“Ransom,” in the International Encyclopedia of Ethics, ed. Hugh LaFollette, Wiley (forthcoming)

The topic of ransoms raises a wide array of ethical questions. The first set concerns the permissibility of taking hostages to exact a ransom. Could it ever be morally acceptable to kidnap someone in order to secure a ransom from the person’s government or associates? There is a tacit consensus that the answer is no, but the truth of this position is not obvious; many presumptively wrongful acts, from killing to torture, can potentially be rendered permissible if certain moral conditions are met. Why not the same with kidnap-for-ransom?

The next set of questions concerns not the permissibility of kidnap-for-ransom, but rather the ethical principles that govern various modes of response to it. Is it ethically permissible, required, or forbidden to pay a ransom? While a public debate has raged on this question and its various dimensions, it has largely been absent from the philosophical literature. Yet the position one should adopt on this debate depends upon a variety of underlying questions in political and moral philosophy.

This encyclopedia entry begins by assessing the ethics of exacting ransoms, and proceeds to assess the ethics of paying ransoms. I will post the link upon publication.