Varieties of Contingent Pacifism in War

In Helen Frowe & Gerald Lang (eds.), How We Fight. Oxford University Press. pp. 1-17 (2014)
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The destruction wrought by even just wars lends undeniable appeal to radical pacifism, according to which all wars are unjust. Yet radical pacifism is fundamentally flawed. In the past decade, a moderate and more defensible form of pacifism has emerged. According to what has been called ‘contingent pacifism’, it is very unlikely that it is morally permissible to wage any given war. This chapter develops the doctrine of contingent pacifism by distinguishing and developing various versions of it, and by assessing the merits and drawbacks of each. According to ‘proportionality-based’ contingent pacifism, almost all wars with just causes are unjust ‘tout court’ because the in bello harms such wars impose on the innocent are too great relative to the relevant evils averted by achieving the war’s aims. After arguing against this view, the chapter introduces a novel, more defensible form of contingent pacifism, called ‘epistemic-based’ contingent pacifism, according to which the prevalence of mistaken judgements regarding the justness of wars, combined with the devastating harmfulness of unjust wars, requires imposing prohibitions against waging war, where the strength of the prohibition varies according to whether the government has a history of mistakes or deception regarding the justness of wars.

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Saba Bazargan-Forward
University of California, San Diego


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