Pacifism and the Concept of Morality

Authored by: Robert L. Holmes

The Routledge Handbook of Pacifism and Nonviolence

Print publication date:  February  2018
Online publication date:  February  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138194663
eBook ISBN: 9781315638751
Adobe ISBN:


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This chapter seeks to clarify the relationship of pacifism to the concept of morality, and thereby to clarify the issues dividing pacifists and warists. It does so, first, by clarifying what pacifism is; second, by showing the importance of the distinction between individuals and collectivities to the problem of war; and third, by clarifying the concept of morality. There has evolved the idea that different moralities apply to the conduct of individuals and collectivities, and that when they conflict, as they seem clearly to do in the case of war, collective morality supersedes individual morality. I shall argue that there is no reason to postulate a collective morality. The conduct of nation states (the collectivity mainly relevant to the problem of war) is simply the conduct of appropriately authorized individuals within the state. The killing and destruction of war must therefore be justified by the actions of the individuals who authorize, support and engage in war, and they have a moral responsibility to produce that justification. To try to justify the collective violence of war by reference to a collective morality, as the just war theory implicitly does, violates the very concept of morality. Morality, I propose, is a perspective from which to guide the conduct of individual persons and to foster the good, not of any particular nation state, or even of a collection of nation states, but of humankind the world over.

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