The Metaethical Paradox of Just War Theory

Author: Calhoun, L.

Source: Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, Volume 4, Number 1, March 2001 , pp. 41-58(18)

Publisher: Springer

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Abstract:

The traditional requirements upon the waging of a “just war” are ostensibly independent, but in actual practice each tenet is subject ultimately to the interpretation of a “legitimate authority”, whose declaration becomes the necessary and sufficient condition. While just war theory presupposes that some acts are absolutely wrong, it also implies that the killing of innocents can be rendered permissible through human decree. Nations are conventionally delimited, and leaders are conventionally appointed. Any group of people could band together to form a nation, and any person could, in principle, be appointed the leader of any nation. Because the “just war” approach assumes absolutism while implying relativism, the stance is paradoxical and hence rationally untenable.

Keywords: absolutism; collateral damage; just war theory; legitimate authority; relativism

Document Type: Regular Paper

Affiliations: Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies, 27 Kirkland Street, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA (E-mail: calhoun@fas.harvard.edu)

Publication date: March 1, 2001

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