Published online by Cambridge University Press: 04 July 2014
I find myself in agreement with much of Jeff McMahan's analysis. Yet I have argued in the past (initially against Judith Jarvis Thomson, but also against McMahan) that it is insufficient, and misleading, to think about warfare and its moral assessment in merely individualistic terms. My disagreements with McMahan's discussion here are mostly linked to the same fundamental reservation.
McMahan describes a clear-cut dichotomy between the individualist perspective— which he endorses—and collectivist approaches. These he characterizes as recognizing (in warfare) only collective moral agency, precluding individual responsibility. But in my view, we should reject this very dichotomy and adopt instead a dual moral perspective. Our focus should not be exclusively on individual choice, action, and responsibility: This should be combined with a collective perspective. In my comments here I will illustrate this by examining McMahan's discussion of terrorism and intention. I hope thereby to show that the description of warfare as a set of individual acts must be supplemented by its description as a conflict between collectives—between nations acting through their respective armies.
Department of Philosophy, Bar Ilan University.
1 See Zohar, Noam, Collective War and Individualistic Ethics: Against the Conscription of “Self Defense” 21 Pol. Theory, 606–622 (1993)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Zohar, Noam, Innocence and Complex Threats: Upholding the War Ethic and the Condemnation of Terrorism, 114 Ethics 734–751 (2004)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
3 This formulation is a citation from the draft version of McMahan's manuscript; the distinction and its problems are well-rehearsed in the literature. See McMahan, Jeff, The Morality and Law of War: The Hourani Lectures ch. 6 (Sinnott-Armstrong, Walter ed., forthcoming 2007)Google Scholar. This article is based on the manuscript form of the book; all page numbers refer to the pages of the manuscript, on file with the author (emphasis added N.J.Z.).
7 McMahan, supra note 3, at 99.
9 There has been an extended scholarly debate on ascribing action, responsibility and the like to groups of various kinds, from the haphazard mob to the formally structured corporation or state. See, e.g., the essays collected in Collective Responsibility (May, Larry & Hoffman, S. eds., 1991)Google Scholar; and also May, Larry, The Morality of Groups (1987)Google Scholar, and see also idem, Sharing Responsibility (1996); Copp, David, Responsibility for Collective Action, 22 J. Soc. Phil. 22 (1991)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; French, Peter, Collective and Corporate Responsibility (1984)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Mellema, Gregory, Individuals, Groups and Shared Moral Responsibility (1988)Google Scholar; idem, collective responsibility (1997).
Regarding warfare in particular, see May, Larry, War Crimes and Just War (2007)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; see especially ch. 2, 5, & 8; regarding intention specifically see Pettit, Philip, Akrasia, Collective and Individual, in Weakness of Will and Practical Irrationality 68–96 (Stroud, Sarah & Tappolet, Christine eds., 2003)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
10 See Young, Iris Marion, Justice and the Politics of Difference (1990)Google Scholar. In ch. 2, “The Five Faces of Oppression,” she explains how one group can oppress another by virtue of structural aspects of how they are socially constitutes as groups, without the individuals in the dominant group ever necessarily intending to oppress the members of the other group. Id. at 39-55.
11 Indeed, the collective perspective is analytically inherent in the basic concepts: “tactical bombing,” “air force,” “war” etc.
12 Walzer as well sometimes considers “military planners,” in addition to “soldiers” or “pilots.”
13 IDF Report regarding the bombing that had occurred in the early hours of July 30th, published August 2,2006 on the IDF official website, available at http://www1.idf.il/DOVER/site/mainpage.asp?clr=l&sl=HE&id=7&docid=55482 (last visited July 22, 2007) [in Hebrew] (my translation N.J.Z.).
16 In Israel, there is repeated anecdotal evidence of pilots refraining at the last moment from releasing their bombs, having realized that the expected harm to noncombatants is far greater than envisioned in their briefing. By no means do I wish to detract from the moral courage of such individuals.
17 For a discussion specifically focused on war crimes, see Levinson, Sanford, Responsibility for Crimes of War, in War and Moral Responsibility 104–133 (Cohen, M., Nagel, T., & Scanlon, T. eds., 1974)Google Scholar.
18 Zohar, Collective War and Individualistic Ethics: Against the Conscription of “Self-Defense,” supra note 1; Zohar, Innocence and Complex Threats: Upholding the War Ethic and the Condemnation of Terrorism, supra note 1.