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(2019) Violence and meaning, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan.

Violence as metaphor

Vasti Roodt

pp. 3-26

Describing an action or a state of affairs as a form of violence is usually shorthand for condemning whatever falls under that description. However, precisely because the concept of violence is taken to have a special kind of moral force, it is prone to conceptual inflation. In this chapter, I argue that we should resist such inflation for epistemic and moral reasons. Specifically, the indiscriminate application of the concept deprives us of the means for saying what violence is not, which leaves us unable to specify the moral end for the sake of which violence is to be condemned. Having made the case for delimiting the concept of violence, I go on to show that violence is not a normative concept, and that expanded notions of 'systemic" or 'structural" violence add nothing to our understanding of the specific wrong at stake. I conclude that decoupling violence from normative assumptions enables us to distinguish between violence as a feature of specific human actions and injustice as a feature of policies and institutions that cannot be reduced to individual agency. My aim, ultimately, is not to reject violence as framework for explanation and evaluation, but to show that it is self-defeating to expand this framework beyond reasonable limits.

Publication details

DOI: 10.1007/978-3-030-27173-2_1

Full citation:

Roodt, V. (2019)., Violence as metaphor, in L. Lauwaert, L. K. Smith & C. Sternad (eds.), Violence and meaning, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 3-26.

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