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Pre-emptive War: e.g. Should we nuke Tehran?

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See posts by KendallJ, for example.

I read KendallJ's posts, and he explicitly rejected your straw man.

I am greatly concerned with the assertion that "once we declare a moral war - any means of achieving victory are moral". Also, with "we don't need to respect or acknowledge other's rights when in times of conflict." Such statements are contradiction to what I have learned about philosophy, especially morality/ethics.

Well, one I haven't stated either of these things, but the fact that you continue to assert that this is the argument you are fighting troubles me.

Nowhere do I see KendallJ making the claims you have accused him of making. So I will ask you again to link to your evidence. Otherwise, I think you should stop pounding on your straw man and rethink your position.

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Are you asking for an exhaustive list, or a general characterization? I assume you know what "threat" means; then threatening the US is making a threat against the US (in part or in whole). For exampl

I'm aware of most of those imaginary claims you consider "knowledge of the situation". I just happen to know they're not real, so I don't consider them when passing judgement on Iran.

If this was true it would be an easy matter to overthrow oppressive states. This won't work because you have reversed cause and effect. Philosophy is what drives history. It is the funda

Nowhere do I see KendallJ making the claims you have accused him of making. So I will ask you again to link to your evidence.

First, I would like to stress that I am not picking on KendallJ. This is not personal. Various people share this point of view.

This is a second attempt to debate this topic. Some quotes from the first:

Ethically, and morally, any targeting of civilians is a military tactic, and the option is up to the military strategists prosecuting the war, once a morally justified war has been initiated.

The moral responsiblity for any innocent victims in the case of self defense, such as war, lies solely with the initiator of force.

The ethical purpose here is to eliminate the threat, and yes, you will have to violate individual rights to do this (wether "unavoidable" or not), and the moral responsibility for ***all*** rights violations lies with the agressor.

To the extent that a particular civilian targeting tactic does or does not contribute to the aim of eliminating a threat, we can discuss this, but *not as an ethical issue*.

Some quotes from this time arround:

Unlike Sophia, I think the rationality of killing women and children is one determined by the military science. That is, morality can define the proper objectives of a defending army, and military science decides if a particular tactic is effective in acheiving them.

re: same topic

I am not saying that the choices here are amoral, but that we must be careful not to confuse the heirarchy upon which morality enters into the picture. That is, morality does apply to some aspect of the decision. The decision technically is a moral decision. But there are all sorts of examples of aspects of decisions which are untouched by the moral considerations.
Edited by ~Sophia~
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That is a good point.

Good. Bear it in mind, especially...

Underline mine - I am still chocking on that one.

In the realm of individuals who are citizens of the same country there is a limit imposed by morality to the actions one can take in self defense. The existance of this limit is not preventing anyone from properly defending themselves.

I'm not sure what you mean. If I am acting in self-defense to shoot a man who is trying to murder me, then there is no limitation imposed morally by human shields he may have - innocent or otherwise. I must shoot him to end the threat to my life, and if I miss then the fault for any damage is his and not mine.

It is the influence of altruism (and NOT morality) which is interfering with proper self defence and unnecessarily risking soldier's lives. There is no conflict between the moral and the practical even while at war.

Again, I do not advocate a rejection of morality, and I do not think Kendall does either. I believe his language is figurative. You may want to ask him.

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This is a second attempt to debate this topic. Some quotes from the first:

As we discussed, Sophia, he doesn't mean any "any." He means any that are of military necessity. Just like with the animal rights thing. If it's totally gratuitous, then it falls under a different category morally and is immoral for reasons unrelated to this discussion.

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Sophia, thanks for the quotes. I, however, don't see how they support your claims (which I quoted in my previous post). KendallJ's comments should be understood in the context of war with an enemy nation(s). Thus, any military actions would be aimed at submitting or destroying the enemy nation(s) and are therefore limited in nature by that criteria. Nobody's arguing for the use of "unlimited" force. The amount of force applied to an enemy nation is determined primarily by the strength of the enemy and their willingness to continue fighting us. Historically, victory in war has required much more than the destruction of one enemy city. If the enemy does not surrender after one city has been destroyed, then we should destroy another, and another, until that nation chooses to surrender, or it is rendered a non-threat. This is not advocating the use of "unlimited" force. It is advocating the use of necessary force. When a nation surrenders unconditionally, then it is unnecessary to continue destroying their cities. For you have achieved victory. But if an enemy nation refuses to surrender, then it is necessary to continue applying greater and greater force until they do.

Edited by MisterSwig
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This is not advocating the use of "unlimited" force.

We were arguing the morality of this situation and not what would be a good/rational tactic. And if you say that morality does not play a role in certain tactical decisions - that opens a door to having wider rights regardless if you would make use of them or or not.

My argument has been that the means are not exempt from moral evaluation - that morality is a limiting factor when it comes to how much force one is justified to use in self-defence and that rights are relevant to a rational person (one would respect them) regardless if others can secure them or not.

I think as the discussion progressed it clarified issues for both me and KendallJ (and hopefully others).

It is advocating the use of necessary force. When a nation surrenders unconditionally, then it is unnecessary to continue destroying their cities. For you have achieved victory. But if an enemy nation refuses to surrender, then it is necessary to continue applying greater and greater force until they do.

I don't disagree with that.

Edited by ~Sophia~
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I'm not sure what you mean. If I am acting in self-defense to shoot a man who is trying to murder me, then there is no limitation imposed morally by human shields he may have - innocent or otherwise. I must shoot him to end the threat to my life, and if I miss then the fault for any damage is his and not mine.

You are correct.

The law of self-defense is governed by an objective test meaning it must be reasonable for you to use a deadly force. There is validity to the defense bystander/shield concept but this is a narrow context. Shooting an assailant in self defense and the bullet blowing through and hitting someone else is a valid example yet mowing down a mall full of shoppers to hit him wouldn't be. That is what I mean by there being an objective limit.

Free country must do what is necessary to stop and repel the aggression. Absolutely! But this does not mean it has a moral carte blanche when it comes to its tactics. The objective is to win the war - not to engage in a slaughter (unless it is absolutely necessary). If other, less violent means, are possible to force the enemy to surrender (those which would spare more innocent lives) - they ought to be used instead. If we engage in an excessive force (in the meaning in which I am using it) to achieve the SAME objective, we are immoral for doing so because we have committed unnecessary killing.

It is not a sacrifice to choose the less excessive option if both would bring our enemy to surrender and our technology is advanced enough at this point that it also does not mean risking soldier's lives (after you reject altruism).

I am calling for employing only as much force as is necessary to accomplish our objectives. I want to be able to say: "we have taken innocent lives but have done so only out of necessity". Specifically targeting the civilian population is not evil if that's what's absolutely required to end the violence.

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I am calling for employing only as much force as is necessary to accomplish our objectives. I want to be able to say: "we have taken innocent lives but have done so only out of necessity". Specifically targeting the civilian population is not evil if that's what's absolutely required to end the violence.

Do you have an algorithm for determining the least amount for force necessary to defend yourself, you family, your countrymen (on whom you prosperity rests)? In the real world, information is generally incomplete and uncertain, particularly information pertaining to military matters. The phrases "the fog of battle" and "the fog of war" comes to mind.

In a similar vein how do you distinguish between targeting "innocent civilians" and not caring about collateral damage? The results look the same.

Bob Kolker

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Do you have an algorithm for determining the least amount for force necessary to defend yourself, you family, your countrymen (on whom you prosperity rests)? In the real world, information is generally incomplete and uncertain, particularly information pertaining to military matters. The phrases "the fog of battle" and "the fog of war" comes to mind.

In a similar vein how do you distinguish between targeting "innocent civilians" and not caring about collateral damage? The results look the same.

Bob Kolker

Right, because in times of serious human conflict reality is unknowable and thus objective decisions impossible.

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Right, because in times of serious human conflict reality is unknowable and thus objective decisions impossible.

Not unknowable, but very, very uncertain within most contexts of war. And, I would add, not realistically knowable in most contexts given the time and cost constraints involved.

If someone is throwing grenades at you from a trench, you don't know how many innocent children are in the trench when you lob one back, nor should you invest any time in figuring that out.

When a child runs up to your platoon quickly with a "shoe shine box" you have no certain knowledge of what is actually in the box. The fact that there objectively is or is not a bomb in the box has nothing whatsoever to do with the level of knowledge a soldier has regarding it when he must make a horrible decision.

The same uncertainty applies at all levels. Certainly generals want the most accurate information they can find. They spend a great deal of resources on information gathering. But that does not give them actual certainty with regard to the objective truth. They must make decisions with a limited set of knowledge and and a limited amount of time while under a great deal of stress. To hold them morally accountable under such circumstances is unjust.

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Not unknowable, but very, very uncertain within most contexts of war. And, I would add, not realistically knowable in most contexts given the time and cost constraints involved.

If someone is throwing grenades at you from a trench, you don't know how many innocent children are in the trench when you lob one back, nor should you invest any time in figuring that out.

When a child runs up to your platoon quickly with a "shoe shine box" you have no certain knowledge of what is actually in the box. The fact that there objectively is or is not a bomb in the box has nothing whatsoever to do with the level of knowledge a soldier has regarding it when he must make a horrible decision.

The same uncertainty applies at all levels. Certainly generals want the most accurate information they can find. They spend a great deal of resources on information gathering. But that does not give them actual certainty with regard to the objective truth. They must make decisions with a limited set of knowledge and and a limited amount of time while under a great deal of stress. To hold them morally accountable under such circumstances is unjust.

Right but we are taking here about making the decision to use weapons of mass destruction when not under direct attack (as that situation is clear). The time is not necessarily limited in that context and because of the maginitude of force there should be a great deal of certainty involved when it comes to what is necessary and what is not. And yes mistakes can happen but there is a difference between 1) making a mistake while trying to be the most objective and just as possible and 2) not even trying.

Edited by ~Sophia~
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Right but we are taking here about making the decision to use weapons of mass destruction when not under direct attack (as that situation is clear). The time is not necessarily limited in that context and because of the maginitude of force there should be a great deal of certainty involved when it comes to what is necessary and what is not. And yes mistakes can happen but there is a difference between 1) making a mistake while trying to be the most objective and just as possible and 2) not even trying.

War, on the macro level is "under direct attack". The time is limited in the same sense because as a leader with no crystal ball, the when, where, and magnitude of the next attack of your enemy is not usually known.

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My argument has been that the means are not exempt from moral evaluation - that morality is a limiting factor when it comes to how much force one is justified to use in self-defence and that rights are relevant to a rational person (one would respect them) regardless if others can secure them or not.

I agree that the means are not exempt from moral evaluation, but keep in mind that the moral evaluation is not exempt from objectivity. When you evaluate a man's actions, you cannot disregard his personal context. What is proper for one man may not always be proper, or even possible, for another. Likewise with nations.

If I were to colonize the moon and live there possessing advanced--but not necessarily accurate--weapons that could reach earth, and some religious dictatorship on earth threatened to blow me up because I'm an atheist, then it might be necessary for me to destroy half the earth in order to defend myself. If the people of earth tolerated religious dictatorships and allowed some nation to threaten me with destruction, why should I sacrifice my own life in order to save them?

When confronted with the emergency choice of self-defense or death, you should not let "morality" limit the amount of force you are willing to use. Rather, you should let reality dictate what needs to be done, and do it. That is how you will save your life, and, besides, what good is morality if you are dead?

Ayn Rand said that "morality ends where a gun begins." I'd be interested to know whether you agree with this statement. If so, then how do you propose to use "morality" to limit the amount of self-defensive force you would use in an emergency situation?

Edited by MisterSwig
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Shooting an assailant in self defense and the bullet blowing through and hitting someone else is a valid example yet mowing down a mall full of shoppers to hit him wouldn't be. That is what I mean by there being an objective limit.

I disagree. If "mowing down a mall full of shoppers" was less of a risk to my life then it would be a valid example. It doesn't matter if he has one human shield or 1000. Or 1,000,000. It's not at all a matter of who gets in the crossfire - it's exclusively a matter of what will best save my life and end the threat to it.

But this does not mean it has a moral carte blanche when it comes to its tactics. The objective is to win the war - not to engage in a slaughter (unless it is absolutely necessary).

Correct, tactics are limited by tactical necessity. Not carte blanche. Not "whatever you feel like." Just like animals not having rights doesn't give carte blanche to engage in depravity.

I am calling for employing only as much force as is necessary to accomplish our objectives. I want to be able to say: "we have taken innocent lives but have done so only out of necessity". Specifically targeting the civilian population is not evil if that's what's absolutely required to end the violence.

The trouble with this language is that it makes it sound like we have some kind of primary responsibility to determine the minimum level of force necessary that won't risk our soldiers or waste our resources. That is entirely not how a proper self-defense operates. Since the primary goal is to protect our nation, then our soldiers, then our resources (the latter especially because they may be needed to save the former) then the focus of a proper strategy is to defeat the enemy by using the least amount of risk and resources on our side.

Wars can't really afford the luxury of seeking minimum force. That is almost always, tactically speaking, courting risk or expending resources that we may need to save our lives later on. We have to do what it takes and not give the slightest hesitation. Hesitation is death. If civilians in enemy nations want to live then they had better get busy taking care of that themselves. It's not our job to save them.

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I agree that the means are not exempt from moral evaluation, but keep in mind that the moral evaluation is not exempt from objectivity. When you evaluate a man's actions, you cannot disregard his personal context. What is proper for one man may not be proper for another. Likewise with nations.

If I were to colonize the moon and live there possessing advanced--but not necessarily accurate--weapons that could reach earth, and some religious dictatorship on earth threatened to blow me up because I'm an atheist, then it might be necessary for me to destroy half the earth in order to defend myself. If the people of earth tolerated religious dictatorships and allowed some nation to threaten me with destruction, why should I sacrifice my own life in order to save them?

Your last sentance/question is not fair as I am not advocating altruism. Also, notice that your scenario involves advanced but not necessarily accurate weapons that could reach the earth as the only means with which you can defend yourself. What if you also had advanced and highly accurate weapons at your disposal and thus ability to destroy this religious dictatorship located in the northern part of earth without blowing up the rest of the earth in the process, some of which is not religious?

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What if you also had advanced and highly accurate weapons at your disposal and thus ability to destroy this religious dictatorship located in the northern part of earth without blowing up the rest of the earth in the process, some of which is not religious?

Then it is in your self-interest to use the more accurate weapons, because that would eliminate the enemy faster. But that is not my point. My point is that the amount of justifiable self-defensive force depends on the victim's specific, personal context, not some abstract idea of "morality."

By the way, I added two additional paragraphs to my previous post after you replied. I hope you will respond to the last question, in particular.

Edited by MisterSwig
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I disagree. If "mowing down a mall full of shoppers" was less of a risk to my life then it would be a valid example. It doesn't matter if he has one human shield or 1000. Or 1,000,000. It's not at all a matter of who gets in the crossfire - it's exclusively a matter of what will best save my life and end the threat to it.

Yes, obviously we disagree. Because indiscriminantly mowing down a mall full of shoppers with a mashine gun is not something I consider moral in that scenario. When another's life is at stake you have only a right to the amount of force which you require to save your own life.. and not the amount which would put you at a lower risk at the expence of many innocent lives.

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Ayn Rand said that "morality ends where a gun begins." I'd be interested to know whether you agree with this statement. If so, then how do you propose to use "morality" to limit the amount of self-defensive force you would use in an emergency situation?

I have answered that already but I will again. I absolutely agree.

What is an emergency situation?

It is a situation in which one is forced to choose between saving your own life and acting morally meaning a moral option is not available. Under those circumstances your choice is amoral. If a moral choice is available by definition this is not an emergency situation in which 'morality ends'.

Then it is in your self-interest to use the more accurate weapons, because that would eliminate the enemy faster.

It is always in rational man's self interest to respect other's rights.

My point is that the amount of justifiable self-defensive force depends on the victim's specific, personal context, not some abstract idea of "morality."

I don't disagree.

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Yes, obviously we disagree. Because indiscriminantly mowing down a mall full of shoppers with a mashine gun is not something I consider moral in that scenario. When another's life is at stake you have only a right to the amount of force which you require to save your own life.. and not the amount which would put you at a lower risk at the expence of many innocent lives.

There, finally, we have found our disagreement in no uncertain terms.

I believe that despite your protestations to the contrary, you are indeed (and now clearly) advocating altruism. You have stated that there exists a moral duty to sacrifice one's safety to the lives of (innocent) others when threatened.

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There, finally, we have found our disagreement in no uncertain terms.

You have stated that there exists a moral duty to sacrifice one's safety to the lives of (innocent) others when threatened.

This is false dichotomy. Either I have a total disregard for the lives of innocent others when I am in danger or I am an altruist. I have expected such response sooner or later. No shock and no surprise here.

I would not have hesitated to shot a child if that would have saved my life (maybe not my own child.. I don't even want to contemplate that scenario) but I sure would not have been shooting without regard at a busy shopping mall or daycare. That does not make me an altruist. That makes me a moral human being who recognizes the fact that I don't have a right to take an innocent life unless that saves my own life.

The Objectivist ethics:

Men have the right to use physical force only in retalitation and only against those who initiate its use. The ethical principle is simple and clear cut: it is a difference between murder and self defence.

Rand once said that she would not have taken an innocent life if her life was in danger (she said that she would have taken many if her husband's life was in danger). According to you - Rand was an altruist (and even more so than me it looks like - again according to you). Given what she thought she sure would not have agreed with your idea of having the right to take out a whole mall full of random people rather than trying to more directly shot at the killer - sparing innocent lives as much as you can (perhaps you could not do it fully) while at the same time making sure you save your own.

I think our differences are profound on this issue and I don't see any further benefit to me from debating it with you.

Edited by ~Sophia~
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Inspector,

You confuse the respect for the rights of others with altruism. Some people make a similar mistake when it comes to kindness or good will.

But in fact altruism makes all 3: kindness, good will, or respect for other's rights - impossible.

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Rand once said that she would not have taken an innocent life if her life was in danger (she said that she would have taken many if her husband's life was in danger). According to you - Rand was an altruist (and even more so than me it looks like - again according to you).

Yes. She also definitely was (an altruist), IF her reason for not wanting to take those innocent lives was about respecting their rights.

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This is false dichotomy. Either I have a total disregard for the lives of innocent others when I am in danger or I am an altruist. I have expected such response sooner or later. No shock and no surprise here.

I would not have hesitated to shot a child if that would have saved my life (maybe not my own child.. I don't even want to contemplate that scenario) but I sure would not have been shooting without regard at a busy shopping mall or daycare. That does not make me an altruist. That makes me a moral human being who recognizes the fact that I don't have a right to take an innocent life unless that saves my own life.

Sophia, do you read what you write?

and not the amount which would put you at a lower risk at the expence of many innocent lives.

According to you - Rand was an altruist (and even more so than me it looks like - again according to you).

I said nothing of the sort. There is a wide chasm between saying that you personally would not do such a thing and saying that there exists a moral imperative to not do it. BlackDiamond's answer to you on this is correct.

Inspector,

You confuse the respect for the rights of others with altruism. Some people make a similar mistake when it comes to kindness or good will.

You're the one that is confused. You've confused yourself into thinking that others have the "right" to make me sacrifice my safety in the act of saving my own life. There is no difference between that - in principle - and making me sacrifice my life to save theirs.

No such "right" exists and thinking that it does is indeed altruism.

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Yes. She also definitely was (an altruist), IF her reason for not wanting to take those innocent lives was about respecting their rights.
I'm trying to parse this. If respect for someone else's rights were involved, how would that make one an altruist? To the extent that rights play a role, altruism is not about respecting the rights of others; altruism is about denying individual rights (to various extents) and accepting an obligation to others that trumps rights (to various extents).... but, maybe the quoted text was a typo? Edited by softwareNerd
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I'm trying to parse this. If respect for someone else's rights were involved, how would that make one an altruist? To the extent that rights play a role, altruism is not about respecting the rights of others; altruism is about denying individual rights (to various extents) and accepting an obligation to others that trumps rights (to various extents).... but, maybe the quoted text was a typo?

If he means what I think he means, he is saying that she would be an altruist if her actions were on the basis that others have a right to demand that she not kill in self-defense. If such a right exists, then yes it is altruism. But she was in no way shape or form claiming that in her statement.

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