Today on Public Ethics Radio, we discuss the role that civilian casualties play in assessing the justice of war.
For a war to be just, it must satisfy what is known as the proportionality principle. In a disproportionate war, the harms caused by going to war are so evil that they outweigh the benefits of an otherwise worthy goal. Considerations of proportionality are also relevant to the assessment of particular tactics undertaken in an ongoing war.
To help us understand how this weighing of harms and benefits works, we spoke to the distinguished just war scholar Jeff McMahan. McMahan is a Professor of Philosophy at Rutgers University. He has published widely on just war theory and defensive violence, and many of his articles are available through his website. His recent views on proportionality are discussed in, among others, his essay, “Just Cause for War.”