Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Schools and Centres

Philosophy and Theology

First Supervisor

Christian Enemark

Second Supervisor

Professor Hayden Ramsey


The overwhelming majority of theorists addressing questions of the morality of war do so from within the moral framework provided by Just War Theory (JWT): a normative account of war that dates back over 1500 years in the Western Tradition. However, today’s iterations of Just War Theory are markedly different from those of its intellectual ancestors. Specifically, today’s accounts tend not to consider matters of moral virtue, personal excellence, moral psychology, or human flourishing – that is, aretaic matters – to be worthy subjects of discussion. Instead, they prefer to focus overtly on questions of law, justice, and human rights – deontological questions – as if they were the entire purview of a comprehensive morality of war.

I explore some of the major theorists in the history of Western JWT, showing that the ancestors of today’s just war theories did consider aretaic matters – in particular the moral virtues – to be of central importance to the morality of war. I also show how and why it came to be that deontological and aretaic discussions became fragmented in contemporary JWT.

In order to demonstrate how this fragmentation is problematic, I consider deontological ethics’ connection to aretaic ethics. I explain how contemporary JWT tends to conceptualise rights, emphasising the central place of intention in those theories. I show how aretaic ethics can enrich deontological appraisals of ongoing debates in military ethics.

Finally, I make a positive case for aretaic ethics by identifying new questions that aretaic ethics reveals to JWT, those being: the complexity of the identity of soldiers, how moral character and identity can help prevent moral transgressions, and the moral and psychological trauma suffered by many soldiers and veterans. I argue that aretaic modes of thinking help to explain moral transgressions of soldiers and the psychological difficulties that veterans can experience post-war.

Deontological and aretaic ethics also interact in the three professions most relevant to waging war: soldiers, commanders, and political leaders. I show how the virtues are necessary character traits in order to guarantee that warfighters and their political leaders can be relied on to fulfil their professional duties. Aretaic ethical analysis is also able to provide conceptual understanding of supererogatory actions.

Contemporary just war theorists would be wise to re-integrate aretaic ethics into their considerations of the morality of war. Aretaic ethics can be combined seamlessly and productively with deontological ethics, yielding more robust and intelligible responses to the most pressing controversies facing military ethics today. Rights and deontology present crucial elements of the ethics war, but they can be ably complemented by insights from aretaic ethics; specifically, matters of character and the moral development of the agent. Furthermore, incorporating aretaic ethics into JWT enables theorists to utilise that framework to consider matters currently outside of its purview, but which are of growing relevance to military practice.

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