2022 Philosophy Symposium: The Ethics of War & Autonomous Weapons Systems

Our philosophy symposium on the ethics of war & autonomous weapons systems (AWS) was part of our 2022 philosophy symposia series supported in part by grants from Humanities Montana, The National Endowment for the Humanities, and The Philosophy Learning and Teaching Organization, as well as community sponsorships and partnerships with BWP Helena Great Northern Hotel, Helena Civic Television, and Raven’s Feather Productions.

In this symposium led by guest speaker Major Hunter Cantrell, we explored the ethics of war and some of the implications of emerging technologies like autonomous weapons systems (AWS).

In the first part of our discussion, we looked at just war theory — highlighting some of its basic ideas and history, as well as some of the objections and challenges to the tradition.

In the second part of our discussion, we looked at autonomous weapons systems (as a specific kind of warfare) and their ethical implications for just war theory.  In the process we considered some of the most common ethical concerns and problems agains AWS and some possible arguments in favor of such methods.  Questions about artificial intelligence in the context of AWS were also explored.

Our symposium took place at The Helena Avenue Theater, in conjunction with a live theater performance called “Grounded” starring local actress Katy Wright.  The symposium offered space for community members to explore, discuss, and think critically together about some of the deeply human and philosophical questions the play inspired.  (Community members did not have hav to see the play in order to participate or benefit from the discussion.)

Symposium Video


Just War Theory Resources
  • Summa Theologica, Secunda Secundae by St Thomas Aquinas
  • The Morality of War by Brian Orend
  • Just and Unjust Wars by Michael Walzer
  • Killing in War by Jeff McMahan
  • Jus Post Bellum and Political Reconciliation” by Colleen Murphy and Linda Radzik
  • Jus Post Belum: The Perspective of a Just-War Theorist” by Brian Orend
  • “Two Doctrines of Jus Ex Bello” by Darrel Mollendorf
  • “Skepticism about Jus Post Bellum” by Seth Lazar
  • “From Jus ad Bellum to Jus ad Vim: Recalibrating Our Understanding of the Moral Use of Force”- By Daniel Brunstetter and Megan Braun
AWS & Other Resources
  • Department of Defense Directive 3000.09, 2012– Autonomy in Weapon Systems
  • “What’s So Bad about Killer Robots” by Alex Leveringhaus
  • “Killer Robots” by Robert Sparrow
  • “Lethal Autonomous Weapons and Jus ad Bellum Proportionality” by Heather Roff
  • “How Just Could a Robot War Be?” by Peter Asaro
  • “Framework for Mercy Killing on the Battlefield” by Jean-François Caron
  • Governing Lethal Behavior in Autonomous Robots by Ronald Arkin
  • “Autonomous Weapon Systems and the Claim-Rights of Innocents on the Battlefield” by Hunter Cantrell
  • “Autonomous Weapon Systems and the Moral Equality of Combatants” by Michael Sherker, Duncan Purves, and Ryan Jenkins
  • Army of None: Autonomous Weapons and the Future of Warfare by Paul Scharre
  • Alpha Go (Documentary Film)
  • “The Empathetic Soldier” by Kevin Cutright 
  • The Fog of War (Documentary Film)

Our Symposium Speaker

Major Hunter Cantrell

Multi-Functional Logistics Officer in the U.S. Army & Assistant Professor of Philosophy at U.S. Military Academy West Point

Hunter is a Strategist in the U.S. Army & Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the United States Military Academy at West Point. 

He graduated from the Virginia Military Institute in 2010, was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Transportation Corp, has served in a number of positions ranging from Distribution Platoon Leader and Operations Officer, to Assistant S3 for Training and Surface Deployment and Distribution Commands Officer.

In 2015, he assumed command of the Golf Forward Support Company (supporting the 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment) and was deployed with his unit to Korea.

After returning to the U.S., he attended graduate school at Georgia State where he earned an MA in Philosophy. His thesis was “Arguments for Banning Autonomous Weapon Systems: A Critique.” His thesis took the First Inamori Center for Ethics and Excellence, Best Military Thesis Competition, 2019.  He also has an MA in Intelligence Studies w/ a concentration in Intelligence Analysis. 

Hunter’s area of specialty and interest center on the implications of emerging technologies (like autonomous weapons systems), especially as they effect military ethics (broadly construed) and social/political philosophy. 


Hunter has the following articles published or forthcoming:

  • “Arguments for Banning Autonomous Weapon Systems: A Critique,” International Journal of Ethical Leadership, July 2021
  • “Tolerating the Intolerable: A Method to Prevent Radicalization,” Forthcoming in a Concerned Philosophers for Peace Annotated Volume (In production)
  • “The Keys to Success for a Forward Support Company at the National Training Center,”  Army  Sustainment Magazine, March-April 2018

And has presented at the following conferences:

  • 31st International Association for Practical & Professional Ethics (APPE) Conference, February 2022
  • International Society of Military Ethics, US Division, July 2021
  • Computer Ethics Philosophical Enquiry and International Association for Computing and Philosophy Joint Conference, July 2021
  • Society of Philosophy and Technology, June 2021
  • International Society of Military Ethics, European Division, May 2019 and June 2021
  • Association for Practical and Professional Ethics- 2018, 2019, and 2020
  • Manchester Center for Political Theory Annual Conference, September 2020
  • Concerned Philosophers for Peace Annual Conference, October 2018
  • Ecumenical Council of the Church of Norway, June 2019

Hunter has been married to Tiffany Cantrell since December 2012 and is the father of Holden (7) and Bryson (5).



Thank You’s

Thank you to our guest speaker Hunter Cantrell, our symposia series grantors Humanities Montana, The National Endowment for the Humanities, and The Philosophy Learning & Teaching Organization, to our community sponsors BWP Helena Great Northern Hotel (for our guest lodging) and  Helena Civic Television (for filming and broadcasting the discussion), to our community partner Raven’s Feather Productions (for teaming up with us and helping us bring this symposium to life), to our volunteers (Mike McGuire & Kellie Myers), and to the Helena community (for helping to make this such a thought-provoking discussion!).

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