Social and Legal Concepts

Social and Legal Concepts

Another part of our project concerns social and legal concepts. There is an enormously wide range of potential case-studies in this domain. To mention only a few good illustrations that are currently hotly debated: medical classifications (e.g. of mental illness), legal and political classifications e.g. of ‘immigrant’/alien, ‘accountability’ or `legally sane’ (which is particularly salient in recent Norwegian public debate around the trial of Breivik) ‘marriage’. However, our initial set of case studies has been chosen so as to draw on expertise we already possess.


According to the law of armed conflict (LOAC) “the Parties to the conflict shall at all times distinguish between the civilian population and combatants”. But who belongs to the class of combatants? On the one hand we face the problem that there is a rise of armed conflicts in which people act like combatants but fail to match the legal definition of ‘combatant’ since they do not fights on behalf of a state’s authority. On the other hand, there is a tendency in many western countries that services that used to be delivered by the millitary itself is outsourced to civilian contractors. Might some of these services make the employees into active participators og war and thus liable to warranted attack? Another question is whether all combatants ought to have the same rights whether they fight on the side of those how fight a just war or not. If not we might need to distinguish between ‘just combatant and ‘unjust combatents’. As these examples show, although there might be nothing wrong with LOAC as such, we still need to raise the question of what ‘combatant’ ought to mean. In its current form is this concept is suffering from vagueness and ambiguities.

Private/Public sphere.

A central distinction in the area of ethics has been the distinction between the private and public spheres.The distinction is crucial e.g. in media ethics. Respect for people’s privacy is a fundamental condition for ethically respectable journalism. Due to the development of social media the distinction as commonly understood has become problematic. Moreover, the option of using a private forum (say a private Facebook page) need not imply that information and views in a private forum is morally exempted from being used by journalists. However, our working hypothesis is that the public debate and ordinary speakers collapse a several senses of “private” in their reasoning. One goal of our work is to disentangle these and to help decide which one should be adopted for legal and other official purposes.