Thomas Aquinas and Antonio de Córdoba on self-defence: saving yourself as a private end

Daniel Schwartz*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Revisionists about Aquinas’ teaching on private self-defence take the standard reading to hold that Aquinas applies a version of the Doctrine of Double Effect (DDE) according to which the intentional killing of a wrongful attacker by a private person is morally prohibited while the non-intentional but foreseeable killing of the attacker is permitted. Revisionists dispute this reading and argue that Aquinas permits the intentional killing of wrongful attackers. I argue that revisionists mischaracterize the standard reading of Aquinas. I consider one of its main proponents, Antonio de Córdoba (1485–1579). When Córdoba condemned the intentional killing of wrongful attackers by private persons, he was not applying DDE. Rather, he was arguing that when you decide to kill an attacker you treat the attacker as a resource for the private end of saving your life. Killing a member of your community is a form of irrevocable social exclusion. This decision ought to be left to the public authorities. The disagreement between the authors defending the standard view and their critics was not about DDE but rather about the moral limits that membership in a community sets on the pursuit of private ends, including the private end of staying alive.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1045-1063
Number of pages19
JournalBritish Journal for the History of Philosophy
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2 Nov 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
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  • Antonio de Córdoba
  • Doctrine of Double Effect
  • Thomas Aquinas
  • late scholastics
  • self-defence


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