Pacifism and moral theory

Main Article Content

Jeff McMahan


There is a nonabsolute or “contingent” form of pacifism that claims that war in contemporary conditions inevitably involves the killing of innocent people on a scale that is too great to be justified. Some contingent pacifists argue that war always involves a risk that virtually everyone that one might kill is innocent – either because one can never be sure that one’s cause is just or because even most of those who fight in wars that lack a just cause are nevertheless not culpable and are therefore innocent in the relevant sense. Others argue that there is no just cause for war that is sufficiently important to justify the large-scale killing of innocent civilians that is unavoidable in war. I seek to refute contingent pacifism by arguing that its theoretical presuppositions are untenable.


Download data is not yet available.

Article Details

How to Cite
McMahan, Jeff. 2010. “Pacifism and Moral Theory”. Diametros, no. 23 (March):44-68.
Special topic – The Ethics of War
Author Biography

Jeff McMahan

Jeff McMahan Rutgers University
Share |


Bennett [1995] – Jonathan Bennett, The Act Itself, Oxford University Press, Oxford 1995.

Kamm [2006a] – Frances M. Kamm, Intricate Ethics: Rights, Responsibilities, and Permissible Harm, Oxford University Press, New York 2006.

Kamm [2006b] – Frances M. Kamm, Terrorism and Several Moral Distinctions, “Legal Theory” (12) 2006: 19-69.

May [2010] – Larry May, Contingent Pacifism and the Moral Risks of Participation in War (unpublished manuscript), 2010.

McMahan [2009a] – Jeff McMahan, Intention, Permissibility, Terrorism, and War, “Philosophical Perspectives” (23) 2009: 345-372.

McMahan [2009b] – Jeff McMahan, Killing in War, Clarendon Press, Oxford 2009.

O’Brien [1990] – Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried, Houghton Mifflin, Boston 1990.

Thomson [1991] – Judith Jarvis Thomson, Self-Defense, “Philosophy and Public Affairs” (20) 1991: 283-310.

Thomson [2008] – Judith Jarvis Thomson, Turning the Trolley, “Philosophy and Public Affairs” (36) 2008: 359-374.