Space weapons, moral casuistry, and Rawls: Moving the debate forward

J. Scott McPherson, Salve Regina University


This dissertation considers the space weaponization debate and proposes an option for moving the discussion forward. Specifically, it argues that the debate is dominated by a certain polar quality in which centrist views are marginalized as the more extreme positions engage in a zero-sum game. This results in a situation in which true dialogue breaks down while alternatives beyond the "all or nothing" are seemingly disregarded vis-à-vis U.S. policy. This polarity results from numerous pragmatic elements, but perhaps even more so from an underlying appeal to moral absolutes by both sides. Meanwhile, the technological march toward weaponization continues, with some unclassified estimates predicting deployment viability by 2020 and perhaps earlier—and still there is little if any agreement on how to handle this issue when it becomes reality. Therefore, this study suggests that the moral "first principles" of space weaponization should be modified in accordance with sound moral casuistry procedures, and that a "freestanding" model for weaponization, similar to the political philosophy offered by John Rawls, might provide a new and realistic idea for how to proceed. Under this notion, the United States would lead the way in forming a space consortium of well-ordered nations that develops and deploys the weapons for defensive purposes as necessary while inducing others to join the association via "soft power." It is hoped that this alternative will, at a minimum, reopen mutual discourse and ultimately fuel new ideas regarding how to manage space weaponization before the technological capability to do so arrives.

Subject Area

Ethics|International Relations|Military studies

Recommended Citation

McPherson, J. Scott, "Space weapons, moral casuistry, and Rawls: Moving the debate forward" (2010). Doctoral Dissertations. AAI3485034.