What Is War?

Can anything be more ridiculous than that a man should have the right to kill me because he lives on the other side of the water, and because his ruler has a quarrel with mine, though I have none with him?

- Blaise Pascal, Pensées, V, 294

Podcast of the Day

When one Army soldier discovered the propagation of torture tactics during the Iraq war, he engaged in a one-man mission inside the organization to learn about their origins, and the effect they had on lower-level soldiers who were implementing them. From there, he took on the Bush administration. Years later, he is training to be a philosopher.
As a new U.S. administration takes hold, with talk of military action against ISIS and the reinstatement of Bush-era torture policies, we embark on a two-week exploration of the philosophy of war. We follow the story of soldier philosophers, the first generation who served in a large-scale American war since Vietnam, returning to bring new thinking about the morality of warfare. On this episode, we look at the side-effects of moral decision-making on the soldiers who are asked to carry-out a President’s orders.

Listen to the Hi-Phi Nation episode on Moral Exploitation

Video of the Day

Short Article of the Day

Both just war theory and the law distinguished between the justification for the resort to war (jus ad bellum) and justified conduct in war (jus in bello). In most presentations of the theory of the just war there are six principles of jus ad bellum, each with its own label: just cause, legitimate authority, right intention, necessity or last resort, proportionality and reasonable hope of success. Jus in bello comprises three principles: discrimination, necessity or minimal force, and, again, proportionality. These principles articulate in a compressed form an understanding of the morality of war that is, in its fundamental structure, much the same as it was 300 years ago.

Continue reading Jeff Mcmahan's article: Rethinking the 'Just War', Part 1

Further Reading

Some reject the very idea of the “morality of war”. Of those, some deny that morality applies at all once the guns strike up; for others, no plausible moral theory could license the exceptional horrors of war. The first group are sometimes called realists. The second group are pacifists. The task of just war theory is to seek a middle path between them: to justify at least some wars, but also to limit them (Ramsey 1961). Although realism undoubtedly has its adherents, few philosophers find it compelling. The real challenge to just war theory comes from pacifism. And we should remember, from the outset, that this challenge is real. The justified war might well be a chimera.

Continue reading the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on War by Seth Lazar

Related Topics

 Sociology | Violence

Each day I post short quotes by great thinkers on a particular philosophical, scientific or historical topic, along with videos, interviews and articles by contemporary thinkers that explore each topic in more detail. Find me on Facebook or Twitter or enter your email below to learn about the ideas that helped shape our world.