The Ethical Experience of War

Convenor: Dr Sam Clark, PPR, Lancaster

What ethical demands are made by the first-personal experience of war? How do they relate to rules governing war? How should our engagement with war inform our ethics in general?

Recent moral philosophy underwent a ‘virtue revolution’ against legalism, and for attention to the moral psychology of action and valuing, the good life not just right action, and first-personal experience over the impersonal or third- personal. But in contrast, mainstream ethics of war remains focussed on finding, clarifying, and applying rules for war.

This leaves out much of what is philosophically interesting and demanding about war. The human experience of war is a rich field for understanding human life, and there is a huge amount of relevant experiential material in history, fiction, psychiatry, anthropology, journalism, poetry, and life-writing, which we need to bring into contact with the ethics of war if we are to begin to develop either a full philosophy of war, or a full understanding of ethics.

This panel will address this gap with philosophical attention to experiential material about war and to first-personal perspectives on war. It will begin a much-needed expansion of the philosophy of war to include the experience of war, and to address the distinctive problems it raises.

Potential topics for papers include:

  • War experience and self-knowledge
  • Battle as transformative experience
  • Soldiering and well-being
  • Prewar vs soldier selfhood
  • Military virtues
  • Pluralism and the distinctive goods of soldiering
  • Collective and individual action at various scales (platoon, division, army, the D-Day landings…) and using various techniques and motives (ritual, automatism, honour, comradeship…)
  • Collective and individual responsibility
  • Collective passion and solidarity
  • Soldiering as work and as a job
  • Non-soldier experiences of war (children, irregulars, war reporters and photographers, the home front, civilians in occupied areas…)
  • War and the experience of race, class, and gender
  • The experience of doing and being subject to violence
  • War memoirs