Just War Criteria #2: Right Intention

Earlier I looked at the first just criteria for going to war, just cause. Here is the second in the words of Charles and Demy.

Right Intention: Morally guided force will seek to advance a greater good and secure a greater peace then heretofore had existed. Aquinas insists that belligerents should have a right intention “so that they intend the advancement of good, or the avoidance of evil.” “It may happen,” he notes, ” that war is declared by the legitimate authority and for a just cause, and yet be rendered unlawful through wicked intention.” Unjust war is perhaps best illustrated by what does not constitute right intention. Such scenarios include a sovereign’s pride or reputation, vengeance, national aggrandizement, blood-thirst or lust for power, and territorial expansion. For war to be just, its aim must be a greater good, and that greater good is justly ordered peace…A just response acknowledges the greater goal of a just peace and goes beyond sentiments of hatred and vengeance that are so typical of human behavior. It is cognizant that anything apart from just cause negates the morality of the response.

Again, referring back to my last post, this criteria assumes a moral standard that can be determined through time and wisdom. Many of us look at this criteria and throw up our hands saying, “Who can really know if an intention is good or bad?”  But this assumes no moral standard or at the very least an inability to determine right from wrong in concrete situations.

One more thing to remember is that this is not the only criteria. In other words, good intentions are not enough to make a war righteous. Many a country has violated other just war criteria by declaring that their motives are good.