Personal Pacifism and Conscientious Objection

Authored by: Eric Reitan

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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For centuries there have been those who have personally renounced participation in war or violence as part of adopting a nonviolent way of life, but who have not endorsed a general moral requirement for others to do likewise. Atack (2001: 179) calls this stance “vocational pacifism,” and characterizes it as a stance that conceives pacifism “as a way of life or vocation, binding only on those who choose it.” Kemp (1995: 21) names it “personal pacifism,” and defines it as the view that “given who one is, or what one has decided to become, it would be wrong to fight” even though no general prohibition on violence or war is endorsed. He goes on to note that the choice to be the kind of person for whom fighting would be wrong “may be a response to a vocation in the etymological sense, i.e. a calling, presumably from God, or it might be an individually made life choice.” Ihara (1978: 369) does not use the “personal pacifism” label, but what he sets out to defend is the pacifism of someone who “does not believe that violence is always wrong,” who asserts a right to use violence defensively, but who “also believes that a life of nonviolence is a morally preferable way of life” and who has made a commitment to such a life.

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