Ethical Theory and Moral Practice

, Volume 19, Issue 1, pp 115–127 | Cite as

Guilt and Child Soldiers

  • Krista K. Thomason


The use of child soldiers in armed conflict is an increasing global concern. Although philosophers have examined whether child soldiers can be considered combatants in war, much less attention has been paid to their moral responsibility. While it is tempting to think of them as having diminished or limited responsibility, child soldiers often report feeling guilt for the wrongs they commit. Here I argue that their feelings of guilt are both intelligible and morally appropriate. The feelings of guilt that child soldiers experience are not self-censure; rather their guilt arises from their attempts to come to terms with what they see as their own morally ambiguous motives. Their guilt is appropriate because it reaffirms their commitment to morality and facilitates their self-forgiveness.


Child soldiers Guilt Moral responsibility Coercion Self-forgiveness 



I am grateful to Owen Ware and Aly Passanante for their comments on earlier versions of this paper. I am also grateful to the anonymous reviewers at Ethical Theory and Moral Practice for their helpful feedback and suggestions.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophySwarthmore CollegeSwarthmoreUSA

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