Black magic and respecting persons—Some perplexities

Saul Smilansky, Juha Räikkä

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Black magic (henceforth BM) is acting in an attempt to harm human beings through supernatural means. Examples include the employment of spells, the use of special curses, the burning of objects related to the purported victim, and the use of pins with voodoo dolls. For the sake of simplicity, we shall focus on attempts to kill through BM. The moral attitude towards BM has not been, as far as we know, significantly discussed in contemporary analytic philosophy. Yet the topic brings up interesting questions and poses challenges, occasionally even reaching the level of paradoxes. Ideas of respecting persons, in particular, will be seen to be challenged by this form of magic. The notion of respecting persons will be treated here broadly and pluralistically. Indeed part of the interest in the discussion will be the unfolding of the diverse ways in which this term should be understood, and the contrasts between its various uses. Often, as we shall see, respect for persons and disrespect for them, in different senses, will co-exist, and the dilemma will be one where avoiding some forms of disrespect will involve us in disrespect in other senses.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)173-183
Number of pages11
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
A version of this paper was presented at the Israeli Philosophical Association Annual Meeting, and we are grateful to participants for their comments. We are very grateful to Aaron Ben-Ze'ev, David Enoch, Amihud Gilead, Rami Gudovitch, Meir Hemmo, Anna Ichino, Iddo Landau, Sam Lebens, Ariel Meirav, Alma Smilansky-Teichner, Daniel Statman, Rivka Weinberg, and an anonymous referee for Ratio, for very helpful comments on drafts of the paper.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 John Wiley & Sons Ltd


  • Kantian ethics
  • attempted murder
  • black magic
  • moral dilemmas
  • moral paradoxes
  • respecting persons

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy


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