Berkeley Talks: Tanner Lectures, day 3: Commentators respond to Ripstein, discuss morality of war

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Arthur Ripstein, Jeff McMahan, Oona Hathaway and Chris Kutz pose for a photo

From left: Arthur Ripstein, Jeff McMahan, Oona Hathaway and Chris Kutz

For the 2019 Tanner Lectures at UC Berkeley, Arthur Ripstein, a professor of law and philosophy at the University of Toronto, argues that the very thing that makes war wrongful — the fact which side prevails does not depend on who is in the right — also provides the moral standard for evaluating the conduct of war, both the grounds for going to war and the ways in which wars are fought.

In the last of three days of lectures and discussions, which took place on April 9-11, commentators Chris Kutz, a law professor at UC Berkeley who focuses on moral, political and legal philosophy; Oona Hathaway, a professor of international law at Yale Law School; and Jeff McMahan, a professor of moral philosophy at the University of Oxford, provide commentary on Ripstein’s previous two lectures.

“What’s puzzling is that Arthur seems to want to link up this principle to the idea of a future peace and internally to the principle of action by the aggressor,” said Kutz in his commentary. “The peace imagined by the aggressor nation isn’t the peace of a just defender, it’s a peace based upon forcible change. Now, Arthur seemed to suggest that there’s no coherent alternative to the just defender’s limited aims in war, that any other conception of war makes war a matter of what he called extermination. Even for an aggressor’s state, that seems to me an exaggerated characterization.”

The Tanner Lectures on Human Values is presented annually at nine universities: UC Berkeley, Harvard, Michigan, Princeton, Stanford, Utah, Yale, Cambridge and Oxford. This series was founded in 1978 by the American scholar, industrialist and philanthropist, Obert Clark Tanner, who was also a member of the faculty of philosophy at the University of Utah. He was also an Honorary Fellow of the British Academy. Tanner’s goal, in establishing the lectures through the Tanner philanthropies, was to promote the search for a better understanding of human behavior and human values. He hoped that the lectures would advance scholarly and scientific learning in the area of human values, and contribute to the intellectual and moral life of humankind.

Learn more about the 2019 Tanner Lectures.

Listen to all three 2019 Tanner Lectures on Berkeley Talks.