Deploying Racist Soldiers: A critical take on the `right intention' requirement of Just War Theory

Kriterion - Journal of Philosophy 32 (1):53-74 (2018)
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In a recent article Duncan Purves, Ryan Jenkins, and B. J. Strawser argue that in order for a decision in war to be just, or indeed the decision to resort to war to be just, it must be the case that the decision is made for the right reasons. Furthermore, they argue that this requirement holds regardless of how much good is produced by said action. In this essay I argue that their argument is flawed, in that it mistakes what makes an agent morally good for what makes an act morally good. I argue that the main thrust of Purves et al.’s argument in fact undermines the conclusion they wish to draw, and that the reasons for one’s action do not make an in principle difference to the morality of actions in war. I further argue that this position undermines the traditional ad bellum just war constraint of right intention, and that the morality of actions in war is, at core, only concerned with outcomes. I conclude by clarifying that one’s reasons for action do in fact matter when deciding to enter war or kill in war, but only because one’s reasons significantly impact the way in which one acts. The purpose of this paper is to clear the theoretical space by showing why intentions/reasons do not in principle matter when assessing the morality of war (or killing), but this should not be taken as an argument that we should ignore intentions/reasons altogether.

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Nathan Gabriel Wood
University of Ghent

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References found in this work

Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals.Immanuel Kant - 1785 - New Haven: Oxford University Press.
Groundwork of the metaphysics of morals.Immanuel Kant - 1785 - In Elizabeth Schmidt Radcliffe, Richard McCarty, Fritz Allhoff & Anand Vaidya (eds.), Late Modern Philosophy: Essential Readings with Commentary. Blackwell.
Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals.Immanuel Kant - 1785/2002 - In Practical Philosophy. Cambridge University Press. pp. 37-108.
Acting for the right reasons.Julia Markovits - 2010 - Philosophical Review 119 (2):201-242.
War.Brian Orend - 2008 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

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