The ethics of warfare..

Oh, if only this were true — philosophers would have jobs…

Some people think that the term “ethical war” is impossible — or an oxymoron..  I think this position is preposterous… but, then again I’m a just war theorist —

I think that it’s vital to have ethical constraints on action, and the more likely the action is to harm or kill others, the more restrictive those constraints should be.

It seems to me that a good ethical theory ought to ground the ethics of warfare, and not the other way around.

Think about it this way, there are two directions these principles could be developed — one alternative is to look at history, figure out what principles seemed to be and which ones seemed to work, and work backwards to what the principles should be.

The other option is to select an ethical theory and build the principles based on that theory.  The advantage is that, if the principles don’t provide an answer, the ethical theory can help.  It also doesn’t have to be the case that you do a lot of historical interpretation or revision…

So — my version of just war theory is based on W.D. Ross’ prima facie duties theory — and then I created the set of just war norms from there.

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1 Comment

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One response to “The ethics of warfare..

  1. JC Davis

    I had a mini-debate on this very topic this weekend… Ethical war, you ask? Yes, it does seem crazy at first. After all, it seems counter-intuitive to have such things as rules, truces, “hours of combat”, the Geneva Convention, etc… when the most active secondary thrust of warfare is to kill each other (I understand, of course, that the primary thrust is to compel the other side to see things your way)!

    But then we liked it to a game of chess – albeit with lethal consequences and human pawns. What was interesting about contextualizing it this way was that it made clear the distinction between historical European wars (which we tend to be good at) and the Asian wars (where we get our a** kicked) – the difference is that European-style warfare is based on gentlemanly rules of engagement whereas Asian-style warfare is more guerrilla in concept. Which led to the question of, hmm, why is that?

    We arrived at a tacit conclusion that the cultural values of European war center from honour and duty to Country, whereas the values of Asian war center around personal honour and duty to family. Put another way, more bluntly: “God and Country!” versus “I’ll die a martyr and honour my clan/family!”

    Your thoughts?

    (I need to read your dissertation! Perhaps you’ve already given me my answer there? I’ll read up on W.D. Ross as well…)

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