The main belief behind the theory of self-defense as given by Judith Jarvis Thomson rests on the phenomena that a person must become liable to be attacked if somebody else is threatened by him/her considering that he/she is violating the rights of the defender who must not be attacked. Moreover, Judith also assumes that everyone as a human has a fundamental right that must be respected of not being attacked by the other person, but if this right is being violated then the other person loses this right of protection for himself. This means that if a person is being threatened of right violation then the defender has a right to defend himself by threatening the right of the protection of the attacker and if need arises, killing the attacker. If such a situation arises then the defender has merely committed the act in self-defense and does not be held guilty for violating any kind of right of the attacker. When the attacker initiated the attack posing a threat to the right of being not attacked of the defender, he/she has automatically lost the right of not being attacked themselves. Following are some of the examples of how Thomson’s criteria is applicable of various cases.
In the first three cases, it become obvious that a person definitely has a right to defend oneself even if becomes necessary to kill the attackers. Such cases are referred to as the Yes-Cases. In the first case, a Villainous Aggressor is the person who has no moral justification to kill you and deliberately does this act. According to Thomson, if such a case arises then you do have a moral permission to defend yourself and if need arises kill the attacker. In the second case, Innocent Aggressor refers to the person who is trying to kill you but he isn’t aware of what he is doing. Maybe he is drugged and hence, it isn’t his fault but even in this situation, you do have the right to defend yourself and kill him. In the third case, a villain pushes a fat man down a cliff and he falls on you which is a case of Innocent Threat. Though the fat man is innocent of this fall, he kills you, but he is killed if you deflect him. In this situation, Thomson believes that morality does permit you to defend yourself as you would definitely be killed otherwise. Thomson believes that morality allows to kill the threat or aggressor. Though many would believe that we are merely making excuses to kill the other person as morality may never allow it. But Thomson strongly believes that as we do not have any alternative other than to kill the attacker whether innocent or not, we are hence permitted morally to self-defense.
Next, Thomson provides the No-Cases where the permission to kill the other person in self-defense is not granted. In the first scenario of the Trolley-case, a villain unleashes a trolley on a track to kill you while you stand there and you would be killed unless you deflect the trolley to another track where it kills a bystander. Thomson strongly condemns this situation as morality does not allow the Substitution-of-a-Bystander for yourself. In the second scenario, you see a trolley approaching you on track and the only way to save yourself is by shooting a bystander who would fall onto the track and eventually stop the trolley. Again, Thomson believes that Use-of-a-Bystander is not permitted by morality to save yourself. In the third scenario, you have only one way to flee from the villain shooting at you and that is to run onto a bridge which has the capacity to hold only a single person. If you run for your life, you push that person into the valley killing him. Again, Thomson clearly states that it is not morally permissible to Roughshod-over-a-Bystander. In all these three scenarios, the difference is that they have one thing missing: none of those people have actually threatened your life whom you kill eventually. This was the premise that was present in the Yes-Cases as all those people who were permitted to be killed had actually threatened to kill you.
There are two core points in Thomson’s theory: firstly, the intention of the aggressor is not relevant; and secondly, it is not relevant whether the threat is at fault or not. These both have been used in an example given by Thomson where Alfred tries to kill his wife. Though Alfred intends to kill his sick wife with a poison, he is unaware that the same poison is the only cure for her disease. This means that instead of killing, he is actually healing her. Thomson believes that morally this is allowed because the eventual consequence would be morally good so Alfred’s intention is irrelevant in this case. From this, Thomson established the thesis of “Irrelevance-of-Intention-to-Permissibility. This idea has even been extended from intention to fault because Alfred was at fault due to his intention of committing a crime so, another thesis was formed of “Irrelevance-of-Fault-to-permissibility.” So, it is found that neither intention nor the fault is responsible to gain permission. So, the victim has a right over attacker to not kill him. And this is what leads to the derivation of “rights-based view of self-defense” by Thomson.
This view has an intuitive appeal which is lacking in the view of other philosophers. Thomson has done a pretty good job in justifying the moral intuitions in relation to the rights-based account of self-defense. The innocent-and-responsible threat refers to the fat person in the yes-case. Thomson uses the rights based account to morally permit the killing of the fat man. In the innocent-yet-responsible example, Thomson believes that intuition plays a significant role in self-defense and the defender is justified to kill the attacker to save own life. But I believe the theories of Thomson fail to clearly provide distinction between bystander and the non-responsible person. As in the No-Cases, morality does not allow killing the bystander and hence, Thomson believes that morality allows to let yourself be killed. While, in the case of fat man, Thomson believes that you are morally allowed to kill him. Both bystander and the fat man are innocent and a threat then why is this distinction present.
I believe that this theory needs to be worked on further, though Thomson has done a fairly good work of providing a ground for further exploration in the future. Thomson has been successful in justifying the moral implication of the rights-based theory but she failed to provide clear distinction between what actually is morally permissible yet not morally justified and the actions that are both morally justified as well as permissible. The article clearly represents the amount of efforts and work done by Thomson. She has definitely provided insights to various scenarios that would help a lot in future work by other philosophers. The concept of self-defense is a vast field which requires to be explored in great detail. The philosopher has definitely put in great effort to produce such a fine piece of work which broadens the vision of the reader while making the reader more curious to find further implications of the phenomena.