The Just War Theory


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Examine the key features of the just war theory and pacifism. (21)
The just war theory is an ethical and teleological theory that was formulated by ancient philosophers like
Plato and Cicero and developed by Augustine and Aquinas. The aim of Just War Theory is to provide a guide
to the right way for states to act in potential conflict situations. The theory is not intended to justify wars but
to prevent them, by showing that going to war except in certain limited circumstances is wrong, and thus
motivate states to find other ways of resolving conflicts. There are two parts to Just War theory: Jus ad
Bellum- the conditions under which the use of military force is justified and Jus in Bello - how to conduct a war
in an ethical manner. A war is only a Just War if it is both justified, and carried out in the right way.
In the Old Testament, God engaged in conflict and violence with those who opposed his mission to bring
salvation to man. However, in the New Testament, Jesus refused to use conflict to carry out his mission and
peace as his weapon. Overall, the bible does not offer Christians with guidance on whether to fight for what
they believe in. Early Christians were pacifists however, when emperor Constantine converted to Christianity,
Christians were unsure on whether to fight to fight alongside the romans. So Augustine constructed the just
war theory which was developed by Aquinas many years later. He believed that three presuppositions were
necessary for a war to be just:
Firstly, war must be declared by those who have authority and power to do so, e.g. an emperor. Secondly,
the war must have a right intention; this could be to bring peace or to avoid evil. Thirdly, a just cause is
required which means that the party who will be attacked must deserve it. A fully developed Just war theory
was later formulated by American bishops. They added proportionality onto the list; this states that we
should not wage a war that causes substantially more suffering and destruction than the actual wrong done
by the enemy. The bishops also added that it must be the last resort and that other attempts should be tried
to bring peace. Furthermore, there should be a fair chance that the war will be won as it is immoral to enter a
war that is hopeless. Likewise, as the war is fought, no other parties must suffer apart from those whom
suffering was intended for and therefore war must be discriminate as far as possible. Lastly, the American
bishops added a requirement of comparative justice which meant that both sides of the conflict must be fairly
Many reject the just war theory as it goes against their religion and so they take a pacifist stance. There are
several different sorts of pacifism, but they all include the idea that war and violence are unjustifiable, and
that conflicts should be settled in a peaceful way. An absolute pacifist believes that it is never right to take
part in war, even in self-defence. They think that the value of human life is so high that nothing can justify
killing a person deliberately. To stick to this principle consistently is very hard. It interprets it as unethical to
use violence to rescue an innocent person who is being attacked and may be killed, and this is not a
comfortable moral position. Absolute pacifists usually hold this view as a basic moral or spiritual principle,
without regard to the results of war or violence, however they could logically argue that violence always
leads to worse results than non-violence. On the other hand, conditional pacifists are against war and violence
in principle, but they accept that there may be circumstances when war will be less bad than the alternative.
Conditional pacifists usually base their moral code on Utilitarian principles as they believe it's the bad
consequences that make it wrong to resort to war. An extreme version of this is selective pacifism which only
opposes wars involving unethical warfare such as the use of weapons of mass destruction. On the whole
pacifism is a hard stance to adopt as the morals are based on respect of other people's lives however, when
another person's life is at risk they fail to carry out important moral obligations.


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