Thursday, August 25, 2016

Conference: Liability, Immunity, and the Benefits of War: New Perspectives on the Moral Status of Civilians

On September 1-2, 2016, the European University Institute will host the Seventh Annual Conference of the Oxford Institute for Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict. The theme is: "Liability, Immunity, and the Benefits of War: New Perspectives on the Moral Status of Civilians." The program is here. Here's the idea:

A key task for revisionist just war theory has been to investigate the conditions under which individual agents can come to lose their rights against non-consensual harm. By and large, Just War Theorists recognize forfeiture arising from moral or causal responsibility for a wrongful threat as the central mechanism by which one can lose rights. Recently, however, a number of theorists have suggested that rights against harm can be lost or weakened in other ways besides forfeiture. One proposal is that agents can come to lack rights against harm in virtue of their involuntarily incurred enforceable duties. Another is that agents can have their rights against harm weakened when these rights make other non-liable agents worse off. A third attempt notes that if one is an expected beneficiary of a harmful preventive action, one might have weakened rights against collateral harm compared to other uninvolved agents. Relatedly, another proposal suggests that agents who fail to disgorge benefits derived from injustice can come to lose rights against preventive harm.

These proposals attempt to provide new justifications for inflicting non-consensual harm beyond the familiar conceptions of forfeiture and lesser evil. Further, they challenge the orthodox view that causal contribution to a wrongful threat is necessary for the loss or weakening of an agent’s rights against harm. As such, they all have potentially radical implications for the rights of bystanders (and, by extension, civilians’ moral immunity to intentional harming in war). A central aim of the conference, then, will be to assess whether and to what extent individuals can lose rights against harm through circumstances entirely beyond their control.

We will also explore the related question of whether these ways of weakening or losing one’s rights are restricted to rights against certain types of harm. For example, we might think that these justifications cannot weaken our rights against the infliction of direct physical harm, but can nevertheless weaken our rights against other sorts of harm, such as harms imposed by cyber attacks, boycotts and sanctions, and invasions of privacy through surveillance. This work thus has implications for the range of permissible means of fighting wars.