Journal of Applied Philosophy - Early View Articles

Kidnapped: The Ethics of Paying Ransoms

Published online on May 10, 2017


Should governments pay ransoms to terrorist organisations that unjustly kidnap their citizens? The United Kingdom and the United States refuse to negotiate with terrorist groups that kidnap and threaten to kill their people. In contrast, continental European countries, such as France and Germany, have regularly paid ransoms to rescue hostages. Who is right? This debate has raged in the public domain in recent years, but no sustained attempt has been made to subject the matter to philosophical scrutiny. This article explores this issue, focusing on the case of ransom payments to terrorist organisations. It contends that the state's duty to protect its citizens from murder grounds a defeasible obligation to pay ransoms. It considers the objection that a policy of paying ransoms endangers citizens abroad by increasing the likelihood of future kidnappings, and it explains why this objection is not sufficiently weighty. It then identifies a more powerful objection: namely, that a state's payment of ransoms makes the state complicit in the serious injustices that its ransom payments fund. It concludes that unless states can offset their contributions to such injustices, paying ransoms is wrong.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

10.1111/japp.12272 About DOI

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