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The moral equality of combatants
The moral equality of combatants

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In this course we have looked at the arguments for and against a doctrine known as the moral equality of combatants. The moral equality of combatants says that combatants on both sides of a war, regardless of the justice of their cause, are equally permitted to kill each other and equally liable to be killed. We looked at Walzer’s argument for moral equality from the right to self-defence, and then at McMahan’s arguments against this. Finally, we considered Hurka’s argument that the moral equality of combatants follows from the fact that, in joining up, they voluntarily surrender their rights.

The following table, which gives some of the arguments and locates some of the theorists in relation to those arguments, will help you to draw all this information together.

Arguments for MECAcceptsRejects
Material non-innocenceWalzerMcMahan, Hurka
VoluntarinessWalzer, HurkaMcMahan
Epistemological argumentWalzerMcMahan
Protection of non-combatants on the unjust sideMcMahan