War is one of the most harmful activities that humans can undertake. It is widely recognised that the bar for the normative justification of war is correspondingly high. It is less often argued that we have a special epistemological burden to do our due diligence before undertaking war, to do our best to ascertain reliable information about the relevant facts. This was the crux of the paper that Tim Hayward presented to Edinburgh’s political theory group last week, ‘Humanitarian intervention and intellectual due diligence’. Tim was especially interested in the kind of epistemological work necessary to the justification of humanitarian interventions, and to the case of the Syrian Civil War in particular, which he claims has been widely misinterpreted in the West.
The debate that followed was robust, focusing on what the epistemological burdens for the justification of war are, and if the particulars of Tim’s reading of the Syrian Civil War are convincing. Others discussed the kinds of procedures (e.g. a court system) that could be institutionalised to uphold these epistemological standards.