Is Just War Theory Obsolete?

Authored by: Jeffrey P. Whitman

Routledge Handbook of Ethics and War

Print publication date:  July  2013
Online publication date:  June  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415539340
eBook ISBN: 9780203107164
Adobe ISBN: 9781136261008


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Just war theory, the body of moral and legal prescriptions governing the conduct of war, has often been subject to criticisms that question its very coherence. Those with pacifist views see the whole concept of just war as oxymoronic. Applying moral predicates (like just or unjust) to the inherently evil human activity of war makes no sense to them. Those who embrace what they claim to be a more realist or pragmatic position regard the moral rules and legal restrictions governing war as perhaps laudable, but in no way morally binding. In war there are no rules, only winners and losers. Any rule that gets in the way of winning must be disregarded. One group of critics find just war theory (JWT) a pernicious concept that too easily rationalizes the excesses of war, while the other group of critics see it as an unnecessary impediment to the hard-headed decision-making that war demands.

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