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Abstract

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.

In: European Review of International Studies

Abstract

This special issue argues in favor of a new approach to the study of norms of warfare, which combines a normative analysis of ethical problems arising in war with an explanatory analysis of the use of force. Norms of warfare go as far back as Antiquity, and their study has followed a long historical path. In recent years, the ethics of war, mostly grounded in philosophy, has considerably expanded as a field. Notwithstanding such efforts to refine our normative knowledge of what should be just norms for the use of force, we argue that a more interdisciplinary approach is required to orient the study of the laws of war. In this Special Issue, proposals are made that, along with normative analysis, bring to the discussion not only disciplines such as political science and international relations, but also social theory, psychology and the neurosciences. We argue from a non-ideal perspective, that in order for norms to be just, they need to be ‘plausible’ for those who should abide by them. They also need to make sense in the context of democratic societies that favor a pluralistic debate on justice and ethics. Epistemically, we argue that, in order to understand if norms are plausible and just, reducing the gap between the normative and the empirical is required.

Open Access
In: European Review of International Studies