Bernard Gert's theory of moral rules and American Professional Military Ethics

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Bernard Gert's theory of moral rules and American Professional Military Ethics
Hallgarth, Matthew W
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Decision making ( jstor )
Ethics ( jstor )
Health professions ( jstor )
Military ethics ( jstor )
Moral agency ( jstor )
Moral particularism ( jstor )
Morality ( jstor )
Physicians ( jstor )
Professional ethics ( jstor )
Soldiers ( jstor )
Dissertations, Academic -- Philosophy -- UF ( lcsh )
Philosophy thesis, Ph.D ( lcsh )
bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
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Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Florida, 2003.
Includes bibliographical references.
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Statement of Responsibility:
by Matthew W. Hallgarth.

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Full Text







To my lovely wife Leslie and our three beautiful children, Ben, Emily, and
Abigail. Their support, encouragement, and prayers were timely and necessary for
completing this project. Also to my parents, Bob and Gayle Hallgarth, for nurturing in
me a love of learning and a determination to keep pressing ahead. Finally, to my former
supervisor at the U.S. Air Force Academy Center for Character Development, Lieutenant
Colonel Mick Fekula, USAF (retired). He lobbied hard and overcame many
administrative hurdles on my behalf. Without him I would never have had this


I would like to express my sincere thanks to those people who have helped and

encouraged me in this project. Special thanks go to Dr. Robert J.Baum for serving as my

dedicated committee chair these many months, for patiently teaching me how to write more

effectively, and for teaching me how to efficiently organize a project of this scope. Thanks also

go to Dr. Robert D'Amico, Dr. Jon Tresan, Dr. Crystal Thorpe, Dr. Fred Gregory, and Dr. Diane

Mazur for serving on my committee. I am grateful to Dr. Bernard Gert for being available and

eager to discuss this project with me via email. I would also like to express my gratitude to Mrs.

Virginia Dampier and Mrs. Noeleen Brophy for their administrative support these three years.


ACKN OW LEDGM EN TS.............................................................................................................. iii



1 INTRODUCTION ........................................................................................................................ 1

PROFESSION AL M ILITARY ETHICS ........................................ ................................................ 7

Official Docum ents..................................................................................................................... 9
Literature of Aspiration and Evaluation.................................................................................... 32
Conclusion ................................................................................................................................ 84

M ORAL SY STEM ........................................................................................................................ 86

Introduction ............................................................................................................................... 86
Reasons Gert Provides For Why His Theory Is Better Than the Alternatives.......................... 87
The Com m on M oral System ..................................................................................................... 95
Hum an N ature......................................................................................................................... 100
Rationality and Irrationality.................................................................................................... 101
Im partiality .............................................................................................................................. 111
Publicity .................................................................................................................................. 117
M oral Rules ............................................................................................................................. 121
M oral Ideals ............................................................................................................................ 141
M oral Virtues.......................................................................................................................... 152
Justifying V violations of M oral Rules...................................................................................... 158
The Two-Step Procedure ....................................................................................................... 168
M oral D isagreement................................................................................................................ 180
Sum m ary ................................................................................................................................. 186


Introduction.............................................................. ...... ......... ........................................ 188
Gert's Credentials.................................................................................................................... 189
Gert's Response to Recent Trends........................................................................................... 191
Gert and Concrete M medical Ethics Cases................................................................................ 195
Gert's Analyses of Four M medical Ethics Cases ....................................................................... 195
Som e Criticism s of Gert's Cases Analyses.............................................................................. 235
Is Gert Faithful to His Decision Procedure? ........................................................................... 260


Gert's Successes..................................................................................................................... 265
Casuistry and Gert................................................................................................................. 272
The N eed for Policy ................................................................................................................ 275

5 GERT AND AMERICAN PROFESSIONAL MILITARY ETHICS..................................... 277

Setting the M military Profession Apart ..................................................................................... 280
Core Concepts of the Am erican M military Profession.............................................................. 282
Analyses of M military Ethics Cases.............................................. ........................................ 297

6 CON CLU SION S ......................................................................................................................355

Tying It Together.................................................................................................................... 357
Fotion and Elfstrom Axinn, Gabriel, and Hartle Revisited.................................................... 360
Gert's Potential Contributions to American Professional Military Ethics............................... 373

BIBLIOGRA PHY ....................................................................................................................... 376

BIOGRA PHICAL SKETCH ........................................................................................................ 384

Abstract of Dissertation to the Graduate School
Presented to the Graduate School of the University of Florida
in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the
Degree of Doctor of Philosophy



Matthew W. Hallgarth

August, 2003

Chairman: Dr. Robert J. Baum
Major Department: Philosophy

This dissertation presents aprimafacie case for the usefulness of applying

Bernard Gert's theory of moral rules to American professional military ethics. Gert's

moral theoretical goal is to describe the common moral system that all moral agents

implicitly use to make moral decisions the way competent speakers of a language

implicitly use a grammatical system to speak a language. Gert describes the key features

of the common moral system and attempts to justify that description as accurate. Gert's

moral theory also provides an explicit decision procedure to guide moral decision-making

in concrete cases.

Gert has already argued in many articles and books that his moral decision

procedure can be effectively used to make complex moral decisions in professional

medical ethics. I use Gert's work in medical ethics as a springboard for investigating

whether similar success is possible in American Professional Military Ethics. I argue that

similar success is possible but limited.

This dissertation is organized into an introductory chapter, four main chapters,

and a concluding chapter. In chapter 2 1 review the diverse literature that American

military professionals have at their disposal to guide their moral decision-making in

concrete cases. This literature is divided into two convenient categories, official

documents and the literature of evaluation and aspiration. In chapter three I present a

concise discussion of Gert's theory of moral rules, explaining key concepts he deploys

and describing the moral decision procedure that is consistent with those concepts. In

chapter four I review and assess Gert's important work in medical ethics in order to

explore how and how effectively he has deployed his theory to make moral decisions in

concrete medical ethics cases. Finally in chapter five, I apply Gert's moral theory to

several concrete cases of varying complexity in American professional military ethics.

Gert's theory provides a promising and concise moral decision procedure that, within

limits, improves on but does not contradict the moral guidance provided in the official

documents and the literature of evaluation and aspiration.


This dissertation presents a primafacie case for using Bernard Gert's theory of moral

rules and his two-step decision procedure to make moral decisions in the American military

profession. Gert's theory can clarify how moral judgments in the American military profession

are made. His theory can also be used to evaluate moral judgments that have been made, and

guide professionals considering what moral decision to make, particularly in controversial cases

where competing professional duties conflict. While all persons encounter moral conflicts at

different times, military professionals encounter them more frequently, particularly in the

exigencies of battle, where the consequences of decisions are usually very grave.

There are three primary reasons for investigating the utility of Gert's theory in the

American professional military context. First, Gert's theory is relatively unique in that it is both

theoretically rich and practically useful. Gert's theory of moral rules provides an explicit

description of the common moral system that he argues all rational moral agents implicitly use.

His theory provides a useful decision procedure for making moral decisions in concrete cases. In

short, Gert's theory seems to do a good job of bridging the gap between theory and practice. This

is an important result.

Second, Gert has already demonstrated the explanatory power and practical applicability

of moral theory and decision procedure in professional medical ethics. This success suggests a

reasonable possibility that Gert's moral theory and decision procedure may be similarly effective

as a theoretical guide for American professional military ethics. Gert and several colleagues such

as Charles M. Culver and K. Danner Clouser have shown how Gert's moral theory and decision

procedure are effective at making moral decisions in complex medical ethics cases. Gert's two-

step procedure for making moral judgments provides a method for isolating morally relevant facts


and assessing whether proposed violations of moral rules in making medical treatment decisions

are strongly justifiable, weakly justifiable, or unjustifiable. Gert has considerable hands-on

experience in the medical ethics field as an ethical consultant at various hospitals and medical

associations. Through his work in medical ethics, Gert has demonstrated that professional

medical ethics is not separate but a part of the common moral system that all moral agents know,

understand, and implicitly use to make moral decisions and judgments.

Third, Gert's theory, I think wisely, takes a scientific approach to assessing concrete

moral issues in professional contexts. His goal is largely descriptive, i.e., to explain clearly and

coherently the common moral system that is implicitly understood and employed by moral agents

in the same way they implicitly understand and employ a grammatical system to speak a

language. For Gert, an explicit description of this common moral system can help to empower

moral agents to make better moral decisions and judgments in ordinary and controversial

professional situations.

While Gert has written extensively to show how his moral theory and decision procedure

can be used to assess and resolve a host of complex medical ethical issues, no one as yet made

even aprimafacie case for how his theory of moral rules might provide theoretical support and

practical guidance for military professionals facing complex moral decisions. This dissertation

will serve as that investigation.

In Chapter 2, 1 review the contemporary literature on American professional military

ethics that provides at least implicit moral decision-making guidance. I break this literature down

into two broad categories, official documents and literature of aspiration and evaluation. For

American military professionals, the default position in seeking professional moral guidance is

provided by the official documents. The official documents set legally binding standards and

establish policies and procedures that American military professionals are expected to follow.

These documents are myriad and diffuse and are often vague or ambiguous. These documents

include sources such as the U.S. Constitution, the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and many

regulations. In contrast, the literature of aspiration and evaluation analyzes and discusses

American professional military ethics from a variety of philosophical perspectives and

professional orientations. This literature is not legally binding. As part of my review of this

category of literature I will briefly discuss and assess a few contemporary philosophers who are

well known in the field of American professional military ethics and who have written systematic

works about the topic from a diversity of classical ethical perspectives. This review will be brief,

expository, and selectively critical, exposing at least one weakness in each writer's views that I

think Gert's theory can overcome.

In Chapter 3 I explicate Gert's description of the common moral system that he argues all

moral agent implicitly use. I explain what this common moral system is by describing its general

features, and I also explicate the key concepts Gert argues are necessary in order to describe the

common moral system accurately and systematically. Gert's project is to provide an explicit

description of how rational moral agents actually, and usually implicitly, make moral decisions

and judgments and to provide a justification for why his description is more accurate than other:

normative theoretical alternatives. I will explicate the important concepts in Gert's theory, such

as moral rules, ideals, virtues, and the important concepts of rationality, impartiality, and

publicity. I will also explain Gert's two-step decision procedure for assessing whether proposed

violations of moral rules are justifiable, and if so, what is the strength of their justifiability.

In Chapter 4, I review and assess Gert's contributions to professional medical ethics. I

discuss Gert's account of the important theoretical relationship between his moral theory and

professional medical ethics. This process involves discussing the relationship between universal

moral rules, particular moral rules, professional moral rules, and the important and unique role

that duty plays in professional ethics. This relationship, Gert argues, holds up even when medical

ethics are discussed in terms of core medical ethics concepts that influence particular medical

treatment decisions. These core principles are competence, valid consent, confidentiality, and

paternalism. In Chapter four I also review and evaluate how Gert has already employed his moral

theory and decision procedure to analyze four controversial medical ethics cases. Along the way

I briefly discuss Gert's criticism of the dominant paradigm in medical ethics over the last few

decades, also known as "principlism," and explain why Gert thinks his approach to medical ethics

is an improvement over it. To close the chapter I offer a few criticisms of Gert's analyses of

these cases, some of which are criticisms of particular analyses and some of which are systemic.

In Chapter 5, 1 assess the usefulness of applying Gert's theory for American professional

military ethics. If Gert's theory accurately describes the common moral system that all moral

agents use implicitly to make moral decisions, then his description ought to be as relevant to

American professional military ethics as it is in medical ethics. The American military profession

is an institution governed by many moral and legal rules, and is an institution where it is

frequently necessary for military professionals to make moral decisions that involve violations of

moral rules that result in enormous amounts of harm. I will apply Gert's theoretical machinery,

particularly his two-step decision procedure, to five select and diverse concrete military cases in

order to see if his theory and decision procedure provides helpful guidance for making moral

decisions and judgments in those contexts. This chapter underscores the limitations of any moral

decision procedure, the presence of irresolvable but limited disagreement, the problem of training

and education, and the limitations of time, duress, ignorance, and institutional pressures.

In Chapter 6 1 present my summary and conclusions. In particular I emphasize that

Gert's moral theory and decision provides better and more useful moral decision making

guidance for American military professionals that Fotion and Elfstrom, Axinn, Gabriel, and


Every human society has a primary interest in self-protection against threats to its internal

and external security. Consequently, the literature on professional military ethics, including the

oral history of illiterate societies, is exceedingly broad, spanning all of human history in every

society on every continent. It is therefore necessary to place some restrictions on the scope of this


I focus on ethics within the military profession, not on the ethics of when to use military

force. Military professionals do not select their wars, though they have wide latitude in making

the specific moral judgments about how to fight them. Thus, this dissertation will not discuss

morality and war generally. Military professionals are not legally empowered to make judgments

about whether a war is morally justifiable. In all modem cultures of the first world, civilian

authorities make those judgments. This dissertation focuses on complex or controversial moral

decisions that military professionals make in specific circumstances that they are likely to face

when performing their duties. One or more of these cases I analyze will involve peacetime

functions of the military, to include such topics as humanitarian missions, appraisal standards,

training decisions, and balancing constitutional rights with military necessity. Applying Gert's

theory to American professional military ethics obviously includes many decisions other than

moral decision during war, even though it is likely that every case has at least a tacit relationship

to the application of military force.

I also restrict the scope of this dissertation by focusing on the contemporary American

scholarship. The literature on professional military ethics is immense, covering thousands of

years of human history, and includes sources such as biographies, plays, treaties, political

documents, and myths. Contemporary philosophical literature on the topic of professional

military ethics relies a great deal on this tradition and history coupled with contemporary analyses

of moral issues relevant and of interest to military professionals serving in the American military

profession today. Cadets at the United States Air Force Academy are required to read authors

such as Sun Tzu and to discuss the Leiber Rules. While it is possible to trace some influences on

contemporary professional military ethics to authors like Aquinas, Sun Tzu, or works like

Shakespeare's Henry V and the Old Testament, I will not discuss them.'

The final way I restrict the scope of this dissertation is to give significant but not exclusive

attention to the few authors who have more recently written systematically on American

professional military ethics. These authors are Fotion and Elfstrom, Axinn, Gabriel, and Hartle.2

These authors devote significant attention to issues germane to contemporary professional

military ethics. I will examine whether these seminal authors present rules or procedures that

help military professionals make difficult moral decisions in the field. I will identify at least one

serious weakness in each approach. In my conclusion (Chapter 6), I will briefly assess whether

Gert's theory overcomes the weaknesses in these other systematic accounts.

' Other scholars have written effectively on this subject, e.g., James Turner Johnson.
2 These authors have written treatises on professional military ethics from different ethical vantage points.
Axinn take a Kantian position, Fotion a consequentialist position, Hartle a tradition and rights-based
position, and Gabriel a virtue theory position that also stresses using codes of ethics. As a result, a focus on
these authors allows me to broach the primary western ethical traditions as they are seen to be relevant to
APME. Also worth consideration will be the historical casuistry of Walzer, and the Aristotelian/Rossian
position of Wakin. Their perspectives will be discussed in Chapter 2.


All professions need an ethic to set the moral expectations for their members as they fill

their crucial social roles. The military qualifies as a profession by even the strictest standards.

Thus, this need for an ethic applies to the military profession too, where the consequences of

moral failure are potentially enormous, and where decisions may involve exceptional risk for

unnecessary evil on a massive scale. A professional military ethic is needed to externally and

internally motivate members to serve legally, morally, and competently under the most extreme

conditions. Most members of the American military profession are young and inexperienced and

yet are given significant responsibilities over the lives of subordinates and expensive equipment

in the management of lethal force, whether in war, constabulary peacekeeping missions, or

humanitarian interventions. Ironically, most military personnel competently fulfill these

responsibilities even though many are not even old enough by American law to consume

alcoholic beverages.

The military profession also needs an ethic because some moral virtues are functionally

necessary for military success.' A long and storied tradition supports this view. The American

military profession also needs a professional ethic to insulate and indoctrinate its members

against possessing values that are inimical to military culture. Some American values such as

individuality and entrepreneurship may be beneficial for the client society as a whole, yet may be

counterproductive in the same society's military culture. Some activities that are forbidden or

SSir John Hackett and Malham Wakin are two scholars who have made this argument. See Sir John
Winthrop Hackett, "Society and the Soldier: 1914-1918," in The Profession ofArms, The 1962 Lee
Knowles Lectures, London: The Times Publishing Co., Ltd, p 44-53. Also see Malham Wakin, "The
Ethics of Leadership I," in War, Morality, and the Military Profession, 2nd Ed, edited by Malham M.
Wakin, Westview Press, Boulder, 1986, p 181-199. Reprinted from the American Behavioral Scientist vol.
19, no. 5, May/June 1976.

merely permitted by the society that the military profession serves are required of military

professionals. Likewise, some activities that are permitted by the society are forbidden in the

military profession.2

The distinction between American society and the American military society justifies the

existence of a separate military justice system to enforce standards of behavior that civilian law

does not, will not, or should not enforce, in order to create a military climate of good order and

discipline. Such a climate increases the likelihood of mission success, even at the expense of

some human rights.

In this chapter, I provide a brief survey of the most important contemporary literature on

American Professional Military Ethics. I divide this literature into two broad and easily

discernable categories, the official documents and the literature of evaluation and aspiration.

The official documents describe the professional expectations for members of the

military. They are legally binding. These official documents describe ethical standards of

conduct for military professionals in the same way the Hippocratic oath, laws, regulations, and

the American Medical Association Principles of Medical Ethics describe ethical standards of

conduct for physicians.3 Generally, standards written in the official documents establish

minimum expectations for professional membership. When a military professional fails to meet

these minimum standards, punishments may include censure, discharge, or even imprisonment.

These minimum standards are also known as 'professional standards,' 'professional

expectations,' 'professional duties,' 'professional responsibilities,' 'professional obligations,'

'professional requirements' and 'professional rules.'

2 This may not seem obvious to the reader. Military professionals may be required to kill offensively,
whereas civilians may only kill in self-defense. Additionally, military professionals may be required to
learn to clean and use pistols, while civilians are only permitted to do so. Finally, civilians may engage in
certain political activities that are forbidden of military personnel.
3 The AMA adopted the most recent edition of Code of Medical Ethics in June 2001.

The official documents clarify moral standards that are viewed as necessary if the

American military profession is to succeed in fulfilling its responsibilities to American society.

Systematic failure to obey minimal professional standards seriously impairs any military

organization's ability to accomplish its missions. Since the military profession serves a necessary

function in society, it must function successfully if the society is to sustain itself against threats to

its security.

The consequences of systematic moral failure in the military profession are potentially

catastrophic, including unnecessary death and destruction of people and property, conquest or

occupation by hostile forces, permanent loss of territory, and unnecessary endangerment of

national interests. Thus, it is crucial that the minimum ethical standards described in the official

documents be known, understood and enforced by all members of the military, including

appropriate legal and command authorities. The official documents are foundational for

enforcing, teaching, training, and encouraging military professionals to take their duties seriously

and to know and appreciate the grave consequences their moral failure may have on their

profession and American society.

Official Documents

The force of law buttresses the professional expectations described in the official

documents. The threat of institutional enforcement provides a potent external motivation for

military personnel to obey minimum standards of behavior. However, these minimum standards

are diffused in a large and cumbersome literature. A useful decision procedure would help make

the standards easier to understand and apply.

The American military has never promulgated a formal code of ethics similar to those

used, e.g., by the medical and legal professions. Gabriel, Fotion, DeGeorge, and Taylor are

examples of scholars who in recent years have proposed and defended the use of formal codes of

ethics for the American military profession. These codes have not been adopted. In contrast,

Stockdale's introduction to Gabriel's To Serve with Honor: A Treatise on Military Ethics and the

Way of the Soldier offers a brief criticism of formal codes as a viable possibility for the military

profession.5 The Joint Services Conference on Professional Ethics (JSCOPE) in 1984 was

dedicated to the discussion of the merit and efficacy of codes. It is not that the military does not

use various codes of conduct. The military academies each have and administer honor codes for

cadets. There simply is no overarching formal code or codes for the American professional

military ethic.

However, there is an identifiable American professional military ethic. This ethic is fairly

consistent and is spelled out in specific official documents through the tradition and history of the

United States. A taxonomy of the official documents that discuss this formal ethic includes the


I.U.S. Constitution
2.The Oath of Office
3.The Officers' Commission
4.Federal Law (which includes international law)
6.The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ)
7.The Soldiers' Code of Conduct.

These sources provide authoritative guidance on moral issues in the American military

profession, even though there is some disagreement about how to interpret the content of these

documents and what is their rightful scope. These core documents explain moral and legal duties,

responsibilities, and rights of military professionals. They explain the unique legal and moral

4 Richard Gabriel, To Serve with Honor: A Treatise on Military Ethics and the Way of the Soldier,
Westport: Greenwood Press, 1982; N. Fotion, and G. Elfstrom Military Ethics: Guidelines for Peace and
War. Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1986, p 66-85; Richard DeGeorge. "Defining Moral Obligations:
The Need for a Military Code of Ethics," Army December 1984 pp 22-30; Telford Taylor, Nuremberg and
Vietnam: An American Tragedy, New York: Bantam, 1971. Fotion actually proposes four codes for
different professional military relationships.

SGabriel, op. cit., p xvi. To Stockdale, codes can over legalize and over externalize moral motivation to
the detriment of the profession.

responsibilities for those in positions of authority, particularly those in command. And they

describe specific soldierly virtues and values that are consistent with the highest ideals of military

service, such as obedience, courage, virtue, honor, patriotism, valor, fidelity, and competence.

U.S. Constitution

The U.S. Constitution and what it represents is the ultimate object of every U.S. soldier's

allegiance. Crucial professional values mentioned here are the separation of powers, the role of

the President as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, and the principle of civilian control of

the military.6 All American military professionals pledge to support and defend the U.S.

Constitution and in doing so confirm that their loyalty is to the authority of the rule of law above

a specific leader. The American military professionals' primary duty is to serve their client

society. This service is required even if a majority of military personnel disagree with an

administration's foreign and/or domestic policies.7

6 Anthony E. Hartle, Moral Issues in Military Decision Making, Lawrence: University of Kansas Press,
1989, p53.

7 The film, Seven Days in May, Warner Brothers Studios 1963, illustrates why loyalty to the U.S.
Constitution is fundamental, specifically to the rule of law and the principle of civilian control of the
military. Made in 1963, the movie takes place during the height of the cold war. The President, played by
Fredrick March, has negotiated a treaty with the Soviet Union to freeze and cut nuclear weapons. This
treaty has whittled his approval ratings down into the twenties because most of the public does not trust the
Soviet Union to honor the treaty. The people are afraid. A highly decorated chairman of the Joint Chiefs
of Staff and former war hero, a general played by Burt Lancaster, is the man most citizens would rather
have as President. Hawkish, he vehemently opposes the treaty on grounds of national security. The
general plans a coup to coincide with a military exercise, and he has funneled money into forming a secret
operation to seize control of national communications. The general's aide de camp, a U.S. Marine Corp
colonel played by Kirk Douglas, discovers small clues and pieces together the general's plan. In the course
of some excellent dialog, character development, and storytelling, the colonel sides with the president and
his loyalty to the U.S. Constitution over his loyalty to the general and exposes the coup, even though he
agrees with the general's policies. The colonel is instrumental to exposing and neutralizing the coup
quietly with the help of the President's close advisors. His actions likely prevent a military dictatorship or
a civil war. The President could just as easily have subverted the constitution by keeping power and not
submitting to the rule of law. A veiled point in this movie is that, once the coup is suppressed, the
president still presses to enact the treaty. Because of this unpopular treaty, he will not be reelected. The
American political system will take care of what the general, who exaggerates the urgency, thought only a
coup would cure.

Oath of Office

In the American military profession, the Officers' Oath of Office is laced with moral

language that describes the professional expectations of commissioned military service.

I, (name), having been appointed a Second Lieutenant in the United States
(Army/Navy/Air Force/Marine Corp), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support
and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and
domestic: that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation
freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and
faithfully discharge the duties of the office upon which I am about to enter, So Help Me

Officers pledge loyalty publicly and formally to the U.S. Constitution as the embodiment of

protection for human rights and respect for law, among other things. They pledge to bear true

faith and allegiance (loyalty), and to well and faithfully discharge the duties of their office (meet

minimum professional standards of behavior).

The officer's assumption of duties is self-imposed and the officer serves at the pleasure of

the President. Reciting the oath is not a formal contract because the President may dissolve it at

his discretion. Officers also may resign their commission. This freedom gives moral

responsibility priority over contractual obligation.9 The officers' oath of office is intentionally

vague in setting broad professional parameters. The officer has a variety of duties to discharge

depending on the circumstances.'0

8 Title 5 United States Code, Part 111, Subpart B, Chapter 33, Subchapter II, Section 3331(5 U.S.C. Sec
3331) says that, "An individual, except the President, elected or appointed to an office of honor or profit in
the civil service or uniformed services, shall take the following oath:" From this point forward I refer to the
United States Code in the abbreviated format shown in parentheses. The United States Code is available in
full text at .

9 Wenker, Wakin, and Hartle share this view. Kenneth Wenker, The Morality of Obedience to Military
Authority, Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1978; Wakin, op. cit., p 181-199; and Hartle, op. cit., p
'0 The fact that officers can resign their commission at any time seems to assume the existence of an all-
volunteer-force. If an officer is drafted, he is forced to serve in that capacity unless he fails to meet
physical or mental standards or is deemed to be a legitimate conscientious objector. However, a drafted
officer may resign if he has reason to believe he is being asked to obey illegal orders.

The enlisted soldiers' Oath of Office prescribes slightly different duties apart from the

identical mandate to support and defend the Constitution and to bear true faith and allegiance to

the same. The enlisted person enters into a binding contractual arrangement with the government.

No commission is offered.

I (name) do solemnly swear/affirm that I will support and defend the Constitution of the
United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and
allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United
States and of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform
Code of Military Justice. So help me God."1

In addition to taking the enlisted oath, enlistees sign an enlistment/reenlistment document that

stresses both the enlisted soldiers' obligations and entitlements. The document briefly refers to

current laws and states that enlistees must obey all lawful orders and perform all assigned duties.

It stresses that enlisted soldiers are subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice and may be

tried by court martial for failure to meet standards, which amounts to a breach of contract. The

enlisted contract contains an "ultimate liability" clause, entailing that soldiers may be required to

die in the performance of their duties.12 It specifies a length of time the contract is in force. To

summarize the difference, while officers swear to discharge their duties, enlisted personnel

commit to obey orders according to military law for a certain period of time.13


The officer's commission is the warrant for service, an offer to serve given by the

President that is accepted when officers take the oath of office. The commission can be likened to

a public vote for a presidential candidate. A majority vote, like the commission, is an expression

" 10 U.S.C. 502.
12 Edward C. Meyer, "Professional Ethics is Key to Well-led, Trained Army," Army vol. 30, 1980, p. 14.

13 These differences are significant and explain why authors like Hartle ascribe 'professional' status only to
officers, even though some enlisted troops have significant responsibilities to lead and direct other enlisted
troops. The medical profession seems similar in this respect. Doctors voluntarily assume the
responsibilities of medical 'officers' while nurses and other health care workers enter an employment
contract to work in the profession and follow the doctor's instructions.

of confidence that the candidate can do the job. This expression of confidence is an offer to

serve. It is accepted and sealed when the President-elect takes the oath of office and likewise

when officer candidates take the oath of office. The U.S. Constitution requires that officers be

commissioned; the United States Code (U.S.C.) prescribes the text. The offer describes the

President's "special trust and confidence in the patriotism, valor, fidelity, and abilities" of officer

candidates. It charges each candidate to carefully and diligently discharge the duties of the office

and to obey the lawful orders of superiors.

As with physicians, the commission is offered after a period of education and training

where candidates demonstrate themselves capable of handling the responsibilities and rigors of

professional service and for being adaptive enough to assume new duties as they are assigned.

An offer of a commission assumes that officers understand what the commission, if accepted,


Laws of War

Article VI, Clause 2 of the U.S. Constitution says that treaties are the law of the land.

Thus, American military professionals are bound by law to obey international laws the

government is signatory to through formal treaty. This linkage makes documents such as the

Geneva and Hague Conventions a part of the American professional military ethic.

In their various field manuals, the military services of the United States confirm this fact,

stating that they are obligated to, e.g., the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907, by the Geneva

Conventions of 1929, and by the four Geneva Conventions of 1949. The four Geneva

Conventions make it illegal (for signatories) to violate provisions that govern care of the sick and

wounded on the battlefield, the sick and wounded at sea, prisoners of war, and the protection of

14 In the medical profession, a physician is deemed competent to enter the profession as a fully qualified
member. In contrast, military officers enter the profession after having demonstrated the capacity to
assimilate into the rigors of the profession successfully over time. The education of officers is ongoing and
they are expected to professionally develop in order to assume greater levels of leadership and rank.

civilian populations.'5 For example, the U.S. Army's Law of Land Warfare gives authoritative

guidance on the core provisions of these treaties and conventions.16 This document also declares

the binding legal force of these conventions on, in this case, Army personnel. "The customary

law of war is part of the law of the United States."'7

The laws of war demonstrate that civilized people recognize legal and moral restraints on

initiating and waging war. In the United States, respect for laws of war as international positive

law gained momentum with the drafting of the Lieber Rules, a compilation of customs of war

composed in the form of a positive legal code. These rules were written by Professor Francis

Lieber at the behest of President Lincoln in order to provide moral and legal guidance during the

American Civil War.18 The Lieber Rules were subsequently used in the trial to convict Captain

Henry Wirz of war crimes for the inhumane way he commanded the Andersonville prison during

the American Civil War. Captain Wirz was executed for war crimes.19

That some conduct in war is considered morally unjustifiable is not a contemporary

phenomenon. Only its codification into positive international law is. Traditions of moral

restraint in war are ancient. For example, the Hebrew Bible states that though it may be

necessary to kill one's enemy, it is never permissible to cut down his fruit trees.20 In the sixth

"These conventions were ratified on 12 August 1949.
16 U.S. Army Field Manual 27-10 (FM 27-10), The Law of Land Warfare, Washington DC: Department of
the Army, 1956, revised in 1976. This manual is nine chapters with an appendix that gives an index of the
provisions of the Hague and Geneva Conventions. Online posting bin/atdl.dll/fm/27-10/toc.htm>.
17 FM 27-10, op. cit., p 7.

"8 Elizabeth Flower, "Ethics of Peace," in Dictionary of the History of Ideas, vol 3, ed. Philip P. Wiener
New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1973, p. 444. According to Flower, Francis Lieber, while teaching
Kant's moral philosophy at Columbia University during the U.S. Civil War, used premises from Kant's
Perpetual Peace to craft a code of conduct for armies that President Lincoln commissioned.

'9 See William Hesseltine, Civil War Prisons, Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1972.
20 Deuteronomy 20:19, New International Version.

century B.C. the Hindu Laws ofManu specified, "When the King fights with his foes in battle, let

him not strike with weapons concealed in wood, nor with barbed, poisoned, or flaming arrows."21

Some contemporary historical events were instrumental in prompting the codification of

laws of war, such as the use of poison gas in WWI, the Nazi atrocities exposed at the Nuremberg

trials, intentional allied bombing of civilian population centers in WWII, and the poor treatment

of American prisoners of war during the Korean conflict.

This plethora of international covenants, treaties, conventions, and customs can be

confusing to military personnel. This confusion provides a fairly strong argument for adopting a

succinct code of ethics or decision procedure for U.S. military personnel that captures the salient

features of these disparate documents.

A few core moral rules of war can be distilled from these covenants, treaties,

conventions, and customs. First, destruction in pursuing military objectives should be

proportional to the value of the objective. This principle places utilitarian restrictions on harms.

Second, military operations should be subject to the principle of military necessity. The Principle

of Military Necessity admits that harming persons and property isprimafacie bad. Thus,

harming living persons and property, including those of the enemy, ought to be limited to the

minimum level necessary to achieve legitimate military objectives.22 Unnecessary harm is both

immoral and illegal. According to the principle of military necessity, whatever is permissible has

to also be necessary, but not every action that is necessary is permissible.23

21 A good translation of the Hindu Laws ofManu is George Buhler's translation from 1886. See
for a full text of his translation.
22 Chapter 1 of U.S. Army FM 27-10 mentions many of these principles, such as the principle of military
necessity. Online posting .
23 1 explain this point as follows. It is permissible generally to kill enemy soldiers during war, but that
alone does not justify killing enemy soldiers indiscriminately. If the killing is unnecessary, it is no longer
permissible. On the other hand, just because killing some enemy soldiers is necessary for achieving some
military goal does not make it permissible. The military goal might be superfluous to larger aims.

Another principle distilled from the laws of war is the principle of noncombatant

immunity. Civilians and their property should not, primafacie, be subjected to military force

intentionally. Military force should be intentionally directed only at military objectives. This

principle is subject to interpretation on what counts as 'military' and 'civilian.' In the older

Hague Conventions, specific targets such as churches, hospitals, historic landmarks, art museums,

and undefended towns with no relevant military value were prohibited from being targeted.

These discriminators remain largely unchanged to this day.

Scholarly debate over the force of the laws of war varies, even though most

contemporary governments and military establishments accept them.24 One reason for this

acceptance is utilitarian. Bombing a civilian or military hospital is a waste of a perfectly good

bomb that could be used against a more threatening military target. Bombing hospitals

accomplishes little except perhaps increasing resentment by an enemy whose defenseless citizens

are needlessly harmed.25

Philosophically, an important issue to consider with respect to the laws of war is the

question of how they are to be viewed. Are they merely codified customs like traffic laws in

different countries? Do they only have the moral force of promises or contracts, making

nonsignatories immune from moral culpability? Or are they grounded in deeper moral

principles? Embedded in this scholarly debate are philosophical questions about whether the

violations of the laws of war in a particular case are intended or not, foreseen or not, the result of

negligence, or justified response to a grave threat of annihilation by a clear evil.

24 This debate often centers on whether one takes a natural law view or a positive law view. A classic
Hobbesian would most likely think that international laws are meaningless without some power to enforce
them. This is the positive law position.
25 See Michael Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations, New York:
Basic Books Inc, 1977, p 255-257. Walzer provides a lucid discussion on the moral issues surrounding
bombing civilian targets intentionally.

Federal Law

Federal law codifies the moral responsibilities of American military professionals. For

example, Title 10, U.S. Code (1956) specifically spells out laws that govern the armed forces.

Section 3583 of Title 10 describes general moral "Requirements of Exemplary Conduct." In this

section, military professionals in positions of authority have a general duty to exemplify the

following character traits and initiatives.

1 .Be a good example of virtue, honor, patriotism, and subordination.

2.Take necessary and proper measures to safeguard the general welfare of those under your
command or charge.

3.Be vigilant in inspecting conduct and correcting unacceptable conduct.26

Other parts of Title 10 address specific moral obligations of commanders with respect to treating

subordinates. For example,

Commanding officers and others in authority shall take all necessary and proper action ...
to promote and safeguard the morale, physical well-being and general welfare of the
officers and enlisted men under their command and charge.2

Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ)

The UCMJ supplements the civil and criminal statutes that govern civilians. In general,

acts illegal for civilians are illegal for military professionals, though the reverse is not necessarily

true. A separate military justice system is required because it is functionally necessary for some

acts to be considered military crimes that it would be wrong to consider as civilian crimes.28 The

26 10 U.S.C. 3583. The requirements for exemplary conduct are written at different times for the sections
that pertain to the different services. The principles are the same except for the branch of service
mentioned. This reference pertains to the U.S. Army. I am not quoting here.

27 10 U.S.C. 5947.
28 One example comes to mind. In the U.S., a person can accumulate debts and then enjoy the protection of
the bankruptcy laws. While it is arguable that this irresponsible behavior is immoral, it is not illegal for
civilians. Declaring bankruptcy will hurt one's credit rating and a few other financial freedoms for a
limited period of time. This behavior is illegal according to the UCMJ and may be punished. Or consider
the following example. It is not illegal for an employee to not show up for work. He may lose his job, but
he won't be put in jail except in a few crucial occupations. But for a military member to not show up for
work is a serious crime punishable by imprisonment, and in some battle situations, death. Hartle discusses

courts have upheld the need for a separate military justice system. The Supreme Court upheld

that the general articles of the UCMJ are not so unnecessarily vague and invasive as to be


The UCMJ codifies military law and elaborates on the moral obligations explained in

Title 10 U.S.C. Most of the UCMJ focuses on protecting the rights of service personnel including

the right of due process and the protection and welfare of subordinates.

Four general classes of crimes are discussed in the UCMJ; absence, disrespect and

disobedience, combat misconduct, and abuse of public trust. These classes are addressed

specifically in articles 77-134. Their content describes statutory military crimes, many of which

are also obvious breaches of moral responsibility. These laws empower authorities to hold

service members legally responsible for maintaining these professional moral standards, since the

consequences of failure are potentially grave, including mission failure and unnecessary harm to

innocent civilians.30

'Absence' refers to the crimes of desertion, missing a formation such as a deployment,

and absence without leave (being away from duties without permission). The military crime of

disrespect and disobedience includes insubordination to superiors, mistreatment of subordinates,

contemptuous words towards officials, and disobedience of lawful orders.31 'Combat

the relationship between the UCMJ and the American professional military ethics on p 189. Law and
morality overlap more in the military than in the civil society.

29 U.S. Supreme Court, Parker v. Levy, 417 U.S. 733 (1974), No. 73-206. In this case the court held that
Congress may "legislate both with greater breadth and with greater flexibility" when making rules for
military society than it can for civilian society.
30 I should clarify here. Military law does not only exist because breaches hurt mission success. Some
military crimes such as murder and rape are not military crimes only because they reduce mission success
rates. Murder and rape are illegal because they cause harm in other, more fundamental ways. Military
laws that are not also civilian laws are more heavily written with the goal of mission success in mind.

31 Contemptuous words towards officials refer to officers specifically. Article 88 of the UCMJ states, "Any
commissioned officer who uses contemptuous words against the President, the Vice President, Congress,
the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of a military department, the Secretary of Transportation, or the
Governor or legislature of any State, Territory, Commonwealth, or possession in which he is on duty or
present shall be punished as a court-martial may direct." Online posting

misconduct' refers to misbehavior before the enemy such as abandoning property one has been

charged to defend. It includes cowardly conduct, casting away arms and ammunition, running

away, forcing a commander to surrender, and aiding the enemy. Many of these crimes are capital

offenses. 'Abuse of public trust' includes acts such as false official statements, negligent damage

to military property, hazarding a vessel, malingering, and drunkenness on duty. It should be

apparent that the UCMJ criminalizes more conduct than the civil justice system does.32

The UCMJ has more enforcement power than civilian law as well, because it has a

weaker standard for proving guilt. In the UCMJ, 'mens rea' only requires proof of negligence

and not necessarily proof of intent.33 This weaker standard of proof puts additional emphasis on

the importance of competence; soldiers may be found guilty of criminal dereliction, for willfully

or negligently failing to perform duties, or performing duties in a culpably incompetent manner.

Articles 133 and 134 of the UCMJ are crucial but intentionally vague. This vagueness is

viewed as necessary because these articles address a soldier's general duty to fulfill broad

professional expectations. Articles 133 and 134 are called the 'general articles' because they

provide wide latitude for interpretation. This latitude makes the relationship between law and

morality a closer one than in the civilian justice system. Some articles of the UCMJ address

violations that are illegal for both civilians and military personnel such as theft, murder, and

discrimination. However, articles 133 and 134 generally make illegal certain behaviors that

might only be considered immoral for civilians.34

32 The punitive articles of the UCMJ discuss military crimes. In the UCMJ, see Chapter X. The other
chapters deal with issues such as trial procedures and sentencing.
3 U.S. Supreme Court, Staples v. United States, 511 U.S. 600 (1994). In this case the court defined 'Mens
Rea' as: "The state of mind indicating culpability, which is required by statute as an element of a crime."
34 I say this for civilians generally. Civilian professionals like doctors also operate in an environment
where professional moral expectations may be supported by the force of law.

Article 133 of the UCMJ is strongly influenced by the customs and traditions of the U. S.

military. It addresses "conduct unbecoming an officer", i.e., acts that may disqualify officers

from serving in their professional roles. The Manual for Courts Martial (MCM) says that Article

133 is based on the fact that "there are certain moral attributes common to the ideal officer and

the perfect gentleman, the lack of which is indicated by acts of dishonesty, unfair dealing,

indecency, indecorum, lawlessness, injustice, and cruelty."35 These standards make punishable

certain moral failures that compromise one's standing as an officer and a gentleman. Examples

of these moral failures might be cheating on an exam, associating with known prostitutes, not

supporting one's dependents, or slandering another officer.36

Article 134 makes punishable "all disorders and neglects to the prejudice of good order

and discipline." The prejudice must be "reasonably direct and palpable." This article stresses

issues pertaining to character and virtue. It includes violations of the "customs of the service"

that have attained the force of law as common law. One example of a violation of article 134 is

fraternization, i.e., improper socializing between officers and enlisted personnel. This custom

developed because of a clear need for officers to be objective and fair when ordering enlisted

subordinates to perform hazardous duties. This customary rule, now codified in the UCMJ,

ensures that leaders maintain professional distance from enlisted subordinates that officers may

have to order into harm's way. Officers should not have the objectivity of theirjudgment

impaired by a desire to preferentially protect some noncommissioned subordinates at the expense

35 U.S. Manual for Courts-Martial (MCM), United States (2000 Edition) Part IV, Section 59. The 2000
Edition of the MCM is a complete revision of the 1984 MCM incorporating all Executive Orders (EO)
through 6 Oct 1999. Online posting, 2000 .
36 The U.S. Navy 'Tailhook' scandal occurred at the 35th Annual Tailhook Symposium from September 5
to 7, 1991 at the Las Vegas Hilton Hotel. Officers' actions at this event exemplified conduct unbecoming
an officer. Naval officers were cited for indecent assault, indecent exposure, conduct unbecoming an
officer, and failure to act in a proper leadership capacity. Ultimately the careers of fourteen admirals and
almost 300 naval aviators were ruined. No court martials occurred. Frontline ran a special about this
scandal in 1996 called The Navy Blues: The Clash of Politics and Values in the Post-Tailhook Navy,
Frontline, Public Broadcasting Service, October 15, 1996. Online posting

of other subordinates under their charge. Even the appearance of this sort of favoritism is


Other acts prejudicial to good order and discipline are conduct that discredits the military

in the eyes of the public, makes military life more difficult in one's country, and negatively

affects recruitment. Other acts punishable under article 134 are distinctly moral failures too,

including adultery, dishonorable failure to pay debts, disloyal statements, altering a public record,

breaking a medical quarantine, and wearing unauthorized insignia or decorations. While we

might be inclined to negatively judge the character of a civilian who committed these types of

acts, none of these acts are necessarily violations of civil laws.

Lesser violations of the rules stated in Article 134 are not always formally punished.

Commanders and supervisors have many nonjudicial alternatives available to punish less serious

violations of these provisions, such as letters of counseling, letters of reprimand, denial of

reenlistment, and unfavorable comments in a service members annual performance reviews.

Each of these nonjudicial measures can negatively affect a military career, such as nonselection

for promotion.

The UCMJ confirms that officers are held to a higher moral standard than enlisted

personnel. Factors such as one's rank, responsibilities, and maturity level may also influence

assignment of culpability, even within the enlisted ranks. An 18-year-old private may be granted

more leeway with some violations of rules and regulations than a Master Sergeant with 15 years

of service. While the private might be punished, retrained, and returned to duty for a particular

violation, the Master Sergeant might be dishonorably separated from the service, have pay

garnished, or be imprisoned for the same violation. Article 134 is also crucial in that it is the

chief statutory provision that reinforces a superior's right to inspect and correct the behavior of

37 Some professional distance is maintained in the officer corps, particularly within an officer's chain of
command. The custom is informal, and not prohibited by the UCMJ.

those under his command or authority, but only for disorders and neglects that are prejudicial to

good order and discipline.38

Code of Conduct

Congress passed the Code of Conduct in 1955, and revised it in 1977 and 1988. It is a

nonpunitive moral guide of traditional soldierly principles and standards written in six short

sentences for easy display in unit common areas or carrying in the service member's wallet. It is

written in the first person and resembles a formal oath. There is no public ceremony that requires

swearing allegiance to it. The Code of Conduct is not part of the UCMJ; rather, it is a personal

conduct mandate that focuses on the conduct of prisoners of war. It says, among other things,

that 'I', the soldier, am prepared to die, to keep faith with fellow prisoners, to take command if

senior, to obey if not senior, and that 'I', the soldier, am responsible for my actions. The code

sets limits and gives prisoners a target to shoot for. Interpretations of these provisions may be

found in the official documents and the secondary literature.39 The Code of Conduct is as


I. I am an American. I serve in the forces which guard my country and our way of life. I
am prepared to give my life in their defense.

2. I will never surrender of my own free will. If in command I will never surrender the
members of my command while they still have the means to resist.

3. If I am captured I will continue to resist by all means available. I will make every effort
to escape and aid others to escape. I will accept neither parole nor special favors from the

4. If I become a prisoner of war, I will keep faith with my fellow prisoners. I will give no
information nor take part in any actions which might be harmful to my comrades. If I am

38 Inspections are restricted to what is necessary to maintain good order and discipline, which is necessary
if the military will successfully accomplish its missions. Inspections are most routinely made of a soldier's
person (uniform, hygiene, and bearing), gear (maintaining equipment in good working order), and
performance (review of competence in performing mission essential tasks, individually and in teams).

39 U.S. Army Field Manual 21-78 (FM 21-78), Prisoner of War Resistance, Washington DC: Department
of the Army, 1981, p 5-10. FM 21-78 interprets this code and tempers some of its apparent legalism. More
discussion of this code is provided in D.o.D. Instruction 1300-21.

senior I will take command. If not, I will obey the lawful orders of those appointed over
me and will back them up in every way.

5. When questioned, should I become a prisoner of war, I am bound to give only my name,
rank, service number, and date of birth. I will evade answering further questions to the
utmost of my ability. I will make no oral or written statements disloyal to my country
and its allies or harmful to their cause.

6. I will never forget that I am an American, responsible for my actions, and dedicated to
the principles that made my country free. I will trust in my God and in the United States
of America.40

Breaches of this code of conduct are not legally punishable.41 It is, however, an officially

sanctioned guide to conduct in the form of a concise reminder of general duties.42

Service Regulations

Each military service has reams of regulations on every topic including, e.g., grooming

standards, fitness standards, pilot rest requirements, safety rules, and maintenance procedures on

artillery pieces. Generally, regulations describe policies and procedures that are believed to

40 The Code came into existence by Executive Order 10631 on 17 August 1955 under the leadership of
President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Executive Order 12017 on 3 November 1977 amended the Code by
outlining the basic responsibilities and obligations of members of the United States Armed Forces.
Executive Order 12633 on 28 March 1988 further amended the Code by removing gender-specific terms
from Articles I, II, and VI. The standards of the Code represent basic obligations that apply to American
military personnel regardless of whether they appear in a formal code. This cites the most current version.
This code is restated in many places. 1 extracted the code from a search of the Federal Register. The text I
copied came from online posting executiveorder/I 0631 .html>.

4 It would be cruel to punish soldiers for noncompliance with this code of conduct. An experienced
interrogator and torturer can break anyone down over time. However, probability of success can be
improved. Past experience of captured Americans reveals that honorable survival in captivity requires that
a service member possess a high degree of dedication and motivation. Maintaining these qualities requires
knowing and believing in the advantages of American democratic institutions and concepts, love of and
faith in the United States, a conviction that the U.S. cause is just, and faith and loyalty to fellow POWs.
42 This code of conduct illustrates how just the existence and awareness of a code can positively influence
behavior. Prisoners during the Vietnam were taught this code of conduct and had to commit it to memory.
Their behavior was superior to prisoners during the Korean War. They were better at staying unified,
preserving the chain of command, and resisting their captors. I think H.L.A Hart provides a good
explanation for this success. In The Concept of Law, New York: Oxford University Press, 1961. Hart
argues that the presence and knowledge of a law makes those aware of it and who live where the law has
jurisdiction take what Hart calls an "internal point of view." The idea is that simply knowing that there is a
law (or a code) influences your behavior, even if no one enforces it. Dunn and Parks discuss controversial
issues associated with this code. See Howard J. Dunn and Hays W. Parks, "If I Became a Prisoner of War
..." Proceedings, Washington DC: U.S. Naval Institute, August 1976, p 18-27.

positively influence mission success, improve morale, and protect expensive assets. For example,

maintenance regulations protect expensive military equipment; hygiene regulations help to keep

soldiers in healthy condition to perform their professional duties. Obeying service regulations is

a professional duty and a legal obligation.

A few regulations discuss moral obligations overtly. These regulations elaborate on the

rather terse moral language used in Title 10 U.S.C. For example, section B, paragraph 1000 of

the U.S. Marine Corps Manual has three pages devoted specifically to moral standards and/or

qualities to be instilled in all Marines. "Marines are expected to exert proper influence upon their

comrades by setting examples of obedience, courage, zeal. ..." Officers carry "the presumptions

of integrity, good manners, sound judgment, and discretion". Noncommissioned officers are

expected to possess "initiative, firmness, kindness, and justice".43 Similarly, the United States

Air Force has a little monograph called the "Little Blue Book." This booklet discusses the

importance of upholding the Air Force's Core Values of "integrity, service before self, and

excellence in all we do," and provides a brief, understandable conceptual analysis of these three

principles.44 Each service also publishes its own officer guides that discuss the moral

responsibilities of leadership. Finally, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) publishes "The

Armed Forces Officer", a booklet written in 1950 (revised in 1988) that succinctly describes the

professional expectations for honorable military service and gives advice on various moral

situations that permeate an officer's professional duties, such as how to effectively manage

43 U.S Marine Corps, U.S. Marine Corps Manual, 18th ed., Sect. B, Para 1000, Washington DC: U.S.
Marine Corps, 2001.

44 Full text of the U.S. Air Force's (USAF) Little Blue Book is at bluebook.htm>. This book describes and briefly discusses the USAF Core Values.

interpersonal conflict, counsel subordinates, improve and maintaining unit morale, and guidance

on developing effective communication skills.45

Failure to abide by the policies and procedures described in the military service

regulations may bring negative institutional consequences even if the breaches are not clearly

described as punishable offenses in the military justice system.46 Members may receive

reprimands, negative comments in one's official record, demotion, loss of promotion, or

forfeiture of military pay. Breaches of regulations may negatively affect one's evaluation of

suitability for continued service or affect the types of assignment for which a service member

may be considered.47 For example, failure to handle classified material according to regulations

may lead to a soldier losing her security clearance.

Service members have a contractual obligation to obey the regulations of the branch of

service to which they belong. This obedience is not unlike any employment contract, where the

employee, as a condition for employment, agrees to be at work on time and to fulfill the duties of

his job at a certain level of competence. It is unlike other employment contracts in that the

service member's liability is unlimited and she cannot simply quit at any time. Some regulations

specifically discuss the issue of moral duties, ideals, and virtues overtly. I discuss these special

regulations below.

45 This pamphlet is DoD General regulation 36A, The Armed Forces Officer, but is republished by each
branch of service under separate numbering systems. In the U.S. Air Force, it is called "Air Force
Pamphlet 190-13 (AFP 190-13), 1988.
46 The military justice system gives blanket coverage to the imperative to follow service regulations.
Generally, breaches of service regulations may be punished. The military justice system does not,
however, prescribe a punishment for every regulation violation. That is left up to the commander or
supervisor's discretion.
47 In this case I refer to breaches of regulations that are not particularly egregious or demonstrate criminal
neglect. Poor performers who are enlisted are separated by a denial ofreenlistment when their current
contract expires, assuming they want to continue serving in the military. Officers either get promoted on
time or they are forced of the service.

Ethics Regulations

The Office of Government Ethics (OGE) publishes an ethics regulation that prescribes

standards of moral conduct for all members of the Executive Branch, which includes both the

civil service and the military service. This regulation discusses general moral rules, discusses

moral principles, and explains values to be exemplified. Examples of problems this regulation

addresses are conflicts of interest, post service employment with government contractors, and

limitations on the value of contractor gifts to government personnel.48

The Department of Defense (DoD) publishes its own Joint Ethics Regulation that is more

detailed than the OGE ethics regulation. The Joint Ethics Regulation (JER) provides a single

source of ethical standards and moral guidance for all military personnel and civil servants in the

DoD.49 It provides guidance on potentially compromising situations that may arise in performing

official duties. For example, the JER prescribes rules for resolving conflicting financial interests

by placing a dollar threshold on the value of contractor gifts to government personnel, with

special emphasis placed on contracting officers who obligate government funds for weapons

systems, supplies, services, and military construction. The JER also prescribes rules, many based

on statutes, concerning procurement integrity and post-service employment with government

contractors. The JER also restricts political activities that DoD employees may engage in. It

limits the type and scope of off-duty employment allowed, and discusses activities that connote a

misuse of position. The JER is so detailed and complex that most government ethics counselors

are attorneys.50

4'5 CFR 2634-2641 describes the purpose of the Office of Government Ethics (OGE). Within these
documents are 5 CFR 2635.101, specifically titled, "Standards of ethical conduct for employees of the
executive branch." 5 CFR 2635.101 addresses government ethics specifically. See pages/lawsregsfedregstats/ogeregs/5cfr2635.html>.
49 The Joint Ethics Regulation (JER) is (DoD 5500.7-R) August 30, 1993. Full text of the JER is available
at .
50 The complexity of this regulation is problematic. Too many specific moral rules are nearly impossible
for people to know, understand, and apply. People will eschew using them as a guide if they are too

The closing chapter of the JER gives more general ethical guidance, republishing

Executive Order 12674, titled "Principles of Ethical Conduct for Government Officers and

Employees."5' The JER also publishes a statutory Code of Ethics for Government Service,

making this code a part of federal law. The text states that any person in government service

should do the following.

1. Put loyalty to the highest moral principles above loyalty to persons, party, or Government
2. Uphold the Constitution, laws, and legal regulations of the United States and of all
governments therein and never be a party to their evasion.

3. Give a full day's labor for a full day's pay; giving to the performance of his duties his
earnest effort and best thought.

4. Seek to find and employ more efficient and economical ways of getting tasks

5. Never discriminate unfairly by the dispensing of special favors or privileges to anyone,
whether for remuneration or not; and never accept, for himself or his family, favors or
benefits under circumstances which might be construed by reasonable persons as
influencing the performance of his governmental duties.

6. Make no private promises of any kind binding upon the duties of office, since the
Government employee has no private word which can be binding on public duty.

7. Engage in no business with the Government, either directly or indirectly, which is
inconsistent with the conscientious performance of his governmental duties.
8. Never use any information coming to him confidentially in the performance of
governmental duties as a means for making private profit.

9. Expose corruption wherever discovered.

10. Uphold these principles, ever conscious that public office is a public trust.52

complex, especially under the restrictions of time, duress, limited resources, military necessity, and
institutional pressures. Concise guidance and decision-making latitude would be more effectively
accomplished by providing a simple code soldiers could use as a compass to make moral judgments in the
"1 Full text of this Executive Order is available at lrfs_files/exeorders/eo 12674.html>.

2 The U.S. House of Representatives, in House Concurrent Resolution No. 175, July 11, 1958, 72 Stat.
B 12, provided for a Code of Ethics for all Government employees, including officeholders. Public Law 96-
303, July 3, 1980, 94 Stat. 855, provided, "That, under such regulations as the Administrator shall
prescribe, each agency shall display in appropriate areas of Federal buildings copies of the Code of Ethics

Another interesting but not well known feature of the JER discussed in this last chapter is that it

also lays out a moral decision procedure. I include the steps below.

I.Define the Problem. Proceed from a general statement of the problem to specific statements
of the decisions to be made. As you take the following steps, such as identifying
goals and naming stakeholders, new problems or needed decisions may become
apparent. Be willing to add these to your problem list as you go.

II.Identify the Goal(s). Proceed from a general statement of an end result both long term and
short term. Be prepared to add to this list as you take the following steps. Goals are
something to strive toward. They are statements of the best possible results. The very
best is not always achieved for everyone. Many problems do not allow for "win/win"
outcomes. Be prepared to fall somewhat short of some goals for the sake of ethics and
other considerations.

III.List Applicable Laws or Regulations. Laws and regulations are basic constraints within
which official decisions are made. Until all relevant laws and regulations are
considered, ethical decision-making is impossible. Although it is conceivable that an
ethical decision could violate a law or regulation, such circumstances are rare.

IV.List the Ethical Values at Stake. Listing the ethical values at stake can awaken you to
problems and goals that you may not have otherwise considered. It may alert you to
stakeholders you may not have recognized. Listing the values reminds you of your
commitment to them at a time when the stress of the problem may cause you to forget.

V.Name All the Stakeholders. A stakeholder is anyone who is likely to be affected by a
decision. Many stakeholders will be apparent because of the previous steps you already
followed. More will occur to you as you give the matter a few minutes of thought. Do
not forget to include yourself and the people who may depend on you for support, both
at work and at home. As you list the stakeholders, try to note the way your decision
could affect them. In other words, name what is at stake for the stakeholder.

VI.Gather Additional Information. This step is frequently overlooked. The stress from the
problem urges speedy solutions. However, hasty decisions usually create problems of
their own. Take the time to gather all necessary information. Ask questions, demand
proof when appropriate, check your assumptions.

VII.State All Feasible Solutions. By this time, some feasible solutions will have presented
themselves. Others may be found by sharing the lists and information you have pulled
together and "brain storming." As you state the feasible solutions, note which
stakeholders could be affected and what might be gained or lost.

for Government Service." See . The exact text of the
1958 code was incorporated into the JER at Chapter 12, Section 3, Paragraph 12-300, and Chapter 2,
section 1 when it was made official on 30 August 1993. It is also stated in 5 CFR 2635. Discovering this
code surprised me. Evidently the services do not teach it or even make DoD personnel memorize it.
Ironically, in 14 years as an officer in the U.S. Air Force, I do not recall ever seeing this code posted in unit
common areas.

VIII.Eliminate Unethical Options. There may be solutions that seem to resolve the problem and
reach the goal but which are clearly unethical. Remember that short term solutions are
not worth sacrificing our commitment to ethics. The long term problems of unethical
solutions will not be worth the short term advantages. Eliminate the unethical

IX.Rank Remaining Solutions. Other solutions may not be clearly unethical but may be
questionable. You may have to rely on intuition or "gut feelings" to weed out these
solutions. Put these possible solutions at the bottom of your list. Rank the remaining
solutions, which are all ethical ones, in order of how close they bring you to your goal
and solve the problem.

X.Commit To and Implement the Best Ethical Solution. Commitment and implementation are
vital to the ethical decision-making process. Determining which solution is the best
ethical one is a meaningless exercise unless implementation of the ethical solution
follows. If the right decision is not implemented, the door is left wide open for others
to implement unethical solutions.53

It is apparent that discussion of professional moral expectations in the official documents

is diffused in an ocean of government regulations. Unfortunately this fact makes the moral

literature (such as the JER) in the regulations seem like just more regulations, rather than the

special regulations that they are. The moral regulations should uniquely inform and influence

how one obeys the other regulations in the performing professional duties.

The government describes legal requirements, moral requirements, and moral ideals in

the official documents. In the military services there is generally greater overlap between legal

and moral requirements than in the civilian world.54 This overlap seems a reasonable policy in

the military profession since the negative consequences of professional failure are high. It seems

reasonable to ask why the American military profession does not streamline this diffused ethical

literature by adopting a succinct set of moral rules that is indoctrinated, memorized, taught, and

discussed as appropriate at different levels and technical specialties. This set of moral rules could

53 DoD 5500. 7-R, p 158-159. This text is taken from ethics-regulation/>.
54 A separate issue here is the extent to which bureaucracies like the military establishment breed excessive
complexity and redundancy in regulations and other policies and procedures. If a lawyer is needed to
interpret a military code of ethics, then it seems that something is amiss.

be supplemented by a succinct but reliable decision-making procedure. The JER code of ethics is

ineffective and ignored.

A few scholars writing in the literature of evaluation and aspiration have recognized this

need to streamline moral guidance in the military through something like a code of ethics and

they have tried to argue the point. Their efforts have been unsuccessful. For example, in 1984

Richard DeGeorge proposed just such a code in an article titled "Defining Moral Obligations:

The Need for a Military Code of Ethics"."55 His proposal argued that military professionals should

be trained and educated in six moral tenets of the profession. Two of these are: "I shall always

remember that those under my command are moral beings worthy of respect and I shall never

command them to do what is immoral", and "I shall use the utmost restraint in the use of force,

using only as much as necessary to fulfill my mission"56 A few years later, Fotion and Elfstrom

proposed four separate codes of ethics targeted at different professional relationships within the

military. Three of these codes regulate behavior, i.e., one for relations between comrades, one for

relations with the enemy, and a prisoner's code to regulate treatment of prisoners of war. The

fourth code, Fotion and Elfstrom called the creedall code', because it mentions general concepts

of duty and the military virtues.57

Two influential scholars who have written on American professional military ethics in the

last 30 years have also defended a need for codes of ethics, i.e., Fotion and Gabriel."8 They

argued that a succinct formal code of ethics would give clearer moral guidance to military

55 Richard DeGeorge, "Defining Moral Obligations: The Need for a Military Code of Ethics," Army,
December 1984, pp 22-30.
56 These two stress the rights of subordinates, that the end does not justify the means, and that the principle
of proportionality is obligatory in the achievement of legitimate military objectives.
57 Fotion and Elfstrom, op. cit., 76-81. While Fotion and Elfstrom propose four specific types of codes,
they do not provide content for those codes.

58 Fotion and Elfstrom op. cit., p 67-84; and Gabriel, op. cit., p 138-147. That important military ethics
scholars are proposing codes of ethics suggests a trend in thinking. It suggests that the U.S. military needs
help reorienting its moral compass, and that a reason for this need is a lack of simplicity in moral direction.

professionals serving in the U.S. armed forces. It would be easy to teach and indoctrinate these

codes. It would promote ethical discussion. And, a code of ethics could serve as a baseline for

revising and streamlining alterable elements of the official documents. It might even lead to

measurable improvements to the military justice system.59 In contrast, criticisms of codes of

ethics are: 1. It externalizes incentives for moral behavior. 2. It makes military ethics too

legalistic when context and flexible judgment are crucial. 3. Codes become mere slogans. 4.

Unsophisticated persons perceive them as the end of ethical action, rather than as a guide.60

Literature of Evaluation and Aspiration

The second category of professional military literature is broader, more analytic, and less

well defined. I call this category the literature of evaluation and aspiration. This literature

includes everything related to military ethics that is not included in the official documents. It

focuses on a myriad of topics and takes many philosophical approaches, elaborating, interpreting

and discussing the moral duties described in the official documents. It also assesses how

effectively the military profession is currently meeting the professional responsibilities described

in the official documents or how it met its professional responsibilities in past situations. Finally,

this literature evaluates the status of the profession, diagnoses problems, and suggests correctives

in response to perceived warning signs of profession-wide disintegration or specific situational


59 In my mind these are good reasons to implement a code. This strategy has been implemented with
apparent success in Israel. The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) has a formal code of ethics called "The Spirit
of the IDF". It codifies core values and traditions distilled from the Jewish religious system, the governing
principles of the democratic state of Israel, and the IDF's fighting heritage. Their formal code has eleven
core values, one of which is "purity of arms". "The IDF soldier shall use force and weapons to subdue the
enemy only to the extent required, and shall refrain from causing unnecessary injury to human life-to
body, dignity, and property". These core values are expressed in principles including rules of behavior in
the face of the enemy and rules for those not on active duty. Another of these eleven principles is
"discipline". "The IDF soldier shall act to carry out all that is required of him fully and successfully,
according to orders, in letter and in spirit, within the framework of the law". Online posting
, 1996.

6OWakin, "The Ethics of Leadership I," op. cit., p 186. Also see John Ladd, The Structure of a Moral Code,
Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1957.

The literature of evaluation and aspiration can be in the form of legal arguments,

philosophical arguments, spirited inspirational polemics, or a combination of the three.

Sometimes this literature takes a case study approach to illustrate actual professional failure or

success, to tease out the causes for this professional failure, and to propose reforms to prevent

similar failures in the future. Sometimes this literature focuses on philosophical interpretations

and conceptual analyses of moral standards described in the official documents, particularly

where application of the standards is confusing, or in specific instances where an interpretation of

professional expectations in a given context is needed to clarify existing policy.

Some of the evaluative literature praises or critiques the current state of American

professional military ethics, a fairly stable tradition that, since the winter of the continental

army's bivouac at Valley Forge, has been marked by the qualities of trust, affection, discipline

built on mutual respect, and nurturing the autonomy of subordinates. Other literature in this

category discusses the effectiveness of current education and training methodologies in the

American military profession, proposing pedagogical changes that would more effectively

inculcate a strong commitment to the moral rules, ideals, and virtues necessary for professional


In the United States, the civilian authorities, the public at large, and the leaders within the

military profession want troops of all ranks and specializations to strive to exceed minimum

professional standards of conduct. Thus, some literature in this category is primarily

inspirational. The military profession cannot function with excellence unless many of its

members exceed the professional expectations described in the official documents. Imparting a

strong commitment to exceed the minimum standards requires a variety of inducements including

institutional peer pressure, rewards, and other encouragements. To require persons to do more

6 Two worthy examples of evaluative literature that focus on APME pedagogy are: Peter L. Stromberg;
Malham M. Wakin; and Daniel Callahan, The Teaching of Ethics in the Military New York: Hastings
Center, 1982; and Joseph G. Brennan, "Ethics Instruction in the Military: Teach Them Plato or Hammer It
into Their Heads," Naval War College Review, vol. 4, 1989, p 55-65.

than professional duty requires is prima facie morally wrong. To encourage the same is prima

facie morally permissible.

Some of the minimum professional expectations described in the official documents are

legally required, some are only morally required, and still others are both.62 When members fail

to live up to minimum professional expectations, there can be strong external incentives to

comply, including punishment, censures, lost prestige, reduction in promotion opportunity,

forfeiture of pay, and even discharge.

To run from a battle violates the minimum standards of professional service and is a

legally punishable offense. To dive on a grenade to save the lives of one's comrades exceeds the

minimum standards. Diving on a grenade may be a noble example of self-sacrifice, but failure to

do so is not a legally punishable breach of standards. However, the American military profession

uses these and similar examples of heroism to inspire members to exceed minimum professional

standards. To make failure to dive on a grenade in any situation a legally punishable offense

would be unrealistic and cruel, but praising and ennobling such behavior is consistent with

inspiration. The literature and tradition support using these types of examples to encourage

members of the profession to both routine and heroic levels of self-sacrifice.

Much of the American professional military ethics literature aims to motivate military

professionals to exceed minimum professional standards. Militaries move from functional

competence towards excellence when a significant number of its members exceed minimum

standards consistently and enjoy doing so. The inspirational literature, though, is notjust

polemical. Heroic stories, actual and fictional, may be used in training environments to inspire

similar dedication in new recruits or provide a fresh inspiration to veterans still serving. Also,

much ceremonial ritual is used when soldiers are decorated for outstanding service.

62 Authors such as Joel Feinberg have discussed this relationship at length. See Joel Feinberg, The Moral
Limits of Criminal Law, New York: Oxford University Press, 1984.

In this literature, philosophical rigor is also used to analyze the reasons for professional

failures and suggest ways to inspire soldiers to avoid them in the future. Philosophical rigor is

crucial to distinguish, e.g., between praiseworthy sacrifice and foolish sacrifice. Mustering great

courage at the wrong time is not genuine courage. Philosophical analysis may be used to show

what it means for "courage" to be applied appropriately in specific contexts. Philosophers such

as Aristotle are studied in ethics courses at the military academies to clarify the distinction
between foolhardiness and real courage.63

The official documents are officially sanctioned and the literature of evaluation and

aspiration is not. The official documents are written more as rules, policies, procedures, and

institutional norms (customs), while the literature of evaluation and aspiration is generally written

as academic articles for military and philosophical journals. With the exception of specific courts

martial transcripts, the authors of the literature of evaluation and aspiration have more leeway to

analyze moral concepts and specific issues in more depth than writers and maintainers of the

official documents do. Both categories discuss professional virtues such as loyalty, courage,

honor, and obedience, and both categories even discuss what classifies as honorable and loyal

service in particular situations. Both distinguish ideals from duties and both take into account

morally relevant factors like professional context and rank. However, the literature of evaluation

and aspiration is a crucial supplement to the official documents because writers have more

academic freedom to take controversial positions and make poignant criticisms that officials

within the profession are not as free to incorporate into the official documents. Within the

American military profession though, leaders have resources at their disposal that academic

writers do not have in order to inspire behavior that exceeds minimum professional standards.

Ceremonies, parades, promotions, retirements, rituals, and commander's calls do much of the

work of inspiring soldiers from within the profession. Writers of the literature of evaluation and

63 1 say this with first hand experience. I taught ethics at the U.S. Air Force Academy from 1992-1996.

aspiration must rely on providing analyses and making philosophical arguments. Since the

official documents do a lot of describing and listing, it is easier to construe their content as mere

lists or slogans.

The literature of aspiration and evaluation sometimes uses real or fictitious case studies to

reinforce philosophical arguments. Some of this literature explicitly aims to be inspirational and

tries to motivate American military personnel to meet and exceed moral standards described in

the official documents. Motivational tools include stories of heroism, superior teamwork, and

overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles. In emphasizing the military virtues, character,

honor, and the warrior ethos, the literature of aspiration and evaluation emphasizes the ideals of

military service.

Emphasizing these ideals of service serves a crucial function. If the U.S. military is to be

excellent and not just adequate, then inspiring personnel to strive towards the ideals of military

service is necessary.64 Since ideals are generally not legally enforceable, they must be inculcated

through inspirational methods including ceremonies, traditions, education, and training

(indoctrination). Writers, commanders, and other leaders use stories of exemplars that

demonstrate the military ideals in action. Medal of Honor citations, stories of heroism, and

historical accounts of great leadership in battle put the ideals in a context for the aspiring soldier

to remember and hopefully emulate.65 The importance of the inspiring function cannot be

64 Ideals are unreachable, so no one measures up perfectly. However, it is still important to motivate
service members to aspire towards the ideals. Gert's uses the phrase 'moral ideals' to describe these
actions that people would like others to do, but which are not morally required. Only those actions for
which obedience is morally required can properly be called 'duties'. Failure to do one's duty makes
someone liable for punishment.
65 The following Medal of Honor citation is a particularly influential example of what I am describing here.
Lance P. Sijan was a cadet at the U.S. Air Force Academy in the early 1960s and his story is told over and
over to new recruits. "While on a flight over North Vietnam, Capt. Sijan ejected from his disabled aircraft
and successfully evaded capture for more than 6 weeks. During this time, he was seriously injured and
suffered from shock and extreme weight loss due to lack of food. After being captured by North
Vietnamese soldiers, Capt. Sijan was taken to a holding point for subsequent transfer to a prisoner of war
camp. In his emaciated and crippled condition, he overpowered one of his guards and crawled into the
jungle, only to be recaptured after several hours. He was then transferred to another prison camp where he
was kept in solitary confinement and interrogated at length. During interrogation, he was severely tortured;

overstated. A military that excels is a military whose personnel routinely demonstrate virtues

such as honor, candor, courage, initiative, obedience, and zeal. Inspiring commitment to strive

for these ideals can mean the difference between mission accomplishment and mission failure.

Case studies of moral and leadership failure are also used in this literature, e.g., the

immoral behavior of Lt. Calley at My Lai, or perhaps the fratricidal tactics of incompetent

European generals in WWI. According to some writers, the duty to exceed minimum standards

and excel in one's professional duties becomes stronger with increased rank.66 There is strong

institutional pressure to excel in the military culture. While failures to excel are not subject to

formal punishment, peer pressure and denial of other perks and rewards is often its own source of

punishment. Professionals who more often and/or more closely emulate professional ideals are

promoted at higher rates and are more often rewarded with increased responsibilities like

command or high-level staff positions. More respect and privilege follow. Thus, while there is

no formal legal obligation to aspire to the ideals of American military service, there are,

nevertheless institutional pressures to exceed these minimum professional standards.

Most of the philosophical literature in the literature of aspiration and evaluation makes

some fundamental assumptions. War is a human activity as ubiquitous as government and can be

a legitimate instrument of political authority. In this literature disagreements might concern when

and how to employ military force, but would rarely take a pacifistic position. Second, writers

generally accept the basic moral duties of American military professionals described in the

however, he did not divulge any information to his captors. Capt. Sijan lapsed into delirium and was placed
in the care of another prisoner. During his intermittent periods of consciousness until his death, he never
complained of his physical condition and, on several occasions, spoke of future escape attempts. Capt.
Sijan's extraordinary heroism and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty at the cost of his life are in
keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Air Force and reflect great credit upon himself and the U.S.
Armed Forces." Text of all Medal of Honor citations for American military professionals is available at
, last revised March 3, 2003.

66 This apparent dictum of common sense is expressed by Gabriel, op. cit., p 51-80; Hartle, op. cit., p 9-23;
Roger H. Nye, The Challenge of Command: Reading for Military Excellence. Wayne, NJ: Avery
Publishing, 1986, p 19; and Lewis Sorley, "Doing What's Right: Shaping the Army's Professionalism," in

official documents and the legal tradition that supports and reinforces these duties. Third, writers

normally accept the constitutional provisions of civilian control of the military and the President's

role as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces. Fourth, American writers rarely disagree with

the fundamental provisions of international law forbidding the use of inhumane methods such as

exploding bullets, grenades with glass in them, poison gas, torture, or bombing hospitals.67

Respect for the rule of law is strong. Disputes among writers are generally limited to

interpretations of issues like military necessity, proportionality, and discrimination as applied to

concrete cases.68 Finally, writers implicitly recognize that civilian leadership usually decidesjus

ad bellum issues. Military duty requires applying thejus en bello criteria legally and morally to

carry out missions assigned by civilian authorities, e.g., with morally and legally appropriate

applications of the principles of proportionality, discrimination, and military necessity.69 In the

military, moral excellence is a necessary condition for functional excellence, but it is not a

Military Ethics and Professionalism: A Collection of Essays, James Brown and Michael Collins (eds)
Washington DC: National Defense University Press, 1981.
67 Generally this is true. Axinn has an interesting section that discusses what unfair burden the Red Lily
effect might have on poorer nations. The Red Lily effect refers to the different effects a law can have on
different economic classes. If an international law required that all officers wear gold insignia so they
would be easy to identify, poorer nations would find it more difficult to obey the law than a wealthier
nation. Axinn concludes that the provisions of international law are written in a way that effectively avoids
these inequalities. Something as simple as colored cloth can distinguish military ranks just as effectively.
Axinn, op. cit., p 168-169.
68 Interpretive differences are often based on the moral principles a theorist argues are primary. A
consequentialist like Fotion and a Kantian like Axinn might, e.g., disagree about how they would justify an
international law against the use of poison gas. Fotion would tie the prohibition to minimizing harm, Axinn
to its failure to respect the absolute dignity of human beings.

69 In the introduction I distinguished thejus en bello criteria from jus ad bellum criteria, the former being
the main concern of military professionals in the United States. At least one writer has argued that these
two sets of considerations are not as rigidly separate as my introduction suggests. Walzer argues that some
jus ad bellum considerations may influence decisions in thejus en bello arena, something he argues
occurred during WWII. In his discussion of "supreme emergency", Walzer argues that when a threat is
patently evil, as the Nazis were, and when your civilization is in immanent danger of annihilation by a
threat of this nature, suspension of some facets of the en bello criterion of discrimination is justified as a
last resort. This argument, of course, does not address the issue of the legality of orders when those orders
call for the suspension of international laws and/or customs of warfare. It only supports the view that the
two sets of criteria may influence one another. See Walzer, op. cit., p 251-269.

sufficient one. The military profession can execute an immoral mission in morally appropriate

ways, given their unique social roles.

Thematic Literature

The philosophical literature on American professional military ethics also has four

identifiable themes that receive extra attention in the literature of aspiration and evaluation.

These themes are: military virtues, character in general, honor, and the warrior ethos. I will

briefly review each of these themes in turn, citing numerous sources where these themes are


Military virtues

The official documents of the American professional military ethics describe military

virtues that are necessary if the military arm of the U.S. government is to competently function.

Examples of these military virtues are: courage, loyalty, obedience, selflessness, truthfulness,

candor, discipline, competence, and integrity.]0 Also included at times are the virtues of

commitment, patriotism, compassion, and tolerance.71 These military virtues are dispositional

properties that good soldiers routinely exemplify in their actions. The military virtues are

discussed at length in both the official documents and the literature of aspiration and evaluation.

The official documents tend to list and define these virtues; the most thorough analyses of these

virtues are found in the literature of evaluation and aspiration.

One well-discussed example in the literature of evaluation and aspiration is the crucial

military virtue of obedience. A recent issue of the Professional Ethics: A Multidisciplinary

Journal is devoted exclusively to articles about military obedience that were presented in

70 U.S. Army, US. Army Values: The Bedrock of Our Profession, (DA PAM 600-68), Washington DC:
U.S. Army, 1986, p 6-9; Nicolas Fotion, "The Military Virtues: From Aristotle to Skinner," unpublished
presentation at the Joint Services Conference on Professional Ethics, January 1987; and Brennan, op. cit., p
71 Hartle, op. cit., p 32; Michael Walzer, "Two Kinds of Military Responsibility," Parameters, vol. 6,
March 1981, p 42-46; Clay T. Buckingham, "Ethics and the Senior Officer: Institutional Tensions,"
Parameters vol. 15, Autumn 1985, p 23-32.

Brussels in 2001 at an international conference on military ethics. Issues discussed here concern

the morality of military obedience, conceptual problems with obedience, and difficulties

associated with obedience in specific cases.72

The right to disobey illegal orders may override the virtue of obedience.73 Since there is

frequently no time for discussion on the front because of factors like limited time, duress,

epistemic limitations, and institutional pressures, training during peacetime must be rigorous

enough to make obedience almost completely automatic. Within this tension between the

functional necessity of obedience and the right to disobey illegal orders, Taylor and Wakin

provided philosophical analyses of respondeat superior (I was ordered; my superior is

responsible). Seniior leaders who were indicted at Nuremberg for war crimes made this argument.

Wenker discusses the requirement for obedience even in the face of coercion and a lack of

informed consent.74 The literature of evaluation and aspiration generally concurs that, though

obedience is a necessary virtue, it is not exceptionless. In some situations, obedience is

dysfunctional and/or vicious.75 Obedience, then, is necessary and is strongly conditioned into

soldiers; however, it should only be rendered to legal orders. Determining the legality of orders is

difficult in some cases, and the soldier has the burden of making the determination. Taylor puts it

this way, while implying that this decision making burden rests primarily on officers.

72 The enlisted soldiers' contract of service requires obedience as a trade for pay and other benefits. The
enlistee pledges to "obey the orders of the officers appointed over me" with the proviso that they are legal
orders. This qualifier counters a tendency in some despotic regimes to make obedience the chief virtue of
military professionalism. Himmler said, "the Nazi soldier's bond is his obedience." Obviously obedience
is necessary but not in itself sufficient for moral service in the profession. The fact that soldiers generally
concur that orders should be obeyed even if one disagrees, does not understand, or does not want to obey
supports the view that obedience is contractually obligated in addition to being seen as a military virtue.

73 Wakin, Malham, "The Ethics of Leadership I," op. cit., p 187-189. See also Telford Taylor, Nuremberg
and Vietnam: An American Tragedy, New York: Bantam, 1971; and Samuel Huntington's, The Soldier and
the State, New York: Random House, 1957, p 73. Finally, the wrongness of using superior orders as a
defense against the charge of war crimes can be found in FM 27-10, op. cit., p 182.

74 Wenker, op. cit.

75 Gabriel op. cit., p 41, 185-194; Hartle, op. cit., p 121, 169.

An officer has little choice but to assume the rightness of a governmental decision
involving the country at war. Having made this assumption, he is honor-bound to carry
out all legal orders and do his best to bring the war to a prompt and successful

There has been a good deal of scholarly discussion of the responsibilities of the morally

sensitive soldier when a military order conflicts with one's moral, legal, and/or professional

judgment. Still, there is no precise, widely accepted moral guide or algorithm for determining

which of a soldier's duties are obligatory or permissible in complex cases." Military ethics

shares this feature with ethics in other professions.78 Guidance must be gleaned from one's

training, experience, and study. Much has been written characterizing specific situations (past

and hypothetical) where disobedience or dissent is a professional duty, or proposing rough ground

rules to cultivate moral responsibility and discernment.79 Hartle gives illustrative cases studies

that accomplish this cultivation in the appendix of his 1989 book, Moral Issue in Military

Decision Making.0

The literature on the virtue of competence is sketchier than the literature on the virtue of

obedience. Nevertheless, scholars and even historians agree that competence is functionally

necessary. For example, Shelby Foote blames General McClellan's professional incompetence

for his failure to seize the initiative against Lee's inferior forces during the American Civil War,

76 Maxwell Taylor, "A Do-It-Yourself Professional Code for the Military," Parameters vol. 10, December
1980, p 11.
77 I think that Gert's decision procedure can help on this point.

78 The official documents spell out required duties ideals that should be encouraged. However, case-by-
case determinations require moral judgment. Moral decisions are not deduced like geometric proofs. This
shows a consistency between the official documents and Gert's position on moral judgment, each of which
are consistent with Aristotle's view that one must not expect more certainty from the subject matter than
the material allows.

79 Gabriel, op cit., 162ff; Huntington, op cit., p 74-78.
80 Hartle, op. cit.

particularly at the Battle ofAntietem.8' Lincoln fired him for being tentative when he had

superior forces and a clear strategic advantage.

A key issue associated with competence is the dichotomy between technical competence,

which refers to being skillful in one's craft, and professional competence, which refers to the

ability to apply one's craft skills towards morally acceptable goals. Hackett, Huntington, and

Galligan argue for this view, that technical competence is not a sufficient condition for being a

successful military professional. They argue that technical competence is never morally neutral

but always serves morally appraisable ends.82 Hence, technical competence is necessary but not

sufficient for a professional military excellence. Soldiers who are technically competent and who

apply that skill to morally justifiable goals using morally acceptable methods are professionally


The relationship between technology and American professional military ethics has

generated some interesting work concerning the deleterious effects of technology on the military

profession. The fact that the contemporary American military profession needs so many highly

trained specialists to function prompted Gabriel to argue that technology has caused the military

profession to imitate corporate America by adopting business management techniques instead of

classic military leadership techniques. These business management techniques include an

overemphasis on factors like cost effectiveness, bottom line numbers, productivity statistics,

process models, and flow charts, as opposed to the timeless lessons of military leadership

" Shelby Foote, The Civil War: A Narrative, Ft Sumter to Perryville, New York: Random House, 1958, p
82 John Winthrop Hackett, The Profession ofArms, London: Times Publishing, 1963; Huntington, op. cit.;
Francis B. Galligan, Military Professionalism and Ethics, Newport, RI: Naval War College Press, 1979.
83 See Morris Janowitz, The Professional Soldier, New York: Macmillan, 1960, Chapter 2. In this chapter,
Janowitz discusses what he saw as the military's segmentation into three groups. One of these was the
battlefield leader, the second was the administrator, and the third was the military technologist. I do not
think this is accurate. Now the battlefield manager must be technically competent too, i.e., understand
subjects like mathematics, computers, satellite navigation, and mechanics. However, the military
technologist working in a laboratory somewhere must not necessarily be heroic.

grounded in an acute understanding of facts about human nature.84 To Gabriel, specialists like

doctors and computer programmers serving in the American military have, like mere contract

laborers, traded their skills for pay and benefits without developing the requisite military

professionalism, i.e., assimilating fully into the military culture. Gabriel writes with the goal of

restoring a service wide emphasis on the military virtues before the American military services

completely morph into fragmented clusters of paid specialists who merely wear the uniform.85

To fight this trend, Lemrner argues for renewed emphasis on the military profession as a "higher

calling" and not just an exchange of labor for pay and benefits.86

Character in general

A focus on good character in general is also a noticeable theme of the literature of

aspiration and evaluation. Chapter 1 of DOD GEN 36A, The Armed Forces Officer, explains that

American military officers should expect, for the duration of their lives, to be viewed as

representatives of all that is good in the national character. Chapter 1, Section 6 states that

The nation expects more from the military officer: It expects a living portrayal of the
highest standards of moral and ethical behavior. The expectation is neither fair nor
unfair; it is a simple fact of the profession. The future of the services and the well being
of its people depend on the public perception and fact of the honor, virtue and
trustworthiness of the officer corps.7

84 Gabriel, p 98 op. cit.; Wakin op. cit., p 208-210. Besides the influence of technology and specialization,
Gabriel argues effectively for another cause corporate influence on the U.S. military profession and a
waning emphasis on classic military leadership. According to Gabriel, Robert McNamara imported into
the U.S. military business processes and practices he used effectively while working for Ford Motor
Company. This led to a spurious stress on managing people like things rather than leading them as persons.

85 Gabriel, op. cit., p 94-101. Technology has had an immense influence on the contemporary American
military profession. The American military originated on a citizen-soldier model. This model became
anachronistic when the need for technical competence necessitated having a large standing military force
dedicated to long-term service and continuous training.

86 Max Lerner, "The Shame of the Professions," Saturday Review, vol. 3, November 1, 1975, p 10-12,
reprinted in Wakin, op.cit., p 134-137.

87 DOD Gen 36A, op. cit., p 2.

There is evidence to indicate that the American public concurs, expecting their officers to be

"paragons of virtue: guardians of threatened values."8' The American public wants its military

professionals to have strong moral character and to consider military service a way of life.89

Character expectations are also discussed in the official documents. Article 133 of the

UCMJ requires that military professionals provide for the needs of their spouses, children, and

other dependents. The UCMJ also prohibits managing one's finances poorly. Paragraph 2501 of

the U.S. Marine Corps Manual spells out these obligations in even more detail. In recent years

the U.S. service academies have developed character and ethics centers to facilitate the character

education of cadets and midshipmen. These centers are partly a response to the increasing

cultural gap between the military profession and its client society. Academy leaders believe they

can no longer rely on getting officer candidates that arrive from high school with crucial character

traits such as loyalty, commitment, and selflessness already instilled from childhood.90

Sarkesian, however, identifies potential problems that may arise when exemplary moral

character is emphasized as a prerequisite for military professionalism, particularly for officers.

According to Sarkesian, the superior's right to inspect and correct subordinates for all disorders

and neglects prejudicial to good order and discipline (as permitted by Article 134 of the UCMJ)

can create an oppressive glass house environment that may violate minimal privacy rights that

even military professionals are entitled to.91 Sarkesian argues that the burden of proof is on those

88 C.R. Kemble, The Image of the Army Officer in America: Background for Current Views, Westport, CT:
Greenwood Press, 1973, p 142.
89 Sam Sarkesian, The ProfessionalArmy Officer in a Changing Society, Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1975, p. 7.

90 The United States Air Force Academy Center for Character Development is one example of such an
effort. It was founded in 1994 with the goal of influencing cadets to become future officers who internalize
and live the Air Force core values of integrity, service, and excellence.

91 Sarkesian, op. cit., p 54.

in the military establishment who would take away individual liberties to show that violating a

soldier's privacy is functionally necessary for mission success.92

A second problem with emphasizing exemplary moral character in general as a

prerequisite for military professionalism is as follows: Some character traits that are functionally

necessary for soldiers to have are diametrically opposed to character traits that apparently make a

person good in general. The legal profession provides an analog, since the functional virtues that

make for a good counselor can conflict with the virtues we intuitively think make a normal citizen

good. The good counselor may, e.g., be bound to defend a client she knows is guilty or to keep

potentially incriminating evidence a secret. The same possibility exists for the military

professional. Soldiers are encouraged to exhibit aggression and to be intimidating. Soldiers may

psychologically need to depersonalize the enemy in their minds in order to manage the

psychological impact of killing other human beings, which in itself is obviously not behavior that

civilians with good character normally engage in. For this reason, critics like Sarkesian argue

that that what makes for a soldier of good character and what makes for a citizen with good

character are vastly different.93

Finally, to stress stellar moral character makes it easy to mistakenly conflate professional

duties with professional ideals. This is a problem that Gert's moral theory solves, which I will

discuss in Chapter 3 and 6. The following excerpt from the Armed Forces Officer (1988)

illustrates this hazard. "The Armed Forces.. .have a certain tolerance for the possibility of human

error, but being commissioned an officer reduces this tolerance to almost zero".94 Conflating

92 Sarkesian's position fits right in with Gert's view of moral rules. For Gert, violations of moral rules have
to be justified. Taking away someone's freedom violates a moral rule; hence, it has to be morally
justifiable, in this case by the military establishment taking away freedom.

93 Axinn, op. cit., p 138-151. Here Axinn discusses issues associated with the "Dirty Hands" problem and
military command, the problem that sometimes leadership necessitates performing an action that is
professionally necessary but morally wrong.

94 DOD Gen 36A, op. cit., p 19.

duties and ideals leads to intolerance and creates a zero defects mentality. It destroys initiative,

penalizes innovation, and squelches professional development through hands-on learning from

mistakes. This perfectionism is a formidable cultural obstacle to encouraging military

professionals to take risk and to seize initiative.95


Honor is a theme that receives special treatment in the American military profession.

The literature gives many definitions of 'honor', special dignity, good reputation, glory, but there

is a consensus that it is a capstone, a crown of military professionalism. Arthur Dyck gives a

sketchy definition of honor "the ability to recognize moral dilemmas and to have the integrity and

strength of character to act on one's perception".96 Gabriel likens 'honor' to "moral sensitivity"

to the moral dimension of life. He also asserts that honor is crucial because it checks the

temptation to be merely an efficient, destructive military technician. Soldiers with integrity

behave honorably.97

The U.S. service academies each have honor codes, all of which state that cadets will not

"lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do".98 These honor codes prescribe moral rules that cadets

may not violate without shameful disenrollment or probation. These cadet honor codes state

minimum standards that carry a potent external motivation for compliance. However, a cadet

95 Gabriel, op. cit., p 11. Gabriel argues that this zero-mistakes mentality was stimulated by the business-
model influences of Robert McNamara in the 1960s. McNamara came from Ford Motor Company and
brought his business methodologies to bear on the military services. A zero mistakes goal is reasonable
when making automobile parts. Gabriel says that the model worked well with combat support functions,
but failed at the troop level. At this level, men have to be led and not managed. Military leadership is
people centered and not something that can be manipulated like an automotive assembly line.

96 Arthur J1. Dyck, "Ethical Bases of the Military Profession," Parameters, vol. 10, March 1980, p 44.

97 Gabriel, op. cit., p 157.

98 The Cadet Honor Code of the United States Air Force Academy states, "We Will Not Lie, Steal Or
Cheat, Nor Tolerate Among Us Anyone Who Does. Furthermore, I resolve to do my duty and to live
honorably, so help me God." Online posting at . An
interesting problem with this code is that it is susceptible to a possible regress. Tolerating an honor code
violation is itself an honor code violation. But presumably, so is tolerating someone who one knows is
tolerating an honor code violations, an so on, and so on.

who obeys the honor code is not necessarily an honorable person. A cadet who shirks duties, is

pompous, or is an overzealous careerist engages in dishonorable behavior without violating the

honor code. Cadets with these character flaws may eventually serve in the military service and

perform their duties competently. These officers will usually receive honorable discharges when

separating or resigning from the service, even though they would generally not be considered a

role model of good character, of "honor."

In the military context honor is intentionally vague and ambiguous, having a fluid

character as both an ideal and a duty. Service personnel who fail to discharge their professional

duties dishonor their profession and may be given a dishonorable discharge, or, for less egregious

offenses, an 'other than honorable discharge'. This places a permanent blemish on one's record

and usually places permanent limitations on one's future career prospects after military service.

As an ideal, honor is more elusive. Exceeding minimum standards brings praise and

other perks, but what the minimum standards of honor are depends on one's professional context.

For example, the minimum standards of honor for a Navy SEAL, are higher than they would be

for an enlisted clerk in a personnel office. While both individuals would be expected to uphold

their honor by being truthful and trustworthy, the Navy SEAL must be trusted to serve selflessly

in the face of lethal dangers that would probably make the personnel clerk turn and run. Honor as

an ideal is best inculcated and encouraged through heroic stories, both factual and fictional.

These stories perform two functions. They increase understanding of what behaviors honor

includes, and they inspire soldiers to emulate those qualities when they perform their duties.

Even though honor may be difficult to define, people recognize honorable behavior when they

see it.9

99 A quick example to illustrate honorable behavior is from the 1953 movie Titanic, released by 20h
Century Fox. In this movie, and when the ship is sinking, the band members continue to play music to lift
the spirits of the passengers, even though it is clear that they are all going to die. At first the band plays
jazzy music. Later at death approaches, the band switches to hymns. Clearly the band members are
behaving honorably in this situation, thinking about other people rather than themselves.

Some breaches of honor are synonymous with violating rules and others only with missed

opportunity to excel. Deceitfulness is dishonorable behavior. Not stopping to help someone

change a flat tire may be dishonorable behavior too, even though no moral rules may have been

violated in a particular instance. The first violation of honor is usually immoral; the second

violation is normally only calloused. This interpretative latitude serves an important purpose in

the American professional military ethic. Keeping the content of honor vague facilitates

experimentation, thought, spontaneity, and maintains intellectual vitality.'00

Some writers have argued that honor is the integrating characteristic of military character.

On this view, honor gives meaning to the other desirable character traits of military


Warrior ethos

The ideal of the warrior ethos also receives significant attention as a central theme in the

literature of evaluation and aspiration. In the 1989 monograph, Warfighting, the U.S. Marine

Corps derives the warrior ethos from the nature of war itself. "War is ultimately an art, an act of

human creativity and intuition powered by strength of the human will". War requires "intelligent

leaders with a penchant for boldness. It is each Marine's duty to take the initiative as the

situation demands".102 Good soldiers are warriors and warriors have certain characteristics.

Besides functional competence, soldiers who are warriors necessarily have determination, esprit

de corps, self-confidence, honesty, frankness, candor, physical courage, moral courage, trust, and

100 Geoffrey Best, Honour Among Men and Nations: Transformations of an Idea, Toronto: Toronto
University Press, 1982, p 9; and Donald Zoll, "The Moral Dimension of War and the Military Ethic,"
Parameters vol. 12, June 1982, p 4-8, reprinted in The Parameters of Military Ethics, edited by Lloyd
Matthews and Dale Brown, Washington: Pergamon-Brassey, 1989, p 116-117.
101 Best, op. cit., p 20; Gabriel, op. cit., p 157; Hartle, op. cit., p 47-49; Janowitz, op. cit., p 225; Melville A.
Drisko, An Analysis of Professional Military Ethics. Their Importance, Development and Inculcation,
Carlisle Barracks, PA: U.S. Army War College, 1977, p 4.
102 U.S. Marine Corps, Warfighting, (MCDP 1), Washington: U.S. Marine Corps 20 June 1997, p 15 and

judgment. Although intangible and hard to measure, the warrior ethos adds a significant and

sometimes decisive component of total combat power that a military force can use against the

enemy. It is a "force multiplier."103

The warrior ethos stresses leadership over careerism, motivation over number crunching,

and character over managerial techniques. The best football coaches lead players to accomplish a

mission as a team; they do not waste valuable time juggling practice schedules and writing letters.

The best military leaders lead soldiers to accomplish a mission as a team; they do not waste

valuable time developing spread sheets and changing filing systems. While leaders do some of

these activities at times, the best leaders subsume management under leadership. For the warrior,

leadership is the focus of command, not the administrative details that support it.

Systematic Literature

To criticize American professional military ethics is analogous to criticizing a subject as

broad as epistemology. The literature takes diverse philosophical perspectives on specific issues

depending on the views of the authors. Each American professional military ethics article or

book can be criticized on its own merits for logical consistency, soundness, clarity, rigor, and

whether it captures our firm intuitions about concrete cases. Thus, there is no dominant

theoretical justification behind the literature of evaluation and aspiration.104 Consequentialism,

virtue theory, social contract theories, and deontological theories are all used to logically ground

American professional military ethics. Despite these theoretical differences, there is broad

agreement in many areas and isolated disagreement about conclusions in specific cases.

103 Lawrence Garrett, A.M. Gray, and Frank Kelso, "The Way Ahead," Proceedings, U.S. Naval Institute,
April 1991, p 44; Gabriel, op. cit., p 28; U.S. Army Infantry Center, The Willingness to Sacrifice, Ft
Benning GA: Ft. Benning PO, p 4; and Nye op. cit., 79-97.

'4I say this because American military ethical debate seems to not be governed by one contemporary
theory that is steering the dialog as, e.g., Rawl's has had on normative ethical debate since the early 1970s.
Historical events such as the Vietnam conflict, and technological advances such as nuclear weapons more
often generate moral dialog in the military.

In what follows I will discuss four contemporary and influential writers of American

professional military ethics. These authors are Fotion and Elfstron, Axinn, Gabriel, and Hartle.

These four authors systematically and philosophically ground military ethics in a particular

ethical theory. Fotion and Elfstrom take a consequentialist position. Axinn grounds military

ethics in Kantian deontology. Gabriel grounds military ethics in virtue theory. Finally, Hartle

takes an implicit social contract position, basing his systematic military ethics on the traditions

and customs of American society and the U.S. Constitution.

Fotion and Elfstrom's consequentialism and American professional military ethics

Consequentialism has historically furnished argumentative justification for many military

actions, some of them morally dubious. Consequentialist arguments have been given to justify

the decision to use the atomic bomb on Japan. It has been argued that dropping the bomb saved

thousands more American and Japanese lives than the alternative, an invasion of the Japanese

mainland using conventional weapons. This argument misuses consequentialism because it

creates a false dilemma by refusing to compromise on the demand for unconditional surrender.

There were more alternatives available to President Truman than nuclear attack or mass invasion

and conquest. To cite a more contemporary example, consequential justifications may justify

American government personnel using all means necessary to interrogate detained terrorists.

This position argues for selectively violating human rights. If violating the rights of terrorist

prisoners gains information that stops a terrorist attack that will maim and kill thousands of

innocent "American" civilians, then the torture is justifiable.

In their book, Military Ethics: Guidelines for Peace and War, Fotion and Elfstrom argue

that consequentialism provides the best theoretical justification for military ethics. Fotion and

Elfstrom declare their consequentialism when they state,

Like all works of applied moral philosophy, ours is based on a general moral theory: viz.,
utilitarianism.... The very fact that utilitarianism is the position being constantly attacked

indicates it continuing power.... Our particular stance is an adaptation of the
utilitarianism developed by the contemporary British philosopher R.M. Hare....105

Fotion and Elfstrom argue for subjecting the rules prescribed by the conventions of international

law to a higher utilitarian standard in order to make it possible to assess possible exceptions to the

rules in specific cases.

The use of poison gas in warfare cannot be ruled out apriori as abominable or
repugnant. It is important to attempt to understand what is right or wrong about using
such weapons-and perhaps to acknowledge that under certain circumstances their use in
war may be justified.106

Fotion and Elstrom criticize a few theoretical alternatives to a consequentialist grounded military

ethic and then defend a consequentialist foundation. Their analysis categorizes military ethics

during peacetime, diplomacy and mobilization, actual hostilities, and post war peace. For Fotion

and Elfstrom, consequentialism provides the best theoretical grounding for military ethics for the

following reasons.

First, consequentialism provides a decision procedure for adjudicating between rights

when they are in conflict in concrete military cases. Consequentialism, subsumes conflicting

rights under considerations of outcomes. When rights conflict, as they often do in military

engagements, maximizing the good takes priority, however 'good' gets cashed out. For Fotion

and Elfstrom, while decisions based on maximizing the good may be counterintuitive in a few

cases, it does at least provide a plausible and consistent decision procedure to apply in complex


Secondly, Fotion and Elfstrom argue that consequentialism is uniquely suited to military

decision making because outcomes take priority over rights. Consequentialism does not hold that

some irreducible minimal amount of primary goods is owed to all individuals in virtue of their

status as human beings. This conclusion is important in war, where situations frequently arise

105 Fotion, op. cit., p 1.

106 Fotion, op. cit., p 22.

where it is necessary to deny even a "minimal amount" of primary goods to some human beings.

Just joining the U.S. military requires surrendering an unequivocal right to life. For Fotion and

Elfstrom, this is not a problem for consequentialism, since values like rights are contingent on

their contribution to maximizing the good. Thus, for consequentialism, rights may be sacrificed

in particular military ethics cases without contradicting the fundamental principles on which the

American professional military ethic is based.

Third, consequentialism provides the best theoretical grounding for difficult military

decisions because consequentialism accepts that life is not necessarily fair and it does not view

fairness as the ultimate goal of moral judgments. To Fotion and Elfstrom, a theory that accepts

that life is not nor should it always be fair better preserves the context-dependent character of

moral decisions. In the military profession, many moral decisions are necessary that are not fair.

Even in just wars moral decisions in concrete cases are necessary and appropriate that inevitably

violate individual rights.107 To Fotion and Elfstrom, if consequentialism grounds military ethics,

then moral decisions in some cases can both violate individual rights and be morally justifiable.1'08

Next, Fotion and Elfstrom argue that consequentialism provides the tools to more

effectively manage conflicts caused by the different plans of life that people choose. These plans

include corporate plans that define people as part of a national community, and social plans that

concern many goods other than basic individual rights. Consequentialist moral decision-making

acknowledges that people want the liberty to sacrifice basic individual rights for higher

community, corporate, and national goals. Also, consequentialist decision-making is based on

107 This argument may be expanded to include the broader issue of the military institution as a whole. It is
arguable that the existence of a successful military institution necessarily depends on the government's
ability to take fundamental human rights away from soldiers, e.g., life and privacy. A military service
cannot function unless its members surrender, with certain restrictions, fundamental rights to the state. It is
another issue whether this argument shows that rights are merely gifts of the states and may be taken by
them at anytime they deem it necessary for, e.g., national security.

10 Consequentialists have the opposite problem. Their problem is in making fast and reliable calculations
that render the correct moral judgment intelligible according to the consequential standard. This problem
has spawned a thought experiment industry in moral philosophy.

what most moral agents already know, i.e., that in some situations such as war, morality requires

that things like individual rights and fairness may have to be sacrificed in some situations to do

what is right. This knowledge is obvious in the military profession, where citizens are often

willing and eager to serve their country even though they must give up individual rights to do so.

Fotion and Elfstrom adopt the consequentialism of Hare as the best consequentialist

grounding for military ethics. They argue that Hare's two levels of moral thinking, the intuitive

and the critical, provide a plausible description of common morality, describing how moral

thought and moral decisions actually take place.109 Fotion and Elfstrom think that Hare's

consequentialism should be used to guide moral education and training in the military profession.

Hare's intuitive level is unreflective. It is based on general moral rules that are

conditioned into people from their society, family, school, church, and friends. To Fotion and

Elfstrom, intuitive thinking suits professional military ethics because the military environment

requires near automatic obedience, a sense of urgency, fast action, and many unreflective rules.

Soldiers are frequently under extreme restrictions of time, resources, institutional pressures, and

duress. Moral decisions are necessarily urgent and reactive responses to rapidly changing

situational conditions within the fog and friction of war.'10 Soldiers' goals and the means to

attain those goals are generally predetermined. This context explains why military training is

hard and military life is governed by many rules. Soldiers must act unreflectively and with

discipline to maximize the odds of overcoming the natural inclination to panic and run."' Thus,

primafacie, critical thinking and the battlefield do not mix well. Critical thinking must be

'9 See R.M. Hare, Moral Thinking: Its Method, Levels, and Point, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1981, for a
discussion the two levels of moral thinking that Fotion and Elfstrom appropriate for their systematic
military ethics.
" Carl von Clauswitz, On War, new and revised edition with intro and notes by F.N. Maude, trans by .J..
Graham, New York: Barnes and Noble, 1966. In Chapters 6 and 7, Clauswitz discusses the activity of war
as beset by "fog" and "friction", "fog" because the soldier has very little information about what is
transpiring from a big picture standpoint, and "friction" because events never go as planned.
"' Fotion and Elfstrom, op. cit., p 13. Many battles are decided on just the issue of who keeps composure
the longest. When the troops panic and break ranks, chaos and defeat result.

accomplished before the battle begins, particularly to anticipate contingencies that will inevitably


For Fotion and Elfstrom, the intuitive level of moral thinking fits well with professional

ethics in general since the most professions usually develop codes of ethics to guide their

members' moral judgments. Codes of ethics settle general issues in advance by establishing a

default position on key matters. Codes of ethics can guide behavior in a crisis and prevent

decision paralysis. These codes "save time by keeping us from having to think through what we

are supposed to do on every occasion when we are faced with a problem."'12

Although codes of ethics provide moral guidance for making moral judgments in specific

professional contexts, Fotion and Elfstrom do not think that codes are moral decision algorithms

that prescribe absolute rules. "It is difficult, and very likely impossible, for codes to cover all

contingencies without becoming so abstract as to lose their prescriptive character."113 For Fotion

and Elfstrom, while the physician's code of ethics should guide moral judgment, the military

codes of ethics should facilitate near automatic responses to problems. To motivate military

professionals to obey codes of ethics this unreflectively, Fotion and Elfstrom argue that their

content must be memorized. Training in how to use them to make wise decisions must include

conditioning and indoctrination. Discussion groups may be held for higher-ranking leaders. And

violations must be punishable offenses."4

For Fotion and Elfstrom, the military profession is so large and complex that one code of

ethics will not suffice to provide the guidance needed to steer military professionals towards

112 Fotion and Elfstrom, op. cit., p 67.

.. Fotion and Elfstrom, op. cit., p 75. This is a criticism of theorists who propose sets of universal moral
rules. To be universal the rules have to be so general as to almost seem useless, or simply to restate the
painfully obvious. This is an issue that Gert has to answer.
114 Paradoxically, unlike the medical profession, persons with lower levels of education, experience, and
intelligence are frequently those who must negotiate the most agonizing moral conflicts under torturous
conditions. Rigorous training is necessary to make the time honored moral rules of war second nature in
the crisis environments of military operations.

maximizing the good. Instead, they propose four separate codes: a creedal code, an internal code,

a fighting code, and a prisoner's code."5 In spite of appearances, Fotion and Elfstrom do

recognize that a proliferation of codes depletes their moral influence. Their four codes define

primary and general group relationships in the military environment. For Fotion and Elfstrom,

each group relationship needs a separate code to guide moral decisions between and within those

groups. Since codes are tailored to the intuitive level of moral thought, they should be short and


These codes would still need to be kept simple in that each one would likely need to be
kept to eight or ten rules with each rule kept as simple as possible. Within that format,
the content of the rules would have to be specific enough to have prescriptive power.116

Unfortunately, Fotion and Elfstrom do not actually propose succinctly written content for

their four codes; they only recommend four types. Their creedal code would be analogous to a

preamble that mentions general principles, qualities, or core values in the form of a slogan or

motto."17 An internal code would govern intra service relationships. These rules would state the

general duties American military professionals owe each other like obeying orders, being fair,

working hard, doing one's duty, and holding one another accountable to standards of behavior. A

fighting code would govern relations with the enemy and others outside one's service, and would

include a succinct statement of those rules that capture core provisions of the Geneva Convention

with respect to treatment of enemy soldiers, noncombatants, sick, wounded, etc.... It would also

include general prohibitions against actions such as destroying historic landmarks. Finally, a

prisoners'code would govern ethical treatment of prisoners of war, particularly on issues like

115 Fotion and Elfstrom, op. cit., p 76-79.
116 Fotion and Elfstrom, op. cit., p 73. All codes of conduct have to be short enough to memorize, simple
enough to understand, and substantive enough to be relevant. The fact that Fotion and Elfstrom opt for
eight to ten rules shows an interesting affinity with Gert's proposed set often universal moral rules. The
rules are plenty enough to be rich in content, but few enough to quickly memorize, understand and utilize.

117For example, "Duty, Honor, Country" is the motto of West Point. The U.S. Air Force has a motto, the
U.S. Air Force core values of "Integrity First, Service Before Self, and Excellence in all We Do."

torture, surrender, and escape.' Though Fotion and Elfstrom do not provide content for their

codes, the implication is that this content is already written down in other places and needs only

to be framed in succinct code form according to these four categories.

Methods for teaching these codes would naturally differ according to environmental

conditions and the group receiving the training. Officers, NCOs, and basic trainees would require

different types of training since they have different levels of authority to make moral decisions

that involve different alternatives. When mobilizing for war or dealing with lower enlisted ranks,

it would most likely be necessary to make training consist of simply committing a code to

memory while omitting longer discussions involving complex cases where rules conflict and

critical thought is required. At other times the training would involve discussions of complex

cases, especially for higher-ranking soldiers whose duties required critical thought to make

independent moral decisions. This level of training, according to Fotion and Elfstrom, would

focus on Hare's second level of moral reasoning.119

Fotion and Elfstrom argue that in the American military, institutional mechanisms are

already in place that implicitly confirm Hare's consequentialist dichotomy between intuitive and

critical moral thinking. For example, U.S. Army Manual 21-78, titled Prisoner of War

Resistance, restates the Code of Conduct as an intuitive prisoner's code. However, following the

restatement of each article of the code, FM 21-78 provides a critical analysis of how to interpret

these rules in practice. Article V states,

When questioned, should I become a prisoner of war, I am required to give name, rank,
service number, and date of birth. I will evade answering further questions to the utmost

ts Fotion and Elfstrom, op. cit., p 76-79. Fotion and Elfstrom do not argue for four codes precisely. They
are just making a proposal they think works while capturing the complexity of the different relationships
that the military profession presents. Too many codes lose potency, but restricting to only one code
probably would leave out important material, be exceedingly long, and not take into account differences in
rank. For example, Fotion and Elfstrom say that officers and noncommissioned officers (NCOs) would
probably write different creedal codes. Officers would make theirs inspirational but leave out specifics;
NCOs would want prescriptive rules with no exceptions.
119Fotion and Elfstrom, op. cit., p 74.

of my ability. I will make no oral or written statement disloyal to my country and its
allies or harmful to their cause.120

FM 21-78 then gives the following analysis of this article.

When questioned, a prisoner of war is required by the Geneva Conventions, this Code,
and is permitted by the UCMJ, to give name, rank, service number, and date of birth.
Under the Geneva Conventions, the enemy has no right to try to force a USPW to
provide any additional information. However, it is unrealistic to expect a PW to remain
confined for years reciting only name, rank, identification number, and date of birth.
There are many PW camp situations in which certain types of conversation with the
enemy are permitted. For example, a PW is allowed but not required by this Code, the
UCMJ, or the Geneva Conventions to fill out a Geneva Conventions 'capture card', to
write letters home, and to communicate with captors on matters of health and welfare.121

FM 21-78 provides over 100 pages of analysis and interpretation of this code in an effort to show

a soldier how to reason critically when applying the code's guidelines to moral decisions in the

prisoner of war context. FM 21-78 also gives practical guidance on a number of prisoner related

issues such as how to carry on clandestine communications with fellow prisoners. For Fotion and

Elfstrom, FM 21-78 is one example that illustrates Hare's two levels of moral thinking working

coherently together in an official military publication. In FM 21-78, the code provides the

content and realistic case discussions provide material for critical analysis.'22

One way to criticize FE's military ethics would be to apply cogent scholarly criticisms of

Hare's book Moral Thinking against Fotion and Elfstrom's military ethics. For example, Gert

criticizes Hare by arguing for only one and not two levels of moral thinking. Assuming that

Gert's criticism against Hare were effective, it would also presumably be effective against Fotion

and Elfstrom.

120 FM 21-78, op. cit., p 5-10.

121 FM 21-78, op. cit., p5-10.

122 Fotion and Elfstrom, op. cit., p 81. FM 21-78 illustrates rules and case analysis working together in an
official document. This dynamic is similar to what I see between the descriptive rules in the official
documents and the critical analysis of these rules at work in the literature of evaluation and aspiration. FM
21-78 shows importantly that the official documents do not just list rules, policies and procedures, while
the academic literature analyses them. FM 21-78 illustrates that, within the services, people are aware of
the need to provide some level of analysis to guide critical thought in the field.

Hare argues that critical thought is necessary to resolve conflicts between unreflective

rules. For Hare, moral progress is achieved when critical thought causes a new rule to evolve.

For Gert, moral progress does not happen this way. There are ten basic moral rules that describe

harms that every rational person wants to avoid. When moral rules conflict, each alternative will

violate one or more moral rules. Each of these violations of moral rules must bejustifiable. For

Gert, violations ought to be justified following a procedure that analyzes morally relevant features

and assesses whether impartial rational moral agents can publicly allow the proposed violation in

that and all relevantly similar situations. The basic moral rules are universal, simple, and highly

general. According to Gert only the applications of universal moral rules change in response to

new contextual facts.123

A key criticism of Fotion and Elfstrom that goes through Hare concerns whose

preference satisfaction should take precedence when making a moral decision. If rules govern the

preference satisfactions that matter and how much they matter, then it seems that Hare is

retreating to a deontological position by letting rules govern preference satisfaction assessments

and not the other way around. For example, if the preferences of a person like Hitler or Stalin are

to be eliminated from consideration, then rules that restrict whose preferences are to count would

have to be formulated. In contrast, if preference satisfactions are not restricted with such rules,

then they cannot make exceptions when particular people like Hitler and Stalin have evil

preferences, in which case Fotion and Elfstrom's views collapse into an act utilitarianism. Act

utilitarianism has other well-known problems, such as the impossibility of calculating the actual

consequences in particular situations, in the case of Fotion and Elfstrom, of calculating what

every involved party's preferences really are. Act consequentialisms also have a well-known

problem of producing moral obligations that nearly every moral agent considers counterintuitive

or overdemanding.

123 Bernard Gert, Morality: Its Nature and Justification, New York: Oxford University Press, 1998, p 237.

In direct response to Fotion and Elfstrom's book, I reject the way they use Hare to begin

with. Their position is that Hare's two levels of moral thinking accounts for the complexity of

military ethics more effectively than certain rights-based theoretical alternatives because it

provides more explanatory power to resolve military ethical conundrums. On this point I admit

that they may be correct. Nevertheless, their argument ignores other alternatives that might stand

up more effectively to Hare's. Fotion and Elfstrom completely ignore both virtue ethics and

Gert's common morality as plausible alternatives that may handle moral complexity in the

military profession equally well or better than an application of Hare's view does.

In closing, I offer two additional criticisms of Fotion and Elfstrom's consequentialist

military ethics. Their views contradict the official documents governing the United States

military. The American professional military ethic requires loyalty to documents, including

international treaties and conventions, which prioritize rights over results, regardless of what the

majority of people would prefer. These documents include the Geneva Conventions, which

exclude exceptions to laws of war for consequential reasons. Even the principles of military

necessity and proportionality, the most results-oriented principles in the Geneva Convention, are

more restrictive than Fotion and Elfstrom's consequential ism allows. Application of the principle

of military necessity does not depend on preference satisfaction assessments, but on considered

moral judgments based on many time-honored rules and traditions.124 Second, in response to

right theories, Fotion and Elfstrom argue that one of the virtues of their view is that it provides a

standard for making moral decisions in cases where each alternative would violate some

individual rights, effectively admitting the perpetual existence of a dirty hands problem in

124 This is only a theoretical point. I do not claim that the signatories to these conventions do not resort to
utilitarian reasoning from time to time. That is just false. I only state that the conventions support an overt
rights interpretation more clearly than a utilitarian one. Results are important, but they are subsumed under
human rights.

military contexts.125 However, Fotion and Elfstrom admit that, though their view provides a

standard for making moral decisions according to maximizing preference satisfaction, this

criterion for making moral decisions can make counterintuitive moral demands on moral agents.

In other words, Fotion and Elfstrom seem to be saying that, in order to have a useful moral

decision procedure, moral agents have to accept some of the counterintuitive moral obligations

that maximizing preference satisfaction puts on moral agents. This conclusion is not necessarily

true. Gert's theory of moral rules offers a succinct moral decision procedure that may overcome

the perceived need to accept counterintuitive results as an inevitable outcome of having a

consistent moral decision procedure.

Axinn's strict deontology and American professional military ethics

The official documents describe many duties that govern professional military conduct.

These laws, regulations, policies, and manuals describe professional duties as duties that hold

regardless of the consequences. Thus, the rules prescribed in the official documents that, e.g.,

require paying one's debts, caring for one's dependents, obeying legal orders, and caring for the

welfare of subordinates are moral requirements that are not necessarily contingent on the

consequences. Military professionals, including officers who make many critically thought out

moral decisions, may not make exceptions because they think selective violations will produce

better results, i.e., satisfy more peoples' preferences. In combat situations, e.g., international law

prohibits executing surrendering prisoners who have made themselves noncombatants, even if a

125 To these criticisms, readers may conclude "So what?" My response is that ifFotion and Elfstrom had
stated explicitly that they intended their military ethics to replace the moral requirements in the official
documents that provide legal and moral guidance for American military professionals, then the question
"So what?" would have more force. Fotion and Elfstrom do not explicitly state this goal, and they seem to
imply that they are offering a description and justification for military ethics rather than a replacement for

fully informed military leaders believe that respecting these prisoners' rights would increase risks

to friendly troops and increase the likelihood of mission failure.126

Military professionals also cannot ignore institutional rules because it makes other duties

easier to perform. These institutional rules clearly do not always produce the best results in each

case. Consider a commander who orders his unit to wear a more poorly insulated uniform for a

military parade in cold weather. He also orders his troops to wear the shiny plastic shoes that

give the troops more blisters. Conscientious commanders consider the preferences and comforts

of their troops, but not at the exclusion of other factors, considering everyone attending the

parade. The commander's order is legal; it may or may not be the most preference-satisfying

alternative. The troops are obligated to obey it.

Writers such as Sidney Axinn argue that military professionals have duties that

sometimes override considerations of outcomes. Axinn makes the strong claim that combatants

are morally required to assume greater risks, even risk of death, in order to reduce the risks of

harm to noncombatants, even if those risks might marginally increase the danger level of soldiers,

jeopardize the probability of mission success, and produce better consequences overall.127

Axinn is, I think, the best contemporary example of an American professional military

ethics scholar who argues for a strict deontological foundation for military ethics. In his book, A

Moral Military, Axinn argues that the conventions, laws, and treaties that have evolved into the

current corpus of international laws of war are imperatives grounded in Kant's moral and political

philosophy. The reason Axinn argues for this connection between international law and strict

'126This is one of my criticisms of Fotion and Elfstrom's position. They would argue that maximizing
preference satisfaction might justify executing prisoners in certain cases. If there are exceptions, then their
view becomes an act consequentialism grounded in preference satisfaction. Admittedly, this is an issue on
which military professionals will probably disagree, the level of disagreement depending on the
circumstances of particular cases.
127 Axinn makes this point in A Moral Military. For example, regarding surrender, Axinn states, "Suppose
that some enemy soldiers surrender, but the situation is such that your own safety and that of your patrol
will be at great risk unless those prisoners are shot and left. Can they be shot to defend your own security?
No.... It would be a war crime to shoot them." See Axinn, op. cit., p 76.

deontology is that he accepts Kant's argument that a primary aim of any war should be the

achievement of a stable and lasting peace.128

To Axinn, the purpose of the laws of war as expressed in the various conventions and

treaties is to limit war's cruelty. Limiting cruelty is crucial if particular wars are to end with a

decent chance at producing a stable peace without bitterness or rancor. For Axinn, the laws of

war contribute to this goal because they are based on moral principles that respect the dignity of

human beings. Kant puts this point well. "It is forbidden to employ any such treacherous

measures as would destroy the mutual faith that is required if any enduring peace is to be

established in the future."129 Note the similarity of Kant's words to the U.S. Army's language in

Field Manual 27-10. "Treacherous or perfidious conduct in war is forbidden because it destroys

the basis for a restoration of peace short of the complete annihilation of one belligerent by the


Axinn argues that the defining virtue of the good soldier is respect for the absolute

dignity of human beings to the point of being willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to preserve

that dignity. He says that a good soldier is an "...individual who agrees to sacrifice his or her

own life, if necessary, for the welfare of others."'131 Good soldiers are especially willing to

sacrifice for those defenseless groups that the Geneva Conventions protect such as wounded, sick,

shipwrecked, prisoners, and other innocent persons. Good soldiers are those who confront moral

128 Kant held the view that until a strong world government was put in place to enforce "perpetual peace"
that war would continue to occur. Kant and Axinn are not the only writers to support this position.
Mortimer Adler argues this very point in How to Think About War and Peace, New York: Simon and
Schuster, 1944. Evidence of a failure to steer war toward a lasting peace may be found in the example of
the Treaty of Versailles. A harshly punitive treaty, the Germans chaffed at how it handcuffed them
militarily, economically, and territorially. WWII was, in part, caused by collective German bitterness over
its restrictions.
129 Immanuel Kant, The Metaphysical Elements of Justice, trans. John Ladd. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill,
1965, p 347.
30 FM 27-10, op. cit., p22.
131 Here Axinn shares an emphasis on the "ultimate liability" clause that gets discussed in Wakin and
Hackett's work, and which is also mentioned in the enlisted contract of service.

decisions in military contexts with a strong commitment to absolute rules that respect the dignity

of human beings.

To Axinn, the restrictions in the laws of war protecting the defenseless also protect

soldiers by making certain methods of fighting illegal. These laws are moral rules that respect the

absolute dignity of all persons, including enemy soldiers. When military professionals obey these

moral rules regardless of the consequences, as they should, then lasting values are produced and

sustained in the culture and on the planet. These values contribute to a more stable and lasting


Axinn strongly claims that the good soldier's sacrifices made in respect of human dignity

requires no reciprocity. A sacrifice that demands reciprocity is not a sacrifice but an expedient.

Good soldiers preserve human dignity by obeying the laws of war regardless of the enemy's

response. Such dedication to principle is instrumental to winning the peace. Axinn eschews

reprisals and other exceptions to moral rules, because, like Kant, he thinks the duty to respect

human dignity is absolute. Hence, the commando unit, given the option of killing a few

surrendering soldiers to improve its chances for mission success, has an absolute duty to resist

this temptation, regardless of the costs. For Axinn, obeying the rules promotes values that

endure, values that transcend consequences.

A natural view to take on the laws of war as now codified is that they are positive laws

that merely codify and systematize implicit rules of warfare that have been a part of common law

and tradition for centuries. International peer pressure is even more significant with the laws of

war codified.132 Thus, their expression as positive law, which began to develop in the last century

through documents like the Leiber Rules, has been a good recent development. However, to

Axinn the laws of war are more than codified rules based on human traditions and common law.

To him, the laws of war are actually codified expressions of natural laws. If the laws of war were

132 Axinn argues, Flowers does, that the Leiber Rules are based on Kant's political philosophy.

not codified in international law or supported by common law and tradition, then they would still

be morally binding.

Axinn broaches the criticism that soldiers' absolute duty to sacrifice for the sake of laws

and principles that respect the dignity of human beings requires commanders to value the rights

of their own troops less than those of enemy troops and noncombatants. To Axinn this absolute

duty only requires commanders to value their duties to the laws of war over and above

expediency or results. It does not necessitate depreciating the value of one's forces. When the

duty to obey a commanding officer and the laws of war conflict, Axinn says the law should

override commander orders.133

When military professionals make moral decisions in tense wartime situations, there is

sometimes moral disagreement about how to interpret these absolute rules and make a decision

when they conflict in a particular situation. Axinn proposes using Kant's version of the publicity

test to adjudicate these disagreements. Kant's publicity test is two pronged. First, Kant says that

a proposed action is immoral if"it cannot be openly divulged without at the same time defeating

my own intention, i.e., must be kept secret for it to succeed, or if I cannot publicly acknowledge it

without thereby inevitably arousing everyone's opposition.... All actions that affect the rights of

other men are wrong if their maxim is not consistent with publicity".,34 Second, Kant requires

that, "All maxims that require publicity (in order not to fail of their end) agree with both politics

and morality".135 Actions that pass both tests are morally acceptable. To translate what Kant

33 Axinn, op. cit., p 166. I agree in principle that the laws of war generally trump commander orders. If a
soldier is ordered, in violation of the Geneva Convention, to bomb a civilian hospital, it is reasonable to
question that order vigorously. However, I am not convinced he effectively shows that commanders are
not obligated to value their own less than these other considerations. If the only way to save one's troops
is to kill enemy troops in violation of the rules, then it seem clear that Axinn thinks a commander should
sacrifice his troops to principle. This is a counterintuitive position.
34 Immanuel Kant, Perpetual Peace and other Essays, translated and with introduction by Ted Humphreys,
Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 1983, {381)}. Numbers in brackets indicate the Berlin edition page
135 Kant, Perpetual Peace and other Essays, op. cit., {386}.

says into current language, if my action must be kept secret in order to succeed, then it is

inconsistent with publicity. Second, the action in question should depend on a rule or law that

requires publicity in order to be effective.

Obeying a traffic law is an example of an action that passes both of these tests.

Publicizing my intent to stop at red lights does not defeat my intention or generate disagreement.

It is also based on a rule that requires publicity for its success. If traffic lights were put up and the

public was ignorant of their true purpose, the laws governing their use would not work. These

laws depend on the fact that everyone driving a car knows what these lights are for. Publicity not

only does not make this traffic law contradict its intended end; it requires publicity to work

effectively. In contrast, cheating is an action that clearly violates both of Kant's publicity tests.

Cheating requires secrecy and it clearly does not require publicity to successfully work.

For Axinn, since the laws of war reflect natural laws that respect human dignity, and

because obedience to these laws is instrumental to fostering a stable future peace, then they

should be vigorously taught to military professionals. Vigorous teaching and training disposes

soldiers to obey the rules and to make better moral judgments when the rules conflict. This

includes comprehensive testing. Failure to vigorously teach these rules will inevitably cause an

increase in war crimes. Political leaders should require and institutionalize the teaching of the

laws of war to ordinary citizens too. Informed citizens will more likely hold their governments

responsible for war crimes they commit and deter some violations. Axinn does not propose a

method for implementing these curricula.

I offer the following criticisms of Axinn's view. The first I call the 'psychological

criticism'. Military leaders have known for centuries that most soldiers are not motivated to

sacrifice selflessly for the sake of principle alone. There are rare exceptions. Yet, this seems to

be exactly what Axinn's military ethics requires of everyone. Disciplined combat units that fight

well are taught to obey many moral and instrumental rules. United States soldiers are taught to be

patriotic and to believe that U.S. constitutional principles are worth defending. However, in

extremely hazardous contexts, soldiers, policemen, firemen, etc... fight to protect each other,

their comrades and friends. Human beings are most universally motivated to sacrifice selflessly

for significant other people such as family, friends, and colleagues. This sacrifice may include

defending one's homeland and way of life from aggression. Axinn's military ethics ignores this

psychological dimension of human sacrifice, or reduces it to motivations that have no moral

worth. I think this criticism of Axinn is forceful and decisive. Even if we grant theoretically that

military professionals have an unlimited liability to preserve values that respect human dignity, in

practice these principles do not consistently motivate sacrificial service, nor are they necessarily

the only motivations that have moral worth. If sacrifice for the sake of absolute principles is the

only acceptable moral motivation for military service, then Axinn has a skewed view of human

nature and the common moral system that is derived from it. If sacrificing to prevent harm to

self, comrades, family, and friends has no moral worth, then much of the training of military

professionals that relies on these facts about human motivations reduce to conditioning of animals

to fight for reasons unconnected to morality.136

Secondly, when Axinn argues that the Geneva and Hague Conventions are positive law

descriptions of Kantian moral rules, I criticize him for making too strong a claim. These

conventions do not necessarily command absolute obedience. It is possible that a situation could

occur where two of these laws of war were in conflict, requiring a violation of one of its

prescriptions. For example, what if the requirement to care for prisoners of war required

diverting much needed food and fresh water from an impoverished community in enemy

territory? In this case, which noncombatants should be made to suffer? Should each be made to

suffer some, or should some be made to suffer complete deprivation?

136 There are rare exceptions to this human tendency. Some persons like Mohandas Ghandi will sacrifice
even life itself for the sake of principle alone.

Axinn's theory does not have the conceptual tools to manage these sorts of problems.

Axinn does not provide a decision procedure for weighing alternatives when rules are in conflict

and it is impossible not to violate one or more of them. In situations where two or more laws of

war (that both respect human dignity) are in conflict, which duty is the absolute duty? An

exception has to be made for one of these options, something Axinn, it seems, would rather not

address. Axinn also gives no method for assessing the justifiability of proposed exceptions to

these laws/rules. In the course of hostilities, provisions of the Geneva and Hague Conventions

are violated for many reasons, many of them bad. These provisions can also be violated for

justifiable reasons. Gert's view has an explanation and a methodology for these conflicts and

how to resolve them.

I agree with Axinn that the laws of war codified in the Geneva and Hague Conventions

do much to protect human dignity. I even agree with him that there is an indirect connection

between these provisions and Kant's theory by way of the Lieber Rules. But the connection is

looser than Axinn holds. Axinn reaches too far in arguing that, since there is a connection

between the laws of war and Kant's moral theory, that the laws of war prescribe an absolute duty

to respect human dignity. It is arguable that human beings' right to be treated with dignity is

contingent on behavior that earns that respect. For example, murderers forfeit their right to

liberty, in some cases their right to life, when they commit murder, are caught and convicted.

Murderers forfeit their right to be treated with dignity. If this is true, then analogously, it seems

reasonable that some reprisals in war would be morally justifiable if the enemy nation were guilty

of egregious violations of laws of war against one's own people. If individuals can forfeit rights

through bad behavior, enemy soldiers and even whole nations can do the same.37

37 Axinn may be misinterpreting Kant on this point. For Kant, rational moral agents can forfeit their rights
by bad behavior. Nations can do the same presumably. However, if a reprisal were justifiable because of
an enemy's bad behavior, then the rules would still prohibit certain more heinous types of reprisals when
other more humane and equally effective reprisals are possible.

Thirdly, Axinn's strong Kantian view implies that the laws of war are complete. It seems

more obvious that they are not. Laws, including the laws of war, are periodically revised; some

principles stand the test of time and others do not. The Geneva and Hague Conventions have

been modified and will be modified again. To give one probable example, once certain chemical

agents are produced that only cause temporary paralysis or induce sleep without causing painful

death and/or permanent disability, then the convention on the use of chemical weapons will either

change or appear absurd.138 Although it is difficult to disagree in principle with Axinn's position

that the laws of war support and preserve human dignity, most rational persons understand that

there are exceptions to this fundamental principle in certain circumstances.

Lastly I criticize a point Axinn makes, but one which I did not discuss in my gloss of his

position. Axinn says that covert operations are always dishonorable because they are secret

operations and thus fail Kant's publicity tests. To be consistent it seems that Axinn has to hold

this view.139 In contrast, I would argue that covert operations are justifiable because they

sometimes prevent harms that cannot be prevented any other way. A covert operation may

accomplish with much less destruction and loss of life what could publicly only be accomplished

with a messy and powerful bomb. Axinn does not account for the fact that nations tacitly and

publicly agree to engage in covert operations. Interestingly, the conventions are conspicuously

silent on the subject.140

139 It would be absurd for the Geneva and Hague Conventions to permit behavior that is crueler, painful and
disabling than behavior it prohibits.
139 Axinn, op. cit., p 158.

'40Covert operations are to statecraft and military operations what fouls are in the game of basketball or
bluffing is to poker. Committing fouls breaks the rules of the game of basketball, and players are only
allowed so many before they are disqualified. Some fouls are more egregious than others. However, every
basketball player knows how to use fouls intentionally at strategic moments of games for a variety of
reasons. It is part of the game of basketball the way covert operations are part of statecraft. The players
implicitly know it. Bluffing in poker attempts to deceive other players as to the true status of one's hand.
While deception is wrong generally, in the context of poker it is a conventionally accepted part of the

Gabriel's virtue theory and American professional military ethics

The official documents and the literature of evaluation and aspiration discuss the

importance of military virtues to American professional military ethics. Scholars who think that

the virtues are fundamental stress the need for military professionals to possess qualities like

courage, honor, integrity, selflessness, candor, discipline, resolve, tenacity, and initiative. Virtue

theorists treat each moral judgment as unique and context dependent. For them, the best way to

make professional soldiers is not to teach them lists of rules that always have exceptions, but to

inculcate the virtues through education, training, and mentorship. Virtuous soldiers tend to make

good moral judgments and follow professional rules more often, and they are more inclined to

enjoy doing so. Some scholars like Wakin argue that certain military virtues are functionally

necessary for the military profession.141 If Wakin is correct, then inculcating into soldiers those

virtues that contribute the most to military success is necessary to ensure mission

accomplishment. Thus, educating in these virtues should be a primary focus of American

professional military ethics. It is true that soldiers who are virtuous are generally competent and

motivated to excel. But is functional excellence the only criteria of value when selecting virtues

to emphasize in military training? Or do all the virtues contribute, at least in some indirect way,

to mission success?

Virtue theorists are more inclined to use heroic stories and actual historical examples of

the virtues being demonstrated in order to motivate soldiers to behave similarly. These stories

and historical examples are influential because they motivate soldiers to serve for reasons other

than fear of punishment. Obeying moral rules only from fear of punishment does not motivate

soldiers to act heroically or even to simply exceed the minimum standards. It also does not

motivate people to behave morally when no one else is looking.142 Lemrner argues that the virtues

141 Wakin, "The Ethics of Leadership I," op. cit., p 181-200.

142 In Wakin, "The Ethics of Leadership II," op. cit., p 200-216, the author innovatively argues that a
developmental, Aristotelian approach to leadership inspires more loyalty and gets better results than the

are a necessary prerequisite for military professionals to internalize the military profession as a

special higher calling of service.143

One influential contemporary scholar who systematically defends a virtue theoretical

foundation for American professional military ethics is Richard Gabriel in his To Serve with

Honor: A Treatise on Military Ethics and the Way of the Soldier.144 Gabriel's book diagnoses

several sources of moral degeneration that he argues have infected the American military

profession in the last few decades before his book was written. These sources are the Vietnam

conflict, publicized military academy scandals, the shift to an all-volunteer force, pervasive moral

relativism, excessive concern for public relations, a zero defects mentality imported from

corporate America, impersonal centralization of promotions, a tendency towards civilianization

and technical specialization, and rampant institutionalized careerism.145 In response to this moral

degeneration, Gabriel calls for a moral renaissance within the military profession. He proposes a

virtue theoretical remedy. For Gabriel this moral renaissance is crucial because "...the

effectiveness and success of a military force rests far more on the moral quality of its officers and

men than it does on technical expertise".146

For Gabriel, moral obligations are derived from facts about human nature and human

social roles. While some moral obligations pertain to relationships between human beings qua

human beings, others pertain to relationship between human beings qua fillers of social roles such

as soldiers and doctors. For Gabriel, both sets of obligations are germane to the military

more authoritarian, Hobbsian view of leadership. Wakin credits a Hobbsian "transactional" view of
military leadership with generating the corrosive and innovation-stifling "zero defects" mentality in the
143 See Max Lemer's, "The Shame of the Professions," in Wakin, op. cit., p 138. Lemer makes a virtue
theoretical argument to defend the need to treat the military profession as a "higher calling."

144 Gabriel, op. cit.

145 Gabriel, op. cit., p 3-7, 10-11.

146 Gabriel, op. cit., p 7.

profession, but the functional virtues of the profession are fundamentally connected to the

relationships that pertain to the military professional's social role.

Gabriel wants to emphasize the military virtues in the profession's moral education and

training programs, stressing the role that character development plays in producing military

professionals who do their duty willingly, habitually, and enthusiastically. To facilitate this

renaissance, Gabriel proposes that a virtue-oriented code of ethics be written to serve as the focus

of character development of both new recruits and existing veterans. This code would provide

succinct guiding principles. The purpose of such a code, Gabriel says, "is to establish points of

reference that can be used for the soldier's character development."147 Gabriel's code consists of

ten provisions that emphasize military virtues such as honor, integrity, fairness, and loyalty. His

code is stated as follows.

1. The nature of command and military service is a moral charge that places each soldier at
the center of unavoidable ethical responsibility.

2. A soldier's sense of ethical integrity is at the center of his effectiveness as a soldier and a
leader. Violating one's ethical sense of honor is never justified even at the cost of one's

3. Every soldier holds a special position of trust and responsibility. No soldier will ever
violate that trust or avoid his responsibility by any of his actions, no matter the personal

4. In faithfully executing the lawful orders of his superiors, a soldier's loyalty is to the
welfare of his men and mission. While striving to carry out his mission, he will never
allow his men to be misused in any way.

5. A soldier will never require his men to endure hardships or suffer dangers to which he is
unwilling to expose himself. Every soldier must openly share the burden of risk and
sacrifice to which his fellow soldiers are exposed.

6. A soldier is first and foremost a leader of men. He must lead his men by example and
personal actions; he must always set the standard for personal bravery, courage, and

147 Gabriel, op. cit., p 50. This short quote nails down the organizing principle of Gabriel's book. A code
of ethics in the military should be viewed as a tool, a compass to guide to focus the direction of character
development training in the military. The goal of this training is to acquire the military virtues.

7. A soldier will never execute an order he regards to be morally wrong, and he will report
all such orders, policies, or actions of which he is aware to appropriate authorities.

8. No Soldier will ever willfully conceal any act of his superiors, subordinates, or peers that
violates his sense of ethics. A soldier cannot avoid ethical judgments and must assume
responsibility for them.

9. No soldier will punish, allow the punishment of, or in any way harm or discriminate
against a subordinate or peer for telling the truth about any matter.

10. All soldiers are responsible for the actions of their comrades in arms. The unethical and
dishonorable acts of one diminish us all. The honor of the military profession and
military service is maintained by the acts of its members, and these actions must be above

Gabriel argues that the United States still lacks (or has avoided) implementing a code of

professional military ethics for cultural reasons.

The military's inability to develop a code of professional ethics is not very surprising in
the context of American social values. The major values that have shaped so much of
American society work against the development of any ethical codes that serve
community as against individual interests. The magnitude of the difficulty is, therefore,
apparent in developing professional military ethics. The basic values and operating
assumptions of American society in its economic, social, and political development have
made it all but impossible to develop notions of community service that transcend
individual self-interest.149

Scholar and retired General Maxwell Taylor, former Superintendent of West Point and

former Commander of United Nations Command in Korea, concurs with Gabriel's view that a

code of ethics for the American military profession is an idea whose time may have come.

There may be justification, or even a definite need, to restate in strong and clear terms
those principles of conduct which retain an unchallengeable relevance to the necessity of

148 Gabriel, op. cit., p 50. Provision 10 is particularly problematic for Gabriel to defend, even from a virtue
theoretical perspective. Provision 10 says, "All soldiers are responsible for the actions of their comrades in
arms." This is an absurd statement, or it is couched in some tacit mysticism that makes little sense as a
guiding principle for American military professionals. As an Air Force officer, I am not morally
responsible, e.g., for the immoral behavior of a U.S. Marine currently stationed in South Korea. An
argument can be made that this marine's behavior diminishes the American military profession in both
reputation and perhaps even mission effectiveness. But I am not morally responsible for his immoral

1'9 Gabriel, op. cit., p 15. The author overreaches here. Perhaps the claim was justified in 1982 when this
book was written. In recent years, many codes of ethics have been developed in business and the
professions in an effort to professionalize, i.e., supplement various occupations with added moral
awareness and responsibility.

the military profession and to which the officer corps will be expected to conform
regardless of behavioral practices elsewhere.150

To Taylor, a code of ethics for the military would unify the profession, specify the cost of

membership, set civilian expectations for the military, and attract a certain type of person who is

drawn to this sort of group.5"'

One criticism I offer against Gabriel is that he gives little practical advise for making

moral decisions in concrete cases. He just argues that the military virtues need to be codified,

taught, and enforced in order to produce a much-needed renaissance of emphasis on moral

character in American professional military ethics. The presumption Gabriel makes is that

morally virtuous soldiers will make good moral decisions in concrete situations.

To Gabriel's credit he does not argue that emulating some idealized role model or

paragon of military virtue is needed for developing a soldier's character. That view fall prey to

the criticism that there are no ideal role models or paragons of military virtue. Since everyone is

fallible, whom should the soldier emulate? I think that, for Gabriel, the code of ethics replaces

the moral exemplar as the object of emulation.152 This seems preferable and more defensible.

Gabriel does not address weaknesses that virtue theory has for guiding moral decision making in

complex and controversial cases. People in crisis situations can lack both confidence and

relevant role models. A concise moral decision guide that is memorized and understood can be a

useful, effective, and comforting to military professionals in a way that training in the virtues is


150 Maxwell Taylor, "A Professional Ethic," Army, May 1978: p 18.

151 Taylor, op. cit.

152 Taylor, op. cit, p 212. Gabriel provides good empirical evidence here to show the positive impact codes
can have on behavior. During the Vietnam conflict, prisoners of war were positive examples of resistance,
esprit de corps, and tenacity as compared to American prisoners of war during the Korean conflict. Here
American prisoners fared poorly. Gabriel credits this improvement to the military institution's success
teaching the Code of Conduct to soldiers, that it gave prisoners a moral compass and renewed their view
that American values were worth defending. This is not proof and Gabriel knows this fact, but it does
imply that the codes were efficacious.

Gabriel does not totally omit discussing practical moral training in his book. His

program calls for providing the most sophisticated training to officers, followed in descending

order by NCOs and the lowest enlisted ranks. In this regard Gabriel's view is similar to Fotion

and Elfstrom's view. This graduated sophistication of training isprimafacie reasonable

considering the roles that each rank fills, that is until Gabriel presents his proposal. Gabriel's

program calls for military ethics to be taught in four sequential courses in the following order:

one course in the history of ethical thought, a course in logical argumentation, a course in military

ethics, and a course in moral dialectics/casuistry. The only practical way to implement this

proposal given how officer training is currently institutionalized would be through the military

academies. However, over 50% of officer training occurs in Reserve Officer Training Corp

detachments on university campuses; roughly another 25% are trained at the four Officer

Training Schools in intense 90-120 day training crucibles. It would be impossible for Gabriel's

program to reach more than approximately one in five officers the level of intensity and detail he

proposes. To implement Gabriel's program through all of officer training sources, cadets would

get much briefer instruction in their few military arts and sciences courses in addition to whatever

humanities they take on campus that address these issue. Officer candidates from the officer

training schools would only get a day or two's exposure and perhaps be tested on memorization

of Gabriel's code. This method would not be substantively different than the instruction the

lower ranks would get and would not instill the virtue-centered decision making prowess he


Another criticism of Gabriel applies to any professional ethics that emphasizes the virtues

as foundational. Virtue ethics must be clear about what ends are acceptable; otherwise, virtues,

no matter how noble, may be effective instruments for evil. Gabriel is not clear about what ends

are acceptable; thus, it seems that acceptable ends are those that the leaders give you. He tacitly

assumes that American goals as prescribed by its civilian authorities are good by default.

However, virtues are a useful tool to achieve just about any goals, particularly goals that require a

group effort. Many Nazi soldiers, such as Erwin Rommell, demonstrated many of the military

virtues in their behavior, e.g., loyalty, obedience, resoluteness, commitment, competence, candor,

and courage, yet these virtues were used in the service of brutal totalitarianism. That virtue can

serve bad ends shows that while virtues may be functionally necessary for a military profession to

serve good ends successfully, they are not, as Gabriel implies, sufficient alone to ensure the

military profession will serve good ends successfully. The subject of what ends to serve is a very

complex issue since the military's function is to serve its client society, at least in societies with

civilian control of the military. However, assuming the civilian government is reasonably good,

i.e., respects basic rights, has a viable system of law, and respects property rights, the military

virtues are more likely to serve as instruments for attaining acceptable goals, eschewing

campaigns of mere aggression and conquest.153

Since military virtues can contribute to the success of a bad government's propagation of

evil ends, moral principles grounded in universal facts of human nature are needed to ensure that

virtues serve good ends and moral decisions are made with these ends in mind. The military

serves the state, but it is a travesty when a competent instrument of military power pursues the

evil ends of his client society's civilian leaders. Officers may resign their commission, but

institutional pressures are such that this is rare, and the consequence of resignation in some cases

can be severe.

My final criticism of Gabriel is practical. His proposed code of ethics is too long.

Having ten provisions is acceptable and potentially useful, but they are too long to memorize and

there is no guidance for how to apply the content to make concrete moral decisions.

i'31 only believe that the likelihood of wars of pure aggression and exploitation is lower in developed
countries of the type I describe. Developed countries may and still do engage in immoral wars.

Hartle's traditionalism and American professional military ethics

Anthony Hartle has produced perhaps the most systematic work in American professional

military ethics in recent years in his Moral Issues in Military Decision Making.54 Hartle's

audience is specifically the members of the American military profession and not all military

professions in general. To Hartle, the moral end of the American military profession is to protect

human rights that are derived from fundamental human values expressed in the U.S. Constitution

and international law. To Hartle, this is the primary substantive reason that the American military

profession exists. In his book, Hartle examines the complexity of American professional military

ethics, and argues that it has been shaped by three factors: Functional requirements of the

institution, international laws of war, and the core values of American society.155 The functional

requirements of the profession influence soldiers to be people who generally hold the following

views: The state is the basic unit of political organization; threats and the likelihood of war are

continuous; strong, ready, and diverse military forces are needed; order, hierarchy and

organization are good; stabilizing institutions like church, family, and private property are highly

regarded; and human nature is generally viewed pessimistically.

To Hartle, the core values of American society are crucial because the military

profession's existence, maintenance, and governing principles comes from the society it serves.

Sarkesian echoes this same point. "It is my claim that the military cannot bestow legitimacy on

itself. This must come from society. If this is so, then the profession and professional values

must be generally congruent with the values of society.'"'156

However, "generally congruent" does not mean "totally congruent" for Hartle. The

military profession is necessarily partially differentiated from ordinary society. Military

154 Hartle, op. cit.

155 Hartle, op. cit., p 8.
156 Sam Sarkesian, The Professional Army Officer in a Changing Society, Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1975, p

professionals are given specialized knowledge and restricted permission to legally employ deadly

force, use lethal weaponry, and authorize intentionally sending human beings into great danger.157

As a result," military commanders must be tacticians, strategists, warriors, ethicists, leaders,

managers, and technicians"."58 It is also partially differentiated because, ironically, to defend

human rights, the military profession must violate some of the rights of its own members.159

Hartle identifies eight values that he argues are the core values of the American

professional military ethic. The first four are professional values; the second four are individual

values that strengthen the first four. These values are not a code of conduct, but are general

values gleaned from what I have called the "official documents." American military


I. Accept service to country and defense of the U.S. Constitution as a calling.
2. Place duty over personal interests.
3. Conduct themselves at all times as persons of honor, integrity, loyalty, and courage.
4. Develop and maintain highest possible level of knowledge and skill.
5. Take full responsibility for the manner in which orders are executed.
6. Promote and safeguard, within the context of mission accomplishment, the welfare of
subordinates as person and not merely as soldiers.
7. Respect civilian control of the military and stay out of politics.160
8. Follow the laws of war the service regulations.161

A Colonel with first-hand experience of the moral ambiguities of combat serving as a

young infantry officer and commander in Vietnam, Hartle weaves his personal experiences of

combat into his position on American professional military ethics through many excellent case

157 Hartle grants "professional" status to officers only.

158 Nye, op. cit., p 3 1.

159 Hartle's view here is similar to Alan Goldman. Goldman argues that, in order to be a profession, a
group has to meet two criteria, apply specialized knowledge and serve important interests of the client. The
military profession obviously meets both of these. See Alan Goldman, The Moral Foundations of
Professional Ethics, Totowa, NJ: Rowan and Littlefield, 1980, p 18.
160 President Truman fired General MacArthur during the Korean conflict for acting in ways that showed an
unacceptable disrespect for civilian control of the U.S. military.
161 Hartle, op. cit., p 52-53.

studies and examples. Hartle argues that, in addition to American social values, the moral

foundation of the various laws, conventions, and treaties that compose international law is respect

for human rights too, including those of soldiers, civilians, prisoners of war, wounded, the sick,

etc.... For Hartle, this means that if there is a conflict between respecting human rights and using

consequential reasoning to minimize suffering, then international law priorities respecting

human rights over consequences.162 Service regulations seem to support this interpretation. U.S.

Army field manual 27-10 says the following.

A commander may not put his prisoners to death because their presence retards his
movements or diminishes his power of resistance.... It is likewise unlawful for a
commander to kill his prisoners on grounds of self-preservation, even in the case of
airborne or commando operations.

On this fundamental point, Hartle's position is more similar to Axinn's Kantian view than the

consequentialism of Fotion and Elfstrom or Brandt.'164 For Hartle, consequences should only be

used to discriminate between two options that both respect rights.165 Hartle also defends the

general moral authority of official documents beyond just the U.S. Constitution. He argues that

these documents also demonstrate fundamental respect for human rights and the rule of law.

For Hartle it is crucial to show that the official documents and international law

embodied in the various treaties and conventions are consistent on the issue of respecting human

rights. According to the U.S. Constitution, treaties are the law of the land. If the United States

signs treaties and conventions governing military ethics and those treaties and conventions

contradict the rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, then the U.S. Constitution would be

162 Hartle, op. cit.,p 71.

163 FM 27-10, Chapter 3, Section III, paragraph 85. See online posting bin/atdl.dll/flm/27- I 0/Ch3.htm#s3> for text.
164 1 only review Fotion and Elfstrom's book in this chapter, but I mention Brandt here because he also
takes a consequentialist position on military ethics, arguing that the laws of war have a coherent utilitarian
justification, that they produce greater good overall. See Richard Brandt, "Utilitarianism and the Laws of
War", Philosophy and Public Affairs, vol. 1 Winter 1972, p 145-165.
165 Hartle, op. cit., p 76.

inconsistent at Article 2, Section II.66 U.S. soldiers could owe unlimited liability to obey and

defend contradictory principles. Hartle argues that the provisions of the Geneva and Hague

Conventions do respect human rights and do not contradict the customs, traditions and rules that

are grounded in the U.S. Constitution, which gives the American military profession its primary

moral authority. 167

My chief criticism of Hartle's position concerns his view that the military is a partially

differentiated profession. I agree with Hartle on this point only generally. Soldiers are obviously

permitted by law to do things that are illegal for civilians to do. The military service has a

monopoly on using force in certain ways. That fact is sufficient to partially differentiate the

military profession from ordinary society. But Hartle takes this argument further and says that

the special charge of the American soldier is to defend U.S. constitutional principles that respect

fundamental human rights.168 The problem for Hartle is that successfully defending fundamental

human rights requires that the soldiers who defend those rights forfeit their own fundamental

human rights. Hartle just seems to accept that this is an inevitable paradox. Hartle agrees with

David Richards' position on the Founding Fathers' view of human rights at the time they wrote

the U.S. Constitution. Richards said,

...the Founding Fathers believed that the rights the Bill of Rights were
natural moral rights which government had no right to transgress. Man, they supposed,
was foremost a moral person, a secondarily a member of a political union."169

166 Speaking of presidential powers, Article 2, Section II of the U.S. Constitution states that the president,
"shall have power, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, to make treaties, provided two thirds
of the Senators present concur..."
'167Hartle, op. cit., p 100-101.

168 Hartle makes this argument too. Hartle op. cit., p 30-32.

169 David Richards, "Reverse Discrimination and Compensatory Justice: Constitutional and Moral
Theory," The Value of Justice, edited by Charles A. Kelbley, New York: Fordham University Press, 1979,
p 104-105.

IfHartle believes as Richards does, then it would seem wrong to compel members of one

segment of the population (age, gender, skills) to forfeit their rights to defend the rights of other

citizens. This is marginally acceptable only when the services are all-volunteer-forces. When the

U.S. needs to institute a military draft, his emphasis on rights needs to be cashed out further.170

Hartle could avoid this problem if he held that human rights were a gift of the state, granted and

withheld as necessary, but his view would then contradict the U.S. Constitution. Another more

preferable route he could take would be to take rights as conditional on the harms that respecting

these rights prevents that moral agents want to avoid. Respecting rights could then be consistent

with what the U.S. Constitution states about them, but would also be subject to exceptions that

would include denying rights to some citizens (soldiers) in order to prevent much worse harms

for the most citizens.171

Hartle is also subject to the same psychological criticism I made of Axinn's Kantian

military ethics two sections ago in this chapter. Soldiers are taught that they fight for certain

values. Knowing these values can help to sustain a prisoner of war barraged with propaganda.

But in the fray, soldiers are motivated to fight is each other, including their comrades, family, and

friends. Like Axinn, Hartle's military ethic misses this important source of human motivation.

Values may ground the American professional military ethic and give the soldier a moral

purpose. When the battle rages, soldiers are motivated to protect those they care about (including

themselves) from harm.

170 I say this is only marginally acceptable for an all-volunteer-force (AVF) because it seems likely that
service in an AVF would be more desirable for the poor and would unfairly distribute the burden of
national defense on the lower classes. If national defense were a citizen's responsibility, then a draft that
includes all social classes would be preferable. It would also influence civilian leaders in making decisions
to use the military services, since more of their children would be serving when those decisions were made.
171 1 address Gert's solution to this problem in Chapter 3 and 6. For Gert, governments can violate moral
rules against its citizens if these violations are morally justifiable, such as is the case with taxation. Gert's
account explains why governments can be morally justified in taking away the freedom of some of its
citizens to, e.g., to serve in the Armed Forces in order to prevent worse evils, such as conquest by a
belligerent enemy or guarding borders and embassies.

I also question Hartle's optimism about the U.S. Constitution. For example, before the

13th Amendment abolishing slavery, the U.S. was obviously selective in respecting

constitutionally grounded human rights fairly.172 The U.S. has a checkered past in the way it has

interpreted its constitution with respect to groups like blacks, Indians, and women. If, e.g., an

officer was placed in charge of keeping order on the brutal march from Indian homelands to arid

reservations, or for seeing to it that segregated black units were given dirtier, more dangerous

missions in WW II, then I do not think Hartle's view has the theoretical tools to criticize these

abuses. In short, he begs the question of how to interpret the constitution within military ranks.

His military ethics is easier to sell to soldiers who generally could care less about what Rawl's or

Gert says about ethics. However, during times of systematic abuse of constitutional ideals within

the military, his theory seems to take on a more crude commitment to functional excellence that is

confined to dedication to the status quo.

Finally, Hartle may be vulnerable the same criticism that Fotion and Elfstrom employ

against nonconsequentialist theories in general. For example, when rights conflict, as they do in

complex moral situations, rights theorists do not provide a coherent decision procedure to assist

military professionals. Hartle provides a code of military ethics and grounds his military ethics in

rights, tradition, and law (including international law). However, for American military

professional looking for help in making complex moral decisions in difficult cases, Hartle

provides no concrete decision procedure, such as Gert's two-step decision procedure consisting of

a simple template of questions for teasing out morally relevant features and a morally decisive

question to settle controversial matters.

172 1 spoke with Colonel Hattie at the Joint Services Conference on Professional Ethics in Washington DC
in January 2003. Hattie told me his point for writing Moral Issues in Military Decision Making was to both
ground American professional military ethics in principles and traditions that ordinary military leaders
would want to commit to and remain loyal to. The book was also a response to his experiences of ethical
lapses of military leaders witnessed during his combat experiences in Vietnam.

A few words on the principle of double effect and American professional military ethics

The principle of double effect has been useful to American military professionals as a

tool to assess military missions that are known to cause injury and death to innocent civilians.

The principle makes a distinction between actions that cause foreseen but unintended

consequences, making actions that cause foreseen but unintended consequences sometimes

justifiable, and actions that intentionally injure or kill innocent civilians rarely or never

justifiable. Foreseen but unintended consequences are a frequent byproduct of military

operations.'73 Even though American military professionals have generally accepted the principle

of double effect, there are some examples that attempt to justify overriding the principle when a

morally evil enemy threatens national survival.174 Walzer, e.g., argues that Great Britain was in

such a state of "supreme emergency" in WWII between the fall of France and U.S. entry into the

war and that this justified Britain's intentional bombing of civilian targets.'75 Walzer further

'"73Roman Catholic theologians formulated the principle of double effect in the sixteenth century, especially
by the Salmanticenses. The principle states that where an action, intended to have a good effect (e.g.
'relieve pain'), can achieve this only at the risk of producing a harmful effect ('perhaps end life'), then this
action is ethically permissible because the stated intention is the former. St. Thomas may have understood
it when he argued in the SummaTheologiae (2a2ae, 64.7) that a person might kill an unjust aggressor when
this is necessary to save his own life. It has remained popular, I think, because it appeals to our moral
intuitions that there is a genuine difference between effects intended and effects only foreseen. Ordinary
people think this way without knowing the principle of double effect by name. Walzer makes this point
when he recounts the fact that many WWII pilots on the American side objected to bombing civilians
intentionally. Pilots' common sense view is that unintentional collateral damage as morally acceptable if
the target is justifiable the principles like military necessity and proportionality.
174 There are noteworthy American exceptions to general acceptance of the principle of double effect.
Sherman justified burning Atlanta and his indiscriminate campaign through South Carolina on
consequentialist grounds, arguing that "War is hell" and that when the enemy is doing morally evil things
like enslaving large segments of the population, all means to end the conflict quickly are morally
acceptable. U.S. Air Force General Curtis LeMay was a military realist who generally thought the end of
victory justified almost any means. He assumed command from a commander who morally objected to
ordering the incendiary raids on Japanese cities late in WWII. LeMay ordered aviators to firebomb Tokyo.
The resulting fires killed more civilians than were killed by the dropping of 'Fat Man' on Hiroshima. See
Walzer, op. cit., p 257. Walzer draws this conclusion from research gleaned from the 1969 Rand
Corporation report, The Road to Total War: Escalation in World War II, by F.M. Sallagar, p 157-158.
175 I hesitate to call these civilians totally innocent. This is ambiguous territory since civilians decide when
to go to war. Civilians work in places like munitions factories and grow food that empowers soldiers in the
field. Nevertheless, it seems absurd to argue that terror bombing is justified on these grounds when the
bombing causes indiscriminate killing of large numbers of innocent children. British pilots bombed
neighborhoods and not only places like factories that contributed, if indirectly, to the German war effort.

argued, though, that later in the war bombing civilian targets intentionally was immoral and based

on crude utilitarian calculation. For example, the savage firebombing of Dresden in 1945 was

immoral since the state of supreme emergency was well over by that time.

Interestingly, pilots who objected to intentionally bombing civilian targets inside

Germany implicitly used double effect principles. I think ordinary persons subconsciously

employing common morality accept the principle of double effect. Impartial moral agents are

more willing to publicly allow actions that cause foreseen but unintended injury and death to

innocent civilians than they are willing to allow actions that intentionally cause injury and death.

All conscientious moral agents agree that intentionally killing innocent civilians is normally

immoral. Even the British authorities during WW II quietly admitted that continuing their policy

of firebombing late in the war was immoral. While British fighter command was awarded the

highest military honors after the war, bomber command, the command that carried out the

firebombing raids, was snubbed, even though early in the war bombers were Great Britain's only

defense against German aggression. Bomber Command suffered more losses than Fighter

Command and bomber command pilots fought with exceptional gallantry. Sir Arthur Harris, who

commanded bomber command from 1942 to the end of the war, was also snubbed. Unlike many

other commanders from WWII, Harris was not awarded with the customary peerage for his

service. Walzer puts it well. "They did what they were told to do, but were dishonored for doing


Conscientious moral agents are more willing to cause unintentional harm if the benefits

justify it, even if the harm is foreseen. They also know though, that if it were possible to achieve

the same result by avoiding causing injury and death to innocent civilians, then normally that

option is morally preferable. To cause evil intentionally does not have this feature. A physician

who cuts off your leg to keep a cancer from killing you can justify his action using the principle

176 Walzer, op.cit, p 324.

of double effect. The loss of the leg is foreseen, but is unintended, since the physician would

gladly not cut the leg off if there were another successful treatment option that would provide a

commensurate probability of saving the patient's life without causing a permanent disability.


In this chapter I surveyed the contemporary literature on AMPE. I formed a rough

taxonomy that breaks the APME literature into official documents and literature of aspiration and

evaluation. The official documents consist of the U.S. Constitution, oath of office, commission,

laws of war, federal law, service regulations, ethics regulations, and the code of conduct. The

literature of aspiration and evaluation discusses, analyzes and interprets the exhaustive and

diffuse content of the official documents more fully. Both work together and overlap somewhat

in their content. The literature of aspiration and evaluation can take any of a number of

philosophical and polemical approaches. I broke these approaches into two broad categories.

The thematic literature discusses a host of important military ethics issues such as honor,

character, military virtues, and the warrior ethos. The more philosophically rich systematic

literature attempts to ground American professional military ethics in classic moral concepts such

as virtue, duty, consequences, tradition, and rights. With the systematic literature I discussed and

briefly assessed four core American authors, i.e., Fotion and Elfstrom, Axinn, Gabriel, and

Hartle, each of which are contemporary and influential, and each of which represent dominant

western ethical traditions. I explained their philosophical approaches and briefly highlighted a

few weaknesses I saw in each one. At the end of the chapter I briefly discuss the influential and

common sense principle of double effect.

One of the goals of this chapter was to acquaint the reader with the diverse and important

sources of official and unofficial ethical guidance available to American military professionals. I

covered what I think is the important official and unofficial American professional military ethics

literature that military professionals can refer to when faced with a complex moral decision in the


field. My second goal in this chapter was to set the stage for exploring whether Bernard Gert's

theory of moral rules can be used to coalesce and systematize these diverse sources into an

assessable, efficient, and useful moral guide consistent with the common morality everyone uses.



Gert states that the goal of his moral theory is to describe, explain, and justify the

common moral system in a way that "does justice to its complexity and subtlety." He chooses

the goal of describing the common moral system because "Any theory, scientific or moral, must

start with a clear account of that which is to be explained."2 Gert's goal is minimalist because

the common moral system he describes is minimalist. He says that his moral theory

...does not provide unique answers to every moral question, nor does it try to show that it
is irrational to act immorally. It only provides a universally acceptable framework for
dealing with moral problems. It does this by making explicit and justifying the moral
system that people normally use when they make moral decisions and judgments.3

This chapter explicates Gert's moral theory, i.e., his description of the common moral

system that "people normally use."4 I explain what this common moral system is by describing

its general features. Then I compare it to the grammatical system that all competent speakers of a

language naturally use. Finally I explicate the key concepts Gert argues are necessary in order

to describe the common moral system.

' Bernard Gert, Morality Its Nature and Justification, New York, Oxford University Press, 1998. 1 focus
on this work because it is the most recent articulation of a moral theory that Gert has been developing, with
periodic revisions and additions, since the mid 1960s. Hereafter, all references to this work will be cited
with the letters MNJ, followed by the page numbers.

2 Bernard Gert, "Morality, Moral Theory and Applied and Professional Ethics," Professional Ethics: A
Multidisciplinary Journal, vol. 1, no. 1 & 2, Spring/Summer 1992, p 8.

3 MNJ, p xii.

4 I focus on Gert recent version of his description of the common moral system in Morality: Its Nature and
Justification. Gert developed his theory over the last 40 years; his mature view is described in this book.
Gert uses "common moral system", "morality", and "common morality" interchangeably when contrasting
it with moral theory.

Reasons Gert Provides For Why His Theory Is Better Than The Alternatives

Gert offers several reasons why he thinks his moral theory and moral decision procedure

are better than the alternatives that other moral philosophers provide. Each of these reasons are

grounded in Gert's claim that his moral theory is a better description of the common moral

system that all moral agents implicitly use when they make moral decisions and judgments.5

For Gert, most philosophers make the crucial mistake of trying to invent a morality they

think everyone ought to use rather than accurately describing and justifying the common morality

moral agents actually do use. Even the most influential moral theorists, such as Kant, Mill, and

Rawls, had this problem. To Gert, an accurate description and justification of common morality

is important, not only for presenting an account of morality that is systematic, accessible, and

useful, but for presenting a theory that strikes moral agents as one that explains and clarifies the

moral system they are already using to make moral decisions and judgments.6

Gert claims up front that his moral theoretical aims are modest both in his description of

common morality and his justification for it. For Gert, having modest theoretical aims is

appropriate given (1) that morality is much more complex than most moral theorists would like to

admit, and (2) human beings are limited by being fallible, vulnerable and epistemically limited.

Of the modesty of his aims for describing common morality Gert states,

I recognize and accept that common morality does not provide unique answers to every
moral question. I do not try to make morality do more than it can.... My only claim to
originality concerning morality is in the explicitness of my recognition of its
limitations.... My description of common morality may not be one that people want to
hear.... Common morality does not provide the kind of simple procedure for deciding
what morally ought to be done that most philosophers provide. It sets limits on what is
morally acceptable, but it rarely provides a unique solution to a morally controversial

5 Bernard Gert, Common Morality, a working draft for an upcoming book, Department of Philosophy,
Dartmouth College, 2002, p i. Hereafter, all references to this work will be cited with the letters CM,
followed by the relevant page numbers.
6 MNJ, p 6.

7 CM, p i.

Of the modesty of his aims for justifying common morality he states,

My attempt to show that all rational persons would endorse morality is qualified,
depending on extreme limitations on the beliefs that can be used as well as other
conditions. I do not try to show that it is irrational to act immorally; I show only that it is
never irrational to act morally. I am trying to do far less than what philosophers from
Plato on have failed to do. Thus, even if I succeed completely in what I am trying to do,
people may be disappointed. It is also disappointing that there is no perpetual motion

Gert claims that accepting these limitations that are required in order to provide an

accurate description and justification for common morality has several benefits. It explains the

fact of moral disagreement and eliminates the futile moral theoretical requirement that all moral

disagreement can be overcome with more and better moral theorizing.9 Accepting this fact

mitigates moral dogmatism, since moral agents no longer have to think that people who disagree

with their considered moral judgments are irrational, uninformed, or partial.'0 Moral discussants

can make compromises without feeling that they are necessarily sacrificing their moral integrity.

Accepting this fact also makes it easier for subordinates to accept the potentially divisive

decisions of their leaders.

Another benefit that Gert claims his moral theory has is that it provides a rich account of

the content of our considered moral judgments rather than focusing too much on the form of those

judgments. Gert states,

Philosophers as diverse as Brandt, Gauthier, Gewirth, Hare, and Rawls do not even
consider the possibility that the basic definition of rationality must be given in terms of a
specific content, for example, a list, and there is no formal way to generate that list."

CM, pi.

9 I will briefly discuss Gert's sources of irresolvable moral disagreement later in the chapter.
'0 This result is important because consensus is not a necessary goal of controversial moral decisions made
by responsible groups. For example, Supreme Court cases are frequently decided without unanimous
agreement. For Gert, these disagreements among the justices does not necessarily mean that one side of the
issue is acting irrationally in that case or is not as well informed as the other justices.

Bernard Gert, "Rationality, Human Nature, and Lists," Ethics, vol. 100, January 1990, p 279.

For Gert, the moral decisions and judgments of people employing the common moral system are

based on harms that all moral agents want to avoid for themselves and those that they care about.

For Gert, statements like "Morality is concerned primarily with lessening the amount of harm in

the world" are only moral slogans unless an adequate account of 'harm' is provided. 'Harm'

must have content; for Gert, this content is best described in terms of a list. What is on the list of

harms that all rational moral agents want to avoid unless an adequate reason can be provided for

suffering one or more of them? For Gert these harms are death, pain, disability, loss of freedom,

and loss of pleasure. Without cashing out what 'harm' means, the aforementioned slogan is

useless for making moral decisions and judgments in concrete situations. Yet, for Gert this is

precisely what many philosophers do. For Gert, the items on the list are based on facts about

human nature, not on astute logical arguments. The list is basic. Someone who said they wanted

to experience any of the items on this list for no reason would not need moral education but

psychiatric help.12

Gert also claims that his description and justification of common morality has the

advantage of salvaging what is positive in other influential moral theories while overcoming what

is problematic in those theories. This is one reason why Gert says that his moral theory "has been

characterized as Kant with consequences, as Utilitarianism with publicity, and as Ross with a


Gert vs. Kant

Gert's general criticism of all moral theories is that they describe common morality

incorrectly. The counterintuitive results that each of these theoretical alternatives support is the

evidence for this general criticism. For example, while Gert shares Kant's view on the crucial

importance of rules, he criticizes Kant for holding that moral rules are absolute. Rather, moral

12 Ibid, p 287.

13 Bernard Gert, "Morality, Moral Theory, and Applied and Professional Ethics," op. cit., p 13.

rules are universal but not absolute. This distinction provides room for assessing justifiable

exceptions to moral rules and for explaining the fact that many moral decisions have more than

one morally acceptable alternative.14 For Gert, everyone who implicitly employs the common

moral system knows that all moral rules have justifiable exceptions.

Gert also criticizes Kant's moral theory for ignoring the crucial first step in the two-step

procedure people use to evaluate proposed actions that will violate moral rules. Kant leaves out

any discussion of a procedure for ascertaining morally relevant facts for determining what kinds

of actions should pass his universalizability test.15 Providing a method for isolating morally

relevant features is crucial for framing particular situations that need to be morally assessed.16

That Kant does not provide this tool for framing maxims explains why his discussion of maxims

and their universalizability has been is obscure and controversial. This lack of a procedure for

framing maxims for action makes the universalizability test too difficult to apply in concrete


Gert also claims that Kant's universalizability test, which Gert thinks is somewhat similar

to the morally decisive step two of his decision procedure, fails because the test is so strong that it

ends up being absurd. Gert states, "It is simply false that a rational person is acting immorally

whenever she acts on a maxim that she would not favor everyone acting on."17 For example, if a

soldier is fighting an enemy courageously, his courageous fighting is not immoral in virtue of the

fact that he would not will that enemy soldiers fight courageously that day. It is rational to want

the enemy not to fight this way.

14 MNJ, p 115.

15 See Immanuel Kant, Critique of Practical Reason, translated by Lewis White Beck, New York: Bobbs-
Merrill, 1956, p 27.
16 Kant uses unique language to describe this process. He does not talk in terms of framing a particular
moral problem, but talks in terms of framing one's maxims for action.

17 MNJ, p 305.

Kant's universalizability test is too strong for another reason. For Gert, Kant made the

mistake of thinking that universalizability was necessary to preserve moral impartiality. It is not.

Gert claims that it is not necessary for moral impartiality that a moral agent wills that all moral

agents act a particular way; it is sufficient to consider what would happen if everyone knew that

they were publicly allowed to act a particular way in the situation at hand and all relevantly

similar situations. Morally justifiable exceptions to moral rules are not necessarily those that

moral agents would necessarily act on, but those that they know they can act on without

consequence. For Gert, this weaker criterion of moral justifiability accounts for the fact that

many moral situations present moral agents with more than one morally acceptable alternative.

Finally, Gert claims that superiority of his theory over Kant's with regard to describing

how moral agents normally think of the concept of duty. For Gert, Kant obfuscates 'duty' by

taking it as a general concept that refers to both perfect and imperfect moral obligations. This is

confusing and, to Gert, incorrect. For Gert, duty has a precise meaning that refers to moral

responsibilities associated with professional and other social roles,'8 though it is sometimes used

colloquially to describe one's moral obligations to obey the moral rules unless an exception to

those rules is justifiable. Kant's use of "imperfect duties" also creates a confusion that Gert

claims his theory overcomes. To Gert there are no imperfect duties. Rather, imperfect duties

refer to moral ideals, which moral agents employing the common morality think should only be

encouraged except in rare circumstances or in the context of fulfilling duties associated with

professional and social roles.

Gert vs. Consequentialism

Gert claims that his moral theory is an improvement over consequentialism for several

reasons. All forms of consequentialism that consider actual consequences to be the morally

relevant feature for determining moral obligations are implausible, since they do not recognize

8 MNJ, p 209

the fact of human fallibility as fundamental to common morality.19 No one can calculate actual

consequences accurately. For Gert, "Consequentialism, of which utilitarianism is a particular

form, is the right kind of moral system for a society of omniscient persons. But there are no

omniscient persons."20 Consequentialism also fails to describe common morality accurately

because it justifies actions that are counterintuitive, i.e., actions that fully informed impartial

moral agents using only rationally required beliefs would not publicly allow. A common

criticism of consequentialism is that it justifies actions such as cheating when no one will find out

and the benefits achieved warrant it. Impartial moral agents using only rationally required beliefs

would not publicly allow cheating even when no one will find out about it and the cheater


For Gert, consequentialism remains popular with philosophers because they so often

present their examples so that there is never a doubt about what the actual consequences will be.

Moral agents rarely have the benefit of such knowledge when they make moral decisions.

Gert also claims that his view improves on consequentialism because his theory accounts

for the diversity of morally relevant features, and because consequentialism ultimately, and

incorrectly, recognizes only one such feature. Where consequentialists do recognize diverse

morally relevant features, they are morally relevant only as aids to determining the consequences

of a particular action rather than as guides for determining what impartial moral agents would

publicly allow. Consequentialists cannot consider hypothetical situations, such as considering

what would happen if everyone knew that they were allowed to act in a certain way. Such

contrary-to-fact conditionals do not focus only on the consequences of a particular action given

19 MNJ, p 205.
20 MNJ, p 206.

21 MNJ, p 213-214.

the facts, but on the morally relevant facts that are crucial for determining what impartial moral

agents would publicly allow.22

Gert also criticizes rule consequentialism as an inaccurate description and justification of

common morality. Rule consequentialism is an attempt to save consequentialism from forceful

criticisms such as the inability to calculate consequences effectively and to hedge against what

are obviously counterintuitive results. However, for Gert rule consequentialists must either think

that their rules have exceptions or they do not. If they have no exceptions, they end up becoming

so cumbersome and lengthy that they are impossible to know and apply effectively. This long

and complicated list of rules is obviously not the list of rules that are part of the common moral

system that everyone implicitly uses to make moral decisions. Since there are irresolvable moral

disagreements among fully informed moral agents, different moral agents will have different lists

of moral rules that they abide by. Since different moral agents would have different and lengthy

lists of moral rules, it would be impossible to make legitimate moral judgments about the

behavior of other moral agents. Other moral agents would be ignorant of many of the rules on

another moral agent's personal list of moral rules.

On the other hand, if the moral rules have exceptions, Gert claims that they would be

very similar to his ten moral rules, the difference being that consequentialists could only use them

to guide assessments of the consequences of particular actions. If these rules are used to make

moral decisions by invoking hypothetical situations too (such as considering what fully informed

impartial moral agents would publicly allow) then rule consequentialism is so in name only. It is

actually a deontological view. If these rules have exceptions and no hypothetical situation is

invoked, then rule consequentialism collapses into act consequentialism, whose problems are well


22 MNJ, p 213-214.
23 MNJ, p 213-215.

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