The condition of last resort

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Just War theory specifies that recourse to war must be a last resort. This specification accords with a more general aim to limit the occurrence of war by articulating demanding conditions under which war can be morally legitimate. Although it has critics among contemporary Western philosophers, the condition of last resort is widely accepted as a basic element of Just War theory. It is not itself an issue of dispute between historical as opposed to contemporary Just War theorists, or between traditional as opposed to revisionist Just War theorists. The defensibility of “last resort” as a necessary condition of legitimate recourse to war will depend on how the condition is best interpreted and on its moral rationale. Last Resort: Interpretation, Rationale, Acceptability Three philosophical questions about the condition of last resort rise at the most basic level: How should we interpret this condition? What is its moral rationale? Should we accept last resort as a necessary condition of legitimate recourse to war? These questions are interrelated. For instance, a defensible interpretation of last resort as a condition of jus ad bellum is shaped by what we take the moral rationale of this condition to be. In the other direction, the moral considerations that ground the requirement that recourse to war be a last resort have a significant bearing on how we should interpret this condition. An account of what last resort requires and implies, both in theory and in practice, is directly relevant to whether this condition ought to be accepted as necessary to legitimate recourse to war. The answers to these philosophical questions are highly significant to whether a condition of last resort should be adopted in policy or incorporated as part of international law. They are also relevant to how this condition is to be applied in practice. In this chapter I address these three philosophical questions. Before doing so it is important to acknowledge that the interpretation and the rationale and justification of last resort as a condition of jus ad bellum depend on what we take war to be: according to Just War theory recourse to war must be a last resort because of what war is and does.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge handbook of the just war
EditorsLarry May
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9781316591307
ISBN (Print)9781107152496, 9781316606629
Publication statusPublished - 01 Jan 2018

Publication series

NameCambridge handbooks in philosophy


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