Matthew Beard


The images of soldiers which are evoked on memorial days commonly include a number of different virtues: courage, loyalty, fraternity, etc. One ideal perhaps extolled above all others is that of sacrifice. Soldiers, according to popular moral platitudes, are lauded for the sacrifices they make for the common good. Implied in this is the expectation that soldiers ought to be the type of people who are prepared to sacrifice themselves in defence of an ideal. Within the most popular framework for morally evaluating war, Just War Theory, sacrifice tends to be understood from within the deontological, rights-based framework that modern just war theorists favour. In this chapter I will aim to show how the conclusions drawn by considering sacrifice through a deontological lens can be enriched through the addition of virtue theoretical considera- tions, leading to a fuller account of sacrifice.

This chapter takes a philosophical approach to the idea of sacrifice in the military. It explores whether the predominant framework used for evalu- ating war, Just War Theory, is a suitable framework for understanding the sacrifices soldiers, commanders, and political leaders can be asked to make in times of war. Focussing on various conceptions of sacrifice, including physical and moral sacrifices, the chapter argues that the predominantly deontological formulation of modern just war theories could be enriched by considering notions surrounding the ancient Greek concept of arete (virtue). Thus, as well as being a detailed exposition of sacrifice in war, the chapter also seeks to show how consideration of aretaic notions such as virtue, character and moral psychology can enrich just war theories responses to various issues.

The value of this research is in suggesting that soldiers are morally obligated to accept more risk than modern warfare typically places, or at least historically has placed, on them. It also has implications for mili- tary ethics education in that it suggests that soldiers' characters should be shaped in such a way as to dispose them to sacrifice. Further, it has implications for the use of Just War Theory in international relations by introducing a moral framework through which political leaders can determine when they might be morally obligated to forgive the indiscre- tions of another nation, and what it means to forgive in this context. As such, it makes a contribution to a growing discussion within Just War Theory: jus post bellum - the moral norms surrounding the resolution of conflict.

Keywords: Virtue; Just War Theory; supererogation; military ethics; forgiveness; sacrifice


Approaches to military ethics that treat the problem of war as a genuine moral challenge (whereby the challenge lies in the fact that some wars can be morally good, and others morally evil) have been dominated throughout history by the school of thought known as Just War Theory. And, although rival accounts are beginning to emerge, none has the same influence, com- plexity or popularity of Just War Theory. However, many modern theorists have begun to distance themselves from matters which were central ques- tions of previous iterations of the theory; specifically, questions pertaining to virtue, character and moral psychology. These concerns (hereafter, 'are- taic', because of their connection to the ancient Greek concept of arete) have lost favour amongst most theorists today. These theorists prefer a deontological approach which formulates specific obligations and duties by way of rights theory. Although capturing important and central aspects of the morality of war, an approach that sees the morality of war as a func- tion of both deontological and aretaic concerns will be much richer than one which limits its discussion to only one of these aspects. This chapter will seek to show how the introduction of aretaic notions serves to enrich and enhance the useful and important work done by deontological aspects of Just War Theory.

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