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Main page / "Knowledge. Understanding. Skill" Journal / Contents / 2015 / 1

Lobanov E. V. Plato and Aristotle on the Law of War

(Orenburg State University)

Abstract ♦ Contemporary principles of the law of war are generally connected with those of the “just war theory”. It is probably the most influential theory in the philosophy of international law. Its origin is traditionally discovered in the works of medieval philosophers Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. Among the modern theorists of the just war are Michael Walzer, Jeff MacMahan and Brien Orend. It has been previously held that the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle does not feature a coherent just war theory, and thus the link between the law of war and their ethics has never been investigated. This article is an investigation of Plato and Aristotle’s views on the law of war in the context both of the just war theory and the philosophers ethics.

Plato says in Phaedo that imperfect human nature, with its lust for material wealth and pleasure, leads us toward unjust wars. Alcibiades I lists some causes of a just war: violence, deception and robbery. In the same dialogue Plato insists that it is the knowledge of the Good that gives us the knowledge of justice. Thus, eternal peace is possible only if each ruler is familiar with the idea of the Good. In The Republic, Plato describes two categories of citizens with regard to war: the first class is the rulers who declare war, and the second — guardians are responsible for waging it in the right way. Both classes education should lie in the pursuit of virtue. Plato ultimately argues that war should be restrained, if only in conflicts between the Greek city-states.

In both Politics and Nicomachean ethics, Aristotle maintains that war is a natural instrument for establishing a government over barbaric societies. A statesman can achieve this through the command of four qualities: fairness, courage, moderation and prudence. Even if he is engaged in war, he should be guided by the general principles of virtue.

The inquiry into the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle helps us discover larger ontological foundations underpinning the modern norms of just war, as well as improves our understanding of the evolution of just war theory.

Keywords: Plato, Aristotle, classical Greek philosophy, law of war, virtue, the Good, war, peace, jus ad bellum, jus in bello

Lobanov Evgeny Viktorovich, Postgraduate, Department of Philosophy, Orenburg State University. Postal address: 13 Prospekt Pobedy, Orenburg, Russian Federation, 460001. Tel.: +7 (3532) 37-25-86. E-mail: Research adviser: Doctor of Philosophy, Professor Yu. Sh. Strelets.


Citation: Lobanov E. V. (2015) Plato and Aristotle on the Law of War [ ]. Znanie. Ponimanie. Umenie, no. 1, pp. 304-310. (In Russ.). DOI: 10.17805/zpu.2015.1.30

Submission date: 9.06.2014.



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