With significant recent advances in artificial intelligence and robotics, it is increasingly pressing that we consider the legal and ethical standing of autonomous machines.
With significant recent advances in artificial intelligence and robotics, it is increasingly pressing that we consider the legal and ethical standing of autonomous machines.
In this post, I explore the punitive justifications for the recent strikes against Syria in response to the alleged use of chemical weapons. In the previous post, Sara was right to call into question the HI justification for the strikes provided by Theresa May. Indeed, even if one could assume that the strikes could satisfy the just cause criterion (and this is a big if), it’s doubtful that other ad bellum criteria could be met (proportionality and reasonable chance of success). The situation is Syria is complicated with multiple parties involved, either directly or through proxy. It is, therefore, difficult to determine what success would mean in this context and, correspondingly, what would be counted as proportionate force. I think Sara is right that the strikes could not be justified on the basis of HI. But, I ask, are there any other justifications for these strikes?
Traditionally, just war theory is highly restrictive with regards to what counts as just cause to turn to war. According to these requirements, only war of national self-defence (or in other-defence) can trigger a just response to the use of force. Recently, HI has been accepted as another justification but, overall, just war theory is restrictive rather than permissive. However, Michael Walzer – whose ‘Just and Unjust Wars’ is considered the seminal text on the ethics of war – believes that limited force should be seen as morally distinctive from war. In short, if traditional just war theory is restrictive in what injuria, or wrongdoing, can justify the use of force, the doctrine of limited force – jus ad vim – can justify military force in response to a wider range of threats due to the limited nature of the force used. Limited force is different from war in that the former lacks the latter’s ‘unpredictable and often catastrophic consequences’. It is, therefore, easier to justify than, say, a full-scale war.
Acknowledging the differences between war and force-short-of-war is crucial in understanding the justification for the recent strikes on Syria. This is so because on the traditional reading of just war theory, only self and other defence or HI could justify the use of force. Force-short-of-war, however, is more permissive and, thus, could satisfy other just causes where traditional just war theory cannot. The question now becomes what could possibly be the reason(s) for the strikes jointly conducted by the US, UK and France? I think there could be two possible just causes: punishment as retribution and punishment as deterrence. I note here that even though both retribution and deterrence come under the umbrella of punishment, they require distinct justifications.
With respect to the former, the justification would be that the Syrian regime deserves to be punished for the injuria caused. The strikes act as retribution to the alleged use of chemical weapons (subject to the rule of proportionality which I will address shortly). Regarding deterrence, the strikes could be argued as necessary to uphold the international ban on the use of chemical weapons. Deterrence, in this sense, could also be understood as not limited to the Assad’s regime but also to signal to other regimes that the use of chemical weapons will not be tolerated.
Do we have reason to believe that the strikes were to punish Assad? I think we do. First, the strikes did not seem to fit with any broader, long term American, British and French objectives in Syria. The main aim of the military operation in Syria (bar the strikes) led by the US has been to nullify the threat of the Islamic State (ISIL) and other designated terrorist groups. A secondary aim is to provide support (financial, logistic, and training) to selected rebel groups. Prior to the strike in April 2017, there was no recorded deliberate attack of US-led forces against the Syrian’s regime. This can be explained by the West’s hesitation to escalate the conflict and risk a direct confrontation with Russia and, to an extent, Iran. The targeted strikes on the 14th of April, then, were out of this context. The targets were directly linked to the Syrian regime’ chemical weapons programme. Thus, it’s logical to think that the strikes were, in fact, retributive punishment to the Syrian’s government for the use of chemical weapons. Furthermore, the strikes seem to uphold what former US President Barack Obama said was a ‘red-line’ for the Assad’s regime (a red-line which Obama failed to uphold). This is consistent with the strike in April 2017 when Trump ordered the US Navy to launch 59 Tomahawk missiles at Shayrat Airbase in response to the Khan Shaykhun chemical attack. The message seems clear: international norms on the use of chemical weapons must be respected. Failure to do so would result in military strikes to deter any state or non-state actor from using it in the future.
Thomas Cajetan, the 16th century Italian philosopher, once said wrongdoing demands vindictive justice, even in the form of force if necessary. If we think that the use of chemical weapons on civilians constitutes a wrongdoing (of a special kind), then limited strikes (force-short-of-war) to punish the wrongdoer could certainly provide a just cause.
In what remains, I sketch my thoughts on whether the strikes could satisfy the requirements of proportionality and success. If we think that the strikes were only to punish Assad, we need to ask whether the harms caused by the strikes were proportionate punishment to the initial wrongdoing, namely Assad’s use of chemical weapons (one cannot carpet-bomb a country in the name of justice). No civilian casualties were recorded, there’s no report of leaking chemical materials after the strikes, all targeted sites were of military targets and not dual-use facilities (those that can also be used for civilian functions). This suggests that the harms caused by the strikes were not disproportionate to the realisation of justice. The criterion of success, I hope, is clear in this case as it’s defined by the acknowledgement, and affirmation, that a moral wrong was committed and this demands some forceful response.
The case becomes less clear if the strikes were intended to deter Assad from further use of chemical weapons. As Sara convincingly put in the previous post, it’s unlikely that Assad would be deterred from further uses of this kind of weapons absence significant presence of troops on the ground. Any force used, then, would fail the success criterion and therefore be disproportionate. One could ask, even if Assad would not be deterred from using chemical weapons but maybe other state and non-state actors would think twice before using these weapons? If that’s the case then, perhaps, there are some deterrent effects the strikes could bring. I think this is possible but for this to work, there needs to be an uncompromising rule where any use of chemical weapons would be met with the same forceful response. Failure to uphold this rule would result in the diminishing deterrent force of the strikes. In this sense, the strikes are justified because the ban on chemical weapons is a good thing to uphold, the question of whether Assad himself would be deterred is irrelevant.
Of course, in an ideal world, we do not want to give state the judicial role regarding when to punish other states for wrongdoings. However, given an UN Resolution would likely result in a deadlock and previous attempts to strip Assad of his chemical capabilities were unfruitful, the duty to act sometimes falls on individual states. Military actions-short-of-strike should be strictly governed by the rules of jus in bello (perhaps even a stricter regime) and uphold the safety of non-combatants, as were the case in the recent strikes. Thus, I think that the strikes could be justified as punitive force.
Early on Saturday, 14 April, it was announced that the US, UK and France had conducted targeted strikes on three targets in Syria – a chemical weapons and storage facility, a research centre and a military bunker – in response to Assad’s (alleged) use of chemical weapons in Douma. The reaction to this news was mixed. One key problem that was highlighted was the question of the legality of the strikes, under both domestic and international law. However, although these are of course very important issues, a different one has remained relatively unexplored: could these strikes be permissible from a moral perspective? Given that international law is largely customary, and given that law doesn’t exhaust the limits on our behaviour, this is a crucial question.
There are a number of ways in which the resort to strikes on regime targets in Syria could be justified. The common moral framework for thinking about the morality of war, just war theory, recognises a number of reasons for legitimate use of force: self-defence against aggression, defence of another state against aggression and, increasingly, intervention to alleviate humanitarian suffering. In this post and the next, Anh Le and I will consider whether the strikes could be justified according to the standards set by just war theory. Here, I will consider possibly the most controversial just cause: intervention in order to stop severe suffering. In the next post, Anh will investigate whether the strikes can be considered morally legitimate as forms of punishment.
Last year, Kevin C. Elliott published three new books on ‘values in science’:
Given that empirical research is often used by moral, social, and political philosophers in scholarship on questions of justice, we thought it would be interesting to chat to Kevin about his recent work and its implications for moral, social, and political philosophy.
Erin Nash: Hi Kevin, thanks for agreeing to be interviewed by Justice Everywhere. To start us off, perhaps you could tell us about how philosophers of science understand the term ‘values’, and how values influence science.
Kevin Elliott: Thanks, Erin. Briefly, I think values are qualities that are desirable or worthy of pursuit, but it’s important to keep in mind that many different things fall under this description. For example, when theories have qualities like explanatory power, wide scope, or predictive success, we typically consider these things to be values because they tend to indicate that a theory is true or reliable. Some label these ‘epistemic values’. Other qualities of theories, such as their tendency to promote environmental protection, public health, economic growth, or gender equality, are also typically regarded as values (often called ‘non-epistemic values’) insofar as they help us to achieve ethical or social goals. The question that permeates all my recent books is what role, if any, ethical and social values like the promotion of environmental protection or gender equality should play in scientific research.
For example, values can subtly influence the questions that get asked in socially relevant fields like agricultural research. There are many ways of trying to improve agricultural production so as to benefit poor farmers, produce more food, and lessen our impacts on the environment; they involve efforts to develop higher-yielding seeds, more ecologically sensitive farming strategies, or more efficient markets for agricultural goods. Even if researchers are not consciously being influenced by values, decisions to focus on some of these questions or approaches rather than others are value-laden insofar as they serve the interests of some individuals and institutions rather than others.
Values can also affect the assumptions and choices that scientists make when they are analysing or interpreting their results. For example, chapter four of Tapestry discusses how economic predictions about the costs of climate change are influenced by value-laden decisions about how much to “discount” costs that occur in the future relative to costs that are borne at present. Values can also influence how much evidence scientists or policy makers demand before they are willing to draw conclusions – this is the basis for what is often called the ‘argument from inductive risk’. In the seventh chapter of Exploring Inductive Risk, Robin Andreasen and Heather Doty discuss studies designed to identify inequalities in the retention or promotion of women university faculty, and especially women faculty of colour. They note that even when the available data suggest that disparities could potentially be present, one still needs to decide how much evidence is sufficient to conclude that problematic forms of discrimination are genuinely occurring. Choosing what rule to use for inferring that discrimination is occurring depends on value-laden decisions about what mistakes we are most concerned to avoid.
Erin: What is unclear, though, is whether philosophers of science take non-epistemic values to play a role in all aspects of science or only in some. For instance, in Tapestry, on one hand you say things like “…scientific reasoning is thoroughly imbued with value influences” (pp. 166–167). But on the other hand, you use caveats such as “…it is often unrealistic to find a perfectly value-neutral way of communicating scientific information” (p. 133). I’ve found this sort of hedging to be common in the literature. But I think this can be quite confusing! If it is the case that value judgements can be avoided in some circumstances, we are left with at least two further questions: (1) How do we identify those circumstances? (2) Where non-epistemic values are currently playing a role in science, should they be, or should they to be in the way or to the extent that they currently do?
Kevin: You make a very perceptive point. I don’t think I have this issue totally sorted out in my own mind. At present, my inclination is to say that non-epistemic values are always at least somewhat relevant to scientific reasoning, but I acknowledge that the extent of their relevance and the best ways of addressing them vary a great deal from case to case. One reason for insisting that values are always relevant is that all scientific research has at least some potential to influence society over the long term. So, given that scientists always run the risk of being incorrect when they draw their conclusions, social values are always somewhat relevant for deciding how much evidence they should be demanding. However, most of the work done in some fields, such as theoretical physics, does not have the sorts of immediate and obvious social impacts that we saw in the research I described earlier about gender discrimination, so in these cases it makes sense to consider social values more indirectly.
Erin: So how can we determine whether certain value influences are appropriate?
Kevin: In my Tapestry book, I suggest three criteria for determining whether value influences are appropriate: transparency, representativeness, and engagement. First, it is important for scientists to be as open as possible about the details of their work and the ways in which values might have influenced it so that others can recognise those influences. Second, when scientists make value judgements, those judgements should be informed by ethical principles and social priorities. Third, it is important to engage key stakeholders in efforts to identify important value judgements and to reflect on how to address them. However, much more needs to be said about the nature of these criteria and how they work together. For example, I don’t think we can draw the simple conclusion that whenever these three criteria are met, value influences are appropriate, or whenever they are not met, value influences are inappropriate. I see them more as rules of thumb that can help us to incorporate values in science more responsibly.
Erin: I like your criteria, but I have a few concerns. For instance, with regards to your second criterion, it doesn’t seem like we have broad common ground on ethical principles and social priorities within our societies. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially if we endorse value pluralism. A commitment to democratic values and a concern for the proper place of science and scientists in democratic societies also motivated W.E.B. Du Bois’ early defence of the value-free ideal for science, as Liam Kofi Bright has recently explained. Along similar lines, Stephen John has argued that because people hold different values, science that is value-laden may fail to contribute to ‘public knowledge’. Do you find these arguments persuasive?
Kevin: I’m very sympathetic to the sorts of concerns that you are highlighting. This is partly why I suggest with Ted Richards in the concluding chapter of Exploring Inductive Risk that in some cases, scientists should try to avoid making controversial value judgements themselves. For example, when there is a great deal of disagreement about how to interpret the available scientific evidence, it might make the most sense for scientists to report the state of the evidence as clearly as possible, and let others decide what conclusions they want to draw. Similarly, sometimes it is possible to report more than one way of interpreting the available evidence so that decision makers can decide which approach fits better with their values. For example, economists studying climate change can report how their analyses of climate impacts differ based on the decision to use different discount rates. However, Ted and I would respond to the work of Bright and John by emphasising that even in these cases, an array of implicit value judgements have probably still played a role in how the available evidence was collected, analysed, and communicated. Thus, despite the limitations of my criteria, I don’t think we can avoid them. Scientists need to acknowledge value judgements as best they can (transparency), make them as responsibly as possible (representativeness), and invite critical reflection about them from an array of perspectives (engagement).
Erin: What advice can be derived from the values in science literature for political philosophers, social theorists, and policymakers who use empirical research to support their normative arguments?
Kevin: It’s really important for scholars and practitioners who draw on scientific research, and perhaps social-science research in particular, to recognise the potential for this research to be subtly influenced by non-epistemic values. As I noted earlier, the questions scientists ask, the assumptions underlying their interpretation and analyses, the evidence they demand before drawing conclusions, and the ways their results are framed and communicated can all involve value-laden judgements. Thus, when this research is informing important decisions that will have social consequences, it is important to scrutinise potential value influences and recognise how they may have influenced the research and its communication.
Erin: So perhaps this debate is best thought of as being situated at the interface of philosophy of science and moral, social or political philosophy? If this is the case, how do you think moral, social, and political philosophers might be able to contribute to, and help advance, this debate?
Kevin: I totally agree. We actually just had a discussion about the need to bring together moral, social, and political philosophy with the philosophy of science at a conference session devoted to my Tapestry book. An important theme was the fact that my criteria (transparency, representativeness, and engagement) need a good deal more elaboration, and this is the kind of work that moral, social, and political philosophers are well placed to do. For example, moral philosophers can help us think through the ethical principles that are most appropriate for guiding particular value judgements, such as decisions about what discount rates ought to be used when analysing the economic costs of climate change. Moreover, there will almost always be disagreements about these ethical principles, so we also need political philosophers to provide guidance about how to address these disputes. What forms of engagement should we employ for responding to disagreements about important value judgements? Which stakeholders should be involved in the deliberations? One of the most obvious lessons to be gleaned from the recent work on values in science is that philosophers of science desperately need guidance from moral and political philosophers, so I’m really grateful that you provided this opportunity to talk about my books on this blog!
A full review of Kevin Elliott’s A Tapestry of Values: An Introduction to Values in Science by Erin Nash can be found here.
As the readers of this blog probably already know, UK-based academics have been on strike for five days over the past two weeks, and the industrial action is likely to escalate further. The current dispute concerns pensions, is quite major, and many good things have been written about it – including, and indeed especially, by other political theorists.
The question I would like to address here has less to do with the specifics of the current dispute and more with a general point that circulates among fellow-academics – and philosophers in particular – nearly every time the possibility of a strike is raised: are we, as comparatively privileged workers, justified in striking to keep and sometimes even improve our privileged status? The point is made in a particularly forceful manner when strike for pay is at stake, but is actually equally relevant to pensions – after all, UK academics are currently striking to defend their current defined benefit pension plan, and the very fact of being in a defined benefit pension scheme (even if one whose conditions have worsened over time) is a rare luxury these days.
Over the last two weeks, I have myself been suspiciously quiet about the fact that I am on strike in many of my daily interactions. This is especially the case with people who might reasonably regard my being on strike as a luxury – such as the carers at my daughter’s nursery, who are on minimum wage, do not get sick pay, and could not even dream of being in a union. That is, I feel self-conscious not only about what I am striking for, but about the very fact of being on strike: just that, in itself, feels like a privilege.
And yet I have little symapathy for the argument that academics should not strike; indeed I believe that too much self-reflection on our relatively privileged status is a display of complacency rather than virtue.
So, why do the comparatively privileged have a claim to strike?
Are there other reasons why the comparatively privileged should strike? Or are there other, stronger objections to the right of the relatively privileged to strike which deserve a fair hearing?
This is an interview with Isabelle Ferreras, who has just published a book on workplace democracy – to my knowledge, it’s the most detailed argument and proposal for a specific form of workplace democracy that has been provided in recent years. To get a sense of what it is all about, check out the animated trailer at www.firmsaspoliticalentities.net. We asked Isabelle to tell us more about her book, and we are very happy that she immediately agreed to do so.
Q: How did you get interested in the topic of workplace democracy?
Why do we trust experts to take care of our health and not to take care of our interests in the political realm? This is a very old question of democratic theory. Epistocracy is a neologism frequently used in recent works to refer to a form of government by those who know more or are wiser than the mass.
Two different aspects might differentiate an epistocracy from a democracy: the absence of political equality in the selection of the rulers, or the absence of egalitarian accountability. In addition to these undemocratic aspects, an epistocracy would differ from other non-democratic regimes by some mechanism allowing people who distinguish themselves from the mass by their wisdom or expertise to rule or at least enjoy an important degree of political power. The best example and – to my knowledge – the most interesting challenge to our democratic convictions is Jason Brennan’s idea of an “epistocratic council”. Members of this council would be selected on a meritocratic basis, passing a competency exam. And all citizens would have an equal voice in the choice of the expertise criteria.
Leaving aside the practical challenges such as the choice of the people in charge of preparing the exam, what would be wrong with such an epistocratic council?
For the past few weeks, people on- and offline have spoken up to question Winston Churchill’s legacy. They generally highlight his racism, his support for the use of concentration camps, his treatment of Ireland, his complicity in the Bengal famine, and more. Some protested in a Churchill-themed café. In response, others argue that he nevertheless deserves to be remembered for his role in fighting off the Nazis and inspiring the British public in dark times. There are, however, important questions to ask even about Churchill’s role in fighting the Nazis. Churchill authorised the indiscriminate killing of civilians by bombing German cities. In justifying this tactic, Churchill appealed to the extraordinarily dangerous nature of the situation. But does this justify indiscriminate killing? This question still has relevance today. US drone strikes in the Middle East and Afghanistan in many respects resemble a campaign of indiscriminate violence, and so it is necessary to ask if this campaign can be justified. I will here argue that the logic of Churchill’s defence does not, and indeed cannot, justify the use of indiscriminate violence.
2018 Jonathan Trejo-Mathys Essay Prize to Francisco Garcia Gibson (Buenos Aires)
The Global Justice Network is very pleased to announce the winner of this year’s Jonathan Trejo-Mathys Essay Prize, awarded annually to recognize a stellar contribution to the political theory and philosophy of global justice, which was one of Jonathan Trejo-Mathys’ areas of scholarship. The prize is sponsored by the Clough Center for the Study of Constitutional Democracy at Boston College.
This year’s prize goes to Francisco Garcia Gibson, postdoctoral researcher at the National Research Council of Argentina (CONICET) and the Centro de Investigaciones Filosóficas (CIF) at the Universidad de Buenos Aires for his essay “Guns or Food: On Prioritizing National Security over Global Poverty Relief”. The committee believes that the essay makes an important contribution to the scholarship in political theory, philosophy and international relations through its discussion of the normative commitments of political realism.
Honourable mentions go to Nicole Hassoun, Associate Professor at Binghampton University, for her piece on “Fair Trade: An Imperfect Obligation?” and Anahi Wiedenbrüg, doctoral research student at the LSE, for her submission “On the Responsibilities of Dominated States”.
Congratulations to all three authors. All three papers will be published in the next issue of Global Justice: Theory, Practice, Rhetoric.
Lecturer in Human Rights, University College London (closing 11/02/18)
Lecturer in Philosophy, University College London (closing 11/02/18)
Assistant Professor in Political Theory (tenure-track), Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile (closing 15/02/18)
Hoover Chair Fellowships, Universite Catholique de Louvain (closing 23/02/18)
Lecturer / Senior Lecturer in Social & Political Philosophy, University of Edinburgh (closing 27/02/18)
Postdoctoral Fellowships in Political Theory/Philosophy, Justitia Amplificata, University of Frankfurt / Free University of Berlin (closing 01/03/18)
Lecturer/Senior Lecturer/Reader in Political Theory, University of Essex (closing 04/03/18)
Lecturer in Philosophy, University of Western Australia (closing 04/03/18)
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