Moral War Theory Essay

Moral War Theory Essay - Seth Braunstein Sean Stapleton How...

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Seth Braunstein Sean Stapleton How to Approach War During wartime, it is very difficult to understand what should and should not be morally permissible. If left up to each person’s intuition or beliefs, it may be difficult to experience just rules of engagement. To help solve this problem, there are two important moral theories, Absolutism and Utilitarianism that pertain to permissible actions during war. In this essay I will define and explain the overall Absolutist and Utilitarian moral theories. I will then explain their key differences and analyze its moral significance. I will then explain why Nagel’s claim that, under certain situations we must violate one moral theory to abide by the other is correct and use the example of torturing a prisoner to support this claim. I will show how in this situation, one of these moral theories must be forfeited, in order to act morally permissible under the other, proving Nagel’s claim correct. Absolutism is a moral theory that advises whether certain actions taken by one human being to another are morally right or wrong. During wartime, there are two main restrictions, which are restrictions on the type of people to whom we exhibit hostile behavior, and restrictions on the type of hostile behavior or violence that is directed towards that allowed group of people. 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). In order to act hostile toward another person, such as an enemy in war, you must be justified in terms of something about that given person, which makes your hostile treatment appropriate. For example, it
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would be morally acceptable to open fire on your opponent who is trying to kill you, in order to ward off that threat directly. However, it would be morally impermissible, according to absolutists, to open fire on the man’s family standing next to him, which would be considered a peripheral target, in order to get him to stop firing at you. The first situation is morally permissible because your attack is aimed specifically against the threat presented by the dangerous opposition, whereas in the second situation, the attack is against a peripheral target, his family, who is not posing any threat towards you, therefore the family is being treated as a means and not a human being (Nagel 69). This type of fighting 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 absolutist moral theory will 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 treatment. Unfortunately, most of the time soldiers will be in
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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.

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Moral War Theory Essay - Seth Braunstein Sean Stapleton How...

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