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The Moral Status of War. Philosophy 220. What ' s the Deal with War, Terrorism and Torture?. War, Terrorism and Torture, like all other forms of human activity, have moral implications that ethics helps us evaluate.
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The Moral Status of War Philosophy 220
What's the Deal with War, Terrorism and Torture? • War, Terrorism and Torture, like all other forms of human activity, have moral implications that ethics helps us evaluate. • Like some of the other activities we've taken a look at, War is something which common moral opinion agrees is sometimes justified, but not always. • Terrorism and Torture, on the other hand, are instances of activities which common moral opinion generally forbids (murder is another example). • In these cases, too, arguments have been made that they can be/are justifiable acts/practices. • This is an example of how ethics can expand our common moral judgment.
What are the Ethical Questions? • As we've seen in other contexts, moral philosophy asks general questions about the appropriateness and adequacy of moral judgments. • In the context of W, T and T, the questions take this form: • Are W, T or T, considered individually, ever morally permissible? • If any of them are, what best explains why (justifies this answer)?
Some Definitions: War • War: (1): a state of usually open and declared armed hostile conflict between states or nations; (2) a period of such armed conflict (390). • The distinction between hot and cold wars expands on this definition. Hot wars are wars which actually involve fighting. Cold wars are those which are carried out without declaration or direct military conflict. • We are going to focus on hot wars, two controversial instances of which our country is currently involved.
Theoretical Extremes • Two positions which could serve as the endpoints of a moral spectrum addressing war are moral nihilism and anti-war pacifism. • Moral Nihilism: the view that moral considerations do not apply to war (393). • An absolute nihilist rejects any moral questions about war; a limited nihilist acknowledges questions about the justice or injustice of specific wars, but argues that in a war, anything goes. • Anti-War Pacifism: any massive use of lethal force (wars) is always (perhaps, almost) morally wrong.
Theoretical Mainstream • Just-War Theory is a common context of moral analysis of war. • Though there are a number of competing JWTs, a clear and straightforward account comes as an extension to Natural Law Theory. • Particularly helpful is the NLT's "Doctrine of Double Effect."
What does JWT do? • As the title suggests, JWT assumes an answer to the first of our moral questions about war: war is sometimes justified. • The theory provides us with an answer to the second question, specifying the conditions under which war is justified, and thus, of course, unjustified. • Like most theories justifying war, JWT makes the basic distinction between jus ad bellum(discussion of when it is justified to go to war) and jus in bello(discussion of the morality of activities used to make war).
Jus ad Bellum • JWT identifies 5 conditions which must be met for a justified decision to go to war. • War must be declared by a legitimate authority. • There must be a just cause. • War must be a last resort. • There must be a reasonable chance of success. • The violence produced must be proportional to the wrong being resisted.
Jus in Bello • Employing the doctrine of double effect, JWTs specify 4 conditions which must be met for a particular action to be just in pursuit of military ends. • Military Necessity: the action must be necessary to accomplish a justifiable military end. • Discrimination: the action must avoid, to the extent possible, innocent collateral damage. • Proportionality: the evil of the activity (casualties, property damage, etc.) must be in proportion with the good of the goal of the action.
Wasserstrom, "Does Morality Apply?" • Wasserstrom's article evaluates the common arguments for Moral Nihilism, ultimately concluding that the arguments are unsuccessful. • On the assumption that the presumptive position is that war is susceptible to moral evaluation, Wasserstrom concludes that MN is false.
What is Moral Nihilism? • The first step in evaluating arguments for a position is to carefully and clearly state the position and arguments under examination. • With the help of the Acheson quote (398), Wasserstrom works to provide a clear, unambiguous statement of the position. • As he goes on to show, disambiguating the position reveals that there are a number of different possible MN positions to argue for, and the arguments for each of them have to be evaluated on their merits.
Conceptual MN • One way to understand the MN claim is to understand it as a statement of analytic or conceptual truth: it is impossible for war to be evaluated from a moral standpoint. • A MN view on war could in this sense be just an instance of the broader claim that morality is empty or useless, but most frequently it amounts to the claim that war is a special case. • Evaluation? This analytic claim certainly isn't true merely by the definition of war. The definition certainly indicates that war is a case when killing is acceptable, but it doesn't require that it is always or in any way acceptable.
Prescriptive MN • Another way to understand MN is as a prescriptive claim that in the case of war, national interests ought to trump moral considerations. • A common way of making this argument is to make appeal to consequentialist features, such as that fewer American lives would be lost if a particular war is fought or a particular weapon system is used, even though it may lead to the loss of more foreign lives. • Clearly, an underlying assumption is that American lives are more valuable than those of foreigners. • Another common assumption is that leaders making the decision to go to war act as servants of the interests of the citizens (like lawyers acting as servants of the interests of their clients).
Evaluation? • Taking the lawyer analogy seriously requires that we recognize that such "servant" roles are not absolute. Lawyers are often required to act counter to the interests of their clients, if moral considerations overwhelm those interests. • If a lawyer knows that their client is going to commit a crime, they are morally (and legally) required to report it. Similarly, a leader does have an obligation to protect her citizens, but not in ways that violate other fundamental moral obligations (like respect for human life). • It's also dubious that appeals to national interests rule out consideration of the interests of other nations. • Finally, the claim that national interests trump other interests is itself in need of justification that is not obvious or straightforward.
Implications • Given the strong presumptive argument that all areas of human activity are open to moral evaluation, the argument that war qualifies as a case of special exemption needs to be justified. • Wasserstrom examines the common justifications offered for this claim and provides strong arguments that they do not work. • Lacking justification, the MN thesis should be rejected.