Social and Political Philosophy: Contemporary Perspectives

By James P. Sterba | Go to book overview

20

PACIFISM FOR NONPACIFISTS

Robert L. Holmes

With characteristic balance and fairness, James P. Sterba makes a compelling case for abandoning a confrontational and combative way of doing philosophy—the “warmaking” model as he calls it—in favor of a cooperative, “peacemaking” approach. Toward this end he undertakes to effect a reconciliation between pacifism (P) and just war theory (JWT).

I applaud the effort to encourage adoption of a peacemaking model of philosophy, and agree furthermore that, in some sense, it may be possible to reconcile P and JWT. I stress the words “in some sense,” however, because it seems to me there are other senses in which that hasn’t been shown to be the case, and the reconciliation hasn’t in fact been achieved. So I welcome this opportunity to join with Sterba, so to speak, in exploring this issue further.

Let me say at the outset, however, that I shouldn’t count a failure to achieve a reconciliation of the two as a failure of the peacemaking conception of philosophy. Part of the aim of peacemaking, if it is understood to include conflict resolution, is to make clear where there are differences and to confront them openly and directly in the hopes of cooperatively resolving whatever problems they generate. Indeed, in the Gandhian conception, conflict is valued for just this reason. So insofar as I point out differences between us on the issue of the relationship between P and JWT, I take that to be in the spirit of philosophical peacemaking rather than opposed to it.


I

Let’s begin by asking what it would be to reconcile P and JWT. I assume it wouldn’t constitute a reconciliation if one side were to convince the other to give up its position. That might reconcile pacifists and just war theorists as persons, but it would represent the victory, so to speak, of one theory over the other, not a reconciliation of the two. I take reconciliation to imply that the two remain intact (though perhaps modified) but with their differences minimized in some significant way. Another possibility is that P and JWT might be said to be reconciled if one could show that, despite their

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