Challenging War: Pacifist and Feminist Approaches to Violence
Is it possible for us to live together without war and large-scale violence? My work takes this question seriously, both by challenging the dominant framework of just war theory, and by considering how issues of trust, hope, and solidarity operate in a non-ideal world to orient us towards a future peace.
According to just war theory, which is the main philosophical framework for considering questions of war and peace, the aim of a just war is peace. In a tradition stretching back to Augustine, just war theory starts by assuming that war is inevitable, and that the best way to produce peace is by regulating war. And so just war theory has crystallized around two questions: When may we go to war (jus ad bellum), and how may we kill others in war (jus in bello). But as I argue, just war theory is engaged in an impossible task – just as we cannot understand friendship by focusing on betrayal, we cannot understand peace by using the concepts of war.
Unlike for just war theory, the central question for me is not how, as a just society, we are to prosecute a just war. In fact, I am extremely skeptical of just war theory’s assumption that a just society’s character qua just society will remain unscathed by its preparation for, and execution of, mass violence. This skepticism grows out of the intuition that the means and the end must cohere. An analogy that Gandhi was fond of using was that the means are to the end as the seed is to the tree. That is, the means reflect the end in process. On my understanding, peace must be based on trust, with hope for the future, and so cannot be secured by force or threat of force. So the questions that concern me are how to understand peace as a positive ideal, and how that ideal should bear on our practical reasoning about what to do in our actual world.
My newest research project is to approach the problem of violence from a feminist perspective, and to investigate the connection between gender inequality and state violence. The first part of this project will offer a philosophical reconstruction of early feminism and its necessary connection to pacifism. For example, Bertha von Suttner, the first woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, explored the relationship between war, masculinity, and sexism in her novel Lay Down Your Arms! The second part of this project, instead of looking to the past, will look to contemporary feminism as it joins in the demands of Black Lives Matter to defund the police and to find non-violent and non-carceral solutions to the problem of violence against women. This contemporary project will also take an international perspective on the problem of violence against women, and engage with the work of transnational feminists in order to develop skepticism about the possibility of advancing women's rights through war.
"Trust and Contingency Plans," Canadian Journal of Philosophy (available online first)
Trusting relationships are both valuable and risky. Where the risks are high, it might seem rational to try to mitigate the risks while still enjoying the benefits of the trusting relationship, by forming a contingency plan. A contingency plan involves contingent punishments for defection, which are meant to encourage the trusted partner to act trustworthily. (Some prenuptial agreements might function in this way.) I argue, however, that such contingency plans suffer from an internal tension wherein the contingency planner both seeks and undermines a particular level (or kind) of trust. There are two problems in particular: one, the planner fails to see the trusted partner as sincerely engaged in the relationship, and two, the planner separates herself out from their joint project by seeing her flourishing as separate from her partner’s. Contingency plans, then, are not just about the future; they cast a moral shadow on what we are doing now.
"Talking to Children About War," Journal of Pacifism and Nonviolence 1, no. 1 (2023): 52-64
I explore the question of how we should talk to children about war. From a young age, children are exposed to scenarios of violence (for example, in books, toys, and advertisements). My conjecture is that we do this in order to teach children to enjoy the “good” kind of violence and to abhor the “bad” kind. We teach children that defensive war is the good kind of violence, and aggressive war is the bad kind. But, I argue, if we raise children in the expectation of war, and shape their moral development by teaching them that killing is sometimes necessary and good, we mold their moral personalities and constrain their imagination in ways that make it difficult for them to seek genuine peace.
"Hoping for Peace," Australasian Journal of Philosophy 98, no. 2 (2020): 211-221.
When the odds of achieving world peace seem so long, do hopes for peace amount to anything more than wishful thinking? In this paper, I introduce the idea of meaningful hope, which can help us to understand hopes for peace as genuine hopes. When we act on meaningful hope, we draw on the value of the hoped-for future, in order to give our hopeful activities a meaning they would not otherwise have had. If my account is true, then meaningful hope, by loosening the grip that non-ideal conditions hold over how we live, gives us a way to move towards living a life of our choosing.
"Pacific Resistance: A Moral Alternative to Defensive War," Social Theory & Practice 40, no. 1 (2018): 1-20
It is widely believed that some wars are just, and that the paradigm case of a just war is a defensive war. A familiar strategy used to justify defensive war is to infer its permissibility from the case of self-defensive killing. I show, however, that the permission to defend oneself does not justify killing, but instead calls for nonviolent resistance. I conclude that on the account of self-defense I develop, the appropriate way to respond to a war of aggression is not by prosecuting a defensive war, but by engaging in a form of nonviolence I call pacific resistance.
Works in Progress
"What is the Aim of a Just War?" (under review)
(This paper won the APA's Frank Chapman Sharp Memorial Prize for best unpublished work on the philosophy of war and peace in 2021.)
Just war theory has long held that the aim of a just war is peace, and not victory. Peace, however, does not feature in either of the two traditional pillars of just war theory: jus ad bellum (which governs the conditions under which we may go to war) and jus in bello (which governs the scope and manner of killing in war). This paper examines the question, which has so far been ignored in the literature, of how exactly just war theory orients a war towards peace. Establishing this foundational claim, which I will refer to as the Peace Claim, is crucial in order for just war theory to hold the middle ground between its two main rivals, realism (which holds that we must pragmatically pursue victory) and pacifism (which holds that we must nonviolently pursue peace).
"Surrender and Defensive War" (under review)
What should a state do if it is aggressed against, but reasonably believes that it cannot win a defensive war? While there is a nascent literature on the question of when and how to end a defensive war, a major underlying assumption in these discussions is that the state that has been aggressed against can win, is winning, or has won its defensive war. But what if the state cannot win, is losing, or has lost its defensive war? Can a “never surrender” policy be justified within the framework of just war theory? In this paper, I offer three answers that just war theory might give to the question of whether a state is permitted to fight a defensive war it knows it cannot win: (1) the state must surrender, (2) the state may neither surrender nor prosecute a defensive war, or (3) the state may fight under an expansive interpretation of what counts as “success” in a defensive war. Which of these three answers is found to be most compelling will depend, in part, on what the aim or purpose of just war theory is taken to be.
"On the Need for Civic Solidarity" (under review)
In this paper, I examine what might explain the recent proliferation of calls for solidarity. I begin with a brief overview of how solidarity has been traditionally understood, and offer a conjecture for why the American liberal tradition adopted liberté and égalité, but rejected fraternité. I argue that a well-ordered society requires not only justice, but also solidarity, for two reasons. First, solidarity offers us a way to break out of social hierarchies that are imposed on us. Solidarity is a way for members of privileged and oppressed social groups to act together as social and political equals. And second, solidarity attunes us to the social/political needs of others that might not be captured by claims of justice.