Purposes and Means

Purposes and Means

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-3984-1.ch003


In this chapter, the author argues that the canonical description of a weapon is that it is the means to harm. And he argues that if it is wrong to harm, then it is wrong to provide the means to harm. This amounts to the first of two things that he needs to establish if he is to show that weapons design is morally wrong. The chapter includes a general taxonomy of the purposes of artefacts and this is used to show that the means to harm is indeed the canonical description of a weapon.
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In order to establish that weapons design is morally wrong, two things are necessary. First of all, it must be possible to describe all instances of weapons design as “providing the means to harm”. This is clearly not the preferred characterisation of those who have an interest in weapons research, including the armed forces, the defence department, governments and weapons designers themselves. We have seen that these parties would have it that weapons design is the means for defence, or for deterrence, or for the prevention of harm. To say that it is always possible to characterise weapons design as providing the means to harm does not imply that these alternative descriptions are always false or never applicable. It is often possible to describe one and the same activity in different ways and it may well be that certain instances of weapons research are undertaken for the for the purpose of defence, this being the intention of those who authorised the research.1 However, my claim is that regardless of whether or not the reason or rationale for a given episode of weapons design has to do with defence, it is still possible to describe it as providing the means to harm. The point here is not just that in order to defend it is (usually) necessary to harm, it is that regardless of any defensive intent on the part of those who undertake weapons design, weapons are the means to harm and weapons research aims to provide those means. There is no necessary relation between weapons design and defence, as we will see, but there is between weapons design and harming. Once this first task is accomplished what needs to be done next is to show that providing the means to harm is morally wrong, or, more circumspectly, that deliberately providing weapons to harm is morally wrong. To complete this second step in the argument it will be necessary to introduce and discuss the ‘means principle’. By the end of this chapter, which is longer than usual and so has two parts, I hope to have established that weapons design is morally wrong.

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