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Reader, Soran. Making Pacifism Plausible
2000, Journal of Applied Philosophy 17 (2):169–180
Added by: Deryn Mair Thomas

The ethics of war is a minefield. It is a morass of conceptual unclarity, contentious assumptions, impassioned arguments, unexploded myths, and the injured defenders of indistinct positions. My aim is to help to make the minefield (conceptually) safe, and to assist that most vulnerable party to the dispute, the pacifist. In this paper I explore the possibility that, farfrom being naive or outlandish, pacifism might follow from a widely-held and fundamental intuition about the moral status of persons [hereafter MSP]. In Section 1 I describe MSP, and suggest how we might draw implications from it about the ethics of war. In Section 2, I argue that a ‘presumption of war-ism’ has distorted debate in the ethics of war: to arrive at a balanced view, we need distinguish two sets of moral questions. First, can the development and maintenance of the means to make war be justified? Second, can the use of those means ever be justified? I sketch some strategies which might be developed in addressing the first question, concentrating on what MSP suggests might be wrong with setting up a war-machine, and with being or employing a soldier. In Section 3, I argue that even if considerations from Section 2 are insufficient to establish that we must dismantle our war-machines, facts about war which conflict with MSP do establish that we must never use them.

Comment: In the essay, Reader engages with a broad range of contemporary philosophical literature on the nature and justifications for pacifism. As a result, the paper (and her arguments) offer a useful survey of the literature at the time of publication, and therefore may offer an interesting addition to courses on the philosophy and justification of war more generally. Given that this paper was published in 2000, it may also enhance discussions in political theory courses studying the early 2000s war on terror and conflicts in the Middle East.

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