Why the Ethics of War needs the Social Sciences
European Review of International Studies
NL : Brill Publishers
2 (December 2020
227 - 251 p.
ethics, war, norms, hostages, proportionality, sociology, just war tradition, ethics of war theory
This paper argues that, for both sociological and epistemic reasons, the ethics of war needs the social sciences and, accordingly, sets an alternative to the two prevailing approaches in the literature in the ethics of war field, i.e. the just war tradition model and the ethics of war theory. Given what we learn from the factual description of war and its interpretation in the social sciences, and given what their epistemic premises are, both models - and more particularly the second one – fail to address important normative issues that arise in the course of warfare. Based on the discussion of two case studies – states’ policy in the face of hostage-taking and the rule of proportionality – I argue it is important to move beyond the divide between a state-centric approach (the just war tradition) and an individualistic one (the ethics of war theory): it is indispensable to take into consideration other social spheres where norms emerge and find, between those spheres, some ‘overlapping normative ground’. I argue, both sociologically and normatively, that norms rely upon interlocking sets of expectations. I also argue that these social expectations need to be thoroughly examined in order to ascertain the plausibility of norms in warfare. As a conclusion, for reasons that are both sociological and normative, I stress the political importance, within a liberal and knowledge-oriented society, of the access to facts that always need to be interpreted when making normative claims.