Frances Kamm's New Book "Moral Target"

A HKS Library Virtual Book Tour with Professor Frances Kamm

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Professor Frances Kamm
Littauer Professor of Philosophy and Public Policy, Harvard Kennedy School

Publisher's Book Description

The "Moral Target: Aiming at Right Conduct in War and Other Conflicts" comprises essay that discuss aspects of war and other conflicts in the light of both nonconsequentialist ethical theory and the views of such theorists as Barbara Herman, Jeff McMahan, Avishai Margalit, and Michael Walzer. The first essay deals with the relation between states of affairs whose termination justifies war and states of affairs that once achieved should put an end to war. The next few essays deal with conduct in war. They first consider the implications of general moral principles (including the Doctrine of Double Effect and Principle of Permissible Harm) for the permissibility of harm to combatants and noncombatants, and then whether factors unique to war should alter what is permissible. In particular, if the context of war should affect the relative violability of different combatants and different noncombatants, if terror killing combatants and/or noncombatants should ever be permissible, and if there is liability to harm in virtue of belonging to a group.

The fifth essay examines how recent discussions by nonconsequentialists about redirection of threats (as in the famous Trolley Problem) may illuminate the moral status of collaboration that took place with Nazis during the Holocaust. What justice requires after conflict and how our ability to provide it affects the permissibility of starting war, is the next topic. Truth and reconciliation commissions and retribution post-conflict are discussed, and whether harm to civilians stemming from such procedures (and how the harm arises) bear on the permissibility of instituting the procedures. The three concluding essays deal with moral aspects of conflicts outside of standard war, including those involving the threat of terrorism, resistance to communal injustice (for example, in the case of the Taliban women), and the use of nuclear weapons for deterrence.


“It is impossible to do justice, within the scope of a short review, to the breadth and depths of these papers...To those familiar with Kamm's work, this timely collection of essays brings together some of her best known recent writings on the topic as well as new material on emerging issues in just war theory. To those not familiar with it, it provides a wonderful opportunity to enjoy her unrivalled argumentative skills and her superb handling of hypothetical cases...(in this book as in all her other works) one gets a sense not just of a great mind at work on morally urgent issues, but of a profoundly honest mind too. Kamm has that rare quality, in great evidence here, of being willing to say, quite simply, that at crucial junctures she does not have answers but is merely hoping to raise some questions...To do it well, however, and in a way that is genuinely illuminating, is not easy. This book does it superbly well.”
— Cecile Fabre, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

“Kamm manages to provide a unique and intellectually rich sense of essays in "The Moral Target" that help clarify important moral issues in the context of war... Kamm does not deal exclusively in the abstract netherworld of many philosophers. Instead, her writing engages the reader by dealing with real-world moral problems and related hypotheticals... By tying her analysis to such practical applications, Professor Kamm makes her writing both important for contemporary moral philosophers and accessible to the novice.”
— Harvard Law Review

“There are deep issues of ethical theory, such as the relevance of intention to the permissibility of action, that we must understand before we can hope to understand the morality of war and terrorism. No one has done more than Frances Kamm to enhance our understanding of these issues. Her essays on war, many of which are collected in this volume, reveal better than any other work in contemporary just war theory the ways in which careful and meticulous argumentation in ethical theory can illuminate the most important issues in the morality of war.”
— Jeff McMahan, Rutgers University

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The Moral Target: Aiming at Right Conduct in War and Other Conflicts

Cover of the book, "The Moral Target: Aiming at Right Conduct in War and Other Conflicts"

Related Links

View another virtual book tour for Professor Kamm's 2011 book from the same OUP series:

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