The Western just war tradition, the ethics of collateral damage, and Thomas Aquinas's opposition to killing the innocent

Darwin College Humanities and Social Sciences Group
Daniel H. Weiss, Polonsky-Coexist Senior Lecturer in Jewish Studies in the Faculty of Divinity
The Richard King Room, Darwin College
Tuesday, October 10, 2017 - 14:10 to 15:00

Many scholars today view the causing the death of innocent civilians in warfare as an established part of historical Western tradition of just war, so long as those deaths are 'merely foreseen, but not directly intended'. This attitude towards 'collateral damage' or 'double effect' is often traced back to Thomas Aquinas. However, I argue that, contrary to received scholarly assumptions, Aquinas in fact sharply rejects the legitimacy of such forms of killing. Accordingly, premodern Western thought regarding just war may stand in a much sharper discontinuity with modern just war ethics than has previously been recognized, with significant potential implications for contemporary public debates and ethical dilemmas.

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