Ethical Theory and Moral Practice

, Volume 16, Issue 1, pp 35–54 | Cite as

When Is It Right to Fight? Just War Theory and the Individual-Centric Approach

  • James PattisonEmail author


Recent work in the ethics of war has done much to challenge the collectivism of the convention-based, Walzerian just war theory. In doing so, it raises the question of when it is permissible for soldiers to resort to force. This article considers this issue and, in doing so, argues that the rejection of collectivism in just war should go further still. More specifically, it defends the ‘Individual-Centric Approach’ to the deep morality of war, which asserts that the justifiability of an individual’s contribution to the war, rather than the justifiability of the war more generally, determines the moral acceptability of their participation. It then goes on to present five implications of the Individual-Centric Approach, including for individual liability to attack in war.


Individual-centric approach Jeff McMahan Jus ad bellum Just war theory Private contractors 



I would like to thank David Boucher, Mark Evans, Joe Femia, Mervyn Frost, Helen Frowe, David Karp, Seth Lazar, Graham Long, Cian O’Driscoll, Tom Porter, Jon Quong, Mark Reiff, Peri Roberts, Hillel Steiner, Peter Sutch, Milla Vaha, Steve de Wijze, and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on earlier versions of this article. This article was written whilst in receipt of funding from the Economic and Social Research Council (RES-000-22-4042). I am very grateful for their support.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Politics, School of Social SciencesUniversity of ManchesterManchesterUK

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