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


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This chapter begins by offering two mutually compatible diagnoses of why the orthodox view has been perennially appealing. One is that the orthodox view makes sense as a matter of law and people tend to conflate the morality of war with the law of war. The other is that many of the considerations that people invoke to defend the permissibility of participation in an unjust war are actually excuses or excusing conditions rather than ground of permissibility. The chapter goes on to survey a variety of excusing conditions that are generally thought to apply to the action of combatants who fight in unjust wars, but argues that the mitigating force of these considerations is weaker than people generally assume and that they very seldom provide full excuses — that is, that they are seldom fully exculpating.

Keywords: morality of war; law of war; unjust combatants; permissibility; justification; excuse; duress; diminished responsibility; epistemic limitation

Chapter.  23118 words. 

Subjects: Moral Philosophy

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