Situationism, normative competence, and responsibility for wartime behavior

Journal of Value Inquiry 43 (3):415-432 (2009)
Abstract
About a year after the start of the Iraq War, a story broke about the abuse of Iraqi detainees by American soldiers at the Abu Ghraib prison. Editorialists and science writers noted affinities between what happened at Abu Ghraib and Philip Zimbardo’s famous 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment. Zimbardo’s experiment is part of the “situationist” literature in social psychology, which suggests that the contexts in which agents act have a larger influence on behavior, and that personality traits have a smaller influence, than is ordinarily supposed. Recently, there has been increased interest among philosophers in research like Zimbardo’s and its potential for influencing ethical theories. This increase is due in part to the publication of John Doris’ Lack of Character. More recently, Doris and Dominic Murphy have argued that soldiers, including those at Abu Ghraib, often act under conditions of moral excuse because the situational pressures to which they are exposed impair their capacities for moral judgment. I argue that soldiers can be morally responsible for wartime behavior even if their moral capacities have been substantially impaired.
Keywords War Crimes  Moral Responsibility  Situationism  John Doris  Dominic Murphy  Abu Ghraib
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