Wallenberg Public Lecture on the Ethics of War and Peace

The Wallenberg Lecture on the Ethics of War and Peace is a public lecture, to be held annually at Stockholm University prior to the Stockholm Centre’s annual conference. Each year, a distinguished scholar will be asked to give a public address, suitable for a mixed audience, exploring the theme of that year’s conference. The first lecture in the series will be delivered at the Natural History Museum by Professor Jeff McMahan of Rutgers University. The talk will be followed by a drinks reception. All are welcome!

Prof. Jeff McMahan

‘How to think about the morality of war’

5pm, Friday 23 May 2014
Lilla Härsalen
Natural History Museum
Stockholm University Campus

photo of Jeff McMahan

Jeff McMahan is one the world’s leading philosophers of war. He has written numerous scholarly books, chapters and articles on the ethics of war and self-defence, along with contributions to newspapers such as the New York Times, Boston Review and Huffington Post. His most recent book is Killing in War (OUP: 2009). He is currently working on The Ethics of Killing: Self-Defense, War and Punishment (OUP). He is Professor of Philosophy at Rutgers University, NJ.


Perhaps the most common way of thinking about war is that it is, as Rousseau says, ‘something that occurs not between man and man, but between States.’ According to this view, states and certain other collectives have interests, desires, goals, and intentions that are not reducible to those of individual persons. Collectives can also act in ways for which they are responsible and even blameworthy, again in ways that are not reducible to the responsibility or blameworthiness of individuals. This way of thinking about states in war leads naturally to a conception of soldiers as instruments through which states achieve their purposes rather than as responsible moral agents whose acts of killing must meet a high standard of moral justification. McMahan’s lecture will oppose this way of thinking about war and will defend an individualist understanding of both states and war, according to which political leaders, soldiers, and civilian citizens are neither absolved of responsibility for their individual contributions to war nor made responsible for the contributions of others simply by virtue of their membership in a collective such as the state or the military.


The Public Lecture will be held at the Natural History Museum, which is just next to Stockholm University’s campus. The closest T-bana station is the University stop (‘Universitetet”).

Doors open at 4.30pm.

To get to the museum from Hotel Oden, get on the green line underground towards Central Station and then change onto the red line towards Morby Centrum. Get off at Universitetet and follow the signs (or look for the large building that looks like the picture). The trip on the underground should take about 15 – 20 minutes.

Please direct any enquiries to Helen Frowe.