Do Philosophers Dream of Electric Sheep? The Ethics of War in the Age of Technology



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In 2010, Belorussian software developer Sergey Ulasen discovered a bug in several customers’ computers that indicated something far more sinister than just a flaw in the system. The computer worm, later christened Stuxnet, is thought to have been created through a joint effort from the American and Israeli governments with the purpose of destabilising Iran’s nuclear weaponry program, reportedly ruining a fifth of Iran’s nuclear centrifuges. General Michael V. Hayden, former director of the CIA and NSA, called it “the first attack of a major nature in which a cyberattack was used to affect physical destruction.”1 As technology progresses and develops, it becomes crucial to determine how just war principles will apply to this new realm of combat. Stuxnet is an example of how new avenues of technology can produce attacks with unprecedented consequences. We don’t exactly know what technology’s full capabilities are. Because much of technology’s scope and reach remains speculative, it is difficult to envision its limits and boundaries. Nonetheless, it is definitely present, prevalent, and only likely to increase, making it worthy and necessary of discussion. This thesis focuses on three primary avenues of technology - cyberwarfare and drones - and how they affect the scope of the ethics of warfare as we currently envision them. The thesis begins with a brief overview of just war theory, covering its earliest documented usage and comparing that to its contemporary view today. This includes the most prominent just war theory of the 21st century, set out by Michael Walzer in Just and Unjust Wars . It is Walzer’s conception of just war theory that I will be referring to, citing its inapplicability to modern technological forms of warfare. Also in this chapter, I develop three criteria for an enduring, applicable just war theory: consistency, adaptability, and defensibility. I then spend significant time discussing the domestic analogy, a conceptual tool that philosophers use to streamline their arguments, but arguing against it in contexts of war. After this, I discuss cyberwarfare and drones. Both of these technological developments propose unique problems to traditional just war theory that necessitate the development of a new framework. Finally, I introduce the concept of moral particularism, a position most thoroughly outlined by Jonathan Dancy. I argue that moral particularism is the best framework through which we can evaluate the ethics of war, because it fulfills the three criteria for an adequate just war framework: consistency, adaptability, and defensibility.



war, ethics, technology, philosophy, politics