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Looking Inward Together: Just War Thinking and Our Shared Moral Emotions

  • Valerie Morkevičius


Just war thinking serves a social and psychological role that international law cannot fill. Law is dispassionate and objective, while just war thinking accounts for emotions and the situatedness of individuals. While law works on us externally, making us accountable to certain people and institutions, just war thinking affects us internally, making us accountable to ourselves. Psychologically, an external focus leads to feelings of shame, while an inward focus generates feelings of guilt. Philosophers have long recognized the importance of these two moral emotions. Recently, psychologists have found that feelings of guilt are linked to positive social outcomes, such as the desire for reconciliation and reparation, while shame generates anger and hostility. Just war thinking, as an inward-looking tradition, has a special relationship with guilt. By focusing on moral emotions, just war thinking can move beyond the law in four ways, by developing an ethic of accountability, by providing a foundation for addressing moral injury, by providing a common language for discussing the costs of war, and for identifying ethical problems in radically new contexts.



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2 Childress, James F., Moral Responsibility in Conflicts: Essays on Nonviolence, War and Conscience (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1982), pp. 169–75.

3 Corrigan, John, ed., The Oxford Handbook of Religion and Emotion (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008).

4 Augustine, , The City of God (London: Penguin Books, 1984), p. 564 , 14.9.

5 Aquinas, The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas, II.29.1,

6 Kass, Leon, “The Wisdom of Repugnance,” New Republic 216, no. 22 (1997), pp. 1725 , at p. 20. See also Aquinas, Summa Theologica, II.23.4 and II.29.3.

7 Colombetti, Giovanna and Torrance, Steve, “Emotions and Ethics: An Inter-(en)active Approach,” Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 8, no. 4 (2009), pp. 505–26, at p. 515.

8 Hume, David, A Treatise of Human Nature, Vol. II (London: Allman, 1817), p. 106 .

9 Smith, Adam, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, edited by Raphael, D. D. and Macfie, A. L. (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1976).

10 Ibid., p. 83, II.ii.2.1.

11 Ibid., p. 84, II.ii.2.3.

12 Ibid., p. 86, II.ii.3.4.

13 Powell, Samuel M., The Impassioned Life: Reason and Emotion in the Christian Tradition (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2016), p. 283 .

14 Haidt, Jonathan, “The Moral Emotions,” in Davidson, R. J., Scherer, K. R., and Goldsmith, H. H., eds., Handbook of Affective Sciences (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), pp. 852–70, at p. 853. See also de Hooge, Ilona E., Zeelenberg, Marcel, and Breugelmans, Seger M., “Moral Sentiments and Cooperation: Differential Influences of Shame and Guilt,” Cognition and Emotion 21, no. 5 (2007), pp. 10251042 , at p. 1026.

15 Haidt, “The Moral Emotions,” p. 854.

16 Ibid.

17 Aquinas, , Summa Theologica, II.24.3. In Knuuttila, Simo, Emotions in Ancient and Medieval Philosophy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), p. 254 .

18 Hooge, Zeelenberg, and Breugelmans, “Moral Sentiments and Cooperation,” p. 1025.

19 Haidt, “The Moral Emotions,” p. 859.

20 Ibid.

21 Mead., George Herbert Mind, Self, and Society (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967), p. 255 .

22 Foucault, Michel, Discipline and Punish (New York: Vintage Books, 1995), p. 203 .

23 Bedford, Olwen and Hwang, Kwang-Kuo, “Guilt and Shame in Chinese Culture: A Cross-Cultural Framework from the Perspective of Morality and Identity,” Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour 33, no. 2 (2003), pp. 127–44, at p. 133.

24 Benedict, Ruth, The Chrysanthemum and the Sword (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1989), p. 223 .

25 Ibid. While Benedict's work has been critiqued by many who read it as implying the superiority of guilt cultures (i.e., the West) to shame cultures (i.e., Japan), she herself did not claim that one was superior to the other, nor did she believe that any culture was “purely” one or the other. See Creighton, Millie R., “Revisiting Shame and Guilt Cultures: A Forty-Year Pilgrimage,” Ethos 18, no. 3 (1990), pp. 279307 .

26 Bedford and Hwang, “Guilt and Shame in Chinese Culture,” p. 133.

27 Fontaine, Johnny R. J. et al. , “Untying the Gordian Knot of Guilt and Shame: The Structure of Guilt and Shame Reactions Based on Situation and Person Variation in Belgium, Hungary, and Peru,” Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology 37, no. 3 (2006), pp. 273–92, at p. 287.

28 Doosje, Bertjan, Branscombe, Nyla R., Spears, Russell, and Manstead, Antony S. R., “Guilty by Association: When One's Group Has a Negative History,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 75, no. 4 (1998), pp. 872–86, at p. 872.

29 Ketelaar, Timothy and Au, Wing Tung, “The Effects of Feelings of Guilt on the Behaviour of Uncooperative Individuals in Repeated Social Bargaining Games: An Affect-as-Information Interpretation of the Role of Emotion in Social Interaction,” Cognition and Emotion 17, no. 3 (2003), pp. 429–53, at pp. 431, 445. These results have been replicated in other studies, including Hooge, Zeelenberg, and Breugelmans, “Moral Sentiments and Cooperation,” p. 1032.

30 Ketelaar and Au, “The Effects of Feelings of Guilt on the Behaviour of Uncooperative Individuals,” p. 450.

31 Gilligan, James, “Shame, Guilt, and Violence,” Social Research 70, no. 4 (2003), pp. 1149–180, at p. 1165.

32 Ibid., p. 1168.

33 Nelissen, Rob M. A. and Zeelenberg, Marcel, “When Guilt Evokes Self-Punishment: Evidence for the Existence of a Dobby Effect ,” Emotion 9, no. 1 (2009), pp. 118–22, at p. 118.

34 Tangney, June Price et al. , “Relation of Shame and Guilt to Constructive Versus Destructive Responses to Anger Across the Lifespan,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 70, no. 4 (1996), pp. 797809 , at pp. 806–807.

35 Doosje et al., “Guilty by Association,” p. 277.

36 Walzer, Michael, Just and Unjust Wars (New York: Basic Books, 1977), p. 297 . Walzer is not alone in his skepticism about the efficacy of collective guilt. Hannah Arendt likewise opined, “where all are guilty, no one is; confessions of collective guilt are the best possible safeguard against the discovery of culprits.” Arendt, Hannah, Crises of the Republic (New York: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1972), p. 161 .

37 Doosje et al., “Guilty by Association,” pp. 884–85. On the connection between guilt and formal apology, see McGarty, Craig et al. , “Group-Based Guilt as a Predictor of Commitment to Apology,” British Journal of Social Psychology 44, no. 4 (2005), pp. 659–80. On reparations, see Doosje et al., “Guilty by Association,” and Brown, Rupert et al. , “Nuestra Culpa: Collective Guilt and Shame as Predictors of Reparation for Historical Wrongdoing,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 94, no. 1 (2008), pp. 7590 .

38 Tangney, June Price, Wagner, Patricia, Fletcher, Carey, and Gramzow, Richard, “Shamed into Anger? The Relation of Shame and Guilt to Anger and Self-Reported Aggression,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 62, no. 4 (1992), pp. 669–75.

39 Bonhoeffer, Dietrich, Ethics (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995).

40 Gilligan, “Shame, Guilt, and Violence,” p. 1167.

41 Tangney et al., “Shamed into Anger?” p. 670.

42 Bonhoeffer, Ethics, p. 25

43 Tangney at al., “Shamed into Anger?” p. 672.

44 Tangney et al., “Relation of Shame and Guilt to Constructive Versus Destructive Responses to Anger Across the Lifespan,” pp. 799, 806.

45 Gilligan, “Shame, Guilt, and Violence,” pp. 1149–180, at p. 1154.

46 Brown et al., “Nuestra Culpa,” p. 82.

47 Lickel, Brian et al. , “Vicarious Shame and Guilt,” Group Processes & Intergroup Relations 8, no. 2 (2005), pp. 145–57, at p. 152.

48 Nardin, Terry, “Theorising the International Rule of Law,” Review of International Studies 34, no. 3 (2008), pp. 385401 , at p. 392. This distinguishes law from threats and orders.

49 The ICJ nearly admitted this in its 1996 Nuclear Weapons case. See Koskenniemi, Martti, “‘The Lady Doth Protest Too Much’ Kosovo, and the Turn to Ethics in International Law,” Modern Law Review 65, no. 2 (2002), p. 160 .

50 Koskenniemi. “‘The Lady Doth Protest Too Much’ Kosovo,” pp. 159–75, at p. 159.

51 Ibid., p. 160.

52 Ibid., pp. 172, 174.

53 Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars, pp. 3, 96.

54 Morkevičius, Valerie, Realist Ethics: Just War Traditions as Power Politics (Cambridge University Press, Forthcoming 2017).

55 Secrest, Donald, Brunk, Gregory G., and Tamashiro, Howard, “Empirical Investigation of Normative Discourse on War: The Case of the Donagan-Aquinas Thesis,” Journal of Peace Research 28, no. 4 (1991), pp. 393406 .

56 Litz, Brett T. et al. , “Moral Injury and Moral Repair in War Veterans: A Preliminary Model and Intervention Strategy,” Clinical Psychology Review 29, no. 8 (2009), pp. 695706 , at p. 704.

57 Nelissen and Zeelenberg, “When Guilt Evokes Self-Punishment,” Emotion 9, no. 1, pp. 118–22.

58 Bell, Daniel M. Jr., Just War as Christian Discipleship: Recentering the Tradition in the Church Rather Than the State (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Brazos Press, 2009), p. 45 .

59 Colombetti and Torrance, “Emotions and Ethics,” p. 506.

60 Nussbaum, Martha and Kahan, Dan, “Two Conceptions of Emotion in Criminal Law,” Columbia Law Review 96, no. 2 (1996), p. 352 .

61 Sparrow, Robert, “Robots and Respect: Assessing the Case Against Autonomous Weapons Systems,” Ethics & International Affairs 30, no. 1 (2016), pp. 93116 ; and Arkin, Ronald, Ulam, Patrick, and Wagner, Alan R., “Moral Decision Making in Autonomous Systems: Enforcement, Moral Emotions, Dignity, Trust, and Deception,” Proceedings of the IEEE 100, no. 3 (2012), pp. 571–89. See also Morkevičius, Valerie, “Tin Men: Ethics, Cybernetics and the Importance of Soul,” Journal of Military Ethics 13, no. 1 (2014), pp. 319 .

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