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Why moral theorizing needs real cases: the redirection of V-Weapons during the Second World War

Burri, Susanne (2020) Why moral theorizing needs real cases: the redirection of V-Weapons during the Second World War. Journal of Political Philosophy, 28 (2). 247 - 269. ISSN 0963-8016

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Identification Number: 10.1111/jopp.12200


In 1944, the German Wehrmacht started terror bombing London. With the help of double agents that the British authorities had recruited among German spies, it would have been possible to deceive the enemy into redirecting his bombs away from Central London. This would likely have greatly reduced civilian casualties in Central London, while leading to a comparably smaller increase of civilian deaths in some areas of South London. While the British deception authorities were in favour of redirecting the bombs, the War Cabinet's Ministers were opposed. In this paper, I investigate whether the Ministers had moral reason for their qualms. I argue that they did, as redirecting the bombs meant showing an unequal concern for the safety of dierent parts of the population. I suggest that all things considered, redirecting the bombs could nevertheless have formed part of a morally optimal response to the terror bombings. My discussion draws on insights from the moral philosophical literature that makes extensive use of hypothetical cases. Critics of this literature worry that its method renders its insights practically irrelevant. My paper suggests that this worry is exaggerated, but not without merit. The historical case that I discuss is not easily resolved using ideas from the case-based literature, but such ideas still help illuminate the decision the British authorities faced.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2019 John Wiley & Sons Ltd
Divisions: Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BJ Ethics
D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
J Political Science > JZ International relations
D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D731 World War II
Date Deposited: 17 Jun 2019 17:18
Last Modified: 18 Jul 2024 23:18

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