Ulterior Motives and Moral Injury in War

In Andrew I. Cohen & Kathryn McClymond (eds.), Moral Injury and the Humanities: Interdisciplinary Perspectives. Routledge (2024)
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Abstract

Guilt is a moral emotion that plays an important role in some understandings and manifestations of moral injury. In “Ulterior Motives and Moral Injury in War,” I note that soldiers returning from war are often assailed by profound feelings of guilt. Such soldiers might feel irrevocably diminished as persons, which is characteristic of a type of moral injury. I explore how the ulterior motives of the leaders who authorized the war might exacerbate the moral injury of soldiers. According to the argument I develop, civilian and military leaders, by virtue of their practical authority over combatants serving in the military, confer upon those combatants a particular purpose. The ulterior motives that the leaders harbor constitutively determine the content of the purpose they confer. So long as a combatant remains under the practical authority of her leaders, there is nothing she can do to divest herself of the specific purpose conferred upon her. Even if the war and her conduct in it are just by hypothesis, her sense of integrity might demand more: that she helps kill only for scrupulous purposes. It might be impossible to reconcile the demands of integrity with the cynical purpose that her self-serving, career-minded, opportunistic leaders confer upon her. This failure to justify to herself the carnage she helps cause can exacerbate the severity of any psychological trauma she suffers.

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Saba Bazargan-Forward
University of California, San Diego

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References found in this work

Utilitarianism: For and Against.J. J. C. Smart & Bernard Williams - 1973 - Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Edited by Bernard Williams.
The View from Nowhere.Thomas Nagel - 1986 - Revue de Métaphysique et de Morale 92 (2):280-281.
The View from Nowhere.Thomas Nagel - 1986 - Zeitschrift für Philosophische Forschung 43 (2):399-403.
Practical Reason and Norms.Joseph Raz - 1975 - Law and Philosophy 12 (3):329-343.

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