The Ethics of War - Davidson College


Upcoming Events

Vann Center for Ethics

Physicians’ Integrity and Ties to Industry” by Lance Stell, Philosophy and Medical Humanities

Sept 17, 12:00 noon, C.Shaw Smith 900 Room

“Trash Talk: The Why & How of Sustainable Waste Disposal

with David Martin, Economics; Beth Christenbury, Purchasing; and Kealy Devoy, Sustainability

Oct 5, 4:00 pm, Knobloch Campus Center Room 302

“Can a Counter-Terrorism Strategy Be Both Successful and Moral?” by Jeff Holzgrefe, Emory University School of Law

Oct 14, 8:00 pm, C.Shaw Smith 900 Room

Co-sponsored by Dean Rusk International Studies Program

“Healthcare Reform: Politics, Economics, and Ethics” with Pat Sellers, Political Science; Michael Lawlor, Wake Forest University; and Rosamond Rhodes,

Mt. Sinai School of Medical

Nov 5, 7:00 pm, Lilly Family Gallery

Co-sponsored by Medical Humanities

“Ethics and War in the Islamic Tradition” by Sohail Hashmi, Mt. Holyoke College

Nov 19, 12:00 noon,

C.Shaw Smith 900 Room

Eastern Traditions

Basic principle of


or nonharm, grounds for strict pacifism in certain Hindu castes and among Buddhists

Hinduism traditionally had a whole caste of warriors



) expected to use force

Chivalric limits on killing noncombatants

Buddhism developed justifications for defending the community with force, if the evil prevented will be greater than the evil incurred in killing

But Buddhists anticipate some karmic punishment even when they use force justly


This tradition views God as compassionate and just, but not requiring absolute nonviolence

Some scriptural verses permit violence only as strict retributive justice, no collective punishment

But other passages mandate total holy war against idolaters

However, modern Jewish authorities forbid direct attacks on noncombatants


Challenges of interpreting Jesus’ teachings: “Love enemies,” “Don’t retaliate against evil,” “Turn the other cheek,” vs. permitting disciples to carry swords, and not urging soldiers to leave their profession

Early Christian pacifism: faithful absolutely prohibited from killing by Tertullian, Origen et al.

Emergence and development of just-war tradition:

Ambrose, Augustine and Aquinas permitted limited uses of force by Christians in defense of the innocent

But the Crusades were characterized by indiscriminate, total war against Muslims (and Jews)


This tradition views God as compassionate and just, but not as requiring absolute nonviolence


means struggle/effort, spiritual and physical, includes but goes beyond holy war

Some limits on legitimate killing established by the Prophet


A generic principle of noncombatant immunity emerged later in the tradition

Contemporary challenge of countering extremists who ignore those limits

Moderates in all religions can agree:

Prima facie

right of all people not to be killed

Use nonviolent means to resolve disputes first, not war

Even when war is justified, don’t target noncombatants

Treat captured soldiers humanely

Hold accountable those who commit atrocities

For further reading:

Sohail Hashmi and Stephen Lee, eds.,

Ethics and

Weapons of Mass Destruction: Religious and Secular


David Perry,

Partly Cloudy: Ethics in War, Espionage,

Covert Action, and Interrogation

Gregory Reichberg et al., eds.,

The Ethics of War:

Classic and Contemporary Readings

Michael Walzer,

Just and Unjust Wars [email protected]


Eu Hall