"How to think about the morality of war"

Prof. Jeff McMahan

5pm, Friday 23 May 2014
Natural History Museum, Stockholm (map and directions)
Lilla Hörsalen

Doors open at 4.30pm

Followed by a drinks reception


Jeff McMahan is one the world's leading philosophers of war. He has written numerous scholarly books, chapters and articles on the ethics of war and self-defence, along with contributions to newspapers such as the New York Times . His most recent book is Killing in War (OUP: 2009).  He is currently working on The Ethics of Killing: Self-Defense, War and Punishment (OUP).  He is Professor of Philosophy at Rutgers University, NJ.



How to think about the morality of war?

Perhaps the most common way of thinking about war is that it is, as Rousseau says, “something that occurs not between man and man, but between States.”  According to this view, states and certain other collectives have interests, desires, goals, and intentions that are not reducible to those of individual persons.  Collectives can also act in ways for which they are responsible and even blameworthy, again in ways that are not reducible to the responsibility or blameworthiness of individuals.  This way of thinking about states in war leads naturally to a conception of soldiers as instruments through which states achieve their purposes rather than as responsible moral agents whose acts of killing must meet a high standard of moral justification.  McMahan’s lecture will oppose this way of thinking about war and will defend an individualist understanding of both states and war, according to which political leaders, soldiers, and civilian citizens are neither absolved of responsibility for their individual contributions to war nor made responsible for the contributions of others simply by virtue of their membership in a collective such as the state or the military.

More information.