What is the traditional understanding of the principle of necessity

Published: 2019-11-25 09:55:46
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McMahan believes that the principle of necessity in the traditional sense is directly linked to the concept of self-defence where it is considered that a defensive act cannot be necessitated hence it is wrong, if there exists an alternative CITATION Jef \l 1033 (McMahan, n.d). However, when there is lack of an alternative that can yield similar defensive outcomes, it becomes necessary. Despite this it still has to be the last resort and it also has to be linked with actual defence. What is more is that the most appropriate defence is the one that causes less harm CITATION Jef \l 1033 (McMahan, n.d).

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Why does McMahan reject the traditional understanding of the principle of necessity?

McMahan believes that threat in its very nature places individuals in harms way making it necessary for them to defend themselves CITATION Jef \l 1033 (McMahan, n.d). He considers that when the lives of individuals are threatened, immediate action is warranted and the first choice of self-defence measure can be arguably the correct one. McMahan believes that the most effective self-defence strategies are the ones that totally immobilise the threat CITATION Jef \l 1033 (McMahan, n.d).

How does McMahan propose we understand the principle of necessity?

In his consideration, McMahan points out that the best defence can at times be an attack CITATION Geo75 \l 1033 (Mavrodes, 1975). He believes that the best way to understand the principle of necessity is that at times it can be reaction based in that it may be in response to the particular threat at the time CITATION Jef \l 1033 (McMahan, n.d). He points out those seeking alternatives of avoiding the threatening harm may not be at times appropriate and that harming or killing the threatening individual can be morally warranted depending on the situation CITATION Jef \l 1033 (McMahan, n.d).

Summary of Mavrodes defence of the principle of Non-combatant immunity?

Mavrodos summarizes the principle of non-combatant immunity from the perspective of justice and just cause CITATION Geo75 \l 1033 (Mavrodes, 1975). He points out that it entails not harming civilians who are not engaged in unjust war especially if they do not advocate for it CITATION Geo75 \l 1033 (Mavrodes, 1975). In his perspective he points out that justice and just cause indicate that warfare is justifiable, however the same principles have to be considered when considering impact of war on civilians CITATION Geo75 \l 1033 (Mavrodes, 1975).

Why do you think Mavrodes supports a ban on intentionally killing civilians, but not a ban on unintentionally killing civilians?

Mavrodes supports the ban on intentionally killing civilians because he believes that it is not a just cause CITATION Geo75 \l 1033 (Mavrodes, 1975). This means that it is immoral because it entails engaging in actions that do not provide the civilians with any form of justice. However, unintentional killing of civilians is morally acceptable because it is not done willingly or knowingly CITATION Geo75 \l 1033 (Mavrodes, 1975). In times of war, it is inevitable that warring partners may engage in unintentional killing and that is why it is stated that collateral damages are inevitable in war.

The ad bellum version of necessity is also known as the principle of last resort. Does the principle of necessity either the traditional version or McMahans version entail that war is justified only if it is the last resort, in the sense that there is no other way to achieve the just cause? Why or why not?

According to the traditional version of the principle of necessity, war is justifiable only as a last resort CITATION Set13 \l 1033 (Lazar, 2013). This is because the principle advocates for the evaluation of situations before adopting the most appropriate alternative that will result in the least amount of harm for the parties involved in conflict, hence war is justifiable as a last resort CITATION Set13 \l 1033 (Lazar, 2013).

According to Mavrodes, should a state abide by the prohibition on targeting non-combatants if their enemy consistently violates their prohibition? Why or why not?

Mavrodes believes that it is necessary for states to abide by the prohibition of targeting non-combatants because it is not a just cause to harm civilians who are not partisan to wars, whether they are just or not CITATION Set13 \l 1033 (Lazar, 2013). The perspective upholds that intentionally killing civilians is morally wrong and not in line with justice and just cause CITATION Geo75 \l 1033 (Mavrodes, 1975).

Given what he has written, Mavrodes could plausibly claim that the convention of non-combatant immunity is required by the principle of necessity. Explain why one might think such a thing?

Mavrodes believes that convention of non-combatant immunity guarantees that the main aspect to be upheld should always ensure that justice prevails and this case this includes not engaging in the intentional killing civilians (Mavrodes, 1975). What this means from the perspective of the principle of necessity is that war should always be avoided unless it is the last resort CITATION Set13 \l 1033 (Lazar, 2013).

If you think the intentional killing of civilians is morally worse than the foreseen but unintended killing of civilians, then answer question 6 and 7:

6. What would you say to someone who claims that what matters, when determining whether some action in war is permissible, is the good effects the action would have [e.g. saving the lives of innocent people or achieving the just cause] and the harm or the action would cause and hence that intentions are not themselves relevant? What is the most compelling response or argument, or example you can give?

The most compelling response is that the person is wrong. Whether for a just cause or not, war involves death. Therefore, regardless of the intentions, war should not be permissible. No justification exists that can make the taking of the lives of others moral CITATION Geo75 \l 1033 (Mavrodes, 1975). That is why even in war it is prudent to find least negative alternative course of action.

7. How important is the fact that intentionally killing civilians is morally worse than foreseeably killing civilians? Is that the primary reason why intentional attacks on civilians should be illegal? Or is non-combatant immunity primarily justified by something else such as (i) the recognition that attacks on civilians often fail to satisfy the principle of neccessity and proportionality of (ii) the fact that a prohibition on intentionally killing civilians reduces the destructiveness of war as Mavrodes suggested?

It is very important to remember that intentionally killing civilians is worse than un-intentional killing of civilians CITATION Geo75 \l 1033 (Mavrodes, 1975). Human life matters and by not recognising the moral obligations of not killing civilians, then wars would have far much devastating impacts than they currently do.


Summarise the first argument against combatant equality which lazar discusses [the most telling objection against combatant equality]

People are non-combatant if they do not pose a threat. It is therefore morally wrong to equate them to combatants and or treating them the same way CITATION Set13 \l 1033 (Lazar, 2013). Hence combatants need to be analysed from the perspective of the threat that they pose CITATION Set13 \l 1033 (Lazar, 2013).

Summarize the second argument against combatant equality which lazar discusses [lazar discusses this argument in the course of explaining the argument against non-combatant immunity]

It is important to distinguish between combatants and non-combatants. In wars it is immoral to harm individuals who do not engage in combat CITATION Set13 \l 1033 (Lazar, 2013). Therefore, combatant equality should not exist.

Why does Lazar think that many combatants on the unjust side of war retain their right against being killed?

Even when they threaten just combatants with lethal force, the unjust under the principle of necessity can still retain their right to defend themselves against being harmed or killed CITATION Set13 \l 1033 (Lazar, 2013).

Summarize one reason why lazar thinks it is morally worse to intentionally kill non-liable civilians that to intentionally kill non-liable combatants

He believes that non-combatants have no control over the actions of combatants and at times they may even be against their actions CITATION Set13 \l 1033 (Lazar, 2013). It is therefore morally worse to intentionally kill them.


BIBLIOGRAPHY \l 1033 Lazar, S. (2013). Necessity and non-combatant immunity. Review of International Studies , pp 1 - 24: DOI: 10.1017/S0260210513000053.

Mavrodes, G. I. (1975). Conventions and the Morality of War. Philosophy & Public Affairs, Vol. 4, No. 2 , pp. 117-131.

McMahan, J. (n.d). The Limits of Self-Defense.

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