Acknowledging the existence of uncertainties with victory being one of them is

Acknowledging the existence of uncertainties with

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Acknowledging the existence of uncertainties, with victory being one of them, is a habit of great benefit to the military commander. A further uncertainty is with regard to whether the cause for which a commander is fighting is indeed a just one. Commanders, like soldiers, are entitled to obey trustingly the commands of just governments unless they appear patently unjust. However, they must always be aware that some crucial information regarding the war’s justice may be unknown to them; indeed, it may be unknown to their political leaders. Thus, the military commander must also be aware that fallibility means the justice of the cause is also to some extent uncertain. Thus, there are several levels of uncertainty that must be applied to Sidgewick’s utilitarian calculation regarding the justification of immoral strategies to achieve victory in war which make it far less obvious that morality can be foregone in the interests of achieving overall victory. Given this, should we not simply admit the co mmander’s moral duties trump his duties to achieving victory and leave it at that? Why do commanders need to be virtuous in order to adhere to this requirement, now that we have revealed which duty takes priority? After all, it does not require a particularly prudent person to have him obey a rule once the reasonableness of that rule has been explained to him and he has understood it. The first answer is to say that it although it is true that the person need not be particularly prudent he
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316 does need to be, in the words of David Kaspar, minimally prudent. 63 Thus, the military commander does require at least partial disposition toward evaluation of options, consideration of consequences, and the ability to determine between options well. Furthermore, as ordinary experiences reveal, the existence of a rule, even one that is understood, does not necessarily preclude the violation of that rule: sometimes we end up resorting to lying or breaking a promise to get out of a trap we laid for ourselves. So being mi nimally prudent isn’t enough for us to be fully moral. 64 This is likely to be particularly true in situations where the reason for breaking the rule is because of another duty that one is committed to, such as victory. Thus, military commanders in particular require particular acumen in evaluating the respective moral strength of different paths of action in order to determine between them rightly and avoid being overly drawn toward the perceived good of victory. 65 This is where prudence comes to the fore. As Aquinas argued, quoting St. Isodore of Sevilla, the prudent person is able to see as it were from afar, for his sight is keen, and he foresees the event of uncertainties. 66 63 David Kaspar, ‘Can Morality Do Without Prudence?’, Philosophia , vol. 39, 2011, 311-326 at 315.
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  • Spring '19
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  • Philosophy, Ethics, Laws of war, jus ad bellum, Aretaic Ethics

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