Law and Philosophy

, Volume 35, Issue 4, pp 365–389 | Cite as

Complicity, Collectives, and Killing in War*

  • Seth Lazar


Recent work on the ethics of war has struggled to simultaneously justify two central tenets of international law: the Permission to kill enemy combatants, and the Prohibition on targeting enemy noncombatants. Recently, just war theorists have turned to collectivist considerations as a way out of this problem. In this paper, I reject the argument that all and only unjust combatants are liable to be killed in virtue of their complicity in the wrongful war fought by their side, and that noncombatants are not permissible targets because they are not complicit. I then argue that just combatants have some reason to direct force against unjust combatants rather than unjust noncombatants, because they should respect the reasonable self-determining decisions of other political communities, when those communities settle on the distribution of a negative surplus of cost for which they are collectively but not individually responsible. These collectivist reasons will not fully justify the Permission and the Prohibition, but they can contribute to that justification.


Armed Force Political Community Cooperative Project Causal Contribution Criminal Joint Enterprise 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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For comments on drafts, thanks to Saba Bazargan, Mark Budolfson, Cécile Fabre, and Adil Haque. Particular thanks to a reviewer for this journal, whose constructive suggestions much improved the paper. My research on this paper was supported by ARC DECRA grant DE130100811.

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Philosophy, Research School of Social SciencesAustralian National UniversityCanberraAustralia

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