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Killing in War (Uehiro Series in Practical Ethics) Paperback – 3 Feb 2011


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Product details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford; Reprint edition (3 Feb 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 019960357X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199603572
  • Product Dimensions: 21.3 x 1.3 x 13.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 499,656 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Review

McMahan's outstanding and readable book (Lionel K. McPherson, Mind)

McMahan makes his arguments with the meticulous logical care of analytical philosophy reminiscent of Derek Parfit's path-breaking work, (Benjamin Mitchell, The Journal of Politics)

This is a good book, well-informed, carefully written and full of insight, scholarship and tough argument. It will certainly stimulate extensive debate amongst philosophers. (Tony Coady, Australian Book Review)

About the Author

Jeff McMahan is Professor of Philosophy at Rutgers University. He works primarily in ethics and political philosophy, and occasionally in metaphysics and legal theory.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Alexander Sokol on 21 Aug 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In "Killing in War", McMahans main concern is with the moral equality of combatants. The moral equality of combatants refer to the hypothesis that soldiers are equally liable to being attacked and killed, no matter whether they are fighting on a just or an unjust side of the war. McMahan argues that the traditional assumption of the moral equality of combatants, of which for example Michael Walzer in "Just and Unjust Wars" is a major proponent, is false, and that this has considerable implication for the moral status of the acts committed on either side in any war with both just and unjust sides.

McMahans ideas are highly original and for the most part clearly stated. The book is divided into five chapters, where the second chapter constitutes the major part of McMahans arguments: he puts forth a good deal of different arguments for the moral equality of combatants and dismisses them all. McMahans arguments are very intelligent, original and convincing, and he generally is very objective in his thought and does not let himself be decieved by conventional thinking. It is this willingness to devy convention which is the major force of the book.

Apart from the moral equality of combatants, McMahan also discusses possible excuses for unjustified behavior, mostly excuses made from combatants on the unjust side of a war. He also considers civilian immunity at length, and gives some very interesting arguments for why absolute civilian immunity is unfounded.

A weakness of the book is that it at times is very dense and academic. Particularly in the fourth chapter on the moral status of different types of threatening combatants, the text is difficult reading, perhaps unnecessarily so.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Mike on 3 Oct 2013
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I bought this book as a core text for my philosophy dissertation on war ethics. Contrary to the standard model of warfare, famously publicised by Michael Walzer, Jeff McMahan provides us with an alternative account: a model of warfare that shifts the moral responsibility of conduct in, and leading to, war to include the individual. Military action as a response to political problems is coming under increasing scrutiny and the ethics of such action are becoming of increasing importance. Although I do not necessarily agree with all of McMahan's views presented here, I would highly recommend that anyone interested in political philosophy and the military read a copy of this book.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Johanna Ohlsson on 25 Nov 2014
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 5 reviews
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Reevaluating some just war dogmas 28 Dec 2009
By Spencer Case - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Actual rating 4.5

Anyone seriously interested in the just war tradition is wrong not to be familiar with Jeff McMahan's work on the topic. In this work, McMahan goes after some sacred cows that virtually all non-pacifist writers about the ethics of war have taken for granted for centuries on surprisingly weak ground. Foremost among these is the idea of the moral equality of combatants; that is, that combatants on both sides of a given war are moral equals regardless of whether they are fighting for a just cause or an unjust cause.

The traditional view has it that, upon becoming combatants, combatants abdicate some of their right not to be killed in exchange for an expanded set of permissible actions, namely, the right to kill. McMahan denies that combatants on the just side of a war actually do this. If their cause is just, he argues, why should it be more permissible to kill them than "innocent" civilians? After all, both are innocent in the relevant manner.

I find McMahan is unbelievably presuasive in making this argument. If the book leaves anything to be desired it is that it is too narrow. We never really get a full-fledged account of justice of war. In fairness, the book never set out to do this. Still, I felt like a broader account would have been more fulfilling.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Defending common sense when it's not so common 4 Feb 2011
By Nan Chen - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is an excellent book on just war theory or the ethics of war. It touches on all major aspects of the current debates within the morality of war both the morality of going to war (jus ad bellum) and conduct in war (jus in bello). The major thesis is one that I don't find all that surprising but it maybe surprising to many others: that unjust combatants don't have the same moral standing as just combatants. Many of the traditional just war theorists, and how international law sees it as well, both just and unjust combatants have equal moral standing on the battle field and both are permitted to kill each other. But McMahan argues (persuasively) that all of the available arguments to support this claim is deficient in one way or another. McMahan takes a very "fine grained" approach to attribution of blame and responsibility in the conduct of war and also its causes, meaning that his approach seeks to make nuanced distinctions between the moral complexities of wars while many other theorists have used much coarser-grained approaches such as grouping all civilian non combatants together or all combatants together as to their moral standing, etc.

Other important findings include: 1. That many of us are likely far more culpable and responsible for the unjust actions of our government in war than we often (would like to) believe and that this has important consequences for our moral standing. 2. That not all combatants, both within just groups and within unjust groups, share equal moral standings (some are far more culpable and responsible than others). 3. That some civilian non combatants are (though rarely) justifiably liable to be attacked by just combatants, and here McMahan gives a contemporary example and a historical example of non combatants that fits this criteria for this kind of moral liability.

Where I felt the book could have done a little better was that there were some parts of it that was quite philosophically convoluted. Though still well written, these parts could have used some (preferably real) examples sprinkled in between the arguments. Very complicated moral nuances are distinguished and discussed between the different kinds of rights and circumstances that are relevant. They are examined in depth from every direction possible but the lack of examples in some parts makes those sections dry and seem too "ivory tower." But this is a minor quibble as the work is quite well written in general.

McMahan (here and elsewhere) argues from analogy (as many just war theorists do) between the morality of personal self-defense and that of war. Much of his argument depends on a close analogy but I would also have liked for McMahan to talk more about the glaring dis analogy between the rare (perhaps only hypothetical presently) cases of military occupation without intent or reasonable likelihood of deaths or serious bodily injury to anyone on the just side. McMahan agrees that occupation of one's ancestral lands offer sufficiently good moral reason to kill potential or actual unjust occupiers. But if that seems to be at tension with laws and their moral foundation in self-defense for no state (except maybe Texas, Florida and a few other states) allows killing to defend property alone but only if the perpetrator intentionally threatens someone's life or gives reasonable threat of serious bodily injury is lethal self-defense allowed. If a foreign unjust power decides it only wants some other nation's land to occupy, perhaps for the resources on that land, but has no intent to physically harm any of the citizens of that land, then what is the reasoning behind allowing the citizens of that land to use deadly force to defend against the occupation? The import is that this could open up room for a defense of a weak kind of pacifism which McMahan does not discuss in depth. This question I think could be answered competently by McMahan or other just war theorists while maintaining the general analogy but it is one minor lacuna that kept me unsatisfied.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Thorough, readable, creative, and well argued 20 May 2013
By Ben - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Jeff McMahan challenges the reigning orthodoxies regarding the morality of killing in war. One of his main theses, for example, is that (usually) it is not permissible for combatants fighting without a just cause to attack combatants fighting with a just cause -- unjust combatants who do otherwise violate the rights of just combatants. The book is engaging, thorough, readable, creative, and well argued. I highly recommend it.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Well-written discourse on an important topic 17 Dec 2012
By Taylor - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Jeff McMahan's book is a well-written discourse on an important topic that provides well-structured and considered problem of the individual warrier's responsibility for fighting in an unjust war.
Five Stars 13 Oct 2014
By KEVIN BUTON - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
NTR
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