Article

Pacifism

Andrew Fiala

in Philosophy

ISBN: 9780195396577
Published online October 2015 | | DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0298
Pacifism

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Pacifism is a contested term. It is often defined narrowly as opposition to war; or more broadly understood as opposition to all violence. Pacifists are also sometimes committed to nonviolence as a way of life and to a vision of peaceful and harmonious coexistence. Pacifism can extend toward a commitment to nonviolence in all aspects of life, including vegetarianism. Or pacifism can be narrowly construed as an antiwar position understood at the level of political theory. Pacifism has been defended in a variety of ways: by appeal to religious authority, by grounding in fundamental moral principles, and by empirical claims about the negative consequences of violence and war. As a positive commitment to nonviolence, pacifists have argued that nonviolent social activism is both beneficial and morally praiseworthy. Pacifism has deep roots in the world’s religious traditions. In Christianity it can be traced to the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus says, “Do not resist an evil person” and “turn the other cheek” (Matthew 5:39). Buddhism, Jainism, and other traditions have a similar emphasis on nonviolence. Religious pacifism is central to ideas found in Tolstoy, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Philosophical discussions of pacifism can found in the work of Erasmus, Rousseau, and other post Renaissance and Enlightenment thinkers. In more recent history, versions of pacifism have been defended by William James, Jane Addams, Bertrand Russell, and Albert Einstein. Contemporary discussions in the philosophical literature proliferated during and after the Vietnam War era, as conscientious objection became an issue. In applied ethics literature, pacifists have responded in various ways to critiques of pacifism offered by Narveson and others, while also seeking to clarify “just war” theory. Recent discussions of pacifism have emphasized the varieties of pacifism, arguing that pacifism is not merely an absolutist moral prohibition against violence. Some have defended pacifism as a merely personal or vocational commitment. Others have clarified that pacifism is primarily an antiwar position that does not necessarily extend to a critique of all violence. Others have defended varieties of practical pacifism, contingent pacifism, or pacifism grounded in just war theory—as well as articulating connections between pacifism and other issues: feminism, animal welfare, ecology, and theology.

Article.  8277 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy ; Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art ; Epistemology ; Feminist Philosophy ; History of Western Philosophy ; Metaphysics ; Moral Philosophy ; Non-Western Philosophy ; Philosophy of Language ; Philosophy of Law ; Philosophy of Mathematics and Logic ; Philosophy of Mind ; Philosophy of Religion ; Philosophy of Science ; Social and Political Philosophy

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