Tag: 1000 Word Philosophy

Social Contract Theory

By: David Antonini from 1000-Word Philosophy

When you make an agreement of some significance (e.g., to rent an apartment, or join a gym, or divorce), you typically agree to certain terms: you sign a contract. This is for your benefit, and for the the other party’s benefit: everyone’s expectations are clear, as are the consequences of failing to meet those expectations.

Contracts are common, and some influential thinkers in the “modern” period of philosophy argued that the whole of society is created and regulated by a contract.

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Plato’s Crito: When should we break the law?

By: Spencer Case from 1000-Word Philosophy

Plato’s Crito describes a conversation that takes place in 399 B.C.E. in an Athens prison, where Socrates awaits execution.

Not long before, an assembly of more than 500 Athenian citizens convicted Socrates of corrupting the youth and impiety, essentially failing to respect the gods of the city. Socrates denied these charges. Moreover, he insisted that his public philosophizing, far from being subversive, was for the benefit of Athens and in the service of the god Apollo.

The jury wasn’t convinced, however, and found him guilty. They were further incensed when, during the sentencing stage of the trial, Socrates suggested that his “punishment” should be a lifetime supply of free meals at the prytaneum, or central hearth, an honor typically reserved for Olympic champions and the like. These antics did not play well and Socrates received the death penalty. A religious observance delayed the execution for a few weeks, but it now appears imminent.

Enter Crito, a friend with deep pockets and deeper affection for Socrates. Early one morning, Crito shows up at Socrates’ cell with an escape plan. He bribed the jailer and, with the help of other friends, has arranged for Socrates to be whisked away to Thessaly, another Greek city-state. There Socrates can live out his remaining years in exile with his family, who will also leave Athens. Everything has been taken care of except for the hardest part: convincing Socrates to agree with the plan (43a-44b, 45c).

Anyone who knows Socrates knows that this isn’t going to be easy. Crito is determined to save his friend’s life, however, and so he comes armed with a battery of arguments. Crito knows that Socrates isn’t afraid of death, and so he wisely appeals to considerations that are the most likely to resonate with Socrates: his sense of honor and his obligations to others.

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Just War Theory

Ryan Jenkins from 1000-Word Philosophy gives an account of just war theory.

War is a profoundly destructive institution, yet most of us still believe there are good wars. Authors as far back as Cicero, and in various cultural traditions,[1] have sought to answer this question: When is a war just? The just war tradition (or just war theory) is one subset of military ethics.[2] Recently, interest in just war theory was ignited by Michael Walzer’s Just and Unjust Wars (2006), published in the wake of the Vietnam War. More recently, profound challenges to “traditional” just war theory—under the banner of “revisionism”—have shaken the foundations of the ethics of war (McMahan, 2009; Rodin, 2005). This article will explore the criteria of traditional just war theory before briefly discussing the revisionist school’s recent critiques.

Jus ad Bellum: Justice in the Resort to War

Traditional just war theory concerns itself with two questions: (1) when it is just to go to war and (2) how may a war be justly fought?[3] (These two areas usually go by their Latin names: jus ad bellum and jus in bello, respectively.) This way, we can say that a war was just to declare but fought unjustly, or perhaps vice versa.[4]

When is it just to resort to war? (Notice this moral question is separate from when war is prudent or popular.) Traditionalists hold that a state must satisfy several criteria: just cause, right intention, last resort, proportionality, probability of success, and proper authority.

Theorists usually think the only just cause for declaring war is self-defense: that is, as a response to an actual aggression. Pre-emptive war—declaring war on a state because it is believed they will be a threat—is clearly a Pandora’s box. Instead, we must meet a high evidential burden in order to justify war, and a merely suspected attack is not enough.

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