, and form or methods. Each of these elements plays a fundamental role in determining what is to be considered ‘terrorism’. Task: Explain each of the four elements. Then, using them as a guide, compare and contrast Walzer’s, Held’s, and Jaggar’s accounts of terrorism. Which of the three accounts, if any, is best? Use examples to support your argument. 
 2. Using the definition that you defended above (in question #1), discuss the morality of terrorism. Is terrorism necessarily morally reprehensible? Could terrorism ever be morally justifiable? Why/why not? If yes, then when? 
 3. In “The Non-Modularity of Moral Knowledge,” Tobin argues against the use of overlapping consensus as a way to ground the universality of human rights. At the heart of her argument is what she terms the non-modularity thesis of moral knowledge. Task: First, using Donnelly’s work as an example, explain the notion of overlapping consensus and how it is used to ground the universality of human rights. Second, explain Tobin’s non-modularity thesis and its implications for Donnelly’s argument. 



            The philosophical debate on the definition of terrorism has been revolved for epochs. Key to the debate is the actual definition of terrorism. Albeit the existence of extensive evidence on the outcome of terrorism, the defining traits are not yet captured in a single sentence encapsulation. However, philosophers and other scholars harbor a consensus on the elements that encompass terrorism. The elements include agents, targets, purpose and form. The amorphous form of terrorism emanates from the fact that it can be committed by various agents and has far reaching consequences beyond the discernible victims. Chief among the definitions is the acknowledgement of violence in terrorism. The inception of the term terrorism stretches to the French Revolution; a rather recent affair in comparison to the philosophical realm (Jaggar, 2005). In elements, agents denote the perpetrators of the affronted terror. The definition of agents is not confined to the societal accepted comprehension of static individuals. However, it arches to include even terror acts committed by a government on its people. Targets, strive to define on the actual victim of the terror act. Purpose strives to elucidate on the intended outcome of the act of terror. In most cases, the intention is to strike fear in the hearts of the victims. As for form, it strives to elucidate on the actual method employed to carry out the act of terror. It denotes on the conceptualization of what encompasses terrorism.

Defining Terrorism

            The trio, Walzer, Held, and Jaggar, strive to elucidate on terrorism in a myriad of methodologies. Walzer’s attempt to elucidate on terrorism takes on a more ‘emotional’ approach, as opposed to tackling the inherent philosophical debate. The article advances terrorism as a mere wanton killing of innocent people. However, Walzer’s work manages to capture the above four elements. The article states that it is the killing (form/method) of innocent people (target) by terrorists (agent) to spread fear (purpose). However, the article pegs the definition to a given cadre of groups including the Irish Republican Army, and Palestine Liberation Organization (Walzer, 2005). On the other hand, Held’s account provides a philosophical conundrum. Partly, the author raises a question of separating victims from intended targets. Further, the author denotes that there arises confusion in where the agents of terrorism have failed in other approaches of seeking solution. For example, Held raises the aspect of 9/11 deaths on one hand, and people killed by the United States’ army on the other (Held, 2004). In addition, Held’s account considers the multifaceted definition of terrorism where governments consider it as ‘something only their opponents can commit’. However, the author denotes that some acts, like the systemic actions of the Israeli government, capture political terrorism.

            Jagger’s work introduces an element of public torture and executions by the government. The violent acts of the government have served to at times redirect history. For example, government assassinations are seen as one of the primary reasons for the start of World War I. Jagger terms the 9/11 attacks key to redefining terrorism. The act has led to the overlooking of state sponsored terrorism. Albeit Walzer’s straightforward approach to defining terrorism, Jagger’s articles serve to inherently capture its definition. For example, the author traces the shifts in the definition of terrorism, but warns of the existence of state sponsored terror. Moreover, Jagger’s definition of terrorism is not pegged to a single agent, but serves to peg it on the purpose. In the other cases, the authors strive to first define the agent, then move to define the other aspects. However, a concrete definition of terrorism should not be tied to the agent, but rather on the purpose of the respective action.

Morality of Terrorism

            On the front of morality, various philosophers and scholars have delved into illuminating on the existence of a justification. The arguments on the issues of morality are two ways and can be enshrined in the purpose. For example, a group fighting for Chechnya uses terrorism as a justification to attain their freedom. On the other hand, the government uses force to maintain their status (Held, 2004). On one hand, the group would deem their actions as morally justifiable. However, terrorism is not morally justifiable. Simply, there exists other various approaches to attaining the same ideologies. Examples of individuals and group who succeeded devoid of terror include Nelson Mandela’s non-violent form of fighting for freedom. Although it took years to achieve freedom and eliminate apartheid, the Global icon chose to advocate for non-violence. During the struggles, Mandela could have made a call to arms with ease and elicited a sufficient response.

Overlapping Consensus

            The aspect of overlapping consensus largely borrows from the work of John Rawls. Rawls’s concept borders on the existence of diverse principles of justice. On one hand, the least disadvantaged persons get a helping hand. On the other, the attachment of benefits to positions, which are made available to everyone on the basis of ‘equal’ opportunity. In the case of Donnelly, the author strives to elucidate on the issue of cultural relativity on an overlapping consensus. For one, individuals seek to justify actions on the compass of cultural relativism. As such, the radical cultural universalism would hold that culture operates outside the confines of universal moral rights and rules (Donnelly, 1984). The aspect brings a conflict by providing a dual lens to universal rights: that of universal rights and the application of rights as defined under cultural relativity. However, Donnelly strives to showcase a convergence of a universal declaration of rights. As such, the later serves to constrain on the universal applicability of the same. However, Tobin’s paper dispels the notions of presented in Donnelly’s paper. Tobin’s Non-modularity of Moral Knowledge dispels the power of moral knowledge. The author reiterates that moral knowledge can be termed as relative. As such, the aspect of universals rights emerges as flawed.


            The issue surrounding the definition of terrorism will always spark an inherent debate. The aspect emanates from the four defining elements of terrorism: agent, purpose, method, and target. For one, the agents attain an amorphous form and change over time. However, acts of terrorism cannot be morally justifiable. On the front of universality of human rights, the application of Rawls overlapping consensus are based on overreaching assumptions. In the case of Donnelly, key among the assumption is the definition of what is moral. Relatively, the definition hinges on the individual in perspective.


Donnelly, J. (1984). Cultural Relativism and Universal Human Rights. Human Rights Quarterly, 4(6), 400-419.

Held, V. (2004). Terrorism and War. The Journal of Ethics, 8, 59-75.

Jaggar, A. M. (2005). Journal of Social Philosophy, 36(2), 202-217.

Tobin, T. (2005). The Non-Modularity of Moral Knowledge: Implications for the Universality of Human Rights. Social Philosophy Today.

Walzer, M. (2005). Five Questions about Terrorism. Terror and the Response.

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