Presented by Renee Bolinger (Australian National University)

Sometimes an agent D, acting on her best evidence, imposes defensive harm on an apparent aggressor A, but in fact A posed no genuine threat to D. When such a mistake is induced by A’s acting in a way that foreseeably appears threatening, A shares responsibility for the error, and has at most a diminished complaint of having been wronged. I argue that this is best explained by positing duties grounded in agents’ entitlements to a fair distribution of the risk of suffering unjust harm. I suggest that the content of these duties is filled in by social conventions: when individuals A behave in ways that conventionally signal that they pose a threat to an agent D, A cannot reasonably demand that D refrain from defensive action, so A has at most a diminished complaint against D’s defensive action. Since this account makes essential reference to the socially defined meaning of the marked signaling behaviors, I conclude that this gives us reason to think that the social context can make a difference to agents’ defensive permissions.

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Bio: Renee is a postdoctoral research fellow in the School of Philosophy at Australian National University. Renne currently    works on the moral significance of risk, and has research interersts in a variety of issues in moral and political philosophy as well as the philosophy of language, with particular interest in questions relating to responsibility for public meaning of our actions.

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