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Werner Lectures on "Noncombatant Immunity Thesis"


Rick Werner
Rick Werner

Richard Werner, the John Stewart Kennedy Professor of Philosophy, delivered a lecture,"Noncombatant Immunity Thesis," on Tuesday, Feb. 19. The lecture was sponsored by the office of the president.

What is the "Noncombatant Immunity Thesis?"  Read on...
Many believe some version of all three of the following sentences:
1. It is wrong to kill, knowingly and not accidentally, innocent persons one does not reasonably believe to pose a threat to one's life.
2. Modern war involves killing, knowingly and not accidentally, innocent persons who the killers do not reasonably believe to pose a threat to them, e.g., children and anti-war activists killed in war.
3. Some modern wars are morally justified.

Yet these three sentences comprise an inconsistent triad. If any two of them are true, the third is false. War Realism denies at least 1. Just War Theory denies at least 2. Pragmatic or Conditional Pacifism, what I call "Pracifism," denies 3. The denial allows each position to attain consistency. While my sentiment lies with Pracifism, philosophical scrutiny reveals that each of the 3 positions is presently tenable. That is, at the present time one can reach a satisfying consistency, depending on the rest of what one believes, with any one of the three positions mentioned, although each comes at a cost. Werner suggests that what matters as much as what we think is what we do. More specifically what matters is which of the three positions finally becomes the unique fully tenable position for one to hold, much as anti-cannibalism, anti-slavery and pro-suffrage views are now the only tenable ones that remain on these subjects. If we understand the notion of reason broadly enough, skeptical, relativist and postmodern fears need not haunt us.

Sponsored by the Office of the President

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