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World peace is mentioned in popular culture many times and appears to be an

World peace is mentioned in popular culture many times and appears to be an ideal state for the world to be in. However, is world peace really capable of being achieved; or is it rather an illusion in all of our minds? It seems to me that there will never be world peace due to disagreements and conflicts that happen between people. Please fill me in on your views pertaining to this topic.

We might wonder whether world peace would be so desirable. Isn't some conflict rather stimulating and exciting, and would it not be boring if everyone was in perfect harmony with everyone else? Of course, peace would be preferable to immense murder and destruction, however lacklustre it might turn out to be. On the other hand, an ideal state of affairs might be thought to include at least some conflict and aggression, and so the ideal of world peace may not be realized because few people actually want it to be realized.

Taking into account history, isn't it justifiable to resort to terrorism in the

Taking into account history, isn't it justifiable to resort to terrorism in the face of a vast empire?

This is a really difficult question. If terrorism is the killing of civilians in order to achieve some political end, vast empires as well as fringe political groups commit terrorist acts--sometimes appealing to a state of war to justify their killings (but a declaration of war doesn't seem to make a moral difference.) If the history of terrorism by vast empires justifies terrorist acts by fringe political groups, then one would have to say that the violent measures taken by the empires (prolonged detention and torture of suspected terrorists, for example), are also justified. But if that is the case, what does 'justified' mean, and why should anyone care whether an act is 'justified'? One thought: 'justified' seems to mean at least two different things: the best thing to do, in the circumstances (which could be quite a bad thing to do, considered by itself), and 'a good thing to do' or 'the right thing to do', period. I think a terrorist act might be justified in the first sense, but not in the second, but many people condemn terrorists thinking that terrorists don't recognise the costs of their actions (to their victims), and so don't see their acts as bad by themselves and merely excusable given the circumstances. And I suppose that starting to think about this sort of complexity would paralyse many would-be agents of terrorist acts.

I'm not quite sure what you mean by 'taking into account history'.

You may mean that only violence can end oppression. This is controversial, of course: didn't Gandhi's non-violent independence movement lead to the end of British colonial power in India? And even if there aren't any historical precedents of non-violent movements ending oppression, should we assume that such a thing can never happen?

If you mean (by 'taking into account history') that vast empires got their power by acts of terror themselves, then the answer to 'is terrorism against vast empires justifiable?' may be seem to be one you could settle by figuring out who was the first aggressor. But given history, the first aggressors are often long gone, and the targets of alleged retaliations, while they may be beneficiaries of the first aggressions, aren't themselves aggressors (at least not individually). Is it right for them to be the targets of terrorist acts? Terrorist actions are always (said to be) justified in terms of the wrongs they seek to rectify; perhaps, to figure out what actions are justified (in the second sense distinguished above), we would all do better to focus on the question of how the future generations of the world can best live.

I've been wondering for some time now whether it is logically/morally defensible

I've been wondering for some time now whether it is logically/morally defensible to be an absolute pacifist while practising a martial art. It's particularly troubling because I'm in that situation and I haven't - as yet - found a resolution to what appears to be an adherence to two conflicting philosophies.

I am not sure what you mean by "an absolute pacifist." If you mean that you would not even disarm a person who was attempting to kill you, then you may have a problem reconciling it with practising a martial art. However, there does not seem to be any good nonreligious reasons to be an absolute pacifist in this sense. One can be a pacifist in a fairly absolute sense by refusing to ever seriously harm another person, and though there might be situations in which even this view would be hard to defend, it is somewhat more plausible than absolute pacifism. Another even more plausible form of pacifism is refusing ever to kill another person.

If practising a martial art does not involve practising killing anyone then it is not incompatible with the most plausible form of pacifism that I mentioned above. If practising a martial art does not involve practising seriously harming anyone, then it is not incompatible with the somewhat plausible form of pacifism that I mentioned above. I assume that practising a martial art does involve practising disarming someone who is attempting to kill you. However, I see no problem with this, as I cannot see why anyone would hold absolute pacifism in the sense I gave it.

You refer to absolute pacifism and practising a martial art as two conflicting philosophies. That seems to me to be a misuse of the term "philosophies." Although pacifism may be the result of some philosopical view, it need not be, and although practising a martial art may be prompted by acceptance of some philosophical view, it need not be. One can practise a martial art simply for the exercise, mental as well as physical and yet be committed to never using it to kill or seriously harm another person. So there need not be any conflict at all.

A friend of mine claims that the Iraq war was not 'illegal' as there are (and

A friend of mine claims that the Iraq war was not 'illegal' as there are (and were) no laws in place that could allow it to be defined as such. Regardless of whether or not this is the case, is there an agreed set of philosophical principles that allow for war to be defined as 'legal/illegal' (and not just moral/immoral)? How might we go about discussing the legalities of war on an international scale? Alastair

One of the criteria philosophers generally agree upon for just war is "legitimate authority"--that is, a just war must be authorized in legitimate (usually meaning lawful) ways. The United Nations charter and the U.S. Constitution, for example, set out procedures for properly authorizing war, as will the legal codes of most nations. To evaluate the legality of this war, one must extablish whether those procedures were followed in proper ways. In particular, here you should look at whether the U.S. Congress authorized the war and whether the U.N. Security Council authorized the war. (See Articles 39, 42, 51 of the UN Charter; also see Security Council Resolution 1441; see the U.S. Congress's Joint resolution on the war of October 2002.) Another issue to consider is whether or not, even if authorization was given, the authorization was rendered illegitimate or void since it was predicated on deceitful claims about the nature of the threat posed by Iraq. You may also consider whether any "customs," "norms," or "informal conventions" of international relations legitimate the war.

Why is it ok to kill for your country no matter what the reason, but not ok to

Why is it ok to kill for your country no matter what the reason, but not ok to kill someone just because you don't like them? What is the difference?

It isn't OK to kill for your country no matter what the reason, and some think it isn't OK to kill for any reason whatsoever. Even in less dramatic circumstances few would argue that we are entitled to act without knowing why, and approving of the reason, although there might be circumstances in which one would have to trust leaders that they know why something ought to be done. As we know, leaders can sometimes be rather untrustworthy in this respect. I believe that many armies give their military personnel instructions that they are not to follow an illegal order, and so they are obliged to think about what they are doing, why they are doing it and how they could justify it if called upon to do so. That surely is the right approach.

How does one respond to the argument that the danger to our troops is misguided

How does one respond to the argument that the danger to our troops is misguided because a citizen of Washington D.C. has a greater chance of being fatally shot than an American soldier does of dying in Iraq?

That there are problems in Washington DC by no means undermines our reasons for caring about the Iraq war and its dangers.

With respect to caring about people in danger: Shouldn't we have concern for the welfare of those involved in the Iraq war (Americans and others) as well as those who live in areas with high rates of violent claim (U.S. citizens and others in Washington DC and elsewhere)?

Likewise, with respect to discussions about public policy I think both these problems are important and worthy of discussion and debate.

Dear Philosopher,

Dear Philosopher, If I and many others believe in true democracy, where everybody votes, why do we still have war, civil and with other countries? Tate Putnins, 13 yrs, Box Hill (Melbourne), Victoria, Australia

I might add two bits to Oliver's remarks:

1. Democracies actually exhibit a rather militant history.

2. Wars of aggression, even if supported by a majority, would still, I think, violate important precepts of democracy. Democracy is not simply, after all, majority rule. It also involves protecting minorities and individuals (including the individuals of other nations) from the predation of the state and of majorities. A war of agreession civilly or internationally would violate these prinicples. Wars of self-defense or for the sake of protecting human rights are another matter.

Are nuclear weapons kosher?

Are nuclear weapons kosher?

I hesitate to make an absolute declaration, but for nearly all purposes the answer must be "no." They are simply too indiscriminate in their application, destroy disproportionally on too vast a scale, and cause too much suffering and too much environmental damage. There may well be, however, rare occasions when their use is warranted. In the case of bombing cities, I can't imagine a situation that would warrant their use, though that may say as much about my imagination as about nuclear weapons. With regard to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, besides the alternatives of conventional warfare and negotiated surrender, one might I think make a case for dropping the weapon over the sea or on an unpopulated land mass before using it on human populations.

How do the philosophers justify war, if they ever do? I ask this question

How do the philosophers justify war, if they ever do? I ask this question because even the Prophets have fought wars, for their religion. So, how can mortals remain aloof from it?

Some philosophers don't justify war, holding that all war is immoral, either murder or something akin to murder. I am sympathetic with this view and believe that minimizing or ending war ought to be a goal we pursue. But until we get there, I recognize the importance of developing what philosophers call "just war theory." In just war theory, philosophers distinguish between questions about when it is proper to engage in war (questions "ad bellum") from questions concerned with the conduct of the war ("in bello") once engaged. As you suggest, ideas about both of these are ancient and may be found in the Greek, Abrahamic, and Asian traditions. Typically, however, historians of philosophy turn to Augustine of Hippo for the initial formalizing of the theory. Many have followed him in articulating important principles about just war, many of which have been codified into international and national laws. Here are some of the principles I regard as most important and most basic (note that some overlap a bit):

1. LAST RESORT: A just war can only be waged as a last resort. Reasonable efforts must be made to exhaust non-violent alternatives to achieving the relevant objectives before the use of force can be justified.

2. LEGITIMATE AUTHORITY: A war is just only if it is waged by a legitimate authority. Even just causes should not be taken up by individuals or groups that are not authorized to do so. For some (not me), all wars launched by non-democratic governments are unjust—since only democratic governments are legitimate. (I think the "legitimacy" of a state to be more complex; but that's another story.) Just wars must be launched through the due process established by national and international law (e.g. approval by the U.N. Security Council; the issuance of a “declaration of war” by the U.S. Congress). An interesting question, however, is what a population is to do in the abscence of any legitimate authority. I hold that in such cases, private citizens are warranted in taking up arms and organizing for purposes of self-defense.

3. JUST CAUSE: A just war can only be fought for a just cause. Here are four types of just cause.

3a. Wars of "Self Defense": Commonly, a just cause entails redressing a wrong suffered. For example, military action for purposes of self-defense in response to prior armed attack is almost always considered to be action in service of a just cause. This doctrine proceeds largely from the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, which in the wake of an especially violent century of religious warfare established the "principle of non-interference"--i.e. that national sovereignty should not be violated by other nations, and violations of sovereignty are just causes for war. Tersely put, each nation can do what it wants within its borders without outside interference. This principle, however, has been weakend in the following ways:

3b. “Preemptive” war: Preemptive in the face of an “imminent threat” or “clear and present danger” is also grounds for a just war. This sort of threat must be an urgent, overriding, extreme necessity, where pausing for deliberation is unreasonable or impossible. Formally, the modern version of this doctrine stems from an incident in 1837, where the British navy destroyed another ship, the Caroline, a US steamer, that the British concluded was about to be used to support Canadian rebels. The Caroline's participation in hostilities was reasonably anticipated (clear) to take place in such a time frame (present) that the British couldn’t wait for diplomacy (imminent). The Israeli 1967 preemptive attack on Arab countries that seemed on the verge of attacking Israel is another often-cited example of justified preemption. I'm inclined to agree, though the issue there is complex, since Israel had arguably violated Palestinian human rights through murder and dispossession and violated their sovereignty through actions like the annexation of east Jerusalem. (That is, I see how an argument can be made for the justice of Arab military action against Israel.) I don't regard myself as competent to sort out that issue fully at the moment.

3c. “Preventive” war: Recently the Bush administration has argued for something much stronger than mere preemption. Holding that the nature of contemporary threats to national security (in particular, their clandestine, extra-state nature and their use of weapons of mass destruction, like nuclear weapons) renders “preventive” war just. Preventive wars may be launched according to this doctrine even when the relevant danger is not “imminent.” In cases where even if there's no apparent (or real) imminent threat but (1) imminent threats are unlikely to be detected and (2) there's a reasonable belief that an attack will come soon, according to this doctrine preventive attacks are justified. The U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 was justified in part as a matter of prevention, preventing Iraq from using weapons of mass destruction. Today, some suggest that a preventive attack on Iran may become warranted if Iran continues to pursue development of its nuclear capability. There is, in my view, some warrant for revising the notion of preemption in the light of technological and tactical developments (after all 1837 was a long time ago). But this concept of preventive or preventative war presents too much of a slippery slope at present and can too easily be used to justify many unjust military options. More work needs to be done on it.

3d. “Human Rights Interventions”: Theorists like Samantha Power have recently argued that military actions may be launched that override a nation’s sovereignty when the government of that nation either (1) itself violates on a large scale the human rights of those it rules or (2) is unable to protect those it rules from human rights violations committed by some third party (e.g. extra-state militias). She is right, but this revision of just war theory must be tempered by a skeptical doubt about the capacity of foreign nations to intervene in just and effective ways. Mussolini justified his invasion of Ethiopia in part on grounds of protecting human rights. I myself am extremely skeptical about, for example, unleashing the U.S. military (or the French or British) in light of their poor track records of supporting human rights and advancing imperialism. On the other hand, the reality of genocides (like Rwanda, for example) demand some development of the capacity for human rights interventions.

4. RIGHT INTENTIONS: A just war can only be fought with "right" intentions. Those conducting military ventures must do so with the right purposes. Material gain, revenge, and the joy of conquest are not proper intentions. Defending the security of a nation is. A war, therefore, may have a just cause, be launched by a proper authority, deploy proper weapons and tactics, and still be an unjust war if those conducting the war are exploiting or taking of advantage of an otherwise just war for nefarious purposes. I worry that too much is going on in Iraq that fits this description. But perhaps it's sometimes better to serve a good end with bad intentions than not to serve it at all.

5. SUCCESS: A war can only be just if it is fought with a reasonable chance of success. Deaths and injury incurred in a hopeless cause are not morally justifiable. For this reason, among others, small nations have sought out non-violent ways of dealing with larger nations. Lithuania’s department of defense, for example, actually plans and develops tactics of non-violent resistance. It successfully used non-violent tactics in winning its independence from the Soviet Union (as did Poland). Denmark, too, knowing it could not resist Nazi invaders with conventional warfare, opted for various forms of non-violent resistance during World War II.

6. JUST GOAL. Here's there's really only one. The ultimate goal of a just war is to re-establish peace. More specifically, the peace established after the war must be preferable to the peace that would have prevailed if the war had not been fought. War cannot be made into an end in itself, as the juggernaut of what US President Eisenhower called the "military industrial complex" and the never-ending "War on Terror" threatens to do.

7. PROPORTIONALITY. The force used in the war must be proportional to the injury suffered. Participants are prohibited from using unnecessary force to attain the legitimate objectives of the war. So, for example, it would be unjust to respond with nuclear weapons or with an invasion force to a violation of territorial waters by a foreign fishing fleet.

8. MINIMAL CASUALTIES. Military objectives in a just war should be achieved with a minimum of casualties, both combatant and civilian. The killing of people should be only a minimized means and not an end in itself. Contrary to the view often popularly held, the point of just war is not to kill, annihilate, humiliate, torment, or degrade an enemy but to implement a policy by means of minimal force against some adversarial power. The use of non-lethal weapons (such as electro-magnetic pulse, jellies, soporifics, and even stink bombs) presents an interesting field of exploration of just war.

9. RIGHT MEANS. The “right” or proper forms of weaponry and tactics should be used. Weapons that are “indiscriminate” in their destructive force, that kill on a mass scale, or that cause undue suffering are not thought to be permissible. Land mines, suicide bombing, carpet bombing, scorched earth policies, poison gas, biological agents, cluster bombs, and nuclear weapons are common examples.

10. CIVILIANS. Civilians must be treated justly in the conduct of the war.

10a. Targeting. The targeting of weapons used in war must discriminate between combatants and non-combatants. Civilians and perhaps non-combatants generally are never permissible targets of war, and reasonable effort must be taken to avoid killing civilians. The deaths of civilians are justified only if those deaths are the unavoidable consequences of a deliberate (not accidental) attack on a military target where reasonable efforts were made to avoid those deaths and the value of that target was of a compelling nature. Accordingly, the terror bombing of civilians either by states or non-state actors is unjust. The nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as well as the fire bombing of Tokyo and the catastrophic bombing of Dresden are examples of the unjust use of weapons and tactics.

With regard to targeting, note that, like the use of non-lethal weapons and strategies of non-violent resistance, this is an area where war has the potential today of becoming more morally sound. Advances in sophisticated “smart” bombs, guided missiles, communication, satellites, etc. have made it possible to target strikes so that civilian casualties are significantly reduced.

10b. Collective punishment. There is a difficult philosophical issue lurking here, however. To what extent are civilians complicit in the military actions of their government’s forces? Through taxes, voting, working in industries that support the war effort, passivity, etc., civilians may become part of a nation's war effort as well as its decision to go to war. It’s for this reason, for example, that some have held that much of the Israeli citizenry is a legitimate target for the Palestinian resistance. The line is truly a gray one. But it doesn’t follow that a line can’t be drawn or that efforts should not be made to draw one. The consequence of not discriminating between combatants and non-combatants is barbarism. So, for this reason practices of "collective punishment" are regarded as unjust, and I agree. While, however, collective punishment may be unjust, acknowledgements of collective responsibility are not.

10c. "Enemy combatants." The Bush administration has suggested a new category relevant to the treatment of civilians, the “enemy combatant.” The conceptual point of this designation is to distinguish civilians who are not directly involved in military-like activities (e.g. sabotage, ambushes, etc.) from those who are involved; and of course the concept serves to distinguish hostile actors who are members of a legitimate, authorized military forces from those who are not. There may be some good reason for deploying such a designation, but in my view a proper set of ethical and legal guidelines for the treatment of people falling into this category has not be formulated; instead people designated as enemy combatants have been immorally treated. Indeed, the concept has largely been used to avoid the moral requirements of just war.

10d. Occupation. The civilian population of justly occupied areas is not to be humiliated, raped, looted, exploited, or prevented from engaging in the normal course of their lives, so long as it is not hostile to the occupying forces. The issue of whether or not the justly occupying force may tax the population it occupies to support the occupation is a complex one. Sometimes it is legitimate; sometimes not. An occupation should be ended as soon as is reasonably possible. Those dislocated by hostilities should be permitted to return to their homes, unless some compelling reason prevents it. Formerly sovereign territory should not be annexed without compelling reason.

11. OTHER TARGETING EXCLUSIONS. Sacred sites, cemeteries, historical and cultural artifacts should be maximally spared.

12. NON-HUMAN POPULATIONS. Adverse impacts upon natural habitats and populations of non-human plant and animal life should be minimized and may in some cases prohibit war.

13. PRISONERS. Prisoners should be humanely treated and not exploited for war aims. Prisoners must be documented and tracked and acknowledgment of their captivity should be made to the general public, including the leaders of the enemy's forces. Reasonable efforts must undertaken to cull and release noncombatant prisoners from captivity. Prisoners should not be tortured. They should not be forced to work or serve the war aims of the captors. They may not be subject to public display, humiliation, medical experimentation, summary execution, or used in propaganda. Neutral third parties (like the Red Cross) must be permitted to inspect captives in order to assess their condition and ensure their proper treatment.

My question is whether or not my disagreement to the next statement makes sense,

My question is whether or not my disagreement to the next statement makes sense, and what you philosophers think about my argument. There is a popular belief that if aliens were to "visit" us, it would be in a destructive and war-like manner. I disagree. In order for a civilization to evolve and grow to one capable of interstellar travel, it would have to be a culture strong enough and intelligent enough to grow into and support such an advanced race. - If a civilization had the mindset of destroying something like a planet and every intelligent being on it, its society could not develop into something so great as to travel among the stars. - On the other hand, war has given our world many technological advancements in the past. Does this thought process make sense, what are your thoughts concerning my thinking?

Well, not really a philosophical question, but no, I don't agree withyour reasoning. I think there is little evidence for your claim that"If a civilization had the mindset of destroying something like aplanetand every intelligent being on it, its society could not develop intosomething so great as to travel among the stars." We know of only onecivilization, ours, and the claim's very nearly false for it: we almost have the ability to travel among the stars and we have alsoshown ourselves—through war, the development of nuclear weapons, andour depredation of the earth's resources—to be just about ready to destroy,either in a flash or gradually, our own planet. Prospects for ourhumane and rational treatment of other planets are not favorable.