Ethics and War

It’s been a relatively easy couple of days here. That has given me some time to work on a small project for the corps chaplain’s office. There are two chaplain’s assistants who are headed to a meeting to discuss ethics issues in the Iraq and Afghanistan theaters, and I have been asked to provide some background material for them. I think that most of the discussion about ethical lapses in the current war miss an important point. We tend to overstimate the degree to which our internal character states influence our behavior, and understimate the degree to which the situation influences our behavior. There are several interesting experiments that show that, in particular situations, ordinary people can easily do things apparently incompatible with their values. Unfortunately, the relevant features of these situations are all found in combat.

In future posts, I’ll try to talk about the experiments and what they show.

2 thoughts on “Ethics and War”

  1. Have you read Philip Zimbardo’s book that came out in March, “The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil”? It’s a very painstaking (painful!) description of the Stanford Prison Experiments. Zimbardo says that we’re all capable of great evil in certain situations, but he also thinks that we can learn to resist the influence of those situations.

  2. Thanks for letting me know about the book. I do talk a little about Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment. The conclusion sounds right to me. I’ll have to order a copy.

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