Seth Braunstein Essay 6 - Seth Braunstein Sean Stapleton...

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Seth Braunstein Sean Stapleton Can Moral Behavior in War Exist? During wartime, the lines between what should and should not be morally permissible can become blurred. If left up to each person’s intuition or beliefs, it may be difficult to determine what the just rules of engagement should be. Absolutism and Utilitarianism are two fundamentally different moral theories that that can help us examine what are permissible actions to take during war. In this essay, I will define and examine the overall Absolutist and Utilitarian moral theories and explain their key differences and analyze their moral significance. I will explain why Nagel’s claim that, under certain situations, we must violate one moral theory to abide by the other, is correct. Absolutism Moral absolutism is a moral theory that helps guide whether certain actions are either morally permissible or not. Absolutism restricts the morally acceptable behavior or action we can exhibit toward a person or group of people. It prescribes when we can be aggressive or violent toward people. For example, it is only permissible to exhibit hostile behavior toward people who are a direct threat to us, and it is only permissible to show aggression or be violent in a way that is equal to what is being done to us. Absolutism mainly states, that we must treat everyone as a human being at all times no matter what the circumstance, and that people may never be used as a means or just an end (Nagel 64). During wartime, it would be morally acceptable to shoot at your adversary if that opponent is trying to kill you. Absolutism allows you to defend yourself from this direct threat with violence of equal magnitude. However, it would be morally
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impermissible to fire at the enemy’s family, considered a peripheral target, if they are standing next to him. Even, if by shooting at the family, it would prevent the enemy from shooting at you. In this situation, the family of the enemy is being treated as a means and not as human beings (Nagel 69). This type of warfare would be considered “fighting dirty” because you are showing aggression toward a more vulnerable and undeserving target, rather than the person warranting this behavior (Nagel 65). A main point of Absolutism is to attempt to avoid murder at all costs, but not necessarily prevent it (Nagel 62). There are many soldiers during war, which, if following the theory of Absolutism, would never have to exert hostile treatment towards the enemy because they have not been treated in such a manner that would warrant or justify such behavior. Unfortunately, most of the time soldiers are put in situations in which their lives are threatened and it would be morally acceptable to try and kill the opponent because this would be considered self-defense, making this hostile behavior justified. There is another intriguing aspect of Absolutism called “the law of double effect” (Nagel
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This note was uploaded on 09/07/2011 for the course PHIL 1110 taught by Professor Stapleton during the Spring '10 term at Cornell University (Engineering School).

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Seth Braunstein Essay 6 - Seth Braunstein Sean Stapleton...

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