A Critical Analysis of Michael Walzer's Just War Theory

Dissertation, The University of Arizona (1980)
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Abstract

Unfortunately, Walzer does not always formulate his war principles in light of his fundamental commitment to human rights, and where he fails to do so, supreme emergencies and nuclear deterrence, I argue that his account becomes incoherent. ;At bottom, Walzer supposes, in these instances, that while individual rights may not be overriden for purely utilitarian reasons, rights may, nevertheless, be overridden for the sake of the political community. What this amounts to, for Walzer, is the following claim: that it is more just to secure the rights of a collection of individuals than it is to secure the rights of one individual. If so, it is morally permissible to suspend some individual rights for the sake of many individual rights. And even though I will hold that this argument is very persuasive, I will suggest that it is mistaken from a moral point of view which takes human rights to be morally conclusive. ;In this essay I attempt to examine critically Michael Walzer's just war theory. I begin by pointing out what I take to be philosophically sound about his conception; in particular, his philosophical commitment to a doctrine of human rights as being morally decisive for questions of war. He argues, and I think correctly, that questions of justified wars and justified means within wars are ultimately questions about whether or not human rights are being respected

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