The Philosophy Of War

The Philosophy of War

Presenter: John Pope

War has been around since humans started walking the earth. Many people accept it as ‘normal human behaviour’, and others see it as a political tool. Some think war is something that will someday disappear like dueling and slavery.

Background:

The Cataclysmic school of thought, which was espoused by Leo Tolstoy in his epic novel War and Peace, sees war as a bane on humanity – whether avoidable or inevitable – which serves little purpose outside of causing destruction and suffering, and which may cause drastic change to society.

The Eschatological school of thought sees all wars (or all major wars) as leading to some goal, and asserts that some final conflict will someday resolve the path followed by all wars and result in a massive upheaval of society and a subsequent new society free from war. The Marxist concept of a communist world ruled by the proletariat after a final worldwide revolution is an example of the global theory, and the Christian concept of an Armageddon war which will usher in the second coming of Christ and the final defeat of Satan is an example.

The Political school of thought, of which Carl von Clausewitz was a proponent, sees war as a tool of the state. In On War, Clausewitz says war is “politics by different means”.

Realists will typically hold that systems of morals and ethics which guide individuals within societies cannot realistically be applied to societies as a whole to govern the way they, as societies, interact with other societies. Hence, a state’s purposes in war is simply to preserve its national interest. This kind of thinking is similar to Niccolò Machiavelli’s philosophy.

Links:

The Philosophy of War – http://www.iep.utm.edu/war/
Jeffrey Gordon – “Is War Inevitable?” http://www.philosophynow.org/issue66/Is_War_Inevitable

Ideas:

  1. What is a “just war”?
  2. Was the nuclear bomb that destroyed Hiroshima simply part of war, or was it institutional terrorism? The US Army field manual defines terrorism as “The use of violent force against an unarmed civilian population for political gain.”
  3. We have eradicated dueling and slavery. We consider this progress. Is eradicating war also possible?
  4. Philosopher Bertrand Russell refused to participate in the First World War claiming he was a pacifist, but he agreed with the purpose of the Second World War because he claimed it was the only way to stop Hitler. Was Russell a pacifist or not?

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