War, Morality, and the Military Profession

By Malham M. Wakin | Go to book overview
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18 Just-War Theories: The Bases, Interrelations, Priorities, and Functions of Their Criteria

James F. Childress

In this essay Professor Childress interprets and analyzes the classical conditions of just-war theory utilizing the concept of prima facie duties. A prima facie duty is one that is "intrinsically binding" but not an absolute duty since it may be overridden. The prima facie duties not to injure others or to kill others are viewed here as critical to considerations that might justify going to war (and overriding the prima facie duty not to kill others). Just cause, right intention, proportionality, just conduct, etc., are each explained and defended on the basis of the prima facie obligation not to kill or injure others. Even when such obligations are overridden by just causes they are shown to be consistently relevant to the ways in which wars are fought, supporting the principles of discrimination and proportionality.


There are at least two useful approaches to an ethical critique of the criteria of just wars. One is to start from basic ethical principles and to ask what criteria of just wars can be derived from them. The other is to start from the just-war criteria that we have inherited and to criticize them in terms of consistency, coherence, and fidelity to fundamental ethical principles and values. Within either approach we move back and forth between our practices, including our ordinary judgments, and ethical principles and theories.

Reprinted from Theological Studies, 39, 1978, pp. 427-445, with permission of Theological Studies, Inc., and the author.


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