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Authority and Harm in War

Parry, Jonathan (2014) Authority and Harm in War. PhD thesis, University of Sheffield.

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Abstract

Two features of warfare are particularly ethically striking. Firstly, and most obviously, war involves killing and maiming on a grand scale. Secondly, war involves large numbers of individuals obeying the commands of those who claim to possess authority over them, such as their superior officers and political leaders. Whereas leading contemporary work on the ethics of war focuses on the former aspect, this thesis investigates the relevance of the latter. The project is orientated around a discussion of the traditional just war requirement that wars be waged by a ‘legitimate authority’, and makes three central contributions. Firstly, I argue that the authority criterion plays a much more important role within just war theory than is commonly supposed. Rather than simply imposing a necessary condition for justifying the resort to war, the criterion also plays a crucial role in judgements about the permissibility of individuals’ conduct in war. More specifically, the criterion captures the idea that individuals who fight on behalf of a certain type of entity are subject to a more extensive range of permissions to cause harm than those that apply to private actors. Secondly, I assess the extent to which the commands of authorities are capable of affecting the deontic status of acts of harming. Drawing on a ‘service-based’ account of the justification of authority, I argue for the controversial conclusion that individuals may be morally required, all-things-considered, to obey commands to cause serious harm to others, even in cases were doing so would be straightforwardly morally unjustified in the absence of the command. This argument has important revisionary implications for our understanding of both the ethics of harm and the moral limits of the duty to obey. Thirdly, I employ this argument to provide a qualified defence of the authority criterion against powerful objections raised by an influential ‘reductivist’ approach to just war theory. While they diverge in important respects, I argue that my defence is compatible with the basic commitments that motivate a reductivist view.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Ethics; Moral Philosophy; Political Philosophy; Just War Theory; Authority; Harm; Jeff McMahan; Joseph Raz
Academic Units: The University of Sheffield > Faculty of Arts and Humanities (Sheffield) > Philosophy (Sheffield)
Identification Number/EthosID: uk.bl.ethos.631431
Depositing User: Mr Jonathan Parry
Date Deposited: 27 Nov 2014 14:24
Last Modified: 03 Oct 2016 11:18
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/7325

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