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By Frowe, Helen

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By ‘valuable courses of defensive action’, I mean courses of action that are among the least costly means of averting or mitigating the threat to Victim. But if Victim is not permitted or able to kill Signalman in Tracks, Signalman’s actions, movements, or presence will not reduce the courses of defensive action morally available to Victim, compared to what they would be in Signalman’s absence. If Victim may not harm Signalman, using his body to block the trolley is not a morally available option.

33 Realizing all this, one could yet adhere to the standard of ‘causal involvement’ enhanced now by moral significance. The ‘innocent obstructor’ would be distinguished from the ‘villainous obstructor’: only the latter can be legitimately seen as causally involved in the threat to my life. But this would be, of course, totally at odds with Thomson’s intent. The whole point in adopting the causality criterion was to find an objective way of distinguishing between those ‘innocent threats’ whom one could legitimately eliminate in self-defense and others (equally innocent)—‘bystanders’ who were to be immune.

One consideration that might generate such immunity is the necessity of killing a person. I begin by considering two rival accounts of the purposes for which an otherwise liable person may be harmed: the narrow and broad accounts of liability. The narrow account holds that a person is liable only to harms that avert a threat for which she is responsible. The broad account holds that once a person is liable to defensive harm, she is liable to be harmed to avert any proportionate threat. I argue that the narrow account is correct as an account of liability, but that it can nonetheless be all-things-considered permissible to harm a person to avert a threat for which she is not responsible.

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