Jeff McMahan

in The Oxford Handbook of Political Philosophy

Published in print June 2012 | ISBN: 9780195376692
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks


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This article analyzes the traditional theory and the revisionist account of the just war. In the traditional just war theory, the distinction between legitimate and illegitimate targets coincides with the distinction between combatants and noncombatants. The traditional requirement of discrimination thus seeks to confine the effects of combat to the combatants themselves, shielding civilians and their collective life to the maximum extent possible. The revisionist account of the just war asserts that war is morally continuous with other forms of conflict and is governed by the same principles that apply to other forms of violent conflict. A review of the two approaches' implications for preventive war and humanitarian intervention may suggest that the traditional theory gives a more restrictive account of morally permissible war. But this is an illusion. It may recognize fewer just causes for war, but overall it is far more permissive than the revisionist account in that it permits soldiers to fight for any cause, whether just or unjust. Even if the revisionist account recognizes a greater range of just causes for war, its requirement of just cause applies to both political rulers and individual soldiers alike, so that no one may fight without a just cause.

Keywords: just war; revisionist theory; self defense; traditional theory; conflict

Article.  9751 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy ; Social and Political Philosophy

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