Volume 18, Issue 2, July 2017
War and Moral Psychology
The Martial Courage of Refusing to Fight
In a nearly paradoxical manner, the virtue of martial courage is best understood through violent acts that are typically vicious, such as killing, maiming, and bombing. To ameliorate this worry, I make a new distinction that is dependent on whether the agent acts in accord with social norms (social courage) or against them (oppositional courage). We usually understand martial courage through social courage, where soldiers are courageous through performing violent acts that society determines are necessary. While this understanding is accurate for a just war, violence cannot be virtuous when fighting for an unjust cause. The oppositional form of martial courage involves acting contrary to social norms by refusing to fight on behalf of an unjust cause or in unjust ways. As a virtue, martial courage should include bravely renouncing and resisting unjust wars. In this way, oppositional courage provides a non-violent grounding for martial courage: while martial courage often requires violence, it also requires a vigilant readiness to refuse to be violent when justice requires oppositional courage.