Basic Challenges for Governance in Emergencies

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date


Source Publication

Justice, Responsibility and Reconciliation in the Wake of Conflict.


What are emergencies and why do they matter? In this chapter, I seek to outline the morally significant features of emergencies, and demonstrate how these features generate corresponding first- and second-order challenges and responsibilities for those in a position to do something about them. In the first section, I contend that emergencies are situations in which there is a risk of serious harm and a need to react urgently if that harm is to be averted or minimized. These conceptual features matter morally, since it is precisely to them that those who invoke emergencies to justify otherwise impermissible actions tend to appeal. The basic first-order challenge facing emergency responders is two-fold. It is, first, to identify how these features shape circumstances of action in ways that affect (or do not affect) which reasons for action and which corresponding courses of conduct are justifiably available to them. In situations when emergency responders are compelled to make authoritative determinations due to significant contestability and indeterminacies in the contours or materialization of the said features, their challenge is then also to make these determinations legitimately. In the second section, I argue that second-order challenges having to do with the foreseeability of emergencies, the value of exposure to them, and their preventability further compound the predicament of emergency responders. I conclude by saying a few words about one last morally salient feature shared by many, though not all, emergencies considered in the chapter—namely, their public dimension.


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