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The philosophy of war is the area of philosophy devoted to examining issues such as the causes of war, the relationship between war and human nature, and the ethics of war. Certain aspects of the philosophy of war overlap with the philosophy of history, political philosophy, international relations and the philosophy of law.
Perhaps the greatest and most influential work in the philosophy of war is On War by Carl von Clausewitz. It combines observations on strategy with questions about human nature and the purpose of war. Clausewitz especially examines the teleology of war: whether war is a means to an end outside itself or whether it can be an end in itself. He concludes that the latter cannot be so, and that war is "politics by different means"; i.e. that war must not exist only for its own sake. It must serve some purpose for the state.
Leo Tolstoy's novel War and Peace contains frequent philosophical digressions on the philosophy of war (and broader metaphysical speculations derived from Christianity and from Tolstoy's observations of the Napoleonic Wars). It was influential on later thought about war. Tolstoy's Christian-centered philosophy of war (especially his essays "A Letter to a Hindu" and "The Kingdom of God is Within You") was a direct influence on Gandhi's Hinduism-centered non-violent resistance philosophy.
While Sun Tzu's The Art of War , focuses mostly on weaponry and strategy instead of philosophy, his observations are often broadened into a philosophy applied in situations extending well beyond war itself (see the main Wikipedia article on The Art of War for a discussion of the application of Sun Tzu's philosophy to areas other than war). Parts of Niccolò Machiavelli's masterpiece The Prince (as well as Discourses ) and parts of his own work titled The Art of War discuss some philosophical points relating to war, though neither book could be said to be a work in the philosophy of war.
The Indian Hindu epic, the Mahabharata, offers the first written discussions of a "just war" ( dharma-yuddha or "righteous war"). In it, one of five ruling brothers ( Pandavas) asks if the suffering caused by war can ever be justified. A long discussion then ensues between the siblings, establishing criteria like proportionality (chariots cannot attack cavalry, only other chariots; no attacking people in distress), just means (no poisoned or barbed arrows), just cause (no attacking out of rage), and fair treatment of captives and the wounded. The philosophy of just war theorizes what aspects of war are justifiable according to morally acceptable principles.Just war theory is based upon four core criteria to be followed by those determined to go to war. The four principles are as follows: just authority; just cause; right intention; last resort.
The criterion of just authority refers to the determined legality of going to war, has the concept of war and the pursuit of it been legally processed and justified?
Just cause is a justifiable reason that war is the appropriate and necessary response. If war can be avoided, that must be determined first, according to the philosophy of just war theory.
To go to war, one must determine if the intentions of doing so are right according to morality. Right intention criterion requires the determination of whether or not a war response is a measurable way to the conflict being acted upon.
War is a last resort response, meaning that if there is a conflict between disagreeing parties, all solutions must be attempted before resorting to war.
Since the philosophy of war is often treated as a subset of another branch of philosophy (for example, political philosophy or the philosophy of law) it would be difficult to define any clear-cut schools of thought in the same sense that, e.g., Existentialism or Objectivism can be described as distinct movements. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy refers to Carl von Clausewitz as "the only (so-called) philosopher of war", implying that he is the only (major) philosophical writer who develops a philosophical system focusing exclusively on war. However, discernible traditions of thought on war have developed over time, so that some writers have been able to distinguish broad categories (if somewhat loosely).
Anatol Rapoport's introduction to his edition of the J. J. Graham translation of Clausewitz's On War identifies three main teleological traditions in the philosophy of war: the cataclysmic, the eschatological, and the political. (On War, Rapoport's introduction, 13). These are not the only possible teleological philosophies of war, but only three of the most common. As Rapoport says,
To put it metaphorically, in political philosophy war is compared to a game of strategy (like chess); in eschatological philosophy, to a mission or the dénouement of a drama; in cataclysmic philosophy, to a fire or an epidemic.
These do not, of course, exhaust the views of war prevailing at different times and at different places. For example, war has at times been viewed as a pastime or an adventure, as the only proper occupation for a nobleman, as an affair of honor (for example, the days of chivalry), as a ceremony (e.g. among the Aztecs), as an outlet of aggressive instincts or a manifestation of a "death wish", as nature's way of ensuring the survival of the fittest, as an absurdity (e.g. among Eskimos), as a tenacious custom, destined to die out like slavery, and as a crime. (On War, Rapoport's introduction, 17)
Clausewitz views war as a rational instrument of national policy. The three words "rational", "instrument" and "national" are the key concepts of his paradigm. In this view, the decision to wage war "ought" to be rational, in the sense that it ought to be based on estimated costs and gains of war. Next, war "ought" to be instrumental, in the sense that it ought to be waged in order to achieve some goal, never for its own sake; and also in the sense that strategy and tactics ought to be directed towards just one end, namely towards victory. Finally, war "ought" to be national, in the sense that its objective should be to advance the interests of a national state and that the entire effort of the nation ought to be mobilized in the service of the military objective.
Another possible system for categorizing different schools of thought on war can be found in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (see external links, below), based on ethics. The SEP describes three major divisions in the ethics of war: the realist, the pacifist, and the just war Theory. In a nutshell:
Carl Philipp Gottfriedvon Clausewitz was a Prussian general and military theorist who stressed the "moral" and political aspects of war. His most notable work, Vom Kriege, was unfinished at his death. Clausewitz was a realist in many different senses and, while in some respects a romantic, also drew heavily on the rationalist ideas of the European Enlightenment.
Epistemology is the branch of philosophy concerned with the theory of knowledge.
Jurisprudence or legal theory is the theoretical study of law. Scholars of jurisprudence seek to explain the nature of law in its most general form and provide a deeper understanding of legal reasoning, legal systems, legal institutions, and the role of law in society.
Vom Kriege is a book on war and military strategy by Prussian general Carl von Clausewitz (1780–1831), written mostly after the Napoleonic wars, between 1816 and 1830, and published posthumously by his wife Marie von Brühl in 1832. It has been translated into English several times as On War. On War is an unfinished work. Clausewitz had set about revising his accumulated manuscripts in 1827, but did not live to finish the task. His wife edited his collected works and published them between 1832 and 1835.
Political philosophy, also known as political theory, is the study of topics such as politics, liberty, justice, property, rights, law, and the enforcement of laws by authority: what they are, if they are needed, what makes a government legitimate, what rights and freedoms it should protect, what form it should take, what the law is, and what duties citizens owe to a legitimate government, if any, and when it may be legitimately overthrown, if ever.
Pacifism is opposition to war, militarism or violence. The word pacifism was coined by the French peace campaigner Émile Arnaud (1864–1921) and adopted by other peace activists at the tenth Universal Peace Congress in Glasgow in 1901. A related term is ahimsa, which is a core philosophy in Indian Religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. While modern connotations are recent, having been explicated since the 19th century, ancient references abound.
Anarchism and violence have a contentious relationship within popular thought, owing to traditions of anarchist history such as violent revolution, terrorism, assassination attempts and propaganda of the deed. Propaganda of the deed, or attentát, was espoused by leading anarchists in the late 19th century and was associated with a number of incidents of political violence. Anarchist thought, however, is quite diverse on the question of violence. Where some anarchists have opposed coercive means on the basis of coherence, others have supported acts of violent revolution as a path toward anarchy. Anarcho-pacifism is a school of thought within anarchism which rejects all violence.
Philosophy of history is the philosophical study of history and its discipline. The term was coined by French philosopher Voltaire.
Anarcho-pacifism is a school of thought within anarchism that advocates for the use of peaceful, non-violent forms of resistance in the struggle for social change. Anarcho-pacifism rejects the principle of violence, which is seen as a form of power and therefore as contradictory to key anarchist ideals such as the rejection of hierarchy and dominance. However, anarcho-pacifists do not reject the use of non-violent revolutionary action against capitalism and the state with the purpose of establishing a peaceful voluntarist society. The main early influences were the philosophies of Henry David Thoreau and Leo Tolstoy, while later the ideas of Mahatma Gandhi gained significance. Anarcho-pacifist movements primarily emerged in Russia, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States before and during World War II.
The Tolstoyan movement is a social movement based on the philosophical and religious views of Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy (1828–1910). Tolstoy's views were formed by rigorous study of the ministry of Jesus, particularly the Sermon on the Mount.
Virtue ethics are normative ethical theories which emphasize virtues of mind, character and sense of honesty. Virtue ethicists discuss the nature and definition of virtues and other related problems that focus on the consequences of action. These include how virtues are acquired, how they are applied in various real life contexts, and whether they are rooted in a universal human nature or in a plurality of cultures.
Ethical intuitionism is a view or family of views in moral epistemology. It is at its core foundationalism about moral knowledge; that is, it is committed to the thesis that some moral truths can be known non-inferentially. Such an epistemological view is by definition committed to the existence of knowledge of moral truths; therefore, ethical intuitionism implies cognitivism.
Anatol Rapoport was an American mathematical psychologist. He contributed to general systems theory, to mathematical biology and to the mathematical modeling of social interaction and stochastic models of contagion.
Lewis Ricardo Gordon is an American philosopher at the University of Connecticut who works in the areas of Africana philosophy, existentialism, phenomenology, social and political theory, postcolonial thought, theories of race and racism, philosophies of liberation, aesthetics, philosophy of education, and philosophy of religion. He has written particularly extensively on Africana and black existentialism, postcolonial phenomenology, race and racism, and on the works and thought of W. E. B. Du Bois and Frantz Fanon. His most recent book is titled: What Fanon Said: A Philosophical Introduction To His Life And Thought.
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Robert L. Holmes is a Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the University of Rochester, and an expert on issues of peace and nonviolence. Holmes specializes in ethics, and in social and political philosophy. He has written numerous articles and several books on those topics, and has been invited to address national and international conferences.
Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy, usually referred to in English as Leo Tolstoy, was a Russian writer who is regarded as one of the greatest authors of all time. He received multiple nominations for the Nobel Prize in Literature every year from 1902 to 1906 and nominations for Nobel Peace Prize in 1901, 1902 and 1910 and the fact that he never won is a major Nobel prize controversy.
Baruch Spinoza's philosophy encompasses nearly every area of philosophical discourse, including metaphysics, epistemology, political philosophy, ethics, philosophy of mind, and philosophy of science. It earned Spinoza an enduring reputation as one of the most important and original thinkers of the seventeenth century.
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