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Killing in War


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Table of Contents

1: The Morality of Participation in an Unjust War 2: Arguments for the Moral Equality of Combatants 3: Excuses 4: Liability and the Limits of Self-Defense 5: Civilian Immunity and Civilian Liability

About the Author

Jeff McMahan is Professor of Philosophy at Rutgers University. He works primarily in ethics and political philosophy, and occasionally in metaphysics and legal theory.


`Review from previous edition In this densely argued and superbly written volume, Jeff McMahan provides a comprehensive defence of the claim that moral liability to attack in war follows from responsibility for the threat of harm posed by a war fought without a just cause... McMahan's thesis conflicts with numerous principles central to the currently dominant, though increasingly contested, understanding of just war theory... The comprehensive nature of McMahans discussion... makes clear why those concerned with the morality of killing in war must engage with it. Indeed, I believe that Killing in War ought to replace Michael Walzers venerable Just and Unjust Wars as the text around which practitioners and theorists alike construct debates over the ethics of waging war.' David Leftowitz, Transnational Legal Theory `McMahan's challenge to Just War theory in this gracefully written and challenging presentation is extremely important and deserves close attention... [He] performs an extremely important service in...providing us with a sophisticated and original contribution to the debate. This book will be widely read and debated and deservedly so; anyone working on these topics will have to grapple with McMahan's subtle and important analysis of the issues.' Whitley Kaufman, Ethics `Killing in War is the high-water mark of just war theory since Just and Unjust Wars.' Seth Lazar, Philosophy and Public Affairs `McMahan argues... that there is something terribly wrong with just war theory... By the end of the book, many readers will wonder how anyone could feel otherwise... McMahan develops [his] view with uncommon thoroughness, setting out numerous objections, and presents replies with the comprehensive efficiency of a medieval summa.' Douglas Lackey, Journal of Applied Philosophy `Jeff McMahan has written an important, highly intelligent book... [It is] densely packed with intricate argument, well-informed, carefully written, and full of insight, scholarship, and tough argument.' C. A. J. Coady, Australian Book Review `McMahan's book is a great achievement. His writing is lucid and the book stands as the most comprehensive and sophisticated criticism to date of both the idea of 'moral equality' of combatants and that civilians and soldiers can delegate their moral responsibility for the waging of an unjust war to their government.' Uwe Steinhoff, Cambridge Review of International Affairs `[It is] a commonplace in modern thinking about political obedience and participation in war [that] soldiers aren't responsible for the wars their leaders initiate - however wrongly - and that if they fight in an unjust war, they are free from blame so long as they do so humanely, respecting the rules of discrimination and proportionality. Jeff McMahan's eloquent and rigorously argued book launches a devastating attack on this belief, showing why it cannot be sustained in international law or in the theory of the just war that supports it. As a challenge to the received wisdom, the significance of McMahan's central claim cannot be overstressed.' Christopher Finlay, Political Quarterly `I found this work so convincing that it is difficult to raise many criticisms... Killing in War represents a tremendous achievement from one of today's leading moral philosophers. Never before has a book so swiftly challenged my own views and convinced me that I was in error. I cannot recommend it highly enough.' Thom Brooks, Times Higher Education Supplement `Ultimately, as McMahan expertly demonstrates, there is really nothing - not institutional command, procedural guarantees, the 'special' nature of war itself, the description of combat - that adequately and cleanly differentiates war from non-war. This being so, we need to radically rethink the way we justfy war, the way we fight in war and the agency of the combatants we get to do our fighting for us... McMahan's book urgently needs to be read not only by combatants, to whom McMahan restores a real and profound sense of moral agency and autonomy, but by anyone who has voted for, backed, or declared war of any kind... McMahon's book offers some fine, clear answers' Nina Power, The Philosophers Magazine `Jeff McMahan has written a genuinely revolutionary book... Once advanced, McMahan's thesis seems obvious, and it is his considerable philosophical merit to make us realize how obvious it is... McMahan is a very careful philosopher; as soon as he states a thesis, he thinks of qualifications, objections, and rebuttals... He does not operate from a general theory but proceeds from case to case, weaving an intricate web of subtle distinctions Killing in War is a distinguished contribution to moral theory.' David Gordon, The Mises Review `This book seems to me superb: highly important, gripping to read, and wholly convincing.' Derek Parfit, University of Oxford `McMahan's arguments... are convincing... He has given those interested in military ethics a book that deserves praise... McMahan's writing is always informative, systematic and well-organized. The rich collection of distinctions that he provides makes this book well worth reading carefully' Nick Fotion, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews `Killing in War makes you wonder why the conventional wisdom about the ethics of killing in war has stood for so long. With persuasive arguments, lucidly stated, McMahan mounts a devastating critique of centuries-old orthodoxies. To wage war on a sound ethical basis is much more difficult than we previously thought. Everyone contemplating fighting in a war, or ordering others to do so, should read this book.' Peter Singer, Professor of Bioethics, Princeton University

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