The concept of violence in international theory: a double-intent account

Christopher Finlay

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2 Citations (Scopus)
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The ability of international ethics and political theory to establish a genuinely critical standpoint from which to evaluate uses of armed force has been challenged by various lines of argument. On one, theorists question the narrow conception of violence on which analysis relies. Were they right, it would overturn two key assumptions: first, that violence is sufficiently distinctive to merit attention as a category separate from other modes of human harming; second, that it is troubling in a special way that makes acts of violence peculiarly hard to justify. This paper defends a narrow understanding of violence and a special ethics governing its use by arguing that a distinctive form of ‘Violent Agency’ is the factor uniting the category while partly accounting for the fearful connotations of the term. Violent Agency is defined first by a double intention [1] to inflict harm using a technique chosen [2] to eliminate or evade the target’s means of escaping it or defending against it. Second, the harms it aims at are destructive (as opposed to appropriative). The analysis offered connects the concept of violence to themes in international theory such as vulnerability, security, and domination, as well as the ethics of war.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)67-100
Number of pages34
JournalInternational Theory
Issue number1
Early online date15 Feb 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2017


  • Hannah Arendt
  • violence
  • just war theory
  • vulnerability
  • republicanism
  • feminist international relations theory
  • collateral damage
  • double effect


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