Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Steven Wagner's proposals to curtail unjust wars


     Steve Wagner sent me a long letter clarifying his argument to Hilary Putnam about how to move toward a regime less prone to aggression and self-destruction than our current one.  I posted on these comments “A philosopher – Steven Wagner – looks at war” here, Hilary’s paper here, and my comment on it “A philosopher – Hilary Putnam - looks at war” here.  I am very grateful for a continuing conversation about these issues which I think many might benefit from.  Steve also sent a lecture he gave to the undergraduate philosophy club at Illinois on these matters (which I reprint below – jwar in the text is just war; there are some abbreviated sentences in the notes but it will be clear to anyone who makes a try at it), and some readings (which I have not reprinted) from a larger reading against the Iraq War which he organized.* 

    Steve (and Hilary) are among those not so common people who take public action when war or racism affects their lives.  He regards it as a responsibility, as a philosopher and teacher, to stand up about war and to organize others to converse about/act against it.  In this, the three of us (and many of you) have something in common. 

      We all now teach students whose lives were turned around (they at least made it back to school) from Iraq.  We do not so often reach the homeless, the jobless, the imprisoned or the maimed.  But in the institutions where we are, we stand up.  I am honored to reprint these two documents (unedited as Steve says) which I think everyone can learn from.  Professional philosophy, he  rightly suggests, has dealt too little with war.  There are individuals who wrote articles in the light of Vietnam and Iraq, many more who spoke out and protested against them, comparatively almost no belligerent fools.  About Iraq, for all college faculty in every discipline in our region, there was only one Israeli Army officer – he got on NBC which would allow no anti-war people, as an “expert,” asserting that WMD would be found in Syria a year after the invasion; in addition, one international relations person and one humanitarian interventionist who quickly changed his mind, spoke out publically – these were the only 3 who would debate in favor of the war.  The outspokenness of many against the war, and the silence otherwise was enough to make one feel good about university faculty members quite generally. 

      But Steve’s point about philosophy as a field unfortunately stands.  There is a tendency to regard the truth as too simple and clear on this matter, as Montesquieu says, the government too bent on destruction and self-destruction, and therefore many stand against it, to one extent or another, but do not to try to provide some answers. 

        But Guernica (the painting covered at the United Nations for Colin Powell’s reprehensible speech) looms over us.  The world cries out for answers – and all of us (citizens, inhabitants) have not so long to provide them. I am grateful to Steve and Hilary for continuing action, thinking and conversation to heal the world.


“Dear Alan,

       I attach with no editing or revision my notes for a presentation to  the undergraduate philosophy club a few years back, also some  reactions I sent Hilary upon reading his ms. —Hilary did point out to  me that Hegel addresses the question of war in his History, thus making our profession look a little better...I also attach something of at most personal interest.    

       Some years back I organized a public reading (small scale) of texts on war and public violence, in honor of victims thereof.  Here are the texts, no need to bother with them (but since they were written by non-me, the literary quality is high!)

       In a complete rush, without editing, here are responses to what you've posted or privately shared concerning war, peace, and the ideas Hilary attributed to me. I am very grateful for the conversation. My remark on an institution assessing the factual situation and likelihoods prior to any belligerent course should be considered as follows...

     —Regardless of my numerous blind spots and shortcomings, the last thing I am is non-political!  To take an essentially trivial example, our highway safety agency was not even capable of objectively assessing Toyotas.  I'd never be so naive as to think you advance public epistemology just by creating some board, cabal, or think tank. It is obvious that the constitution and functioning of any institution of knowledge is a highly political matter. 

       On the other hand, some public information-assessment agencies work fairly well—the GAO for instance.  Or, weirdly, in a certain respect the CIA. As you know, some (admittedly naive!) people conceived the CIA, back when, as a research agency only.  No sabotage, killing, manipulating elections, bribery, Air America and USAID, heroin pipelines, etc.  Their pure research is still considered quite good.  Now consider...(a) I was thinking of raising the epistemic standard for belligerent policy decisions from the present level, which is so low that virtually anything would be an improvement—and  any improvement would avert countless deaths and disasters.   (b) Start with CIA-quality research, then (i) make everything totally transparent; (ii) researchers/staff selected/elected by publicly  acceptable criteria roughly in the way that, under slight idealization, decent university departments in geography, history, etc. are constituted.   (c) Appropriate guards against bribery, manipulation, etc. — not as though this can't be done.   (d) Continued public oversight and transparency.  Incl. but not at all restricted to  appropriate representation, in staff or oversight, of the classes/sectors who would bear the burdens of warfare.

         Clarification: I use 'belligerence' rather than 'war' because there's a legitimate ordinary-language question whether using a drone to take  out target Y in location L, or the Mossad assassination in Dubai reported a few hours ago, or an embargo on goods (of whatever kind) to country X, are war.  But they're belligerence. — Next — any belligerent action as democratic decision.  At a minimum: no undeclared warfare.  This alone sounds like a laughably low bar, but again as you know, it's enough to have led every U.S. government  since 1945 to flout it, across a series of acts of war, small and great, that possibly only William Blum has a total view of, well, Blum and a prodigiously memorious M.I.T. linguist-philosopher. —Declaration in a bicameral system, say our own, would be by both houses, and subject to immediate suit for judicial review; i.e.: no lower standards for belligerence than for any garden-variety law. [Immediate review since by the nature of belligerence various parties will immediately have standing.]

       The foregoing may seem a little elaborate, but really it just spells out the transfer, to cases of belligerence, of what are in fact rather ordinary standards.  Now as for your/Hilary's alternative ("public opinion in democracies world-wide")   1. No necessary conflict with my suggestion!  (Which is no more than a suggestion.)   2. One would at least need to discuss how to implement that politically and  concretely...!   3. If "democracies" is supposed to rule anything out, the decision on what counts as one is open to serious abuse.  I'll not comment myself, but I would certainly not volunteer for the job of defending this part against charges of Eurocentrism.  4. \ "Democracies" are a subset of nations with highly developed mass media.  These exist to sow ignorance and manipulate public opinion.  Needs at least to be discussed, lest the proposal appear non-political in its own way.

        On another matter, you suggested that local, organized popular resistance be considered to fall under the Just War heading, as opposed to the move in my notes (rejecting JWar, but taking this form of armed conflict as potentially legitimate).  My response: I won't stand on the terminology... What matters to me is rejecting institutions of belligerence, and rejecting the views these hold as capable of justifying belligerence.  If we consider 'war' to mean what is conducted by standing armed forces, within a government in the usual sense, then the Sandinistas, French Resistance, Chinese Communists (pre-1949), Haitian slaves, etc. were not conducting wars. If someone wants to turn this around and say, no, what this means is that just under conditions of distributed popular resistance, by definition defensive and not suited for conquest, are the JWar conditions satisfiable (sometimes), I'd reply that I don't think that's what people generally mean—but I see no particular reason to object.

      ...Far more discussion of all this is possible.  I wanted to give you quick glimpse of my thinking beyond what you gleaned from Hilary's allusions (again: generous and appreciated!).  If anything I've mentioned on the topic could be said to constitute an idea, by the standards of professional philosophy, then it is the idea of looking at the epistemology of belligerence/JWar.  In this area  collective/institutional mental states (beliefs, desires, etc.) are  commonly (and rightly) attributed all over the place, but I do not happen to be aware of anyone's having asked how/when these could meet what are, in other contexts, perfectly normal criteria of justification. —Note that the notion of "public opinion in democracies" would face the same question; my point about media (and:  education) goes to that. 

       I had another idea which the notes merely alluded to. ... As a matter of fact, you can go a long way toward all the results I want (peace-loving ones!) by applying nothing more than a robust, simplified form of consequentialism (reasonable "utilitarianism") that  should not be terribly controversial in the domain of public policy /social choice.  Hilary (also you) takes quite a different route, but it may be similar in effect.  Now despite this I do not want the calculations/considerations around belligerence to be purely (n.b.) consequentialist in the usual sense (despite the vast improvement that offers); I think a notion of rights (or better: rights-like) is important.  Hilary is tending in the same direction.

        In a curious way there's a difference in perspective.  Hilary is more like: "we need extraordinary standards to justify belligerence."  I'm more like: "let's imagine what it would be to apply, to belligerence, standards that elsewhere count as unremarkable."  At the moment I can't decide whether this a deep difference or just a matter of vantage point.


        I seem to recall your citing Robert Jackson.  The attached readings contain a line of his from the Nürnberg summation — (roughly, from memory) "In the long perspective of history, the twentieth century will not occupy a distinguished place, unless its second half is to redeem its first".  I once paired this as an email signature with Bertrand Russell's reply, in the mid-60s, to the question what he foresaw for the rest of the century:  " 'What do I foresee?' Nothing but corpses. It's as simple as that." 

With kind regards,



The Ethics of War: Pacifism, ‘Just War’, and Beyond

(informal presentation notes for our undergraduate club)


Steven Wagner

University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

2 November, 2005



The theme is topical. That’s almost a distraction.  You can’t name an historical point when it wasn’t, or foresee one where it won’t be.

Combine: orientation re how philosophy can help our thinking; some definite, useful positions (vs. too much survey, too many fine distinctions, too many footnotes!); fresh items to keep more advanced students interested and show that these are living topics.


Peace—and war—peripheral to mainstream political philosophy.  A bizarre disconnection from reality?  Or a judgment that these topics raise no great philosophical questions?  (Which would be improbable.)

Cases in point: Rawls, Theory of Justice; or Hegel, Philosophy of Right.  Standard rejoinder, perhaps: in logical progression we settle/clarify the units before interactions among the units.  But if used in an exclusionary way this is scientifically fallacious.  Or: focus on the domestic b/c it’s the “normal” condition, with war as the sporadic aberration.  But in the case at hand the “units” (states and the like) are conceived and perpetuated in warfare/threat; derive or lose resources through it (directly or indirectly); are organized with an eye to its conduct (e.g., by maintaining/supporting armies, spies, etc.)  The units are intertwined with warfare (conduct, threat of, etc.) historically; functionally; conceptually.

The topic has very rarely received philosophy of the first order.

Clearly primary question: ethics of undertaking, preparing for, threatening war in the first place.  (As opposed to rules of engagement, etc.)  State of the discussion:

Widespread agreement that the burden of proof is on war-making, in general and case-by-case.

Among soi-disant theorists of war, strong preference for some form of “just war doctrine”. —Philosophers agree with generals!

Among informed and enlightened political writers, working consensus that armed forces generally do the bidding of grasping, oppressive elites—Historically hardly debatable! —and nothing else can be expected from them.  Thus elimination of war a by-product of revolutionary social transformation.

Necessary, if routine, textbook exposition: tenets of just war doctrine (omitting much analytical qualification):

1. Just cause.

2. Purity of motive (of the motive in 1).

3. Warfare as a public act by public authorities.

4. Last (feasible, plausible) resort (to achieve 1).

5. Probability of success (at 1).

6. Ethical benefits (see 1) will outweigh the inevitable evil.  (Sometimes also called “proportionality”.)

Call these Jwar 1-6.

This is usually opposed to pacifism: some form of general, principled opposition to war.

Trouble starts here: no clear incompatibility between Jwar and pacifism.  Jwar is a framework for justification which one could hold to be satisfied: often, never, almost never, …

My aims:

Offer a form/variant of pacifism for consideration.

Jwar is philosophically bankrupt.

A core pacifism

Some insights of past analysis… [illustrate or elaborate]

#1: “Bellicosity” is a standing condition of society/societies, with warfare proper as an intermittent manifestation—or intensification—thereof.

#2: This condition ramifies through the usual list of principal social institutions—markets/banking, schools, courts, police, legislation, entertainment, family/reproduction, urban+transportation organization, industry, labor force, …

#3: Connected analytically and empirically to practices/institutions in the sense of: patriarchy, coercion, inequality/exploitation, … N.b. Gandhi: the greatest form of violence is poverty.  Also Hannah Arendt (Human Condition): to obstruct robust, chaotic public exchanges of ideas and perspectives is a major form of violence. 

Thus a form or variant of pacifism (one hypothesis, not to rule out others):

Opposition (resistance) to the institutions and manifestations of bellicosity.  This understood simultaneously as a:

—long-term, comprehensive socio-political programme

—unilateral and immediate programme for one’s own society, whichever it may be.  Not (or hardly) conditional on developments elsewhere.

—basis for immediate refusal to participate in the most intense + direct institutions of bellicosity (the military; weapons manufacture; research to the ends of war, surveillance, and the like; … e.g.); others as possible.  (The more these pervade, the less possible.)


Stronger than usual formulations of pacifism (although, often, not of other oppositional political views) b/c of inclusive scope (institutions).  Recall: ramifications, analytical + empirical connections. 

Weaker b/c the prohibition becomes less clear as the warfare becomes less institutional, less systematic, less the product of a bellicose structure of society.  More concretely: indigenous(-based) guerilla warfare and related—violent (conjoined with nonviolent)—resistance.

    Clarification: to the extent that it is distributed and popular.  E.g., among current “guerilla” movements FARC (Colombia) seems rather suspect in this regard. Far from incidentally, it is also not very successful politically—facing opposition from its own supposed popular base.

    Reasons for the exclusion:

Radically different institutional, political, economic profile of popular (n.b.) resistance.  E.g., it can hardly gain its resources from an economy geared toward sustaining it(!); participation is essentially voluntary (typically against powerful incentives for going over to the dominant side); leaders may or may not be formally elected but require confidence and popularity, and similarly operations require consent; if there’s any chance of success then “the guerillas move among the population as fish move in water”; etc. 

Virtually always reactive against state-institutional warfare (armed occupation)—by foreign or own state.  Hence empirically posterior, almost epiphenomenal (despite its historical importance).

[And in terms of argumentative strategy] Evades, tactically(!), a main objection to pacifism—purely defensive violence against already initiated, local aggression.  While compatible with respecting, for quite a distance, the broad benevolent, ahimsic (essentially Buddhist) motives for stronger pacifism: opposition to organizing civil society around coercion and oppression, let alone around warmaking (cf. bellicosity). Peace and non-harming as pervasively, a way of life.

Elaboration: from a viewpoint of general opposition to violence, or to armed and organized violence, agnosticism about guerilla resistance makes no sense!  But here we consider the ethics of war in the context of political economy, ideology.  For the reasons sketched, state warfare (or repression) and popular resistance are analytically radically distinct.  With the former obviously the primary phenomenon.  So we focus on its critique, content for the moment to let the other fall where it may.

Very well.  A discussable position.  What else do we want to do?  Dissolve or cancel the rival—Jwar. 

 Could do that by arguing that for empirical reasons, Jwar has—for all the philosophical sound and fury—v. little effective difference from our pacifism.  This is far from wild.

    One “little” snag: almost by definition, Jwar 3 will not hold.  Jwar 3 fails for popular resistance; for their part our pacifist cannot accept Jwar’s authoritarian state agent.

    Could just drop 3? No, use it as the thread to unravel Jwar on relatively abstract—but no less politically compelling! —philosophical grounds.  Historically 3 was a big deal—so its pivotal philosophical character is appropriate.  Note: 3 is the odd condition out—it has no reference to 1—which is no accident.

Jwar unfounded

Perspective: our interest in connecting critique of war with broad programme of liberation—democracy, equality, transparency, sociality/community, human realization, autonomy.  Cf. historian Brian Downing: roughly, zero-sum relation between devoting social resources to bellicosity vs. to civic well-being.  (Surprise!)  Argue that Jwar cannot survive reflection on the nature of community and agency.

Interesting echo in the textbook rival to the Jwar and pacifist camps, “realism”. —On its face misnamed and not a serious philosophical position.  Not to mention: advocated by serial war criminals like G. Kennan and H. Kissinger. —But can be construed as saying: Jwar models states—armed states—as agents subject to ethical description [as ethical agents], i.e., to moral motive, intention, deliberation, and this is false.  That far “realism” is indeed more realistic than Jwar.  Let's explain... 

Agents—personal, subpersonal, suprapersonal; unity and transparency.

Paradigm agents: individual humans.

Alternative: subpersonal (ancient; but also from Kant, Freud, Chomsky, …)

Alternative: suprapersonal (clubs, nations, corporations, families, clans, towns, Republics, teams, …)

Conditions on personhood (Plato and onward): unity of action, acting as one entity; integrated awareness/information flow.  Given these, can attribute, to some extent or other, predicates of agency: motive, belief, knowledge, foresight, …

Jwar: States (modern or premodern) as person-like agents, as “persons”.  “France made war on Germany.”

Criticisms: Politically hierarchical, class- and gender-divided (etc.) societies fail the unity and transparency conditions.  Common agency, shared knowledge, etc. fail.  Therefore the agent of war—which is indeed basically the whole society—is not the agent deciding/deliberating on the war. —Compare Jwar 3, which tries to address this but can't.

This is not readily fixed—that would mean eliminating (radically reducing) the social divisions.  Then considering the war decisions of such a (“utopian”) society.  We strongly doubt whether such a society would choose war (under remotely normal conditions); it’s a commonplace that wars are initiated to benefit the elites, under conditions of massive deception, indoctrination, propaganda.

In any case, only then could we even talk about satisfying the Jwar conditions.

Restatement: Jwar assumes a war-fighting agent—basically the whole society/nation, as is empirically the case—and a decision-maker.  The Jwar fiction is that the latter agent is the former, but social divisions preclude this.  Within reason the latter can (nearly enough) satisfy conditions for being one (collective) agent.  But this is useless for Jwar.  [Elaboration…  See also below.]

Moreover: because bellicosity spreads (is indeed in positive feedback with) coercion, secrecy/deception, exploitation: the more pronounced bellicosity is in society X, the less X will satisfy appropriate unity conditions.  So exactly as we approach war-readiness, the agency presuppositions for Jwar go down the drain.

Rejoinder: “These are just the worries Jwar 3 is supposed to address.  ‘Legitimacy of the state agent’, etc.” —Yeah, but it “addresses” them by defining them away.  It’s true that state authorities will (all but by definition of ‘state’…) assert [in effect] that agency conditions are satisfied.  That has nothing to do with actual satisfaction.  

One could add: empirical arguments that for any elite (“military-industrial-political complex”) as we know it, satisfying Jwar 2, incidentally also Jwar 4, is wildly unlikely.  That would tie into the following…

Justifying a claim to justice in war

A tempting ambiguity in ‘Jwar’: suppose a given war is just, by these standards, for the sake of argument; but initiating it is justified only if the judgments affirming 1-6 are not only held but held with justification. 

If we’re treating the state, or the elite, as a person-type agent, then let’s apply rather ordinary epistemic criteria to the judgments.

Elementary that justification will fail.  Justification would require [in an obvious empirical sense] objective estimates of capacities, likelihoods, alternatives, etc.  Exactly the institutional structures and patterns of bellicosity preclude this.  E.g., secret police/spies (foreign and domestic); secret deliberation; authoritarian hierarchies processing the information; option of securing consent by coercion or propaganda; profits to some from war-making; career benefits from war-making; etc.  The systems that bellicosity requires/involves—upon whose existence war-making depends—corrupt the collection, flow, and processing of information.    

The whole notion would be laughed out by nearly any economist or psychologist.  It’s empirically hard enough to rationally estimate outcomes for oneself.  Jwar conditions 4-6 (at least) require reliable estimates, by the war-deciding elite, of likely losses and gains to others.

Virtually superfluous to elaborate all this in light of current events.  Also, again, almost distracting—the point is timeless.

 On the topic of knowability, it would be almost unfair to dwell on Jwar 2.  That is, not only is satisfaction of Jwar2 wildly implausible in actual cases (this wouldn’t as such be an argument against Jwar, only an argument that Jwar leads to pacifism).  Rather, we’re requiring the war-deciding elite to be a reliable assessor of its own motives.  Now this is an empirical question about types of or about individual agents.  The University of Illinois chess club seems quite an accurate estimator of its own motives, as likely are chess clubs in general.  Maybe I am, in my near-dotage, a fair estimator of my motives—better than some people (for their own motives) anyway, if worse than other. Etc.; cases vary.  Obvious that a political elite is not very well wired up for this sort of thing.

So, a form of double argument against Jwar. 

    A. For the right/intended agents [= whole societies/nations], conditions of agency fail; and fail worse the more bellicosity takes root. 

    B. For the war-deciding elites, agency obtains reasonably well.  But aside from the fact of their not being the intended agents, they are in general incapable of epistemically justified deliberation re going to war.

(It's unsurprising, given the empirical difficulty of even verifying what the elite’s attitudes are—esp. under conditions of bellicose social organization—that since Day 1 Jwar doctrine has been an open invitation to hypocrisy.  Whether this, too, is a philosophical weakness of the position we leave for another time.  It is certainly a weakness for any conception intended to play a role in public argumentation. Cf. analogous concerns in Rawls, we need public justifications that merit and are seen to merit confidence.)


Avoidance of war is intimately connected to highly substantive democracy and community. —This is absolutely not the familiar, brain-dead (and false) saw about “democracies not making war on democracies.” —Rather:

The Jwar conditions would make sense only under conditions of radical equality, community, knowledgeability.  But these are incompatible with institutions of bellicosity.  Moreover, under those conditions a popular desire—all things considered—to make war is pretty implausible.

At the same time (cf. Plato, Republic), the radical (democratic community-creating) conditions help to optimize a society's resilience against takeover and conquest [compare our reflections on popular resistance]; optimize ability to position oneself (through economics, diplomacy, …) as a desired friend/ally, not target.

So a pacifist hypothesis supercedes Jwar analyses.

[That said, an observation: Popular armed resistance, although by definition (and intent) disqualified from Jwar 3, is otherwise semi-congenial to Jwar.  There’s likely fair justification in the cause (Jwar 1). —Ironically, the Spanish resistance that gave us the word ‘guerilla’ may be one of the lesser cases.  The peasants were so miserably repressed by Church and King that Napoleonic conquest might have been a relief… —Moreover popular resistance simply cannot be aggressive, a foreign “intervention”, or the like.  Jwar2 can’t be taken too seriously—philosophically—in any case, but here it will be better off than usual.  Jwar 4 almost goes without saying.  Indeed, occupiers and repressive authorities methodically destroy civilian institutions.  These, not armed elements, are typically the first target—look at Israel in Palestine, e.g..  So when guerilla tactics gain support there is often little alternative.  Jwar 5 varies wildly, but in a given case the chance for success can be high.  Jwar 6 involves a twist.  As far as effects on the enemy (occupiers) goes, popular resistance is almost necessarily “proportional”—guerillas just can’t muster that much force, and occupiers may have a politically precarious position anyway.  The question would be whether overthrowing the occupiers is worth the toll they will exact on the population, esp. the resistance and their sympathizers.  Here we arrive at, and will prescind from, difficult problems for resistance strategy.  Note, though, that by the same token Jwar theorists tend to overlook or deny the cost of bellicosity for the population undertaking a supposedly just war—e.g., the rise of the U.S. military-industrial-police state as a consequence of WW2.

I’m not a Jwar theorist, but an exclusive focus on popular resistance would seem advisable for anyone in that framework.]


If there exists a dominant bellicose state, and you attempt radical, or really even quite mild reform, it will of course go to the ends of the Earth to destroy you. 

Appendix: getting started

Start on-line with the Stanford, Routledge, and Internet encyclopedias of philosophy.  These offer bibliographies and links.  Among the original articles available on-line try E. Mendieta, “The ‘clash of civilizations’ and the just war tradition” and, particularly, A. Alexandra, “Political pacificism”. —Philosophers tend first to mention Augustine, Aquinas, and Kant.  But—with due respect—specifically on bellicosity/peace the two most philosophically insightful authors are Thucydides and Woolf.  (Peleponnesian War, Three Guineas) —As for journals, the leading philosophical ethics journals hereabouts (Philosophy and Public Affairs, Ethics) offer little.  Just started is a promising electronic journal out of Adelaide, Borderlands.  It’s highly interdisciplinary and eclectic, already including some fine work on our topics.

Appendix: a predictable debate

“You’ve ignored the obvious question for any pacifism: is it credible or even palatable that we—either the U.S. or the U.K.—shouldn’t have fought Hitler?”

The question is reasonable but far from primary.  It’s a separate topic, but since this inevitably comes up, here’s some quick orientation.  (Unphilosophical, but part of this stretch of applied ethics territory.)

1. ‘Einmal ist keinmal’ (“one example is no examples” — I gather there’s a similar saying in Arabic).  If that’s the only decent challenge anyone ever comes up with, its interest is limited.

2. On historical grounds, note that the challenger only means the European war.  The Pacific war was nothing more than an imperialist catfight, as was widely remarked even at the time.

3. In its usual form the argument cheats by using hindsight.  Britain's war against Germany could well have been lost, in which case fighting it would have been much worse than not fighting it.

4. The counterfactual history assumed here is extremely complicated.  E.g., for Germany to hold an empire against guerilla warfare would have been extremely difficult (esp. in the Soviet territories).  On the other hand, the U.S. very quickly put Nazis in power in Greece (initiating a civil war to that end), permeated the German and Italian governments with them, etc.  The “black-white” conception of the decision-theoretic outcomes is a pleasant fantasy.

5. The war arose out of the omnilaterally militarized Euro-American world of the time, including U.S. efforts to arm and otherwise back the Nazis.  The Nazi danger is therefore no argument at all against rejecting institutions of force.  We’re therefore taking on the challenge most favorably construed—“everything has been done wrong up through 1939; OK.  But now what do you say? 

This could be discussed further, but it’s something of a tangent from my talk’s main lines.  Very little of the philosophical theory is affected (even w/o reverting to point 1). 

Afterthought for philosophers

"You said, 'It’s empirically hard enough to rationally estimate outcomes for oneself.  Jwar conditions 4-6 (at least) require reliable estimates, by the war-deciding elite, of likely losses and gains to others.'  But doesn't philosophical ethics require that, assuming even a moderately consequentialist component?" —Good question.  Not a problem for my position, rather it underscores the point.  The difficulty of estimating consequences means

(i) Setting the epistemic standards for political decision-making very high.  Existing institutions/procedures are inadequate to begin with and radically compromised to boot. 

(ii) Generally an argument for gradualism, for, as it were, corrigible rather than ballistic movements.  Since war-making is paradigmatically ballistic (not to mention, then also epistemically corrupting), this argues further against warfare.  Hence also against maintaining institutions and social practices serving bellicosity. 

*There is a wider conversation here.  I used to talk with John Rawls about these matters (some of that conversation shows up in his remarks on the democratic peace hypothesis in Law of Peoples, pp. 48-52), with Dick Boyd and Dick Miller, and recently, with Brendan Hogan and James Bohman (see here).  Philosophy is a field which invites critical argument and leads to public action.  If the writing is not so plentiful, the reality, in doing something, is much better

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