The paper examines the conditions under which we are responsible for actions performed under duress, focusing on a real case in which a soldier was compelled at gunpoint to participate in the massacre of civilian prisoners. The case stands for a class of cases in which the compelled act is neither clearly justified nor clearly excused on grounds of temporary incapacity, but in which it is nonetheless plausible that the agent is not morally blameworthy. The theoretical challenge is to identify the excuse in such cases and to explain its basis. The paper argues that when mortal duress excuses in cases of this sort, it does so because the compelled act, though impermissible and freely chosen, nonetheless fails to manifest 'an insufficiently good will'. The argument depends on a potentially controversial thesis in the ethics of concern, namely, that a thoroughly decent moral agent - someone who cares enough about morality and the values that underlie it - will not always be moved to do what he knows he ought to do.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes