Philosophy and Social Criticism 31 (2):147-163 (2005)

Authors
Lionel K. McPherson
Tufts University
Abstract
What is the relation between the rules of war covered by ‘the war convention’ and the source of their normative authority? According to Michael Walzer, these rules have normative authority by virtue of being widely established in theory and practice and conforming to our moral sensibilities. It is striking that his influential account of just war has a conventionalist grounding similar to his more scrutinized general theory of justice. Indeed, we should question whether a shared moral understanding is an adequate basis for morally obligating parties who might challenge the rules under the war convention. I argue that rules of war need the support of moral judgments whose normative authority is ultimately not conventional in nature. Reasonable objections to the war convention exert pressure to revise its standard principles or to admit that these principles lack general moral force. Such objections, inchoate though they may be in international political discourse, seem a source of commonly voiced skepticism of morality in international relations. Debate about the merits of alternative principles of just war has the advantage of engaging with this skepticism. This opens up the possibility that less powerful or more conscientious parties could play a constructive role in a public and more democratic discourse of just war. Key Words: Karl von Clausewitz • convention • Gilbert Harman • just war theory • morality • normative authority • political realism • war • the war convention • Michael Walzer.
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DOI 10.1177/0191453705050604
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