Contingent Pacifism and the Moral Risks of Participating in War

Lawrence May

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    The just war tradition began life, primarily in the writings of Augustine and other Church Fathers, as a reaction to pacifism. In my view, contemporary just war adherents should also see pacifism as their main rival. The key question of the just war tradition is how to justify war, given that war involves intentionally attacking or killing innocent people. And this justificatory enterprise is not an easy one. Today some theorists argue that some, but not all, soldiers are liable to be attacked, especially those who fight in an unjust war. In this view, some of those who fight and kill in unjust wars should not be excused for following orders or even for their ignorance. Yet, it is often hard to tell if one is fighting in an unjust war, or whether military orders are unjust. I will argue that, especially in light of new work by just war adherents, the moral risks of participating in war are so high that pacifism, at least in its contingent form, should be seen as a reasonable option. The new versions of the just war doctrine bring us much closer to pacifism than their adherents would admit.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)95-111
    Number of pages17
    JournalPublic Affairs Quarterly
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - Apr 2011


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