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The University of Southampton

Ethical Challenges Lecture 2015 Event

Jeff McMahan
20 October 2015
Avenue Campus University of Southampton SO17 1BF

For more information regarding this event, please email Tracy Storey at .

Event details

Part of the Faculty of Humanities annual series of lectures.

'Wars Are Fought By People, Not States'

Perhaps the most common way of thinking about war is that it is, as Rousseau says, “something that occurs not between man and man, but between States.”  According to this view, states and certain other collectives have interests, desires, goals, and intentions that are not reducible to those of individual persons.  Collectives can also act in ways for which they are responsible and even blameworthy, again in ways that are not reducible to the responsibility or blameworthiness of individuals.  This way of thinking about states in war leads naturally to a conception of soldiers as instruments through which states achieve their purposes rather than as responsible moral agents whose acts of killing must meet a high standard of moral justification.  The lecture will oppose this way of thinking about war and defend an individualist understanding of both states and war, according to which political leaders, soldiers, and civilian citizens are neither absolved of responsibility for their individual contributions to war nor made responsible for the contributions of others simply by virtue of their membership in a collective such as the state or the military.

Organised in collaboration with the Southampton Ethics Centre, and with the support of The Royal Institute of Philosophy.


To view the recording of the lecture please follow this link.

Speaker information

Professor Jeff McMahan,University of Oxford,White's Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Oxford. He has written on a wide-range of topics in ethics, political philosophy, and legal theory. His books include The Ethics of Killing and Killing in War.

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