Friday, November 22, 2013

Military doctors and ethics

This report in the Army Times claims that Army Doctors breached medical ethics in abusing detainees. Do they?

Israel's philosopher-general

Interesting article in the NY Times here.

"General Halevi, 45, a triathlete and father of four who said his university studies in philosophy proved more salient to military leadership than courses in business administration."

Are Plato, Socrates, and Maimonides really useful for thinking about war?

Monday, November 11, 2013

What it is like to be a US war veteran in philosophy

M’s note: I got this in an email a few days ago accompanied by a letter that strikes me as a bit too personal to print here. I don’t suppose it would hurt to tell you that the author is (was?) an untenured member of a philosophy department in the US. For those of you who do not follow academic philosophy blogs, he appears to be writing in the same vein as blogs like this, this, or this. (I don’t know why he didn’t send it to the latter blog, they have like a zillion times more readers than this one.) Anyway, this seems appropriate for Veterans Day, so here it is: 
What it is like to be a US war veteran in philosophy

For starters, and I know this is a cliche, if you were not there, there is a lot you will just not understand. It really is that simple. No amount of armchair pondering - no matter how smart you are, no matter how many movies you have watched, no matter how much philosophy you have written - is a phenomenological proxy for having been there. Having been through war is a transformative experience like love, poverty, or motherhood that you only understand after you have been through it.

When you are a philosopher and a US war veteran you never have to wonder what it is like to be an outsider in academic philosophy. Your colleagues will remind you. Men, women, and others will define you by what they think you are supposed to have done and by the way Hollywood and the news made them think you behaved. You are presumed to be dumber than most, you are presumed to be of a lower socioeconomic class than your peers, you are presumed to have made it through a PhD program on some kind of GI Bill affirmative action (sic), you are presumed to have sold your body for that GI Bill money, and above all else you are presumed to be the kind of person that has no moral qualms about what you have done and could do with that paid-for body (sound familiar ladies?). Being a veteran is to constantly be made to think that others are looking at you wholly in moral and physical terms, and not as the intellectual that you became writing and completing a PhD in philosophy - in a fairly difficult area of philosophy, no less.

Mind you, this is not akin to having been an accountant before you went into philosophy. In the US, in academia especially, veterans have been marginalized. Our experiences are pretty much written out of the canon of philosophy too. You will not hear about the way Socrates’ approach to justice was shaped by his years fighting in the Peloponnesian Wars, the way Descartes’ thinking about analytic geometry began by watching the trajectory of cannon balls, the way that the death of a fellow soldier in WWII was the catalyst for Rawls’ theory of Justice; nor will you read much about how Wittgenstein’s stint in WW I or Quine’s in WW II, was important to them and their work. These are at the very least, under-examined.

There is no hand-wringing about how to get more of you into the profession nor does anyone think that you could bring a diverse viewpoint to a philosophical debate, or any viewpoint for that matter. I guess it is hard for people who never had such an experience to understand how having gone through war can be as ontologically constitutive of an identity as the things philosophers normally take to be so.

In a way we are luckier than many under-represented groups I suppose, at least those of us who are not also women or non-white. We can usually hide an important part of our identities from people we meet and for a while anyway "pass" as “ordinary” philosophers. Of course that comes with a flip-side. We have no supportive community. I don’t have vet-dar to point out other veterans. We have no secret handshake or haircut. There is no group, no fora to complain to about what condescending sanctimonious civilians mumble to themselves as they read things like this. And, perhaps, most importantly, we are a very small minority.

I have been treated with derision, condescension, and pity (often simultaneously) of the type that would never be leveled by a professional academic to another with experiences far more ideologically and ethically precarious than most veterans have had.

I frequently get asked stupid questions, often about killing people (tip: NEVER ask a veteran if s/he killed anyone or could kill anyone, it is beyond rude, and the last person we want to talk to about this is someone as professionally judgmental as a philosopher). Less frequently people ask about how well I sleep at night (never asked out of medical concern).

We are treated as morally culpable for every military action any US administration has ever taken (no one cares about pesky distinctions between jus ad bellum and jus ad bello). We were all at Abu Ghraib. Every stereotype about members and former members of militaries is unselfconsciously presumed to be true. (Typically, a professor of mine once said, with a serious countenance in a graduate seminar something to the effect, that “soldiers, for example, are all automatons who just follow orders” immediately before she started to talk about Kant).

Beside the ethical stereotypes, the personal ones are also pretty well entrenched in our profession as well. It is presumed that we are all anthropologically speaking anti-social (voluntarily risking your life for fellow citizens notwithstanding), love guns (I don’t), support right-wing politics (lifelong fairly apathetic Democrat here), hate gays (few of us care) and have PTSD (thanks again, pop culture).

Sometimes, I suppose, being a vet is amusing, especially when our phenomenological experiences don’t match the received orthodoxy that philosophers tell themselves about what soldiers are like. I sat in a pretty full room a couple of APAs ago listening to a talk about virtue ethics and soldiers. The paper just made up what it is like to be a soldier, applied some generic theory of virtue ethics to the constructed “personality” and drew unflattering ethical conclusions. The author’s online CV tells me the paper is forthcoming. (Note: I happen to have met the author independently at another conference. He is a really nice, reasonable, guy.)

Veterans also learn some things the hard way: there are some things that must never be mentioned to philosophers outside the US. I have also not yet mastered explaining away a gap in my CV from the times I went to war. I usually lie and concoct an innocuous medical condition. Fun.

Finally, being a war veteran means you don’t put your name on something as public as this as you are paranoid that tenure, jobs, publishing invitations, and friendships will get that much harder. Putting your name on something like this means that you risk being called a moral reprobate, a troglodyte, war criminal, or know-nothing on popular philosophy blogs. And, seriously, we have enough personal stuff to deal with to add that to our list. I even deleted my facebook account out of fear that my “open minded” academic friends would see my “closed minded” military ones.

Some of us are braver than others. Some of us are “out” of this closet. Someone mentioned his military life in at least one published philosophy paper, another (from the Vietnam era) on the jacket of his book. Another graduated from a military academy, deployed a lot, and tells anyone who asks. A fourth . . . well, is there a fourth out there?

All of this regards how I’ve been treated. (Disclaimer: individual experiences vary.) I should say, in all fairness, that my academic friends have been supportive or perhaps at least very polite. And I am grateful for that and to them. It is largely strangers who have few qualms about being obnoxiously judgmental.

There is also the transition between war and academic life that is worth mentioning. If you moved between military and academic life as quickly as I did the adjustment is not easy. It is difficult for any member of any military to reintegrate to civilian life, especially a life as unstructured and hostile to the military as academia is. Some friends in the field have been a great help and I wish I could publicly thank them by name.

I frequently tell myself that I have had experiences that almost no one I work with will ever have - profound, life changing, meaningful experiences on a par with having a child or surviving a serious illness that informs one's philosophical background about many things. I do not regret neither my decision to be part of the military or to go into professional philosophy. Most days I teach, I read, I write, I grade papers, I interact with students, colleagues, friends, and loved ones. I really love what I do, but frankly, unless you feel like being supportive, I’d rather deal with this alone.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Call for Papers: Any intelligence specialists out there?

Reposting from here:
UPDATE: Deadline extended till Dec 20th 2014.


Edited by Jai Galliott (MQ) and Warren Reed (CQU and ex-Australian Secret Intelligence Service)

Foreign and domestic intelligence agencies have received an exponential increase in their levels of funding and public support in the decade after the September 11 terrorist attacks but have now entered a period of broad public scrutiny and skepticism. This is because despite the huge investment in the human and financial resources of the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and its data collection partners abroad, the large majority of Western nations remain vulnerable to unconventional threats. On a number of fronts - interrogation, torture, the privatisation of national security, drone strikes and electronic surveillance - critics from both inside and outside government are now starting to question the purpose, reach and moral authority of the United States led intelligence establishment. Abstracts pertaining to the above topics are welcomed for inclusion in this proposed volume. Subsequent papers must be philosophically rigorous but accessible to policy makers and upper-level students.

Possible themes and topics might include, but are certainly not limited to, the following: - What is Espionage?

- The History of Intelligence Ethics

- Current Trends: An Engineer’s Perspective on Progress and Prospects

- Intelligence and Preventative/Preemption Distinction

- Just War Theory and Lessons for the Intelligence Community

- The Limits of Intelligence Gathering: Who Should We Watch?

- The Preliminary Case for ‘Enhanced’ Interrogation

- Does Torture Work? A View from Afghanistan

- The Strategic Implications of Torture

- Spies for Hire: The Challenges Posed by Contractors

- Privatised Information Gathering: Morality and Just War Theory

- Military-Industrial Complex and Privacy

- Drones Wars: The CIA and Remote Surveillance

- Ethics, Distance and the Twenty-First Century Intelligence Analyst

- Asymmetric Force and Terroristic ‘Blowback’

- Spying on the Homefront: The NSA and Warrantless Wiretapping

- The Ethics of Cyberwarfare

- Super Spies: Bio-Enhanced Intelligence Officers

- A Better Secret Court: Improving Ethical Oversight of U.S. FISA Courts

- WikiLeaks: Whistleblowing, Morality and the State

- Guiding Intelligence Professions: A Code of Ethics

- Any other relevant topic (we're open to suggestion)

Submission Guidelines & Notes:

1. Submission deadline for abstracts (200-500 words) and CV(s):December 4, 2013. Late submissions will not be accepted.

2. Selected abstracts will be reviewed by the editors and forwarded to Routledge who will review the collection with a view to contracting the project. There's also some scope to publish under one the editor's new Emerging Technologies series with Ashgate, depending on the final makeup of papers.

3. Authors will receive a response roughly 8 weeks after the closing date for submissions.

4. Tentative submission deadline for drafts of accepted papers (approx. 5000 words): late 2014.

5. All submissions (in Word format) and inquiries should be directed to Jai Galliott at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia via

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Call for Papers

Got this in an email
Call for Papers

Theme: The Ethics of War and Peace
Type: Annual Conference
Institution: Societas Ethica
Location: Maribor (Slovenia)
Date: 21.-24.8.2014
Deadline: 31.3.2014

Wars have always been a part of human life, as have attempts to end
them. Questions of war and peace are a constant challenge for ethics.

2014 is the centenary of the outbreak of World War I and "The Ethics
of War and Peace" is the theme of the annual conference of Societas
Ethica. Recent European history, especially the civil war in the
former Yugoslavia, has shown that the tensions behind World War I are
still with us.

The pledge "Never again!" was not fulfilled. New wars arose, within
and outside Europe, that manifested still other origins: for example,
wars related to colonialism, imperialism and struggles for
independence, to ambitions for hegemony, to global inequalities
between rich and poor, to religious extremism, to drug trafficking,
to overpopulation, to the illegal arms trade, etc. Today we witness
atrocious civil wars in the Middle East, and the 'war on terror' has
led to new forms of war such as the use of drones and cyber attacks.

The realities of war in the twenty-first century are in desperate
need of thorough moral reflection. Our cultural heritages offer
diverse reflective contributions here, ranging from Sun-tsu's "Art of
war" and Clausewitz's "Vom Kriege" to Thomas Aquinas' and Hugo
Grotius' theories of just war, or from Hobbes' analysis of aggressive
human nature to Kantian attempts to set up a stable world order
without wars.

Through different parallel sessions Societas Ethica will address the
major moral questions regarding war and peace. These sessions will
focus on:

- the roots of war (e.g. human aggression, social life, etc.)
- theories of just war (including questions about 'humanitarian
- the rules of war (e.g. the treatment of prisoners – Guantanamo,
hostage kidnapping – child soldiers, the arms trade, etc.)
- new forms of warfare (cyber war, the use of drones)
- war and profit (the privatization of war, arms exports, etc.)
- ending war (reconciliation initiatives, war tribunals)
- pacifism
- open channel (for PhD students only)

Contributions will concentrate on one of the topics listed above and
explicitly address moral questions related to it. Paper proposals
should contain no more than 800 words (excluding bibliography), and
clearly present a moral question or argument addressing one of the
aforementioned topics. The deadline is March 31, 2014. Papers can be
presented either in English, German, or French.

Please send in the following two documents as Word attachments to:

Document 1: Your name, first name, email address, institutional
address, the title of your abstract, the topic under which your paper
proposal falls, and, if eligible, your application to participate in
the Young Scholars' Award competition (see information below).

Document 2: Your paper proposal including bibliography (max. 10
references) and title with all identifying references removed.

Societas Ethica Young Scholars' Award is awarded to the best
presentation by a young scholar. Young scholars for the purpose of
this competition are doctoral students and researchers who earned
their degree less than two years ago and do not have a tenure-track
academic position. For more information about Societas Ethica Young
Scholars' Award, please visit the website at:


Societas Ethica