Friday, January 27, 2006

Pacifism: the Recap

by Joe Miller

To all my students: welcome to the world of analytic philosophy. We spent the better part of three hours last night doing what analytic philosophers do best: smacking down other philosophers, defining terms and drawing distinctions. The work is sometimes frustrating, but it could be worse. Like, say, spending your Friday morning trying to figure out why FeedBurner won't validate your site feed. Anyway, I thought that it might be useful to have some sort of recap of the work that we did in class yesterday. I'll omit the details and focus mainly on the conclusions of our hard work.

We began with Jan Narveson's "Pacifism: A Philosophical Analysis" (subscription to JSTOR required). Narveson's definition of pacifism is pretty narrow. Okay, really narrow. Just next door to the the proverbial straw man. Indeed, Narveson slides from the fairly plausible view of pacifism as the claim that "violence is never permitted as a response to violence" to the absurd view of pacifism as the claim that "resistence to violence is never permitted." So we set out to find a more plausible definition of 'pacifism.' Our final definition (many P primes later):

P''''': No one may employ non-consentual physical force (including lethal force) with the intention of causing pain (or death), even in self-defense or in the defense of others against aggression. One may use other forms of force and coercion to resist violence.
And yes, I've reworded a little bit from the ungrammatical mess we had on the board last night. Our new definition of pacifism is logically consistent, if perhaps not easy or always-advantageous to follow.

We are left, then, with a central question: do we think that it is ever permissible to deliberately cause pain or death in the face of violent aggression? A 'no' answer puts us squarely in the pacifist camp while a 'yes' answer moves us in the direction of either realism or just war theory. The consensus view seemed to be something like the claim:

L: A loses A's right not to be killed when A violates or attempts to violate B's right not to be killed.
This is not to say that L is a sufficient condition for killing A. It could well be that some violations of L do not actually justify the use of lethal force against A. Rather, our claim was that L is a necessary condition for the use of lethal force. Any situation that cannot be characterized by L is not a candidate for the use of lethal force, but not all situations that are accurately characterized by L are candidates for lethal force. Accepting L means that we think that war can, at least in principle, be justified. Next week we will ask whether or not all wars are justified.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Jay Stone said...

Of course not all wars are justified, but tell me why is it that some people seem teeming for engagement even when it's clear that an internecine outcome is likely? Conform or fight. My view is better than your view. I'm stronger therefore I'm right. With all the tools of knowledge available to modern thinking and living, why is it still the case that we aren't caring for one another universally? I am overcome with melancholy from brooding over mankind's behavior and contemplating whether or not there is any real hope for us. Will the masses eventually have the mentatlity to love thy neighbor and treat all people with kindness, respect, and dignity in spite of the differences that will probably always exist in the human makeup? It's true -- I _am_ an idealist, and I don't want a world riddled with evil doers. But, duh, dreaming of living in a perfect world isn't realistic thinking. One pragmatic approach would be to promote the acceptance of differences with the hopes that the various cultures and subcultures of the human race would learn to work together. Education is key. Or maybe not. Sometimes people are just annoying. I think that I'm too tired and ought not be writing at all right now.

2:40 AM  
Anonymous lynn said...

to determine why humans engage in war one must first look in the direction of what motivates individuals to behave or react in such a manner. governments declare wars, but governments, after all, are comprised of people whom one hopes are reasonable, rational and aesthetic-minded persons. this is not always, or hardly ever, the case. just wars, in my opinion, are fought in defense of the self or others. unjust wars are fought over territory and natural resources, religious faith, and/or fear (the state in which the ego is threatened by real or perceived outside force that directly affects self-image: this includes especially racism). the outcroppings of such conflict are myriad: profit, employment, colonial/imperial expansion, etc. why work together when profit is at stake? the selfish are unenlightened, either as individuals or en masse; self-interest runs rampant; uninformed public opinion ebbs and flows with the prevailing breeze. i understand and sometimes share jay stone's idealism. like any systems (individuals and groups) that run on energy, though, unless more fuel (knowledge, understanding, compassion) are fed into the machine (which will never run 100% efficiently) the temperature and output (life, health, pleasure principle) drops eventually to a state of inertia (stupidity). it's einstein's second law set to the music of society.

10:08 AM  

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