Eliminative Killing and the Targeting of Noncombatants Comments on Seth Lazar’s Sparing Civilians
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At the heart of Seth Lazar’s arguments in support of what he calls Moral Distinction – ‘In war, with rare exceptions, killing noncombatants is worse than killing combatants’ – is his treatment of eliminative and opportunistic killing. He adopts the standard line, that eliminative killing is easier to justify than opportunistic killing. And he acknowledges that there are various circumstances in which one might be able to justify killing noncombatants on eliminative grounds. Nonetheless, he relies on the notion of a mixed kind of agency to argue that intentionally killing civilians is normally ‘more opportunistic than intentionally killing soldiers’, and is therefore normally more wrongful. I argue that his argument in favor of this claim fails. If we distinguish objectively available reasons from subjectively motivating ones, and pay attention to the limited relevance of subjectively motivating reasons, then it becomes clear that mixed agency cannot do the sort of work for just war theory that Lazar wants it to do. This failure need not impugn other parts of his defense of Moral Distinction. But it takes the heart out of his defense of it, putting a greater burden on the other parts of his argument.