McMahan, Symmetrical Defense and the Moral Equality of Combatants

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McMahan’s own example of a symmetrical defense case, namely his tactical bomber example, opens the door wide open for soldiers to defend their fellow-citizens (on grounds of their special obligations towards them) even if as part of this defense they target non-liable soldiers. So the soldiers on both sides would be permitted to kill each other and, given how McMahan defines “justification,” they would also be justified in doing so and hence not be liable. Thus, we arrive, against McMahan’s intentions, at a moral equality of combatants. In addition, his own account of liability cannot deal adequately with symmetrical defense cases in the first place. This undermines his presupposition that justification defeats liability, which is central to his defense of the moral inequality of combatants. I shall argue that McMahan’s attempts to counter these objections fail and that therefore his general claim of the moral inequality of combatants remains unpersuasive.
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