Forfeiture and Self-Defense

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



The idea behind someone’s being “liable” to self-defense is that the person has forfeited her rights. This chapter explores how we ought to understand how and why individuals forfeit such rights. Specifically, it claims that forfeiture is a negative normative power, whereby the actor’s voluntary choice to violate another’s rights grounds the loss of his own rights against physical injury. It argues that individuals do not lose “the right to life” but simply claim rights against injury that the defender knows will prevent a culpable rights infringement. It further explores how the self-defense limitations of necessity and proportionality are internal to question of forfeiture itself, rather than being additional limits on the use of force. The chapter further explains why, given the grounding of the forfeiture, the aggressor forfeits only to those who know they must use defensive force. So understood, forfeiture is defeasibly sufficient for all-things-considered permissibility.


self-defense, liability, forfeiture, normative power, permissibility

Publication Title

The Ethics of Self-Defense