Virtuous Violence: Moral Motivations for Harm and Homicide



Most violence is morally motivated. Hurting and killing are often aversive and traumatic for the perpetrators, but people sometimes feel morally compelled to be violent in order to create, sustain, redress, or terminate vital social relationships. Obligations to violence may be generated by the relationship between the perpetrator and the victim, or relationships between the perpetrators and third parties. In diverse cultures and historical periods people have been, and continue to be, morally motivated to homicide, suicide, rape, robbery, torture, warfare, aggressive sports, initiation, corporal punishment and execution, religious mortification and asceticism, and human sacrifice. People usually constitute relationships non-violently. But people are prone to violence when crucial relationships are at stake, and it is essential to raise the stakes. Violence is a spectacularly impressive display of the perpetrator's commitment to the relationship -- a display that uniquely evokes others' commitment to it.