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The violence of theoretical abstraction: two problems with reductive individualism as a moral philosophical approach to international war

Type of publication Peer-reviewed
Publikationsform Original article (peer-reviewed)
Author SurberRegina Sibylle,
Project The Combatant's License to Kill
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Original article (peer-reviewed)

Journal Inscriptions
Volume (Issue) 3(2)
Page(s) 68
Title of proceedings Inscriptions

Open Access


This essay discusses revisionist just war theory’s most prominent theoretical approach – reductive individualism. It carves out both reductivism’s and individualism’s distinct normative core. On this basis, it presents two arguments. (I) With individual moral liability, reductivism provides a criterion for assessing who can be permissibly killed in war, which it borrows from the morality of peace. Individualism puts the human in the center of moral concern. War being organized mass killing, an individual soldier’s moral liability is indeterminable, pushing for the abstraction of individual of moral statuses and undermining individualism. (II) Reductivism claims that the moral rules governing individual self-defense in ordinary life are directly applied to individual interactions in war. However, it adjusts for the asymmetry between individual aggressor and defender in war to capture the moral status of the collective belligerent party. Reductive individualists are no real individualists and no real reductivists.