Rights, Liability, and the Moral Equality of Combatants

The Journal of Ethics 16 (4):339-366 (2012)
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Abstract

According to the dominant position in the just war tradition from Augustine to Anscombe and beyond, there is no "moral equality of combatants." That is, on the traditional view the combatants participating in a justified war may kill their enemy combatants participating in an unjustified war - but not vice versa (barring certain qualifications). I shall argue here, however, that in the large number of wars (and in practically all modern wars) where the combatants on the justified side violate the rights of innocent people ("collateral damage"), these combatants are in fact liable to attack by the combatants on the unjustified side. I will support this view with a rights-based account of liability to attack and then defend it against a number of objections raised in particular by Jeff McMahan. The result is that the thesis of the moral equality of combatants holds good for a large range of armed conflicts while the opposing thesis is of very limited practical relevance.

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Author's Profile

Uwe Steinhoff
University of Hong Kong

References found in this work

Killing in war.Jeff McMahan - 2009 - New York: Oxford University Press.
Complicity: Ethics and Law for a Collective Age.Christopher Kutz - 2000 - New York: Cambridge University Press.
Just And Unjust Wars.Michael Walzer - 1977 - New York: Basic Books.
Self-defense.Judith Jarvis Thomson - 1991 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 20 (4):283-310.

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