Arguments for the Moral Equality of Combatants

Jeff McMahan

in Killing in War

Published in print April 2009 | ISBN: 9780199548668
Published online September 2009 | e-ISBN: 9780191721045 | DOI:

Series: Uehiro Series in Practical Ethics

Arguments for the Moral Equality of Combatants

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This chapter examines a variety of possible arguments for the orthodox view that those who fight in unjust wars have the same moral status as those who fight in just wars — that is, the same rights, permissions, liabilities, and so on. For example, it explores these claims, among others: that all combatants consent to become legitimate targets of attack, that the permissibility of their fighting derives from their inability to obtain relevant knowledge about the justice of their war, that they have a duty to fight that derives from their institutional role, and that they are permitted to act because moral responsibility for their action transfers to their political leaders. It concludes that all these arguments fail and that soldiers may be morally required to refuse to fight in an unjust war and that legal institutions should be redesigned to accommodate this moral requirement.

Keywords: justification; consent; uncertainty; moral risk; collective action; responsibility; conscientious refusal; conscientious objection

Chapter.  29623 words. 

Subjects: Moral Philosophy

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