The responsibility of soldiers and the ethics of killing in war

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According to the purist war ethic, the killings committed by soldiers fighting in just wars are permissible, but those committed by unjust combatants are nothing but murders. Jeff McMahan asserts that purism is a direct consequence of the justice-based account of self-defence. I argue that this is incorrect: the justice-based conception entails that in many typical cases, killing unjust combatants is morally unjustified. So real purism is much closer to pacifism than its proponents would like it to be. I conclude that the best explanation of the common view that unjust combatants may be defensively killed relies on a rights-based conception of self-defence.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)558-572
Number of pages15
JournalPhilosophical Quarterly
Issue number229
StatePublished - 2007
Externally publishedYes


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