Gregory S. Kavka
A moral evaluation of deterrence reveals certain paradoxes which, though absurd or incredible at first glance, are not easily disposed of. Professor Kavka maintains that these moral paradoxes of deterrence call into question some significant and widely accepted moral doctrines that he calls "bridge principles," so named because they are used to form a bridge between the moral evaluation of agents and their actions. By analyzing a class of situations involving nuclear deterrence, he shows that there are serious conflicts between these "bridge principles" and what is required of a rational moral agent in such situations. For example, in certain situations it would be morally right for a rational and morally good agent to deliberately attempt to corrupt himself. Interpreting his findings, Kavka suggests that such conflicts reflect a fundamental malaise in ethical theory, namely, that the principles by which we morally evaluate agents and actions are basically incompatible. Unless we are willing to adopt some extreme position or reject some significant and deeply entrenched beliefs, however, we may simply have to live with these paradoxes.
Deterrence is a parent of paradox. Conflict theorists, notably Thomas Schelling, have pointed out several paradoxes of deterrence: that it may be to the advantage of someone who is trying to deter another to be irrational, to have fewer available options, or to lack relevant information. 1 I shall describe certain new paradoxes that emerge when one attempts to analyze deterrence from a moral rather than a strategic perspective. These paradoxes are presented in the form of statements
Reprinted from The Journal of Philosophy 75, no. 6 ( June 1978):285-302, by permission of the publisher and the author.