Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 12 (5):555-568 (2009)

Abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq confront us with the question of how seemingly ordinary soldiers could have perpetrated harms against prisoners. In this essay I argue that a Stoic approach to the virtues can provide a bulwark against the social and personal forces that can lead to abusive behavior. In part one, I discuss Abu Ghraib. In two, I examine social psychological explanations of how ordinary, apparently decent people are able to commit atrocities. In three, I address a series of questions: why should we turn to ethics for help with these problems, and why, in particular, to Stoicism instead of other ethical theories, such as utilitarianism or Kantianism? Given the power of situations in influencing behavior, is a turn to character ethics a viable response to problems such as those at Abu Ghraib? I argue in part four that character formation drawing on Stoic values can provide soldiers with the inner resilience to resist the situational factors that press them to unwarranted aggression.
Keywords Philosophy   Ontology   Political Philosophy   Ethics
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DOI 10.1007/s10677-009-9180-8
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