The Principles of Just War Theory Background

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The Principles of Just War Theory

In the Western cultural tradition, discussions of justifiable reasons for going to war and proper conduct during war go back to the Greek and Roman philosophers Aristotle and Cicero. They are also discussed in the Hebrew Bible and in the Koran. What is now call “Just War Theory” was developed by early Christian philosophers/theologians as they attempted to reconcile two conflicting propositions:
_ purposeful taking of human life is wrong

_ states have a duty to defend their citizens and promote justice.

The theory attempts to lay out the conditions under which states can justifiably go to war. While primarily Christian in origin, the basic principals of Just War theory provide useful touchstones for people of any faith or none.
As philosopher Mark Rigstad points out, “Just war theory is not a settled doctrine. It is a field of critical ethical reflection. That’s why there are as many just war theories as there are just war theorists.” There are also many who reject the whole concept of “just war,” arguing either from a pacifist point of view that killing is always wrong, or from a realpolitk position that force is just another strategy for pursuing national interests.

Is there a justification for acts of war?
Many people who strongly believe that killing is wrong have struggled with the question of whether war can ever be right. .Let’s find out what you think.

What do you think?
Yes No

In self-defense

To protect innocent life

To protect human rights

To overcome extreme violence

To advance your economic interests

Only if you will probably win

Only as a last resort

Acts of war can never be justified

*Be able to defend your responses
Reading #1: Just War Theory
While you are reading respond to the following questions:

  1. What is “just war” theory?

  1. Why do you think the early Christians had to justify war?

  1. In your opinion, why do you believe some people totally reject the idea of a just war?

Reading #2: Ideas of jus in bello in Early Judaism and Islam

While you are reading respond to the following questions:

  1. Why do you think all three religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are concerned about how to behave in war?

  1. Explain why people should be concerned about jus in bello (justice during war). What are some examples of jus in bello?

  1. What does jus post bellum (justice at the end of war) mean in practice? Why is it important?

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