Hibbert Journal, Volume XXXIV, April 1936.Reprinted in Ethics and the History of Philosophy, 1952. Reprinted in Broad's Critical Essays in Moral Philosophy,ed. David R. Cheney (New York: Humanities Press, 1971).
OUGHT WE TO FIGHT FOR OUR COUNTRY IN THE NEXT WAR?
C. D. Broad
The question before us is of the general form: 'What ought such and such people (e.g. males of military age) to do under such and such circumstances (e.g. when their country is involved in a war)?. I shall first point out the general conditions which govern all attempts to answer such questions.
Any argument on the subject will have to use premises of two utterly different kinds, viz. purely factual and ethical. An ethical proposition is one which involves the notion of good or bad, right or wrong, ought or ought not. A purely factual proposition is one which involves no such notions. That deliberate homicide is wrong is an ethical proposition, true or false. It is a purely factual proposition that, if a man is shot through the heart, he will almost certainly be dead very soon afterwards.
Now the purely factual premises are of two kinds, viz. (i) Statements of alleged particular facts about the past or the present. These may be called instantial premises. And (ii) statements of alleged general laws or tendencies. These may be called nomic premises. An example of the first kind is the proposition that Japan has spent such and such a proportion of her revenue on her navy for the past ten years. An example of the second is the proposition, true or false, that an increase of armaments tends to produce a war. Now everyone admits that what a person ought or ought not to do at a given moment depends either on his present state and circumstances and his past history or on the probable consequences of the various alternative actions open to him at the time; and most people believe that it depends to some extent on both. In order to conjecture the probable consequences of various alternative actions which might be done in a given situation it is always necessary to use both kinds of factual premise. Therefore everyone would admit that factual premises of the instantial kind are needed, and the vast majority of people would admit that factual premises of the nomic kind are also needed, if we are to have any rational argument about such questions as we are asking.
But it is equally certain that ethical premises are also needed in any argument about an ethical question. Now ethical propositions are of two kinds, which I will call pure and mixed. It is always difficult to be sure that a given ethical proposition is pure, but it is easy to give examples of ethical propositions which are certainly mixed. Suppose I assert that a classical education is a good thing. I mean (a) that it is likely to produce in those subjected to it certain experiences and dispositions, which could be described in purely psychological and non-ethical terms; and (b) that such experiences and dispositions are good. The first of these two constituents of the original proposition is a purely factual statement of the nomic kind. The second is an ethical proposition. Whether it is purely ethical is another question. But, at any rate, the original proposition is certainly a mixed ethical One, and its ethical component is certainly a nearer approximation to a purely ethical one. When mixed ethical propositions are used as premises in ethical arguments they are always liable to lead to mistakes and misunderstandings. If we are to avoid these, it is essential that we should split up such propositions, so far as we can, into their purely ethical and their purely factual components. For two disputants who agree about one of the components may differ about the other; and, if they fail to recognize and distinguish the two, they are bound to be at cross-purposes and to produce crooked answers.
There is another important division of ethical propositions which cuts across the division into pure and mixed. Ethical propositions are of three kinds, which may be expressed respectively by sentences of the three forms:
'You ought (or ought not) to do so-and-so in such and such circumstances';For the present purpose I shall group the first two together under the name of judgments of obligation. I shall call the third kind judgments of value. Now this brings us to a fundamental difference of opinion which it is essential to notice if we are to have any intelligent discussion on such questions as we have before us.
Some people hold that there is one and only one ultimate obligation, and that this involves an essential reference to value. According to them the one ultimate obligation is to secure the increase and to prevent the decrease of the present amount of good, and to secure the dimunition and check the increase of the present amount of evil. All other obligations, such as the duty to keep one's promises or to obey the laws of one's country, are derivative from this one. They are obligations if and only if they are, in the actual circumstances, the most efficient way of fulfilling the one ultimate obligation to conserve and increase good and to check or diminish evil. Otherwise they are wrong. I shall call this the teleological theory of obligation.
This theory can, of course, take many different forms. I shall not attempt to distinguish more than two of them, which I will call the universalistic form and the restricted form. According to the universalistic form of the theory a person has no special obligation to produce good and diminish evil in one person or community rather than in another. Suppose you have two alternative courses of action open to you. By one of them you will improve the condition of your own countrymen, and by the other you will improve the conditions in another country instead. Then it is your duty, on this view, to avoid the former action and to do the the latter, provided that the improvement which you will effect in the foreign country is in the least degree greater than that which you would effect in your own country. According to the restricted form of the teleological theory your ultimate obligation still is to conserve and increase good and to check and diminish evil. But you have a stronger obligation to increase the good and diminish the evil in certain persons and communities, to which you stand in certain special relations, than you have towards other persons and communities to which you do not stand in these relations. On either form of the theory the one and only ultimate obligation is that of beneficence. On the universalistic form of it there is only the general obligation to be as beneficent as you can in the circumstances in which you are placed. On the restricted form of it the appropriate strength and direction of the obligation of beneficence is in part determined by the special regulations in which the agent stands to certain individuals, institutions, and communities.
Now many people would reject the teleological theory of obligation. They would hold that there are many ultimate obligations, and that they do not all involve an essential reference to value. They admit that I am under a general obligation to be beneficent to human beings as such; and they assert that I am also under more special and stringent obligations to be beneficent to my parents, my benefactors, my fellow-countrymen, and so on. But they say that there are many other obligations which are not reducible to beneficence at all, whether general or special. E.g. if a person asks me a question to which I know the answer, the mere fact that I am in this state and that he and I are in this situation gives him a claim on me to receive a true answer. On this view there is an obligation of truth-speaking which is not reducible to any obligation of beneficence and which may conflict with one's general or special obligations of beneficence. And there may be other obligations, e.g. an obligation to obey the laws of one's country, which may conflict with the obligation of truth-speaking and with the special and general obligations of beneficence. I propose to call this theory the pluralistic theory of obligation.
On the pluralistic theory a person who is called upon to act in one way or another, or to abstain from action, in a given situation many be subject to many different and conflicting claims or obligations of varying strength, arising out of various factors in his past history and various relations in which he stands to various persons, institutions, and communities. Whichever alternative he chooses he will fufill some of these component obligations, and in doing so he will necessarily break others which conflict with the former. In such cases the right action is the one which makes the best compromise between several conflicting claims, when due weight is given to their number and their relative urgency. But no general principles can be suggested for deciding what is the best compromise.
Now I cannot attempt here to decide between the universalistic form of the teleological theory, the restricted form of it, and the pluralist theory. I will content myself with two remarks about them. (i) Prima facie the pluralistic theory is in accord with common sense, and the universalistic form of the teleological theory is flagrantly at variance with common sense. And, if we reject the universalistic form of the teleological theory, it seems doubtful whether we can consistently rest in the restricted form of it. It looks as if the restricted form were an unstable compromise between the pluralistic theory and the universalistic form of the teleological theory. (ii) However this may be, it is essential to be clear in one's own mind as to which theory one is going to assume before one can argue intelligently about the question at issue. Facts which might prove conclusively, on the universalistic form of the teleological theory, that a man ought not to fight for his country might lead to no such consequence if one held that a citizen is under a special obligation of beneficence to his own nation. And their force would be still further diminished if one held that a man is under a strong direct obligation to obey the laws of his country, good or bad, simply because he is a citizen of it.
It remains to say something about the other kind of ethical propositions, viz. judgments of value. Here again there is a profound difference of opinion on a fundamental question. Some people hold that there is one and only one kind of subject of which the adjectives 'intrinsically good' and 'intrinsically evil' can properly be predicated, viz. experiences. And they hold further that there is one and only one characteristic of experiences which makes them good or evil. I will call this the monistic theory of value. It might conceivably take many different forms, according to what characteristic of experiences was held to be the one and only good-making or bad-making characteristic. But in practice, I think, nearly everyone who holds the monistic theory of value assumes that the one and only good-making or bad-making characteristic of experiences is their hedonic quality in its two opposed forms of pleasantness and unpleasantness. So, for the present purpose, we may identify the monistic theory of value with the hedonistic theory of value.
On this theory, whenever we call a community or an institution or a person or a disposition or an action 'good' or 'bad' we are making a mixed ethical statement. Suppose, e.g., that we call a certain person 'good'. We mean simply and solely to assert the two following propositions, (a) That his nature is such that he tends in most circumstances to have, or to produce in others, experiences which are predominantly pleasant. And (b) that such experiences are, for that reason and to that extent, good.
Now many people would unhesitatingly reject the hedonistic theory of value in whole or part. Some would hold that persons can be good or evil in the same ultimate sense in which experiences can be. Some would go further, and would hold that this is true also of certain collective wholes, composed of intimately interrelated persons, e.g. nations. Again, even those who hold that nothing but experiences can be intrinsically good or evil may hold that there are other good-making and bad-making characteristics of experiences beside their pleasantness and their unpleasantness. Anyone who holds any of these views may be said to accept the pluralistic theory of value.
Once again I shall not attempt to decide between the rival theories. I will content myself with the following remarks, (i) Prima facie the hedonistic theory is flagrantly at variance with common sense. The common sense view is prima facie that persons, at any rate, can be intrinsically good or evil as well as experiences, and that there are many characteristics beside pleasantness and unpleasantness which make experiences intrinsically good or bad. (ii) If a pluralistic theory of value is admitted, a person who accepts the teleological theory of obligation is faced at the second move with the same kind of problem as faces an adherent of the pluralistic theory of obligation at the first move. He will not, indeed, have to try to find the best compromise between a number of ultimate and conflictng obligations of various degrees of urgency. But he will have to aim at producing the best compromise between a number of ultimate kinds of value and disvalue. He may, e.g., have to weigh the net value of a state of heroic self-sacrifice accompanied by misery and intellectual stupidity against that of a state of clearsighted and cool selfishness accompanied by comfort. And no general principle can be offered for conducting the comparison. The only person who can avoid such difficulties is one who combines the universalistic form of the teleological theory of obligation with the hedonistic theory of value. And both the elements in this combination seem prima facie far too simple to be true, (iii) Whatever may be the truth about these rival theories of value, this at least is certain. It is essential to be clear in one's own mind as to which theory one is going to assume before one can argue intelligently about the question at issue. Facts which might prove conclusively, on the hedonistic theory of value, that a man ought not to fight for his country might lead to no such consequence if it were held that heroic self-sacrifice gives value to the persons who practise it just as pleasantness gives value to pleasant experiences. And their force might be still further diminished if it were held that a nation is a persistent collective entity of a peculiar kind, with a characteristic value or disvalue of its own which is determined by the actions and dispositions of its citizens.
This completes what I have to say about the general conditions which govern all rational discussion about such questions as we have before us. I will summarize them as follows, (i) The factual and the ethical premises must be clearly distinguished; any mixed ethical premises must be analysed into their purely factual and their purely ethical components; and the instantial and the nomic factual premises must be separately stated, (ii) The theory of obligation which is being assumed by any disputant must be explicitly stated. We must know whether he assumes the pluralistic theory or the teleological theory. And, if he assumes the latter, we must know whether he assumes the universalistic or the restricted form of it. (iii) The theory of value which is being assumed by any disputant must be explicitly stated. We must know whether he assumes the hedonistic theory or the pluralist theory. And, if he assumes the latter, we must know whether he holds that only experiences can have intrinsic value or disvalue, or that only experiences and persons can have it, or that experiences and persons and societies can have it. Unless these conditions are fulfilled, there can be no rational argument; there can only be emotional hot air emitted in argumentative form.
When these conditions have been fulfilled I do not believe that there is much room for argument on such questions except on the purely factual side. We may be able to alter a man's opinions about the probable consequences of fighting or refusing to fight when his country is involved in war, by showing him particular facts which he had overlooked, or by convincing him, from empirical evidence, of laws or tendencies which he had not suspected. But there are no arguments by which we can alter his opinions as to what circumstances do and what do not impose obligations on him, or as to the kinds of thing which can have intrinsic value or disvalue, or as to the characteristics which do and those which do not confer intrinsic value or disvalue on the things which possess them. If he is a pluralist about obligation, we cannot by argument alter his opinions about the relative urgency of the various conflicting obligations which he believes to be incumbent upon him. If he is a pluralist about value, we cannot by argument alter his opinions as to the various degrees of goodness or badness conferred by the various characteristics which he believes to be good-making or bad-making. We can clear up confusions and indicate possible sources of prejudice; but, when we have done this, we have done all that argument can accomplish in such matters, and, if we still differ, we must agree to do so.
My next business is to try to restate the question in a perfectly clear and concrete form. I shall assume that the war in question is an important one, in the sense that there is real uncertainty as to whether England will win or lose it, and that the loss of it would certainly entail on England such disastrous consequences as accrued to the defeated nations after the war of 1914 to 1918. I shall assume that conscription is in force. And I shall assume that 'we' means persons liable under the act to military service, and not exempted by the authorities because of special usefulness in some other form of war work, such as munition-making. The question is whether such persons, in such circumstances, ought to obey this law or to refuse to obey it. Of course a very similar question would arise for those specially skilled persons, such as research chemists, who would be exempted from military service in order to apply their special skill to other forms of war work. Ought they to refuse both to fight and to exercise their abilities in arming those who are fighting?
Now I have no idea what is the right answer to this question, and, if I had, I should not be able to prove it to people who accepted different ethical principles and premises from those which I accept. I am not sure indeed that it is the kind of question to which there is an answer, even laid up in heaven, as Plato might say. I shall therefore content myself with making a few remarks which are, I think, relevant to it.
(1) There are three and only three cases in which no difficulty can arise, (i) A person may be persuaded that the war in which his country is engaged is the least evil alternative open to it in the circumstances, and he may hold that he has a direct or derived obligation to obey the laws of his country. Such a person will presumably hold that he ought to fight if he is ordered to do so. (ii) A man may hold that there is a direct obligation not to take or help in taking human life, and that this is so urgent that it overrides all other obligations, direct or derivative, which conflict with it. Such a man will have no difficulty in deciding that he ought not to fight, no matter how good the cause may be and even if he admits that war is the only way to bring about a great good or avoid a great evil. (iii) A man may hold that there is a direct obligation to obey the laws of his country, and that this is so urgent that it overrides all other obligations which may conflict with it. Such a man will have no difficulty in deciding that he ought to fight, no matter how bad the cause may be and even if he thinks that war is an inefficient means of securing good or avoiding evil. Both these opinions seem to me absurd. I do not believe that there is any one obligation which is of such unique urgency that it overrides all other obligations, direct or indirect, that may conflict with it. Therefore the only case that seems to me to be of interest is that of a man who holds that war in general, or this war in particular, is wrong, and who does not hold that there is an overwhelming obligation either to refrain from taking human life or to obey the laws of his country.
(2) The following fact is very important, and is liable to be overlooked. If one believes that war in general, or a certain particular war, is wrong, this may be a conclusive reason for trying to prevent one's country from getting into it and for trying to get one's country out of it if it has entered upon it. But, except on the universalistic form of the teleological theory of obligation, it is not a conclusive reason for refusing to fight for your country when, in spite of your efforts, it is engaged in war. There is nothing particularly paradoxial in this. If one is a member of an ordinary partnership or committee, it is often one's duty loyally to help in carrying out a policy which one believes to be wrong and which one has conscientiously opposed while it was still under discussion. No doubt, if the conflict is too extreme, it becomes one's duty to dissolve the partnership or to resign from the committee. But it is just at this point that the analogy breaks down. For you cannot really do anything analogous to resigning from your country. If you are to go on living in England at all during the war, you will be dependent for your food and for such protection as you enjoy on the army, the navy, and the air-force; i.e. on the fact that there is a majority of persons of military age whose consciences are less sensitive than yours or work in a different way. Plainly there is a prima facie obligation not to put yourself in this situation of one-sided dependence on what you must regard as the wrong actions of people who are less virtuous or less enlightened than yourself. This complication would be avoided if the conscription law imposed the death penalty for refusal to undertake military or other war service. I am inclined to think that this ought to be done, and that really conscientious objectors to military service should welcome it.
(3) Refusal to fight in a war is one of those actions whose effects vary very greatly with the proportion and the distribution of those who practise them. If a majority of persons of military age in both belligerent countries simultaneously refused to fight, it would be an extremely good thing, since it would automatically bring the war to an end without either victory or defeat. If a considerable proportion of such persons in England refused to fight, whilst few if any in the enemy country did so, the result would be the defeat of England. Under the conditions of modern war a complete and early defeat might be better for the defeated country than victory after prolonged fighting. But it is not worth discussing either of these alternatives, because it is as certain as anything of this kind can be that nothing like them will in fact be realized. The actual situation will certainly be that only a quite negligible proportion of those liable to military service, either in England or in any country with which England is likely to be at war, will refuse to fight. The intending refuser can safely assume that, if he refuses, he will be a tiny minority, and that his action will make no appreciable difference to the duration or the outcome of the war.
Now there are two remarks to be made about this, (i) It is a mistake to suppose that, because refusal would be right if most people in both countries were going to refuse, therefore it will be right in the actual case where only very few people in either country will refuse. No legitimate inference can be made to what is right in the actual case from what would be right in the widely different hypothetical case. The rightness or wrongness of an action depends, inter alia, on the circumstances in which it is done; and one extremely relevant circumstance in the present case is the extent to which other people will perform similar actions.
(ii) Since the large-scale effects of refusing to fight are likely to be negligible, the individual who is debating whether he ought to refuse can confine his attention to the probable effects on himself and his circle of friends and relations when considering the utility or disutility of refusal. This is, no doubt, a great convenience for him. But he will have to reflect that he owes this convenience, as he will owe his food and protection, to the fact that he can count on most other people doing what he judges to be wrong and deciding to fight. Unless he holds the universalistic form of the teleological theory of obligation and the hedonistic theory of value, he may suspect that it is not altogether fitting that his honour should be rooted in the fortunate dishonour of most of his contemporaries.
In conclusion I would make one remark to those who are convinced that they ought not to fight for their country in the next war or are not convinced that they ought to. They can avoid most of their difficulties by suicide; and on the whole, this is the course which I should recommend to those of them who do not think that there is an overwhelming obligation not to take one's own life. Of course it is possible that we survive the deaths of our present bodies, and it is alleged that the position of the suicide in the next life is less eligible than that of the non-suicide. But there is no conclusive evidence for the first proposition, and no evidence at all that the position of the suicide is worse than that of the victim of any other form of violent death. The next life, if there be one, must be bad indeed if it is worse than this life will be in time of war. And the gas in your oven is no less deadly and far more merciful than that which you will encounter on the battle-field or in the streets of your own town if it should be bombed.