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Just War, Cyber War, and the Concept of Violence

Finlay, Christopher J.

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Recent debate on the relationship between cyber threats, on the one hand, and both strategy and ethics on the other focus on the extent to which ‘cyber war’ is possible, both as a conceptual question and an empirical one. Whether it can is an important question for just war theorists. From this perspective, it is necessary to evaluate cyber measures both as a means of responding to threats and as a possible just cause for using armed kinetic force. In this paper, I shift the focus away from ‘war’ as such in order to ask whether some cyber threats might justifiably be characterized as a form of ‘violence.’ Some theorists argue that the term violence ought to be defined so as to encompass things like ‘structural’ harm or harm by neglect and thereby question implicitly the focus of just war theorists on armed force. This paper draws on a theory of violence I developed elsewhere as a defence of just war theory’s narrow understanding of violence. According to the ‘Double-Intent’ theory, a distinctive form of ‘Violent Agency’ is the factor uniting the category of violence while partly accounting for the peculiar moral connotations of the term. Here, I argue that the resulting definition of violence reshapes the category in a way that includes some forms of cyber-attack. This may help us to see where cyber might fit in relation to just war theory and the ethics of kinetic attack.


Finlay, C. J. (2018). Just War, Cyber War, and the Concept of Violence. Philosophy & Technology, 31(3), 357-377.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Dec 19, 2017
Online Publication Date Jan 26, 2018
Publication Date Sep 1, 2018
Deposit Date Jan 12, 2018
Publicly Available Date Jan 31, 2018
Journal Philosophy & technology
Print ISSN 2210-5433
Electronic ISSN 2210-5441
Publisher Springer
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 31
Issue 3
Pages 357-377


Published Journal Article (Advance online version) (508 Kb)

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Advance online version © The Author(s) 2018.<br /> This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.

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