Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Sports Illustrated Endorses Peter Singer

by Joe Miller

Okay, so the magazine doesn't really endorse Peter Singer. I doubt that Rick Reilly has the faintest idea who Singer is. But he does nicely channel Singer's utilitarian argument for famine relief. Reilly's target, however, isn't famine relief but malaria relief. Check it out here. Then click on over here and donate your $20 to by mosquito nets for kids in Africa. Private charity at work. Even an anarchist can dig it.

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Monday, April 24, 2006

Legal Moralism and the FCC, Part II

by Joe Miller

In my last post, I looked at two arguments in favor of restricting profane speech on public airwaves during certain hours of the day (the so-called 'safe harbor' provisions which prohibit profanity between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.). In this post I want to take up the next challenge for those who are opposed to FCC restrictions on speech.

3. Profanity is harmful to children and should thus be restricted during the hours in which children are normally awake.

First, the snark: It's called a remote control people. If you're worried that your kid might hear Charlie Sheen call Jon Cryer a cocksucker on Two and a Half Men, then don't let your kid watch it. Personally, I'd be way more concerned at discovering that my kid found Two and a Half Men to be funny, but that's just me. On second thought, perhaps if you're four, the show really is funny. I don't know. Me, I'm not really all that concerned about the whole slippery slope argument that without the restrictions, there will be no safe place for kids. I can't imagine the business model that would predict that adding "motherfucker" to the regular vocabulary of Blue's Clues would be a huge moneymaker. Indeed, I'm not really sure how it is that anyone thinks that restricting what gets said on television will protect kids from hearing profanity. For one, there is no FCC that can restrict my expletives when I whack the shit out of my shin on some toy that Matthew left where it isn't supposed to be. More significantly, no one much monitors what gets said in public. Just last week, several preteens at the McDonald's playground kept us all entertained as they shouted things like, "Hey motherfucker, get your ass away from my bitch.

On a (slightly) more serious note, I'm somewhat baffled as to how a Court that gives us a decision like Cohen v California can also manage to restrict public airwaves. Talk about captive audiences. It's not like most people who are hanging out at a courthouse can just leave if they want to. Yet the ruling there is that anyone who doesn't like reading Cohen's jacket (for the record, Cohen had painted the words "Fuck the draft" on the back of his jacket) would just have to look the other way. It's far easier to turn off the television, yet restrictions on speech are just fine there. Oh, well. If I don't point it out, someone else will: the U.S. legal system in general (and the SC in particular) are rather awful places to go looking for consistency.

So now the real response to the argument. First, the obvious: the argument as I have sketched it is perfectly consistent with the harm principle. The state is perfectly justified in preventing harm to others (yes, I know that this begs the question against anarchists, and I think that liberals--and academics--are mistaken to dismiss the arguments for anarchism so quickly, but trying to give a defense of the state in the midst of another argument takes us too far afield. Maybe another time). The question, then, is whether profanity (and obscenity too for that matter) actually harms children.

I'll have to admit that I don't know the answer to this question. Or rather, to be more specific, what I don't know is that there really is an answer to this question. It seems to me that the type of harm we are talking about here would pretty much have to be moral harm. That is, I'm not really sure what kind of objectively-measured physical harm can be said to result from exposing children to profane language. Indeed, I'm not really sure what sort of physical harm would result if, rather than just saying "cocksucker," NBC actually aired a fully explicit blowjob. What is the objection here? I can think of two.
a. Airing explicit sex and using profane language will lead children to engage in sex at earlier ages and to use profane language more frequently.
b. Sex (at least in certain forms or in certain circumstances) is morally wrong and children ought not be given the impression that such things are morally permissible.
As far as (a) goes, I must say that I still don't really see the objection. I'm not entirely sure that I see what it is that is so terribly wrong about kids having sex. Certainly I see what is wrong with kids getting pregnant and/or getting STDs. But those are objections to unsafe sex, not to sex per se. Teenage sex, however, has a number of positives, not the least of which, as Patri Friedman pointed out in a Catallarchy post last summer, is that teenage sex leads to teenage orgasms and teenage love affairs and the like, all of which are good things. (And before any of you start with the snide comments, no, I'm not interested in participating in teenage sex. I far prefer a partner who already knows what she's doing. I love to teach, but I try not to mix business and pleasure.) And the profanity bit? That seems like a complete red herring. After all, words are profane only to the extent that society takes them to be profane. So if all kids suddenly start saying "fuck off" as a matter of course, the phrase will eventually cease to be profane at all. The only drawback there is that we'd then need to invent some new profanities so that I'll still have something suitable to yell when I whack the shit out my shin.

While (a) is an empirical claim that, depending on the evidence, could turn out to be consistent with liberalism, (b) is illiberalism masquerading as harm. To say that I am harmed by some action because that action would lead to my being somehow a less moral person is to assume a particular conception of the good. That, however, is precisely what liberalism prohibits. Respect for autonomy, and the state neutrality that such a commitment entails, means that I have to allow people the freedom to pursue their own conception of the good. To restrict freedom on the grounds that the actions may produce people who fail to accord with my own personal conception of morality is fundamentally illiberal. It's also the height of arrogance; how on earth can you be so certain that yours is the proper conception of the good? To make this argument is not to endorse full-blown moral relativism. Some things are wrong, period. But it's not at all clear to me why we should think that people saying certain words or people engaging in sex with partners of their own choosing should be among those objectively wrong acts.

To sum, the claim that profanity somehow harms children is, to say the least, an open question. Arguably, the claim is resolvable only if one adopts a particular moral framework. The harm caused by profanity is, in other words, a moral harm. Even if profanity on television leads children to be profanity-spewing horndogs, it doesn't follow that the child is harmed unless one presupposes that there is something objectionable or degrading about being a profanity-spewing horndog. But that presupposition is a moral presupposition, and the whole point of the harm principle is to prevent the state from imposing a particular moral framework on its citizenry.

Next up: the offense principle.

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Sunday, April 23, 2006

Legal Moralism and the FCC: Wherein I Invite the Cocksucking-Shithead-Motherfuckers at the FCC to Fuck Off

by Joe Miller

First, a big welcome to all of you who just found this site while looking for porn. I'll just throw in the words 'teen'’ and 'MILF'’ and I should pretty much capture the highly-coveted Comic Book Guy demographic.

For everyone else, welcome to (another) defense of free speech. I'’ve been thinking some lately of the so-called '“Hart-Devlin Debate'” current in the philosophy of law about 40 years ago or so. For those not so up on 40-year-old trends in academic philosophy and law circles, the Hart-Devlin Debate concerns the concept now known as legal moralism, or the view that society is justified in using the law to enforce its commonly-accepted conception of morality. I was reminded of the debate while listening to Peter Singer discuss Mill's harm principle at the Mill Bicentennial earlier this month. Singer wanted to defend certain paternalistic laws (namely, seatbelt laws) on utilitarian grounds while rejecting legal moralism for reasons much like the ones that Mill offers in On Liberty. Singer'’s solution: he claims that the reason for opposing legal moralism is that the sorts of activities that legal moralists typically attempt to restrict aren'’t really immoral anyway. So he rejects legal moralism on the grounds that it would use the law to restrict actions that are perfectly permissible from a moral perspective.

I'm not so sure that I buy Singer's defense here. It strikes me that his argument is dangerously illiberal. Once my justification for allowing some action A is, 'It'’s perfectly moral to A,'” then it seems to me that I'’ve abandoned the principle of state neutrality in favor of a principle that establishes law based on one particular conception of the good. The fact that I happen, mostly, to agree with Singer'’s conception of the good (I'’m a utilitarian too, though a hedonistic utilitarian rather than a preference-satisfaction utilitarian) means that I'm inclined generally to favor the same types of actions that he might want to enshrine in the law. I think, however, that there are good utilitarian reasons for adopting a principle of state neutrality. I'’d sketch those reasons here, but Mill has already done such a nice job of it that it seems like a waste of time to reinvent the wheel here.

Anyway, I was thinking of the topic in somewhat generic abstract terms when some of my students were discussing George Carlin's '“Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television'” (yes, I know, not exactly current events. There were, I think, two people in that room who were alive when Carlin released that album. I was just barely one of them) during a break in my War and Morality course. That led me to think some about possible arguments for restricting (I'’m tempted to say '“censoring'” here, but I don'’t want to beg the question) what can be said on network television. What follows are, as far as I can tell, the (first two of four) main arguments in favor of FCC restrictions.

1. The public owns the airwaves and can thus restrict them as they see fit.

This one initially has at least a bit of plausibility.[1] After all, private individuals are free to do as they wish; when their property is in question, they may restrict the freedoms of others in all sorts of ways. Landlords, for example, can refuse to allow me to pain the walls of my apartment neon orange regardless of whether I think that neon orange walls would really nicely set off my new teal sofa. The problem, though, is that airwaves are not held by a collection of private individuals. Nowhere at any time has each individual been issued a stock certificate for a portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. Nor have regulations restricting the use of said spectrum ever been the result of a shareholder’s meeting. Rather, the government owns the spectrum (supposedly on behalf of the people, with a big emphasis on '‘supposedly'’) and the FCC, an unelected body, creates and establishes rules.

Of course, there is a big difference between the sorts of things that private joint stock ventures can morally do and the things that a state can do. States ought to be neutral with respect to the good. That means that, in a liberal democracy, there are going to be limits on what sorts of laws individuals are permitted to enact. And laws that are grounded in a particular conception of morality are going to be ruled out, even if lots of people accept that conception of morality. Indeed, the Framers of the Constitution worried far more about those views that had overwhelming support than they did about those views that had only weak support.

2. Certain shared moral standards are necessary if any society is to survive, so enforcing those standards may well be a necessary function of government.

This is essentially Devlin's argument. Let me first say that this is, at its bottom, an empirical claim, and it's one that doesn't seem likely to be particularly true. After all, our society has endured for rather a lot of years despite the fact that we hold some pretty radically different moral standards (slavery anyone?). Empiricism aside (facts? I'm a philosopher; don't bother me with facts), from a theoretical standpoint, Devlin's argument been pretty thoroughly dismantled by two generations of small-l liberals, starting with Hart and still popping up occasionally in legal-philosophical circles. Consider Bernard Williams' characterization of Devlin's argument:

  1. Activity X is wrong
  2. Activity X is wrong in the functional sense, i.e. for the persistence of that society
  3. Therefore Society S has the right to do what is necessary to preserve its own existence; it may do what is necessary to suppress Activity X
The problem is that (3) doesn't follow from (1) and (2). It hardly follows from the fact that a society will disintegrate if X is suppressed that a society ought therefore be permitted to prohibit X. After all, some societies are morally degenerate (again, slavery in the Confederacy or more recently Afghanistan under the Taliban). So the mere fact that permitting some activity may lead to the collapse of a society is insufficient grounds for suppression of that activity.

The argument works only if we reinterpret (2) to say something like

2. Activity X is objectively wrong.

The problem, of course, is that however convinced I may be that Activity X is objectively wrong, I can't really be certain that I'm right. Indeed, the only way that I can really discover the truth, it seems to me, is by allowing what one might call experiments in living. If I don't, then I run the risk of error. I'm trying to remember who it is who makes an argument like this. Some 19th C Brit, I think...

There are (at least) two more arguments often given. One accepts Mill's harm principle and then argues that obscenity harms children. The second, is Joel Feinberg's modification of the harm principle, the offense principle. As this post is already starting to drag on a bit, though, I'll take up these (and any others that occur to me in the meantime) in a future post.

[1] Or at any rate, it'’s plausible if we ignore the oddity of saying that someone can own a particular section of the electromagnetic spectrum. You would, I think, quite rightly reject my claim to own the wavelengths between 400 and 750 nm, and my subsequent claim that I could then regulate anything that appears in those wavelengths. (Ed: the spectrum between 400 and 750 nm is the entire range of visible light).

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Thursday, April 20, 2006

Utility, Liberalism, and Economic Reality

by Joe Miller

Rick makes a nice point with respect to my claims about rich societies providing a safety net:
And sure, the idea of Utilitarianism is to maximize utility (happiness), but what about those situations that don't *maximize* but are still the right thing to do. Such as Joe's comment that a wealthy nation should provide a fairly large safety net for the lower class at the expense of economic growth. It seems (to me at least) that the economic growth factor would *maximize* utility in the long run, but he's willing to sacrifice a bit of that "because it's the right thing to do."
I've been giving a lot of thought to how exactly to square my newly-developing belief that restrictions on markets inhibit the growth of wealth with my intuition that a rich society ought still to provide a safety net. Or more specifically, I've been wondering how it is that both beliefs can continue to be consistent with my utilitarianism. I don't have a fully worked out view yet, but I do at least have some vague hand-waving sorts of ideas. And as there is no better forum for vague hand-waving than the blogosphere, here they are.

First, despite the impression that one might get from a too-casual reading of economics texts, it's important to realize that wealth is not the only measure of utility. Wealth may well serve as a useful proxy for utility, but the two are not extensionall equivalent. It's at least logically possible that maximizing wealth could nevertheless fail to maximize utility. One can, for instance, imagine a world in which there is fabulous wealth that is all concentrated in the hands of just 1% of the population while the other 99% live in terrible poverty. That world may well be the wealthiest world possible, but it would be unlikely to be the one recommended by utilitarianism. Now I don't think that capitalism in fact produces a result like this; indeed, it's hard to see how this world would ever actually come about. But the possibility of such a world is sufficient to show that wealth and utility are not identical.

That said, it may well be the case, then, that sacrificing some wealth will indeed turn out to maximize utility. And that's pretty much the sort of argument that I want to make. I think that there are two possible ways in which a safety net might still be utility-maximizing despite the cost in terms of lost wealth.

(1) Risk taking. This is, I'll admit, the weaker of my reasons, and there may well already be studies out there that would cast some doubt on the efficacy of this argument. I'm just too lazy to look for them. Besides, a number of my readers tend to know about these sorts of things, and this whole blogging thing is supposed to be educational, so if I'm wrong here, educate me. Anyway, my thought is this. A safety net may well help to encourage people to take some risks. Now maybe this strikes you as an odd reason to favor a safety net. But consider that many ventures that have turned out pretty successfully began with someone (or several someones) taking pretty big risks. Now I know that capitalism already has some built-in rewards for risk-taking, and maybe those are sufficient. Still, it seems to me that it might well encourage people to shoot for bigger things if they know that, should they fail, they won't starve. Or that if they get terribly sick before their new company takes off, then they will still have access to medical care. And it's not only capitalist ventures that might benefit here. Leaving my job to write full time is somewhat easier when I know that, if my novel doesn't end up selling that well, I'll have some assistance while I try to get my old job back. Now maybe none of these things strike you as being worthwhile enough for the loss of wealth. I've no idea, personally, how to calculate the value of these things and then how to compare said value with the hypothesized difference between the amount of wealth with a safety net of a certain size and the amount of wealth without that safety net. But that's why we have economists.

(2) Diminishing marginal utility. Yes, I know, many people are skeptical that we can calculate this. How can one possibly make the sorts of interpersonal comparisons of utility that are required if I'm to determine how much value your 100,000th dollar gives to you and then compare that to how much value that same dollar would bring to someone who had only 10,000 of them. Some of those worries, however, are a bit overblown. When we talk safety net, we're not talking about distributing wealth from people with some to people with slightly less. I know that many of the social welfare programs that we have in the U.S. currently do just that, but I'm not here to argue for the status quo welfare state. I'd be happy to see it modified pretty radically. What I'm proposing, rather, is the transfer of funds from people who are very comfortable to people who really need it. Unless you are a utility monster of a pretty rare sort, it's unlikely that your 100,000th dollar will bring you more happiness than that same dollar would bring for someone who otherwise must do without lunch in order to feed his child.

What we have to be aware of, then, is that providing a safety net is redistributive in two ways. First, it redistributes from those who currently have money to those who currently do not. But it also redistributes in that it takes some wealth from future generations and gives it to people in the current generation. We should take both into account when considering the cost of a proposed safety net. Again, we'd need economists to do the actual empirical work; I'm just not qualified to do so. I seem to recall, though, that it's rational to discount somewhat future wealth, so the cost to future generations is not simply the difference between the wealth that would have existed without the safety net and the wealth that exists with it. It's also worth noting that capitalism does increase wealth over time pretty consistently. So while we may be redistributing wealth from future generations, they are future generations that will be wealthier than we are. So again, drawing--in a pretty crude and general way--on the principle of diminishing marginal utility, it strikes me that redistributing wealth in this way may still be consistent with utilitarianism.

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Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Assassination and Terrorism

by Adam Johnson

In Chapter 12 of Just and Unjust Wars, Walzer addresses several of the issues surrounding terrorism. Numerous times in this discourse on terrorism, the concept of assassination is also discussed. Though he flirts dangerously close to conflating these two categories of actions at times, Walzer eventually settles on drawing a somewhat odd and particularly blurred lined between the moral standing of terrorists and that of assassins of political figures. This peculiar stance can be seen by his conclusion on the young Russian assassin of the Grand Duke and the Stern Gang assassins of Lord Moyne. All three of these assassins were executed for their actions, and Walzer states “The treatment to me seems appropriate, even if we share the political judgments of the men involved and defend their resort to violence.” (201) This position stands out as bizarre as it borderline nonsensical in terms of moral philosophy – here Walzer claiming it is appropriate for us to punish individuals for engaging in behavior we have justified ideologically and pragmatically. Not being satisfied with this one direction of thought, Walzer also provides this: “On the other hand, even if we do not share their judgments, these men are entitled to a kind of moral respect…because they set limits to their actions.” (201) Again, this is a rather boggling position to take, as to respect those who enact morally reprehensible sequences, even if it is limited, is absolutely contrary to intuition. Indeed, it seems to imply one ought to commend a rapist if he only assaults adults and refrains from molesting minors. Now despite my harsh criticism of Walzer here, I think he is on the right track in separating terrorists and assassins and can be salvaged to some extent. Thusly, the purpose of this paper will be to present in clearer terms this rift between terrorism and assassinations as well as the rule utilitarian implications derived from this separation.

Before drawing a precise line between terrorism and assassination, it is necessary to first establish a working definition of what constitutes a terrorist act. The UN International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings declares that detonating a lethal device in a public place with the intent of causing serious bodily harm or extensive destruction of the facility constitutes terrorism. It is not clear to me how this distinguishes from acts of war typically regarded as legitimate such as artillery or air support for ground forces, who themselves may be in violation of this convention by their own personal armaments such as hand grenades or rocket launchers. This is one area where I feel Walzer has succeeded for the most part, so I will turn to his definition (with a few minor tweaks) rather that of the above mentioned UN Convention. In general, Walzer pins modern day terrorism as “the totalitarian form of war and politics.” (203) Earlier in the chapter he is more specific and states that terrorism is an extreme form of indirect war that has the purpose undermining the morale and spreading fear throughout the general populace typically by means of random murder of the innocent and noncombatants (197). There are two important qualifications that must be taken from this definition – motive and methodology. That the motive must be essentially to strike fear into the average citizen of the state (or ethnic group) is easy enough to buy into simply virtue that the word is terrorism. The methodology clause on the other hand, has some interesting implications that I do not think Walzer covered directly enough. He is correct in asserting that terrorism is typically and effectively carried out via the random slaughter of noncombatants. However, this skims over the particular aspect of this method that actually strikes fear into the populace – the threat of such slaughter occurring again in the future. From this it can be drawn that political rhetoric warning of a false threat or greatly exaggerating a real threat can be construed to a certain extent as terrorism.

With this definition of terrorism in terms of motive and methodology it becomes quite clear that this is a much different sort of thing altogether than assassinations of political figures. The purpose of an assassination is not to inspire fear in the general masses, but rather instead to cut the head off the snake that is the enemy with which you are at war. Traditionally, politicos are viewed as noncombatant targets which leads to a comparison between assassins and terrorists as both directly attack nonmilitary targets. However, it is unfair in most cases to conflate common citizens (even if they approve of the actions of the government) to those in leadership positions in a government – the difference in the amount of control between these two groups in terms of what the government or organization chooses to do is obvious enough. This is especially true in nation-states governed by totalitarian dictatorships in which the citizens have effectively no control in the workings of the government. Indeed, it is hard to ignore the hand political leaders play in waging a war, and it seems to revoke the noncombatant status they enjoy. However, this is not to say all politicians are immediately to be regarded as combatants and thus assassinated. Walzer issues this caveat as such: “Assuming that the regime is in fact oppressive, one should look for agents of oppression and not simply for government agents.” (202) This again serves to illustrate perhaps the most prominent distinction between assassination and terrorism – methodology. The concept of assassination is concerned with the precise elimination of offenders whilst sparing innocents and noncombatants, while the terrorist philosophy preys randomly and widely on this classification of individuals. Indeed, assassination and terrorism are quintessential opposites where methodology is concerned.

All of this has very specific implications when evaluating terrorism and assassination in terms of rule utilitarianism. In short – terrorism is out and assassination can be in. Even assuming terrorism to have good intentions, the methodology is so poor that utility will never be maximized by an act of terror. Even ignoring the pain caused directly by the random slaughter of innocents, the widespread panic and fear inspired by these acts of terrorism (which effectively constitute total war) generates far too much pain for the means to be justified. Assassination in the proper context, however, is effectively derived from utilitarian thought. The motive is specifically to reduce unnecessary pain and suffering by killing the individual most responsible for oppression or unjust wars rather than engaging in a war that will certainly result in the loss of innocents and noncombatants.

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Problems with Terrorism

by Steven Grueshaber

We all know that wars are terrible things. This seems evident from Michael Walzer's constant reiteration of "War is Hell." Our goal in constructing a theory of just war should be to limit the number of wars and to limit the amount of suffering caused by those that do occur. My goal is to examine the concept of terrorism and to determine how we should treat it in our just war theory.

In order for an action to be considered an act of terrorism there are a few criteria that it must meet. Generally speaking, it must be an act of violence. When we think of terrorism we often concoct images of airplanes crashing into buildings or bombs causing large explosions. While other violent actions could be construed as terrorist in nature, the catastrophic images help to demonstrate another crucial factor in terrorism: Fear. Considering that 'terror' is the basis for the word it seems necessary that it is also an integral factor in the definition of the term. An act cannot be considered terrorism if it does not instill fear upon the target populace, whether it is fear for their life, liberty, or safety. In order for this to occur the victims must be random or seemingly random. In his discussion on terrorism, Walzer gives examples of political assassinations. These, however, cannot be considered acts of terrorism. While they are definitely violent acts, the targets are not chosen at random but are government officials. Unless the average person is a government official there will be no real fear for their own safety. The fear comes from not knowing whether or not they will be next with the distinct possibility that they could be.

One last criterion I want to mention is the requirement of an agenda. This basically rules out accidental terrorism. I'm not sure how someone could accidentally blow up a public restaurant or something, but if he did so I do not believe that you could call him a terrorist. The agenda does not necessarily have to be a bad one. For example, take Robert Fullinwider's discussion of the September 11th attack and his statements on Osama bin Laden. "'Millions of innocent children are being killed as I speak,' he [bin Laden] declared, children who are dying in Iraq as a putative consequence of the economic embargo imposed on that state by an American-led coalition. Osama bin Laden purported to act on behalf of innocence. Why should he not calculate, as [Thomas] Jefferson implied, that shedding the blood of a few now may save the lives and liberty of many others in the long run." It is entirely likely that bin Laden truly believes that he is doing the right thing. While I would never argue that the events of September 11th were morally justifiable, I will concede that there could be acts of terrorism that are justifiable. It is possible that a terrorist act would in fact produce an increase in long-term utility. Violent revolutionaries may often use this argument as a justification for their acts. While terrorism may have in fact furthered their supposedly noble agendas I doubt that it often resulted in an increase in utility, if in fact it ever has. As I've stated before, terrorism works by inspiring fear in the populace. That is a lot of displeasure involved in the pursuit of some organiziation's or individual's goals. In utilitarian terms, the ends only justify the means if they outweigh the means. For a terrorist act to be justified in utilitarian grounds the ends will have to be pretty significant. This does not refer to only the desired ends, but the actual ends as well. How likely are terrorist acts going to result in the culmination of the terrorist's goals?

Let's look at the events of September 11th as an example. This meets all of the criteria for a terrorist act. It was obviously an act of violence; planes were hijacked and flown into buildings. While the buildings that were targeted were not chosen by random, the people inside and around the buidings were. People feared for their lives and the lives of their loved ones so much that some were later willing to trade in their liberties to secure they safety. The terrorists definitely had an agenda because the operation was well planned out. What were the results of the terrorist acts? There were an obscene number of United States casualties as well as the lives of the hijackers themselves. There was a much larger amount of people that suffered as a result of grief over lost family members and friends as well from the fear inspired by the terrorist attack. While bin Laden's goals my very well have been good ones there is no way that his actions were wise or moral. As a result of his actions Americans as a whole are even more despicable of and hostile to the Iraqi people and Middle-Eastern people in general. We invaded Afghanistan as a result and it even acted as a catalyst for the current war in Iraq. Rather than improving the living conditions of people in Iraq we have a situation in which most people are worse off. This is generally how terrorism pans out. There is a lot of suffering followed by the slim chance of a gain in long-term utility when that same end-utility could possibly be reached through other means. Barring omniscience, I don't think I could be convinced that any terrorist act would be the best course of action. The rule-utilitarian in me is willing to dismiss terrorism on these grounds. Now all that is needed is to apply this to just war theory.

For those you unwilling to adhere to wise moral theories, terrorism is already pretty much ruled out by our current incarnation of just war theory. Noncombatant immunity covers this very well. Terrorism works by causing the populace to fear for their lives, liberty, and safety. If the noncombatants are unable to be harmed then they do not have much to be afraid of. Combatants, however, are viable targets in a war. Some may argue that a terrorist act could be performed against these people and cause them fear. I argue that any combatant should already be afraid for their lives by recognizing that they are already involved in a war and are legitimate targets for enemy attacks. Any attack on a combatant would not be considered an act of terrorism. However, we may end up with some sort of loophole that could still allow for some form of terrorism so adding 'no terrorism' to our jus in bello list is the logical thing to do.

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The Moral Responsibilities of a Soldier

by Kim Morrison

I have had the most difficult time with the topic of a soldier’s moral responsibilities. I suppose part of my problem lies in my belief that people who can philosophize about war so much have probably never experienced it for themselves. Since I don’t know the military history of any philosophers I am sure that I am wrong, at least I hope I am. The other part of my problem lies in the fact that I come from a military family. I’m a soldier’s daughter, I am the friend of soldiers, and I have been the girlfriend of a soldier. Being so close to the military all my life has given me special insight into what these men and women go through during their time in the military. I may be too sensitive about the subject and too close to it to give an objective opinion on the articles I have read, but a subjective opinion is going to be good enough. In the next few pages I hope to explain the difficulties with some of the arguments made in the articles I read. I will also comment on items presented in the articles with which I agreed.

First, I would like to address Hare’s article “Can I be Blamed for Obeying Orders?” I do agree with his position on the is/ought problem, just because someone wants you to do something does not mean you ought to do it. It reminds me of that old parental guilt trip, “So if your friend jumps off a cliff does that mean you should too?” He also points out that many people choose to place the blame on others because “they told me to do it.” According to this, a soldier is not wholly responsible for his actions because he was told to act in that manner. This is basically true. However, the chain of command is so extensive and those with authority so numerous that it is difficult to pinpoint the exact number of people involved in the issuing of an order and its fulfillment. If an order is illegal then those who carried it out are absolved from their legal responsibility. However, they will be morally responsible for their own individual actions. If a soldier is given an order to kill hundreds of innocent people, it should be an automatic response to question, if not refuse to carry out, that order. Many things are illegal for a good reason. Most often, they cause pain or suffering to other individuals other than the person committing the act. It is especially important for a soldier, representing the country he serves, to act in a manner that is legally, as well as morally, acceptable.

Next, I would like address chapter 19 of Walzer’s book. I think he makes a very important point when he describes soldiers as part of an elite organization. As part of this organization, a soldier is responsible for not only for himself but for those around him. The different levels of the organization each function as part of the whole. An individual is responsible to his squad, a squad responsible to the platoon, a platoon to the company, a company to the battalion, etc. It also works in the reverse order. Cohesion in each of these sections is important for the cohesion of the whole. It may be possible for a break to occur in a tight group like this when a soldier chooses to disobey an order. However, I do not believe that a soldier should follow an order that can be viewed as illegal or immoral just to continue belonging to the group. Walzer mentions “there are other ways of responding to an order short of obeying it: postponement, evasion, deliberate misunderstanding, loose construction, overly literal construction, and so on.” I agree that any one of these methods is preferable to obeying an unlawful order. I also agree with Walzer’s position that although a soldier is responsible for his own individual actions, he is not responsible for the justness of the war he fights. This leads me to the next article.

In his article “Jus ad bellum and an Officer’s Moral Obligations” J. J. Miller proposes, in direct disagreement with Walzer, that a soldier is morally responsible for the justness of the wars he fights. When becoming a soldier, an individual takes an oath to, among other things, uphold the Constitution. That means they are bound to honor the laws and guidelines that is sets forth. By fighting in a war that is labeled unjust according to the Constitution, that soldier is therefore morally responsible for the justness of that war. After all, individuals who are elected into office take a very similar oath. They are responsible for upholding the Constitution and when they do not do so we view them as having ignored their responsibilities. However, the soldiers in our military are under the control of those elected officials. I believe it is this control that makes the elected officials, not the soldiers, responsible for the justness of the wars our soldiers fight. Unfortunately, the individuals who use their right to vote are responsible for electing those officials who make those kinds of decisions. Here a problem has presented itself. If voters are responsible for electing individuals to office and those elected officials are responsible for sending soldiers to war and many soldiers are registered voters, then soldiers could be responsible for the justness of the wars in which they fight. This is a circular and rather precarious way of arriving at Miller’s proposal but it is the only way I could justify a soldier being morally responsible for the justness of the wars he fights.

In my paper I have attempted to examine the different view points concerning the moral responsibilities of a soldier. Hare, Walzer, and Miller all have things that I agree with and things that I do not agree with. This is the most difficult paper I have had to write and I believe it is because of the sensitivity I have to the subject matter. I only hope that I was not too subjective and that my reasoning behind my agreements and disagreements was clear enough to understand.

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Monday, April 17, 2006

Liberals and Leftists Redux

by Joe Miller

A couple of weeks ago, a threw together a post in which I attempted to distinguish liberals from leftists. Or at least that's how the post started; looking back, I'm not sure that I really did say all that much, other than to offer some vague claims about anti-Americanism and a soapboxy rant that while criticism is important, so too is remembering all the things that the U.S. does pretty well. The post, however, drew a number of comments (see here, here, here, and here), several of which deserve some following up. That's not to say that I'm actually going to follow up on all of them; hell, lots of people don't get what they deserve. Besides, following up on comments is hard work. Instead, I'm going to try to offer a slightly more rigorous formulation of what I take (as of today anyway) to be the difference between liberals and the left.

A few caveats first. Matt McIntosh offers a couple of rough and ready ways of distinguishing between liberals and leftists. His suggestion: leftists are anti-wealth while liberals are anti-poverty. Another: leftists tend to sneer at the very mention of Adam Smith while liberals are generally pretty fond of the guy. Matt's definitions are not meant to be philosophically rigorous. Indeed, as he responds to one commenter:
I explicitly was shooting for something less aridly philosophical; this litmus test is more geared toward operational attitudes. Does someone seem motivated more by sincere desire to see everyone do well, or are they motivated more by resentment of the wealthy? (A related test might be to ask whether they basically see all of society as “in this together” or if they frame everything in terms of oppressors vs oppressed.) It’s intended to be more anthropological than philosophical.
I'm going to aim at something slightly different here. I want something slightly more theoretical than Matt's definition (not because I disagree with his characterization; I am a political theorist, though). At the same time, I'm not going to give anything all that rigorous. Not that this should be much of a surprise. This is a blog, you know. Anyone looking for detailed analytic rigor should look to a different forum. I'd suggest here for a start.

Let me start by saying what my view is not. Jeremy, of Social Memory Complex, objects that my distinction between liberals and the left is better characterized as a distinction between radicalism and incrementalism. As he puts the point:
In the context of the topics Miller discusses, therefore, I think it makes more sense to talk about radicalism vs. incrementalism. The left he’s describing seeks a more “in your face” approach to reform, while the liberals you describe seek more gradual change within the system. There is both a theoretical and strategic distinction there that informs the differences you point out. Both sides have advantages and drawbacks, and indeed both sides may have different goals from time to time. I’m just saying that if you’re going to fault the left for their rhetoric, you should fault the “liberals” for theirs as well. It’s my opinion that neither group is served by the image they project, and that is the real problem with realizing actual reformist goals. I’m all for uniting behind those goals, but until liberals can be a little more left and vice versa, established interests are not likely to be successfully defeated - or even convinced to compromise.
If I gave the impression that what I really object to about leftists is that their approach is more radical than the one I prefer, then I'm worse at this whole communication thing than I thought. My objection to leftists is not with their methods. It's their goals that I dislike. I don't, for example, view the welfare state as a small step on the way toward some eventual socialist utopia. I don't think that socialism works...unless what you want is for everyone to be poor together. Hell, I think that the welfare state lowers overall wealth; I just think that we are a rich enough society that we can sacrifice some rate of growth to help out the poor sods who currently are struggling. Incidentally, this is a still-developing view on my part. I've been slowly moving from a sort-of Rawlsian liberal to what I guess one might call a Clintonite neo-liberal. I suspect that it has something to do with spending way too much time interacting with libertarians. I hate it when my cherished theoretical arguments fail to correspond with, you know, actual science. Damn you economists! But I digress.

So if I'm not really a slow-moving leftist, then what am I? That's a bit harder to say. Indeed, this is a part of Jeremy's challenge: if I want to distinguish liberalism from leftism, then I really ought to start by explaining what I take liberalism to be. Roughly, then, I take liberalism to consist of three main theses:
  • Respect for individual autonomy.
  • A commitment to equality of opportunity.
  • State neutrality.
What these theses boil down to is that I have to allow people the freedom to choose for themselves how they will live their lives (that is, allow each person to determine her own conception of the good), treat each person equally regardless of those choices, and not use the state to privilege some conceptions of the good over others. Pretty straightforward, right?

Yeah, right. There is a whole hell of a lot of wiggle room within those three theses. Enough so that people with pretty radically different political positions can still claim to be liberals. When we start trying to cash out what these three theses really entail, we can get a lot of different results. Perhaps, for example, equality of opportunity is merely formal: we have equal opportunity as long as the law specifies that all of us are equal. On the other hand, maybe it is impossible to have real equality of opportunity as long as some parents have more money than others which will in turn entail that capitalism is inconsistent with equality of opportunity. In short, my three theses distinguish small-l liberalism from non-liberal theories, but doesn't really do much to distinguish Liberals (in the contemporary everyday sense) from Leftists.

Here's another shot then. Liberals accept that there are certain universal truths, while (most?) leftists deny the idea of Objective Truth. For example, I think that there are certain basic rights and that all humans have those rights regardless of time or culture. Thus, I think that everyone has a right to not be killed unjustly, to not be interfered with without his consent, to acquire property, and to do as one pleases (provided that doing so interferes with no one else). Roughly these are the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuits of property and happiness. I think, too, that human nature is more-or-less fixed, that humans are naturally rationally self-interested (i.e., I think that the 'homo economus' model, while obviously oversimplified, is nonetheless basically accurate). Moreover, I think that one can use reason to determine these truths. And I think that it's a good thing to export these sorts of views to societies that do not currently hold them (not by force necessarily, though in extreme cases, I don't rule that out of bounds).

Now no one of those views would exclude all leftists. But if we take a liberal to mean someone who is committed to the three theses that I outlined above and who also accepts all (or at least most) of the Objective Truths that I offered in the above paragraph, then I think that we have a position that will accurately characterize what I take to be the distinction between liberals and leftists. Marxists, for example, will object to the fixed-human-nature claim. And the right-to-property claim. Deconstructionists will object to the discoverable-by-reason claim. Post-colonialists object to exporting views. And so on.

Again, I make no claims that this distinction will hold up under a sustained, rigorous assault. Indeed, perhaps it's not particularly theoretical at all, but is rather just a more detailed anthropological account. But then you are probably all better judges of those sorts of questions than I.

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Thursday, April 13, 2006

Life Imitates Art

by Joe Miller

Interesting how sometimes real-life events catch up to abstract philosophical discussions. Just today, Mitch passed along this link to Flt Lt Malcolm Kendall-Smith, a RAF doctor (who as it happens has a diploma in philosophy). Kendall-Smith is currently awaiting a verdict from his court-martial. His crime? Refusing an order to deploy to Iraq, which he claims is an illegal war. Relevant sections from the Telegraph's account:

Flt Lt Malcolm Kendall-Smith, who faces five charges of failing to comply with a lawful order, called the coalition's occupation a "campaign of imperial military conquest" that "fell into the category of criminal acts".

After studying the Nuremberg Principles and other international laws on war, the doctor came to the conclusion in mid-2004 that it would have been a criminal act for an officer to deploy to Iraq and he had a "solemn obligation to refuse that order".

The officer told the court in Aldershot that he would have had "criminal responsibility vicariously" by going to the country.

Under cross-examination by David Perry, the prosecutor, Kendall-Smith, 37, said he had documentary evidence that "the Americans are on a par with Nazi Germany with their actions in the Persian Gulf".

A couple of points. First, why is it that everyone feels the need to compare things that they don't like with the Nazis? The comparisons are rarely valid, and they serve most of the time to make the speaker sound like a kook. For all I know, Kendall-Smith may well be a kook, but that's really beside the point. Let's restrict the Nazi comparisons to people who do things that Nazis actually did--you know, genocide, massive war crimes, torture and killing on a huge scale. Stalin can be usefully compared to Hitler. So can Pol Pot. But George Bush. Sorry, not even close. American soldiers in Iraq like the SS? No way.

Perhaps a better analogy for Kendall-Smith to have used would be, say, the British in India. Or the British in Afghanistan. Or the British in Sudan. Or...well, you get the idea. The U.S. is engaged in empire-building, and is covering that empire-building with liberal internationalist rhetoric. One can disagree with liberal internationalism. One might also object that invading Iraq isn't justified on liberal internationalist principles. One can also object that the rhetoric bears little connection to the actual policies on the ground. All are legitimate concerns. But none of those objections rises to the level of Nazism.

I will be interested to see how this all plays out. I've no real idea what British courts are likely to say, though I strongly suspect that few courts-martial would be all that impressed by Kendall-Smith's Nazi analogy. I don't know enough about British law to be able to say to what extent the U.N. Charter gets incorporated into domestic law. I don't think that treaty provisions are automatically part of British law but instead require an act of Parliament to be incorporated. That would make the British case substantially different from an American case. I would also suspect that a court-martial will be pretty unlikely to spend all that much time debating the finer points of international law. I suppose that we'll have to wait and see what ends up happening.

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Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Mill Bicentennial: the Aftermath

by Joe Miller

Warm weather, college students in shorts strolling to class, driving my car, not once wondering where the hell I am or whether I'm at the right tube stop. I guess that I'm officially back in North Carolina again. I'm also about 10 days behind on everything, having done exactly zero work while off in London. Okay, I did attend a Mill conference, but it's really hard to call something work when you have that much fun doing it. Anyway, I'm 10 days behind and have just a bit over three weeks of classes remaining this semester. Not really quite sure how to reconcile those. At least all of my students are pretty much accustomed to my being late getting papers back to them.

I do want to offer a public shout-out to three of our philosophy majors who helped out while I was gone. Jimi, thanks for proctoring the intro exam. Nice catch on the Sex Pistols lyrics, too. I'm not sure that many of my students caught the reference. Actually, more than half of them missed that question entirely, despite the fact that, of the four answers to the question (what's the best argument for anarchy that we've discussed this semester), one quoted song lyrics, one quoted a movie, and one said that we haven't discussed anarchy all semester. There was but answer that offered an argument at all, and still half of them missed it. Sigh. At any rate, thanks for the help; you'll be all set for your first semester as a TA in grad school this fall. And Adam and Steven, thanks for talking to my logic students about fallacies. I'm told that you both did a great job; at the very least, no one had any questions about either set of fallacies that the two of you covered.

I'll get back to some real content here soon. I'd better at any rate before Rick's puns drive away what readership I've managed to attract. In the meantime, as promised, here is the man himself:

For those of you who don't know the backstory, yes, this is actually Jeremy Bentham. Or his body anyway. His head is locked in a safe after students at King's College stole it and held it for ransom.

Bentham himself was only marginally connected to the founding of UCL, though he was very much a supporter of the project. UCL (at the time it was called the University of London), was the England's first secular university. At the time of its founding, England had but two universities, Oxford and Cambridge, both of which excluded students based on their religious beliefs. UCL was founded on the principle that all qualified students ought to be admitted regardless of religious beliefs. Thus was born "the Godless institution on Gower Street." J.S. Mill attended some lectures at UCL (though Mill did not formally attend--indeed, Mill had no formal schooling at all). Most notably, the young Mill attended the lectures of John Austin, UCL's first professor of jurisprudence.

At any rate, despite Bentham's relatively modest involvement with UCL, his name shows up all over the place. The faculty of law resides in Bentham House, and one of the main rooms in the South Cloisters (part of the main UCL building) is the Jeremy Bentham room. Bentham House is also home to the Bentham Project, which is working on producing Bentham's collected works, a project that it hopes to complete within the next 20 years or so. (Bentham's writings were eclectic and almost never finished. J.S. Mill served as Bentham's secretary briefly but totally gave up on the task of turning Bentham's notes and papers into anything more than a hopeless mess.) Oh, and there is also the Jeremy Bentham Pub, which I suppose is worth checking out if you're a philosopher, but as far as I could determine, that would be the only reason to do so. The food was bad and the beer was way overpriced.

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Binding Agreement or Just Guidelines

by Wesley Gibbs

When reading Dr. Miller’s article I found myself agreeing with the logic behind many of his points, mainly those associated with the lack of invincible ignorance for a soldier and the ones surrounding a soldier’s duty to obey the law. The main issue that I had with the article was surrounding the United States being bound under Constitutional law to follow the United Nations Charter. I am not so foolish as to try and argue that the Constitution doesn’t require treaties to be considered law. Rather, I mean to argue that the treaty with the UN holds no power over the US or its actions.

First, I figure that I should explain what I mean by the statement that the UN treaty hold no power over the US or its actions. A treaty is a contract or agreement reached by two or more states. It is only valid for as long as all sides agree to uphold and follow the guidelines of the treaty. A treaty cannot be absolved by one side, it is required that all sides absolve the treaty (sort of, I’ll explore this point in more depth later in my paper). I mean to prove that it is almost impossible for the UN treaty to be binding to the US, and that in fact the UN has itself failed to follow its own Charter in past instances. By proving this I mean to show that because the UN Charter isn’t binding to the United States, the soldiers in the US military do not have a moral obligation to disobey orders that are contradictory to the UN Charter.

Treaties have existed throughout history, and they have always relied on the fact that the participants of the treaty are willing to continue in their participation of the treaty. The problem here is that the participation by the states has always been dictated by the possibility of reprisals. In treaties, either all sides are on almost equal footing or one state or allied group stands higher than the others do. In the first case, the treaty is maintained by all sides because of the fact that if one side tries to break the treaty then the other side has the capability to hold the first side to account. In this case, it is normally quite common that when the treaty is dissolved by both sides it is because they have gone to war or at least both taken some sort of military action. In the second case, the treaty is maintained because it is beneficial to the most powerful side. This side will not break the treaty as long as it stays beneficial to them, and if the other side(s) will in the majority of cases not break the treaty because they can be easily held to account by the powerful member of the treaty. The powerful member of the treaty can break it whenever they want though because there is no one to hold them accountable. The other side lacks the power to force the more powerful state’s commitment, so all they can do is complain about the situation. When this situation arises between two states, where one is the powerful side of the treaty, there is another option that the powerful side can take. They can stick to many of the points that are within a treaty, and only ignore the particular ones that annoy them at a certain time. Again the other side of the treaty lacks the ability to force the powerful side to commit to the treaty as a whole.

When the US enters into a treaty, the treaty becomes US law by way of Article VI of the US Constitution. All of the treaties that the US currently enters into fall into the second category of treaties mentioned earlier (powerful state v. other state or states). This is due to the fact that, as we have discussed in class, the US is the world power rather than one of the world powers. There is no state that has the ability to match the US in military or economic power (most people only look at military as being necessary to enforce issues, but economic power plays just as large a role if not a larger one). Due to the status of the US, it has the ability to absolve treaties or parts of treaties as it sees fit. Since the UN Charter is the treaty between the UN and the US, the US can ignore the Charter if it wants to without fear of any real repercussions. The US military is the top in the world and has the ability to resist any possible military action by the UN (part of this is due to the abundance of nuclear arms owned by the US). The UN could try to enforce some kind of trade sanctions, but this is where the economic power of the US comes into play. Such sanctions would have a negative effect on the US after a certain period of time, but it would also have very negative effect on the rest of the world due to the dependence of other nations on the well being and buying power of our economy. This is proven due to the amount of jobs that US businesses outsource to other countries, as well as the amount of things that the US imports from other countries (specifically, China would suffer a huge economic crisis due to the fact that there exists no other country that can buy all of the products that they have produced and continue to produce for the United States). Thus the United Nations couldn’t actually force the United States to comply with the Charter if the US doesn’t want to.

The international form of the treaty can’t survive as binding law, but what about the fact that the treaty becomes United States law as ordained by the US Constitution. I would put forward that the abolishment of the UN Charter as binding law helps to solve this issue. The treaty as it is written is what is supposed to also becoming binding US law, but since the treaty isn’t really binding to the US, it can be changed. The US can decide that there are particular segments of the treaty that should no longer apply to it, and can thus change the way that the treaty is written and applies to it. Since the UN cannot force compliance then the US can consider this new version of the treaty as the one that it will follow from now to whenever it decides to make more changes or it is no longer the world power. This new treaty is what would now become US law as dictated by the Constitution. This allows the US government and military to act within the guidelines and laws that apply under the Constitution. This then lets soldiers take part in wars and conflicts that might go against the UN Charter, and yet not have a moral obligation to disobey the orders that send them to war.

The other point that needs to be explored is whether or not the UN Charter has any binding value outside of the way that it is forced to deal with the US. The Charter has failed as binding treaty to the nations within the United Nations because the UN has failed to act in accordance with its own Charter in different instances throughout history. One instance that is quite recent is that of the situation that took place in Rwanda in 1994. This incident involved the killing of between 500,000 and 1,000,000 Tutsis and Hutu moderates in what has become referred to as the Rwandan Genocide. The UN Charter considers the crime of genocide to be a violation of human rights, and states that the members of the UN should take measures to prevent and punish the act of genocide. The problem with the Rwanda situation is that the UN did not authorize intervention in Rwanda in order to stop the genocide. Eventually a force was formed called the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR), but the force was too small to be effective at stopping the genocide and its request for support from UN member nations went unanswered. In failing to take effective action against the genocide in Rwanda, the UN failed to enact a part of its own Charter.

Since the UN failed to follow its own Charter in response to a blatantly obvious immoral act, the question arises about whether or not this Charter is a binding treaty to all parties involved from a legal standpoint. The fact that the UN as a whole decided not to act is irrelevant because the Charter says that genocide is under international law a crime, which the members are supposed to prevent and punish. Having failed to do what it could to prevent genocide, the UN has gone against a part of its own Charter. Since the UN as a whole failed to act in accordance with its own Charter, it cannot possibly expect it individual members to abide by a Charter that the UN as a whole chooses to ignore whenever the situation that has risen is inconvenient. Thus I would propose that since the UN is able ignore its own guidelines (which are supposed to dictate the actions that it takes), then they are absolving the individual nations within the UN from acting according to the Charter. Since the Charter is no longer binding, it cannot really be considered a treaty but more a set of loose guidelines that the UN can follow. Since it is no longer a treaty, it no longer becomes a part of US law. US soldiers have a moral obligation to act within accordance to US law, and so they no longer have a moral obligation to disobey orders that order them to fight conflicts that the UN does not authorize.

The UN cannot expect its Charter to be binding when it lacks both the ability to enforce it, and it lacks the dedication to follow its own Charter whenever it is inconvenient to do so. If the Charter isn’t binding then it loses its ability to truly be a treaty, thus nullifying its application to US law through the Constitution. US soldiers have a moral obligation to follow the Constitution and its laws, but they are no longer morally obligated to disobey orders that contradict the UN Charter.

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Probllems with Walzer

by Jeremy Page

Although Walzer is supposedly the foremost Just War Theorist we have been studying, it has not stopped our class from finding “issues” in his writings. I have found that sometimes I am able to agree with Walzer, but with a great deal of modifications to his writing. Walzer’s writing on War Crimes is no exception; I have found that most of the conclusions that Walzer comes up with, in this chapter, are acceptable, but some of the ideas he considers to get there are not.

Walzer, at the beginning of the chapter, advances the idea that “it is the doctrine of rights that makes the most effective limit on military activity, and it does so precisely because it rules out calculation and establishes hard and fast standards” (Walzer 304). Whoa! Wait a minute; Walzer seems to be saying that a sense of absolutist morality is more than adequate for judging the conduct of soldiers and their responsibility. This strikes me as problematic because generally Walzer is advocating some sort of consequentialist philosophy. Oh wait, Walzer tends to change his “moral formulas” based on the subject at hand. At least this time he is able to openly state that consequentialist thought is not adequate enough for this particular subject. Maybe I should ask why he seems to find it adequate only “some of the time” instead of most of the time. Walzer seems to switch up his philosophy whenever it suits his argument. Ah, so much for consistency.

Walzer seems to find that his liking of a “more absolutist philosophy” “amounts to this: that a nation fighting a just war, when it is desperate and survival itself is at risk, must use unscrupulous or morally ignorant soldiers [and tactics]; and as soon as their usefulness is past, it must disown them” (Walzer 325). Walzer find’s Machiavelli’s statement that “it is very rare for ‘a good man should be found willing to employ wicked means,’” to be less realistic than the first one. Even though Walzer is using these two statements in reference to the bomber incidents during WWII involving Winston Churchill’s orders, it seems fitting to me that this is also capable of describing a more general approach to the issue. Here, it seems that instead of being a consequentialist, Walzer is simply stating the obvious: we’re going to do all of the most vile things to ensure the best possible outcome. He is not stating that these actions are negligible because of the consequences, but he is simply saying “oh well.”

I find it quite odd that of all places for Walzer to willingly discard consequentialist thought he does so here. War seems to stretch our sense of morality to points we might otherwise not desire it to go; and in some cases people might suggest that there is no morality in total war. The ends justifying the means seem to lend themselves to situations in warfare, especially the conduct of a soldier. I suppose that it’s less about justification of certain actions than it is about outlining what is not acceptable. Fortunately, Walzer recognizes completely consequentialist arguments will not provide an acceptable outline-but it’s unclear if any real outline can be offered.

At the end of the chapter, in the conclusion, Walzer leaves us with the thoughts of Thomas Nagel and his essay entitled “War and Massacre.” Nagel goes to a place in the battle between absolutist thought and consequentialist thought: we find that “our situation at such a time in terms of a conflict between utilitarian and absolutist modes of thought: we know that there are some outcomes that must be avoided at all costs, and we know that there are some costs that can never rightly be paid. We must face the possibility, Nagel argues, ‘that these two forms of moral intuition are not capable of being brought together in a single, coherent moral system, and that the world can present us with situations in which there is not honorable or moral course for a man to take, no course free of guilt and responsibility for evil’” (Walzer 325-326).

It seems apparent to me that an absolutist paradigm is the most easily applied idea, that is because purely utilitarian thought provides no real rights and no concrete dogma to attach ones’

beliefs to. But wait a minute, maybe absolutist philosophy is too rigid to be workable in times of war (past the point of certain obvious ideas like targeting of civilians and genocide) and utilitarianism is too flexible. I don’t see why Walzer isn’t interested in attempting to introduce rule utilitarianism. Isn’t this the solution to Nagel’s issue “between utilitarian and absolutist modes of thought?”

At this point, Walzer illustrates Nagel’s statement by noting that politicians are, by the nature of their work, predisposed to following utilitarian thought (see Walzer’s account of Winston Churchill he has used as an example for Machiavelli’s statement). Surely politicians use this mode of thought, but Walzer seems to point out that they are justified in using this mode of thought (but not necessarily the actions brought on by such thought) and that soldiers are not. I would argue that enlisted men, for the most part, should use absolutist thought-but not officers. It seems that Walzer believes this distinction between officer and “ordinary soldiers” to be real: ordinary soldiers must be proven guilty while officers are guilty and must prove themselves not guilty. Walzer is willing to put the burden of proof on the officer, but not on the ordinary soldier. I find it odd that, given Walzer’s stated desire to have strict rules regarding conduct implemented, he is unable to find some sort of standard that an officer ought to be held to. The idea that the “burden of proof…lies with them” is ridiculous (Walzer 322).

Walzer notes that politicians are in their positions so that they are capable of making utilitarian decisions on dilemmas. Walzer also, in previous pages, notes that soldiers should follow absolutist thought in their conduct during wartime affairs. I find that notion adequate for the enlisted men, but pointless for officers. While I hesitate to directly compare military officers to politicians, I cannot ignore that they both find themselves in leadership positions that should enable them to make utilitarian decisions. In most cases, I would argue that they should follow rule utilitarianism, and in fact politicians should almost always do so, but not officers. It is true that officers have the responsibility to decrease the number of likely civilian deaths, and all soldiers (according to Walzer) cannot justify reckless actions with the notion of self preservation, but it seems to me that in the most dire cases, officers should be able to disregard (absolutist rules or) rule utility for mere utility. Maybe this points out that I’ve been reading too much Walzer as of late because I seem not to have any problem with switching the approach to morality whenever it suits my argument.

At this point is seems appropriate to outline what exactly I think should be a general guideline for officer’s conduct on the battlefield. I am going to take a few ideas from Walzer. Officers are directly responsible for the affairs they are charged with overseeing, and so long as an officer has control of his post-he is responsible for his soldiers’ conduct (with respect to the situation General Yamashita found himself in). If an officer has no reasonable knowledge of immoral acts committed by his men, then he cannot be held responsible-the fact that an officer does not know what is going on during his direct command indicates he does not have real control. An officer must take initiative to shield the “weak and unarmed” (Walzer 317) from possible violation by his men and their actions. Walzer goes on to list what exactly this means an officer cannot order, and for now, I am willing to agree to this list.

Walzer continues to say that “military commanders have two further and morally crucial responsibilities. First, in planning their campaigns, they must take positive steps to limit even unintended civilian deaths” as well as considering proportionality of such deaths to military advances. Walzer’s second “morally crucial responsibility” is that “military commanders…must take positive steps to enforce the war convention and the men under their command to its standards” (Walzer 317). In other words, they are responsible for policing what goes on during their commands because they are able to be held responsible for it.

I suggest, more explicitly than I did earlier, that rule utilitarianism is the desirable moral system for officers to follow, and in the past two paragraphs I have given a rough idea of the rules I think should be implemented. These rules are Walzer’s, but he does not propose that that they may be broken for utility’s sake. For me to argue that we should use rule utilitarianism and that these are a rough idea of the rules, and then for me to suggest we break them (even for soldiers’ self preservation) whenever we see fit is hardly acceptable. So I am instead suggesting that we should look more closely at the rules involving officers’ conduct and responsibility and seek to refine them a little bit. It may be accurate for some to suppose that I am advocating less restrictions of who and what an officer may have targeted, given his situation, and that this turns me more into a realist than someone thinking about rule utilitarianism.

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The Responsibilities of Soldiers

by James Moore

I am responding to chapter sixteen of Just And Unjust Wars by Michael Walzer. In this chapter Walzer continues his discussion on rules of war during war. He is particularly concerned with soldiers and their obligations to their superior officers. He is trying to see who should be held accountable for war crimes and acts that are directed at innocent civilians. During this essay I would like to lay out Walzer’s position and give a slight critique of his position.

Walzer begins by defending the soldiers with the idea that they act in the heat of battle without reason. The soldier gets so immersed in his situation that he loses his train of thought and his reaction to it is not one of reason but sheer disregard for human life. This is understandable because, we can see how an individual under such duress reacts in such away that would not be acceptable in normal situations. The soldier is so worked up that his action become uncontrollable, according to Walzer it can be considered a temporary insanity. I have to agree with Walzer in this theory; we can’t expect an individual during the heat of battle to selectively choose targets when the bullets seem to be coming from everywhere. The soldier wants the situation to end, so this is when his mind shuts down and the emotions take over and we get a situation where the soldiers action become uncontrollable. The analogy I can draw is one of less severity than war but none-the-less makes an individual act in a way in which he normally wouldn’t. We can see individuals losing control of their actions in sports. An athlete is so immersed in winning the game that he sometimes losses control of his actions. We take this harmless situation that can cause people to act irrational and compare it to war, which is a harmful environment; we can see how an individual would lose his self-control and do something irrational.

This is not always the case according to Walzer. Walzer gives a situation where opposing soldiers, to a particular army, try to surrender and the soldier is shot in the head. The temporary insanity argument tends to become a bit more tenuous at this point, but Walzer still would say, in some cases, that this could be a legitimate argument on behalf of the soldier. If this is only good in some cases, then who should be in control of the situation, when a soldier is not insanely shooting people. This is when Walzer turns to their commanding officers. The commanding officers have a bit more responsibility that the soldiers. They are expected to be more professional on the battle field and in control of their unit. When a situation comes up where there is wholesale slaughter of innocent people then the person that carries the most of the responsibility for those actions would be the commanding officer.

Then the question comes in of orders. We a soldier gets an order from his commanding officer should he obey the order even if the order forces the soldier to take innocent lives. Walzer thinks that soldiers are trained to follow orders. If they didn’t follow orders, without question, then they wouldn’t be good soldiers. On the battle field you can’t expect a soldier to sit back and think as to whether he should or should not do the order his officer has commanded him to. This way of thinking could get the soldier and some of his comrades killed. The soldier gives the authority to his commanding officers and trusts their decisions, so should a soldier be held accountable for something that he is trained to do? Walzer thinks that they both should be held accountable but the commanding officer has a greater responsibility, so his degree of punishment should be weighted to that.

The way we tend to look at these situations are through the eyes of Americans and how our soldiers act when given an order, but what about other countries. We consider the situation that Walzer discusses when a German soldier refuses to kill any more hostages and his comrades throw him in with the hostages and kill him as well. This is where it gets difficult to decide of you should or shouldn’t follow orders. I know Walzer doesn’t like the argument of self-preservation but we have discussed it in class and I thought it would be relevant. The idea that you should only fire upon someone when your life is in danger; this is in order to preserve your life. We can now see how this argument falls apart when an officer tells you to kill an innocent person or he will shoot you in the head, then the self-preservation argument seems to become a bit more tenuous. The soldier in order to survive must kill an innocent person. This is probably why Walzer just gets rid of it.

I would like to give a slight critique of Walzer’s position. I would like to start by giving the responsibilities of the soldiers. I can’t deny, because of my ignorance of actively being involved in a war that soldiers are under duress. I can see how certain situation could cause a soldier to lose character and do something he wouldn’t ordinarily do. This does not relieve him of his responsibilities during war. He should be held responsible of his actions. We can use situation in U.S. to give examples of why an individual shouldn’t be charged with murder if he shoots an innocent person in a shoot out. When police officers get in a fire fight with armed gun man they are not responsible for any innocent civilians that get caught up in the crossfire. The same should apply to war.

Now, if an individual, during war, attempts to surrender and the soldier kills him anyway, this soldier has just broken the law, this irregardless of his environmental situation. The individual had given up his arms and was no longer a combatant and the soldier killed him anyway, this is murder. This would also have a poor affect on the enemy soldiers giving up. They would find out that their opponents were killing their comrades as they surrendered, and would realize that they would have to fight to the death because if they surrendered it would be certain death. This is not a good way to try and win a war. Though soldiers may be trained as machines they are still human and must be held to making moral decisions during war. Though we should be understanding to innocence that get killed in a crossfire, we should not be understanding for shooting a individual in the head after he has surrendered his arms.

I will now turn to the commanding officers. The chain of command is built on trust and respect. The lower in command always trust and respects the higher in command. This is not always the case but the majority of the time it is. The higher in command mustn’t misuse their authority over the lower in command. This command chain can go all the way back to the particular government that started the altercation. This meaning if a government orders their soldiers to kill all the Jews, then the government is held accountable because if the government is stopped then all that follow is stopped. You must always start at the root of the problem and work your way up. The problem with just punishing the soldiers is that they are not the ones calling the shots; they are just following orders, though I think it is right to apprehend them. I can’t say that it will be affective in winning the overall war.

This is why we must give some standard for everyone to follow. So the lower in command will have some way of justifying their commander’s orders. The “cause I said so” is not a just reason for killing innocent people. The soldiers should be able to react to their commanding officers by refusing to take the order on the grounds that it is unjust. This is why I enjoy the idea of setting up a standard for everyone to follow. If we can get a reasonable understanding for what is just we must set it in stone and adhere to it.

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Moral Equality and the Illusion of the Democratic Process

by Mitch Ullman

J. J. Miller, in his paper “Jus ad bellum and an Officer’s Moral Obligations: Invincible Ignorance, the Constitution, and Iraq,” runs a long gauntlet, filled with moral spears, at an attempt to get from jus ad bellum to jus in bellum. While the Constitutional/International law issues and the points concerning the morality/legality of the second invasion of Iraq are quite enthralling, I am not as concerned with them here as I am with the sticky situation that is moral equality. I would also like to state that the position I will take in this paper should not be confused with a conflation of is/ought but a raising of the question of whether the ought is good enough to compel a movement away from the is. Put more succinctly, I want to know (aside from the unidentified gnawing at my consciousness most would identify with an conscience) is why it is that if something is considered just or moral that it is what one ought to do. In this case, I am asking this question from within the context of the culpability of military personnel. The road I will be taking is Pragmatic in nature, so for those of you who know my past work and know me personally, bear with me.

This may actually be skirting the issue of jus in bello a bit, however it is important here in that normally the bellum problem is relegated to the legislators/executors of the government (ie. those who declare the war); however, for the purpose of this paper, we are primarily interested in the culpability of soldiers in respect to bellum. Shoonhoven’s paper “Invincible Ignorance and the Moral Equality of ... Lawyers?” makes this distinction from the very outset. For those that may not quite understand the idea of invincible ignorance, consider all those hokey movies where the President of the United States is never informed of some ‘black-ops’ mission that escalates to total war but the moral culpability of the President and therefore the nation at large are kept clean (read ‘plausible deniability’). I’m still not sure how this idea works itself into a phrase ‘moral equality,’ I would expect it to be called something along the lines of ‘lack of agency as pertains to the particular moral action’ but that’s another issue altogether. Miller makes the point early on, in his paper, that applying the moral equality doctrine to soldiers is almost certainly applied as easily to non-soldiers, rendering deliberative (read liberal, ‘of-the-people’ type) democracies inert. Let us keep this problem in mind for later, for now, we’ll start our queries into the general direction of the ‘soldiering art.’

Many of the scholars that Miller cites are, by his own admission, basically following in the footsteps of everyone’s second favorite medieval philosopher, Vitoria (the first, of course, being Aquinas... who’s work in JWT is mostly mimed by contemporary philosophers). Just as the colorful quotation from Henry V illustrates, soldiers are simply subjects of their rulers and as such should not question the justification for their heading off to war, according to the Vitoria’s invincible ignorance claim. And while, yes, it certainly seems plausible for that sort of excuse to fly in the middle-ages up through the Renaissance, things like the printing press, and a wider adoption of the democratic process should, in short, throw a wet towel on that mentality. The idea here is that with information being more readily available and an expectation of participation from both citizenry and soldiers in the democratic process (keep in mind, this isn’t Plato’s Republic), the soldiers should be well informed (especially the officers, by Miller’s account); therefore, the soldiers’ ignorance is no longer invincible defense against culpability of wars in which they participate that are, in reality, unjust or illegal. This is where, I think, the problem crops up.

I believe that Miller is making an assumption that doesn’t quite map onto reality, per se. The assumption that I mean is that of the purpose of government having changed as the form of government changed. Even worse, there is the possibility that there has never been a change, simply the appearance of a change in form so as to create something of an invincible ignorance for the whole of the governed people. By this, I mean to say that it is reasonable to expect that governments cannot give reasons for war that are full, just or unjust. While nationalism and propaganda will assist greatly in raising a military force, there remains the issue of culpability. Consider the possibility wherein we told our potential military personnel that they will be held accountable for fighting in wars found to be unjust because they knew what they were getting into. I imagine that our ability to garner enough soldiers would be quite hindered. This is as much a pragmatic concern as are Walzer’s “common causes” and patriotism. I believe this, along with the problems faced by the public citizenry, is the self-same point that Walzer was attempting to make when he discusses the obstacles to ‘bucking the official line.’

Now, I would like to approach the problem appearances or, if you prefer, the Noble Lie. I do certainly agree with Miller that the less information one has, the less agency one possesses as pertains to governmental affairs, the less like a democracy their government becomes. This, precisely, is what I believe we have been involved in and will continue to do so because we, for the most part, buy into the appearance of democratic processes within our own government. There is much attention paid to the analogy of the idea of a jury trial and the contemplation of a just war by the citizenry/soldiers. This, I think is an excellent analogy, but I believe is approached incorrectly or, to state it in another way, the issue of “best of their ability” is glossed over. The idea of a “jury of your peers” is, at best, a farce and, at worst, a method by which more and more guilty are allowed freedom from legal punishment. Jurors, at least most of those who get picked for service, do not understand the process in which they are taking part, much less the laws or the idea of justice that is at stake. What is worse is that most of the people that receive the opportunity to serve in this façade do everything within their power to avoid even participating. This should inform one just how little we, as a people, care about whether or not we have the Truth or simply the truth we are spoon-fed by our “dually-elected” leadership. We participate in the appearance of objective justice even when we do what we can to not participate in the process we have set up to simulate such a process. The citizens avoid participation and the soldiery are kept in a paralytic haze so as to guarantee their participation.

Miller touches on the issue in footnote number twenty-two when he describes the near-vertical slope toward tyranny that a lack of a deliberative process creates. What is interesting, to me at this point, is that in this ‘age of information’ we have the lowest rate participation in the established democratic process and the lowest level of trust for the leadership of that establishment we have seen in a long time (if not ever). I think Miller is absolutely correct that slope would exist; I fear that it is far too late to hope that it is a situation to avoid. The Leviathan is alive and well and expects its constituents to be invincibly ignorant. Whether this is the appropriate state in which we should be or whether this is a trend to buck is far, far beyond the scope of this paper and certainly this single class.

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