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Teaching Ethics


published on July 29, 2015

J. Alden Stout

Pedagogy and Principled Thinking about War

Students generally approach the topic of warfare with naïve assumptions. They tend to believe that the U.S is always on the right side of any conflict. This is particularly prevalent in discussions of terrorism. Terrorism is what the “bad guys” do and fighting terrorists is what we, the “good guys,” do. The goal of this paper is to present a Socratic strategy to challenge these assumptions. This approach involves showing that a popular conception of terrorism entails the conclusion that nuclear deterrence is itself a form of terrorism. I call this “the terrorist problem for deterrence.” When students are presented with the deterrence problem, they must either reject the conclusion that terrorism is always wrong or that U.S foreign policy is always right. Presenting students with this dilemma leads them to a more complex perspective regarding the ethics of war and peace.

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