Punitive War

22 Pages Posted: 20 Feb 2010

See all articles by Victor Tadros

Victor Tadros

University of Warwick - School of Law

Date Written: February 19, 2010


The primary justification that is normally given for going to war is defensive. If one country attacks another country it is permissible for the second country to defend itself against the attack by the first. Other aims of war are normally presented as subsidiary to this main aim. Whilst it is controversial, many people draw a domestic analogy of some kind between defensive war and domestic self-defence. Work on defensive war now probably outstrips work on self-defence in the philosophy of criminal law in sophistication.

In a way that is not surprising, for many issues that are very important in the context of war, such as whether it is permissible to defend oneself against an innocent attacker or whether the economic benefits of defending oneself can contribute to the proportionality of defending oneself have only rare salience in the context of domestic self-defence. Philosophers of war have, for that reason, been pressed to investigate the philosophical foundations of self-defence with much greater depth than philosophers of the criminal law.

Another rationale that is sometimes given for going to war is punitive. Historically this was the more important justification of war and had a central place in the development of the just war tradition. Whilst the punitive rationale for going to war has recently received some attention from philosophers of war, it is fair to say that work on punishment by those who are primarily interested in domestic criminal law is more advanced than work by those working on war. And again, that is not surprising. For when one focuses on domestic criminal law the justification of punishment is at the centre of ones concerns where in the war context punishment is normally seen as at most a supplement to the main focus on self-defence. As my main area of study is the philosophy of criminal law, when I think about war it makes sense for me to attempt a contribution to the question of punitive war. To what extent can war be justified as punishment? I hope both to show problems with answers to this question that have been given by philosophers of war and to help to advance the agenda in the light of my own views about the justification of punishment.

Keywords: war, moral rationales, criminal law, philosophy

Suggested Citation

Tadros, Victor, Punitive War (February 19, 2010). Warwick School of Law Research Paper No. 2010/03, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1555722 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1555722

Victor Tadros (Contact Author)

University of Warwick - School of Law ( email )

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