Bellamy on Dirty Hands and Lesser Evils: A Response

Stephen De Wijze, Tom Goodwin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article offers a response to Alex Bellamy's article 'Dirty Hands and Lesser Evils in the War on Terror'. It outlines deep errors in his claims about 'dirty hands' and 'lesser evils'. Essentially, these errors result from his failure to grapple with the complexity of dirty hands theory, coupled with his uncritical acceptance that dirty hands scenarios are essentially defined as a clash between a public and private morality. Furthermore, we argue that Bellamy's distinction between 'dirty hands' and 'lesser evils' is a spurious one since all dirty hands cases require a choice between lesser evils. In addition, we reject his claim that dirty hands makes no political sense. For illustrative purposes, we then briefly examine one problematic philosophical issue which needs attention if the notion of dirty hands is to be taken seriously. Finally, we demonstrate the usefulness of the concept of dirty hands by applying it to the issue of torture in the so-called 'war on terror'. © 2009 The Author. Journal compilation © 2009 Political Studies Association.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)529-540
Number of pages11
JournalBritish Journal of Politics and International Relations
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2009


  • Dirty hands
  • Lesser evils
  • Moral conflicts
  • Waron terror


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