Dissertation
 

My dissertation research focuses on problems relating to mistaken self-defense: cases where the agent inflicts harm on someone she takes to be an aggressor, but in fact posed no genuine threat. These cases present moral and legal puzzles. Intuitively there are some cases of reasonably mistaken self-defense in which the agent does nothing wrong, as well as some cases where the defensive agent wrongs the other and owes compensation. None of the prominent accounts in moral philosophy are well-positioned to explain the intuitive pattern of responsibility for the costs of mistaken self-defense.

 

After considering several alternatives, I argue that an essential part of what morally justifies agents in these cases is a moral signaling convention. Since this convention is used to negotiate the boundaries of agents’ rights against harm, it must satisfy some minimal moral constraints: ensure that agents can easily avoid signaling, and not place any group of agents in a position of signaling aggression by default. Having established this as a model for morally significant signaling conventions, I argue that the legal ‘reasonability’ standard as currently applied fails to satisfy the minimal moral constraints, because it implicitly appeals to racial markers as signals of threateningness. We are therefore obligated to reform our practices by altering the signaling convention so that it satisfies the minimal constraints.

 

My main advisors are Jonathan Quong, Robin Jeshion, and Mark Schroeder.

Chapter summaries are below; for full drafts, feel free to email me (renee.bolinger@usc.edu).