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Unformatted text preview: WAR . I T HE three fundamental ethical questions about war concern the justification of the resort to war, the justification of the conduct of war, and the relation between the resort to a war and the limits on its conduct. These three questions are as follows. When, if ever, is one either permitted or obligated to resort to war? If the resort to war is ever justified, what are the limits on how a war may be fought? Are these lim- its on its conduct a necessary condition of a just war, or might extreme situations arise in which some of these limits may justifiably be ignored? Some of the arguments for the conclusion that war is never permissible, much less obligatory, rest on features of war that are not unique to it. Wars kill and maim human beings, destroy human artefacts, and degrade and distort the natural envi- ronment. If it is always wrong to kill another human being intentionally or care- lessly, or always wrong to degrade the environment unnecessarily or carelessly, then obviously war, which inflicts both these harms in great magnitude, is always wrong. Such arguments are among the several plausible grounds of pacifism, the view that war is never justified. Obviously, precise accounts of the wrongness of killing vary in their ultimate grounds, and pacifism admits of significantly different varieties (Holmes ). Equally obviously, questions of when, if ever, any killing of other persons is justified are supremely important. If somehow an abstract analysis of those questions at a perfectly general level could lead to the conclusion that no, or almost no, killing of human beings can ever be justified, then we would need Hugh-28.qxd 7/26/02 1:41 PM Page 734 pursue no further the distinctive features of war. Here, nevertheless, we will focus on the issues raised by what is distinctive about war, for the following reason. While it may initially appear obvious that one ought to discuss ‘killing as such’ (or ‘environmental destruction as such’) before discussing the usually large-scale killing and destruction in war, it is evident upon reflection that there is no such thing as ‘killing as such’. Stabbings in drunken brawls, assassinations of murderous dictators, executions by hired hit men, neonaticides by mothers with post-partum depression, military occupations of lands that are the homes of other people, and military defences against attempted military occupations are all cases of killing other human beings. Yet these concrete cases are so different from each other that it is at least conceivable that some are justified and some are not, because some of the differences among them may be more significant than their similarities. The suggestion that one should somehow begin with ‘killing as such’ is, in my view, just bad philosophy and is in any case not practical ethics, which attempts to arrive at concrete conclusions about what kind of person to be and how to act in the here...
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This note was uploaded on 09/27/2011 for the course PHILOSPHY 106 taught by Professor Mcmahan during the Fall '10 term at Rutgers.
- Fall '10