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Ethics, Force, and Power: on the Political Preconditions of Just War

Finlay, Christopher J.

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Benbaji and Statman’s contractarian ethics of war offers a powerful new philosophical defence of orthodox conclusions against revisionist criticism. I present a two-pronged argument in reply. First, contractarianism yields what I call ‘decent war theory,’ a theory in which war between de-cent states is paradigmatic. I argue, by contrast, that states should treat wars against indecent states as paradigmatic, resulting in a Rawlsian alternative that issues in an ethics closer to revi-sionism. The second prong argues that the symmetrical international distribution of power re-quired by contractarianism throws into doubt the viability of war as an instrument for securing just ends. But I argue that there is a very important lesson to take from Benbaji and Statman’s analysis here. Even if contractarianism is arguably weakened by its political assumptions, revi-sionists frequently fail to pay any attention to the vagaries of power and their effects in shaping the outcomes of different accounts of ethics. I therefore argue that just war theory in general ought to develop an ethics with sufficient versatility to respond to shifts and variations in the distribution of military power. In particular, philosophers must consider morally defensible ways in which decent states can challenge rising indecent powers.


Finlay, C. J. (2022). Ethics, Force, and Power: on the Political Preconditions of Just War. Law and Philosophy, 41(6), 717-740.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Apr 17, 2022
Online Publication Date Jun 20, 2022
Publication Date 2022-12
Deposit Date Nov 29, 2021
Publicly Available Date Jan 17, 2023
Journal Law and Philosophy
Print ISSN 0167-5249
Electronic ISSN 1573-0522
Publisher Springer
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 41
Issue 6
Pages 717-740


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