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  • Print publication year: 2014
  • Online publication date: December 2014

1 - Why are people violent?


We, the authors, must make clear at the outset that, prescriptively, we judge most violence to be immoral. But in every culture, some people sometimes feel morally entitled or required to hurt or kill others. Violent initiations, human sacrifice, corporal punishment, revenge, beating spouses, torturing enemies, ethnic cleansing and genocide, honor killing, homicide, martial arts, and many other forms of violence are usually morally motivated. The fact is that people often feel – and explicitly judge – that in many contexts it is good to do these kinds of violence to others: people believe that in many cases hurting or killing others is not simply justifiable, it is absolutely, fundamentally right. Furthermore, people often regard others’ infliction of violence against third parties as morally commendable – and sometimes acknowledge or even appreciate the morality of violence inflicted on themselves. We wish this weren’t true – we abhor it. But it is true, so to understand or reduce violence, we must recognize its moral roots. Most violence is morally motivated. People do not simply justify or excuse their violent actions after the fact; at the moment they act, people intend to cause harm or death to someone they feel should suffer or die. That is, people are impelled to violence when they feel that to regulate certain social relationships, imposing suffering or death is necessary, natural, legitimate, desirable, condoned, admired, and ethically gratifying. In short, most violence is the exercise of moral rights and obligations. Working within the framework of relational models theory (Fiske, 1991, 1992, 2004) and relationship regulation theory (Rai and Fiske, 2011), our thesis is that people are morally motivated to do violence to create, conduct, protect, redress, terminate, or mourn social relationships with the victim or with others. We call our theory virtuous violence theory.

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