Innocents, Double Effect and Proportionality

Uwe Steinhoff

in On the Ethics of War and Terrorism

Published in print May 2007 | ISBN: 9780199217373
Published online September 2007 | e-ISBN: 9780191712470 | DOI:
 Innocents, Double Effect and Proportionality

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Appealing to the doctrine of double effect, just war theorists claim that only the direct and intentional killing of innocents violates their rights, but not the mere acceptance of their killing as a side-effect of an attack on a military target. The chapter demonstrates the untenability of this doctrine; but, by way of proportionality considerations, it also rejects the pacifist argument that all modern wars are unjustified because they inevitably kill innocents. Nevertheless, there still remains a morally relevant difference between direct attacks on innocents and foreseeing their death as a side-effect (‘collateral damage’). The difference is explained by consideration of an interaction between the right to take action against aggressors and threats on the one hand, and the principle that individual rights restrict the majority, on the other. The result is that war can be justified as a lesser evil but can never be completely just, for the rights of those innocent people killed as ‘collateral damage’ are indeed violated.

Keywords: jus in bello; pacifism; collateral damage; rights

Chapter.  11705 words. 

Subjects: Political Theory

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