Proxy Battles in Just War Theory: Jus in Bello, the Site of Justice, and Feasibility Constraints

In David Sobel, Peter Vallentyne & Steven Wall (eds.), Oxford Studies in Political Philosophy, Volume 3. Oxford University Press. pp. 166-193 (2017)
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Interest in just war theory has boomed in recent years, as a revisionist school of thought has challenged the orthodoxy of international law, most famously defended by Michael Walzer [1977]. These revisionist critics have targeted the two central principles governing the conduct of war (jus in bello): combatant equality and noncombatant immunity. The first states that combatants face the same permissions and constraints whether their cause is just or unjust. The second protects noncombatants from intentional attack. In response to these critics, some philosophers have defended aspects of the old orthodoxy on novel grounds. Revisionists counter. As things stand, the prospects for progress are remote. In this paper, we offer a way forward. We argue that exclusive focus on first-order moral principles, such as combatant equality and noncombatant immunity, has led revisionist and orthodox just war theorists to engage in “proxy battles.” Their first-order moral disagreements are at least partly traceable to second-order disagreements about the nature and purpose of political theory. These deeper disputes have been central to the broader discipline of political theory for several years; we hope that bringing them to bear on the ethics of war will help us move beyond the present impasse.

Author Profiles

Laura Valentini
Ludwig Maximilians Universität, München
Seth Lazar
Australian National University


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