SOPhiA 2021

Salzburgiense Concilium Omnibus Philosophis Analyticis

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Programme - Talk

War Without Death: A Critical Perspective on Nonlethal Weapons
(Ethics, )

A A war, in which no one has to die, sounds like a utopia. But this promise is implicit in the term "nonlethal weapons". Despite the promise of considerably altering the ethics of war, nonlethal weapons have never really garnered the attention of ethicists. Here, I shall outline a best-case argument in favour of the use of nonlethal weapons in war and subsequently contrast this argument with practical problems. "Nonlethal weapons" can be defined as weapons "that are intended to incapacitate people without causing death or permanent injury" (Davison, "Non-Lethal" Weapons, 1). From a theoretical standpoint, an ethical justification for the use of nonlethal weapons may look like this: (1) It is morally permissible to intentionally target combatants with (potentially lethal) force in order to stop them from (seriously risking) harming people grievously. (2) Between two weapons that are capable of stopping combatants from (seriously risking) harming people grievously, the weapon that does not harm (or poses less risk of harming) people grievously is to be preferred. (3) Nonlethal weapons are weapons that do not harm (or pose less risk of harming) people grievously. (Concl.) In stopping other persons from (seriously risking) harming people grievously, nonlethal weapons are to be preferred over conventional lethal weapons, since they do not actually harm or pose less risk of harming people grievously. However, the development and use of such technologies shows a more ambivalent picture. The problems are focused around, but not limited to the following aspects: (1) There are no truly "nonlethal" weapons. Variances within the human body itself and among people make it nigh impossible to guarantee nonlethality while also retaining an incapacitating effect. (2) Nonlethal weapons are often designed to include "rheostatic capabilities", i.e. turning them into lethal weapons with the press of a button. (3) In the past, nonlethal weapons have been used by military forces contrary to its design, namely to increase the lethality of conventional weapons. (4) Nonlethal weapons may lead to use of force where one would have otherwise refrained from it, since they reduce the potential for deaths. Additionally, the use of nonlethal weapons may lead to an escalation of the use of force.

Chair: Ada Smurzynska
Time: 12:00-12:30, 11 September 2021 (Saturday)
Location: SR 1.005

Markus Fuchsberger 
(University of Vienna , )



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