Philosophical Studies

, Volume 172, Issue 12, pp 3313–3333 | Cite as

Liability, community, and just conduct in war

  • Jonathan Parry


Those of us who are not pacifists face an obvious challenge. Common-sense morality contains a stringent constraint on intentional killing, yet war involves homicide on a grand scale. If wars are to be morally justified, it needs be shown how this conflict can be reconciled. A major fault line running throughout the contemporary just war literature divides two approaches to attempting this reconciliation. On a ‘reductivist’ view, defended most prominently by Jeff McMahan, the conflict is largely illusory, since such killing can be justified by aggregating individuals’ ordinary permissions to use force in self- and other-defence. In opposition, a rival ‘nonreductivist’ approach holds that these considerations are insufficient for the task. One prominent version of non-reductivism grounds the permission to kill in combatants’ membership in certain kinds of group or association. The key claim is that participation in certain morally important relationships can provide an independent source of permission for killing in war. This paper argues that non-reductivism should be rejected. It does so by pushing a dilemma onto non-reductivists: if they are successful in showing that the relevant relationships can generate permissions to kill in war, they must also jettison the most intuitive restrictions on conduct in war—the constraint on intentionally killing morally innocent non-combatants most saliently. Since this conclusion is unacceptable, non-reductivism should be rejected.


Just war theory Non-combatant immunity Jeff McMahan Liability Killing Jus in Bello Seth Lazar 



For written comments on drafts of this paper, I am extremely grateful to James Lenman, Jeff McMahan, Seth Lazar, Helen Frowe, Ian Fishback, Michael Neu, Jonathan Quong, and especially Daniel Viehoff, Versions of this paper were presented at the Brave New World graduate conference at the University of Manchester in 2012, the Society for Applied Philosophy Annual Conference in 2012, and two seminars at the University of Sheffield. My thanks to the audience members at those events for helpful discussions, and to Saba Bazargan for commenting on the paper at the SAP conference. Work on this paper was supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, UK and the Society for Applied Philosophy, for which I am very grateful.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Philosophy, Stockholm Centre for the Ethics of War and PeaceStockholm UniversityStockholmSweden

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