Sunday, April 24, 2005

Attachment ethics in just war theory

I have discussed at length earlier in this blog the importance of "attachment ethics" in just war theory.

By "attachment ethics," I mean the position that at least sometimes it is morally okay to favor your own, on the basis of emotional and sympathetic attachments of family, love, friendship, and so on, over claims by strangers. Attachment ethics potentially has a role to play in just war theory because people in war favor their own side, favor their own, and often do so on the basis of claims of attachment which, if not quite the same as family and personal ties of love and affection, are in the same general category - ties to tribe, land, country, constitution and political order, and so on.

One way to deal with these claims is to deny them any moral status. Pure consequentialism, for example, does just that - a thorough-going consequentialist will not admit of any special status for claims of affection, for example. Neither will a thorough-going, duty-based Kantian - what is love in the face of duty? The difficulties in reconciling these moralities with how the rest of us think about these things has been widely explored and discussed - my favorite article in this literature is Peter Railton's "Alienation, Consequentialism, and the Demands of Morality," in Philosophy and Public Affairs (Vol. 13, 1984).

I want to skip over all the arguments about attachment ethics as such and focus on a different issue more closely related to just war theory. For what positions in the broad range of ethical positions available on war might attachment ethics matter? If you are a thorough-going consequentialist, attachment ethics is inapplicable by definition - you refuse to consider any such attachments. That position I have described as a certain form of moral realism, pure consequentialist moral realism in just war theory.

Most realists, however, are not ethical consequentialists in the pure sense, however, but rather do care about one side or the other. If they are still to be some form of moral realists, however, rather than simply prudential with respect to one side or another in war, then they must give some account of why it is okay ethically to favor one side in war as a realist - for which they will likely need some attachment ethics account. And they will have to give some account of what the limits of that attachment are morally, again to prevent it from simply being a prudential, rather than moral, realism.

But now, what about just war theories of war ethics? Does either Catholic just war theory or Walzer's just war theory need attachment ethics? One might think that they do, given that each allows you, under some circumstances, to fight for your side. One might think, given the importance that Walzer, especially, places on the rights of particular political communities to be particular, indeed parochial, that some form of attachment ethics must be at work.

Curiously, however, this does not appear to be the case. The reason is that both Walzer's just war theory and Catholic just war theory are based on a case of objective, indeed criminal, violations of natural law, viz., aggression. Just war, for both these theories, is an account of the response to aggression. It is a response by a particular political community that has been aggressed against, and by those willing to fight with it, but it is always a lawful response to an unlawful, criminal act - aggression. As such, by definition, a just war is always the war in which it is lawful for one side to fight, objectively morally right for one side to fight. It is a particular, parochial political community that fights, but fighting for it requires no special attachment ethics to fight for that side - it is the side that, objectively, God would fight for. If that is your theory of when it is okay to fight, then God is objectively on your side, and you have no need to justify why, separate from objective rightness, you fight for your side.

I have some problems with this. The reasoning is impeccable, I think, but doesn't describe the actual world of war in many circumstances. Sometimes the good side and the bad side are crystal clear, but sometimes they aren't - sometimes both sides are a little right and a little wrong, and sometimes both sides are pretty wrong. More broadly - and this is a separate discussion - I think Walzer's criterion of "aggression" is too narrow - I think it is justified to fight to preserve what he calls "a common life" on grounds that are broader than his definition of aggression - but I will leave that aside for now. For now, I just want to be clear that despite Walzer's defense of particular political communities, it does not appear that his just war theory requires an attachment ethics to defend them with arms.

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