Towards a more ethical military : the contribution of Aristotelian virtue theory to military ethics
Olson, Lonnie Wayne
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The protracted wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have led to a number of moral abuses committed by members of the U.S. military. Media reports have focused particular attention on the human cost incurred by these abuses, the torture of detainees at Abu Ghraib and the massacre of civilians at Haditha being but a few, tragic examples. However, the human cost of these abuses is measured not just in the lives of noncombatants, but also by the number of military suicides that are a byproduct of traumatic combat experiences and the subsequent violation of moral norms. In light of this, any society that is sincere in its concern for the moral well-being of its soldiers, and the noncombatants with whom they interact, should seek to reduce the occurrence of such abuses. In this dissertation, I argue that the development of moral character, particularly the conception of moral character that Aristotle promotes in his ethical theory, is fundamental to preventing the moral abuses that soldiers commit, both in combat and during peacetime. This project is composed of five chapters. The first chapter is devoted to describing the moral challenges that confront soldiers, particularly on the battlefield. Chapter Two articulates the broad outlines of Aristotelian virtue ethics with a specific emphasis on four key features of Aristotle’s virtue theory and how they can be harnessed to promote ethical conduct within the military institution. Arguably, the most important component of moral character is practical reason, the ability to assess a moral problem, weighing all the various considerations that affect it, and arrive at an ethical solution. Considering this, Chapter Three examines how practical reason can guide the soldier’s understanding of obedience, loyalty and respect, traits that are widely considered military virtues, but which are also at the root of a great deal of unethical behavior. Chapter Four examines the military’s code of professional ethics and how the possession of practical reason is necessary if soldiers are to make ethical decisions in situations the code does not explicitly address. The final chapter, Chapter Five, argues for more emphasis on the development of practical reason in military ethics education.