The Logical Structure of Just War Theory





Document Type





A survey of just war theory literature reveals the existence of quite different lists of principles. This apparent arbitrariness raises a number of questions: What is the relation between ad bellum and in bello principles? Why are there so many of the former and so few of the latter? What order is there among the various principles? To answer these questions, I first draw on some recent work by Jeff McMahan to show that ad bellum and in bello principles are not, as often portrayed, independent—the justice of conduct in war largely presupposes the justice of the recourse to war. Undermining this independence claim is one important step toward revealing the unified logical structure of just war theory. I then argue that we can see the dependence of the jus in bello upon the jus ad bellum, not just in the content of certain principles, but also in the structure of the two sets of principles: I construct a one-to-one mapping between ad bellum and in bello principles. In doing so, I argue also that the shared structure successfully finds place for the questions central to the evaluation of the morality of war: what is a sufficient provocation to use force, what objectives may be sought by force, why or for what ends, who has authority to decide to use force, and when or in what circumstances? Despite variations in expression, the theory allows for a coherent and comprehensive evaluation of morality in warfare.



Published in

The Journal of Ethics

Citation/Other Information

Toner, Christopher H. "The Logical Structure of Just War Theory." The Journal of Ethics 14 (2010): 81-102. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10892-010-9072-0