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Good Soldiers, A Traditional Approach

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This article contends that in crucial respects effective soldiers are ethical soldiers, that good soldiers in the military sense are good soldiers in the moral sense, and that this is so for quite traditional reasons. The thesis is defended by identifying and then resolving basic paradoxes regarding what soldiers must be trained to do or be, e.g.: be trained to kill but also not to be brutal; be trained to react in combat situations almost automatically but also to deliberate and decide if a command is unlawful; as peacekeepers, be trained to be impartial but also to know right from wrong and be firmly committed to upholding the former and opposing the latter. It is shown that contradictory things are not really thus being called for. With the aid of a blend of deontology and virtue theory, it is argued that certain standard qualities of effective soldiers have an associated moral dimension. For example, true military courage implies an unwillingness to engage in cruelty; the self-control on which success of missions depends implies eschewing motives of personal vengeance; and the capacity for comprehending complex equipment and data implies a mentality for assessing the validity of orders.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Philosophy, University of Ottawa

Publication date: January 1, 2001


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