Although questions about ethics and justice in relation to war have been central to the work of the Just World Institute, of which I am founding director, they have not been a primary focus of my personal research or teaching. My recent engagement in more public settings, however, has centrally concerned questions relating to war. The focus has been not so much on the normative questions discussed in the philosophical literature, though, as on concerns about how we, the public – including the section of the public that enters military service – are misled into supporting wars on the basis of spurious justifications.
I don’t believe any philosopher would think of justifying the actual wars that have been undertaken on dishonest pretexts, and yet the arguments they work out in relation to hypothetical or stylised circumstances often have so much theoretical detail that the caveats restricting their application receive an amount of attention that is inversely proportionate to what they would merit when assessing a real situation of prospective war.
In fact, sometimes assumptions about the morally relevant features of an actual situation are made, and made without due diligence as to the reliability of the evidence and sources appealed to. This struck me forcibly in relation to some of the discussions I heard about the justification for interventions in Syria and Libya.
I formed in my own mind the very definite opinion that the first ethical responsibility of a philosopher writing about an actual situation of war is to do due diligence concerning what can be reliably known – and to be very clear about the limits of what is reliable knowledge. This concern has been particularly powerful for me having discovered – much later than some, but still ahead of some others – the sheer extent of the organised deception that surrounds the making of wars.
So I have started setting down some basic thoughts on these matters, with some introductory remarks on the subject here.
The final chapter of my forthcoming book on Global Justice and Finance also has a section on the connection of finance and war. A short version of this is available as the blogpost Finance, War, and the Rule of Rogue Law.