Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Subjective guilt and war

One of the well-known challenges in accounting for killing in a just war is the thought that even soldiers fighting on a side without justice think they have justice on their side, hence are subjectively innocent, and thus it seems wrong to kill them.

But I wonder if there isn’t an opposite problem. As is well-known, human beings have a very strong visceral opposition to killing. Even those who kill with justice on their side are apt to feel guilty, and it wouldn’t be surprising if often they not only feel guilty but judge themselves to have done wrong. Thus, it could well be that soldiers who kill on both sides of a war have a tendency to be subjectively guilty, even if one of the sides is waging a just war.

Or perhaps things work out this way: Soldiers who kill tend to be subjectively guilty unless they are waging a clearly just war. If so, then those who are on a side without justice are indeed apt to be subjectively guilty, since rarely does a side without justice appear manifestly just. And those who are on a side with justice are may very well also be subjectively guilty, unless the war is one of those where justice is manifest (as was the case for the Allies in World War II).

I doubt that things work out all that neatly.

In any case, the above considerations do show that a side with justice has very strong moral reason to make that justice as manifest as possible to the soldiers. And when that is not possible, those in charge should be persons of such evident integrity that it is easy to trust their judgment.

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