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Instructor: Iskra Fileva. This course meets Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2:00PM – 3:15PM in Caldwell 105.

There was a time when people supposed that for a war to be justified is for it to be prudentially justified. You should not declare a war, they believed, if you are likely to lose too many lives or suffer too much destruction, if your prospects of winning look bleak, or if your army is exhausted from previous armed conflicts. Today, we believe that there are, in addition to these prudential reasons, moral reasons against declaring a war: we think a state cannot declare a war on another state for an arbitrary reasons, such as taking resources, even if, on purely prudential grounds, it would be a good idea to do so. But when is a war morally justified? And if a state declares an unjust war, should it be punished? If so, by whom? These questions have to do with the moral justification of war.

Now, consider a few questions which have to do with individual responsibility in war: suppose you are a soldier, and your state has declared a war. Are you obliged to go to the front regardless of whether or not you think the war is morally justified? And if you do go, are you obliged to fulfill every order of your commanders, or only the orders which seem reasonable? What if your general commands you to kill the pregnant women in a hospital, for instance? On some views, a soldier is not individually responsible for participating in a war and fulfilling the orders of his commanders, even if the war is unjust or a particular command is unreasonable and morally problematic: the soldier, on such views, is merely “obeying orders.” On other views, however, killing in an unjust war is equivalent to murder, regardless of the fact that a state may have ordered you to kill. On such views, when a state declares an unjust war, it behaves like a Mafia boss. So if you think that Mafia members are not morally permitted to kill on account of being ordered to do so by their “padre,” you must, likewise, think that a soldier is not permitted to kill on account of being ordered to by its sovereign. Who, if anyone, is right?

These are some of the questions we will discuss in this course. There are other questions we will address. For instance, should a soldier have the legal right to refuse going to war on moral, not just religious, grounds? Does the state have the right to order you to go to war and put your life in danger in case the war is just but you don’t want to sacrifice your life for the cause?

This course satisfies the PH, GL and NA general education requirements.

Iskra Fileva’s webpage