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The Cons of Pacifism

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Naverson starts his critique of pacifism by claiming the term is not well-defined, and there can be many variations of it; he believes people use the term differently because several different doctrines have labeled themselves as pacifism. His refutation focuses on the view that it is morally wrong to use force to resist, punish, or prevent violence, and he calls this position “incoherent because it is self-contradictory in its fundamental intent” (Naverson 479). By claiming pacifism is self-contradictory, Naverson’s refutation focuses on how the principle of pacifism is misguided and the actions of a pacifist might not reflect the values they claim to have. He discusses why people might claim to be pacifist, and gives an example that pacifism can be used as a tactic to achieve desirable effects, such as making someone concede or disarm if you do first. However, he responds to this by saying if one supports pacifism because of the desired ends, then “one’s position depends on what the effects are. Determining what they are is a purely empirical matter, and consequently, one could not possibly be a pacifist as a matter pf pure principle if his reasons for supporting pacifism are merely tactical” (Naverson 483). This is part of Naverson’s argument that pacifism is incoherent; the desire of peaceful ends as a matter of tactics is not unique to pacifists. In addition, Naverson brings up the issue of self-defense. A pacifist must claim “each person has no right to defend himself, although he does have a right to defend other people” (Naverson 484). This view simply does not make sense to any rational person, furthering the author’s point pacifism can be incoherent.

On the other hand, Ryan defends pacifism not in the sense that all violence evil, but just that the killing of people is wrong. He starts the argument by talking about the issue of self defense, because it is the weightiest objection most people have to pacifism. Ryan explains, “This rules out the bludgeoning case, but allows killing so as not to be killed” (Ryan 489). This explains the proportionality of a response of violence. The bludgeoning example referred to is whether or not you can kill someone for taking property of yours, like a washcloth. Ryan argues a pacifist will never kill someone when there is no danger presented to them, but would act in self defense if it’s necessary. After responding to the self-defense objection, Ryan moves into the main point of his argument, that a pacifist “cannot create, nor does he wish to create, the necessary distance between himself and another to make the act of killing possible” (Ryan 490). He explains that being able to kill someone is being able to distance yourself enough from them to be able to disregard their fundamental human right to life. Ryan believes this is insensitive, and the pacifist position is one of morals, “motivated by a picture of personal relationship and outlook one should maintain towards others, regardless of the actions they might take towards you” (Ryan 490). Pacifism is about respect, justice, and equity.

While both authors make valid points, I agree more with the points Naverson makes. While accusing the opposition of not having a coherent position is a weak form of argument, it is true to some degree. However, I agree with his points about some of the inconsistencies in the pacifist view. In my opinion, there will always be a time in this world where violence is needed to accomplish something, and while it is unfortunate, the world we live in can often come down to kill or be killed. Ryan’s argument makes sense in that it acknowledges there is a time where self-defense is appropriate, pointing out the straw man Naverson used. He makes compelling points about distancing one’s self from someone they’re about to kill, and how it is not moral to disregard their human rights, but in my experience it’s nearly impossible to act with complete disregard for how someone acts towards you.

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