Thursday, March 13, 2008

the moral equality of combatants

I've been thinking about war and the conditions under which it is obligatory for a combatant to refuse to fight in a war. Traditional Just War Theory has as one of its principles the principle of just cause. This principle basically says it's only permissible to go to war provided one's cause is just.

Certain theorists (e.g. Michael Walzer, Dan Zupan) argue for a principle often called the Moral Equality of Combatants (hereafter, MEC). The principle says all combatants, whether fighting on the just side (if indeed there is one) or the unjust side, share the same moral status with regards to jus ad bellum--the resort to war. One counterintuitive result of adopting this principle is that a combatant cannot be held blameworthy for conducting acts that essentially amount to murder since warring in the name of an unjust cause doesn't give one a justification or excuse for taking human lives.

I have a crude argument against MEC and i'm wondering what people think of it. It goes as follows:

Argument against MEC

  1. Combatants have a moral obligation to not go to war for an unjust cause.
  2. If (1), then combatants who go to war for an unjust cause are morally blameworthy.
  3. From (1) and (2) it follows that combatants who go to war for an unjust cause are morally blameworthy.
  4. Combatants who go to war for a just cause are not morally blameworthy.
  5. Therefore, MEC is false.
I'm aware that Dan Zupan argues that combatants on the unjust side cannot be held morally responsible for jus ad bellum because of invincible ignorance--i.e. combatants epistemic states are such that they lack the requisite knowledge to determine the justness of a war effort. Provided i can answer this objection (and i think i can), are there any other worries about the argument?

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

suggestions for readings

so, i am going to be teaching my first class this winter session and i was wondering whether anyone had any suggestions about course readings. the class is "current social and moral issues" and it's 3 weeks long. of course, i'll be covering the usual topics: abortion, euthanasia, blah, blah, blah, but i'm also looking to include readings regarding issues surrounding race and maybe the ethics of war. if anyone has any suggestions for readings or even topics i'd appreciate them.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

primitive thisness

my friend Gaurav presented me with an argument from Robert Adams:

Consider two spheres, call them A and B, and possible worlds W,

(1) in W1, there are two distinct spheres A and B that are identical in all their properties except that A has some contingent property p,

(2) in W2, there are A and B where everything is the same as in (1) except that B and not A has some contingent property p,

(3) in W3, only A exists, but without p,

(4) in W4, only B exists, but without p,

(5) in W5, both A and B distinctly exist, but neither having p.

The upshot of the argument is that objects aren't individuated in virtue of their properties, but that individuation is not reducible, or primitive. But if you like Leibniz's law, which basically says you can't have two distinct objects with identical properties, you shouldn't like this argument. i don't know what to say about this argument. It feels like there's some sneaky move being made but i can't quite say what. Any thoughts?

Friday, June 22, 2007

new additions

great news! Brian Weatherson and Ishani Maitra have finally ;) accepted Rutgers' offers and will be joining our department. this has been an interesting time as we've added great people but also lost some great people as well. you can read more about Weatherson and Maitra here.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

naturalized morality

Alex Byrne wrote a brief overview of 20th century meta-ethics here.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Got Wisdom?

The New York Times Magazine has a link to a questionnaire that attempts to measure one's wisdom. You can link to it here. (According to the test, I have relatively high wisdom!)

(HT: Leiter Reports)

Monday, April 23, 2007


It's official. Jeff King is coming to Rutgers. This means that the world's foremost department in the philosophy of language is getting even better. Don't hate.