Theorizing Ballistics: Ethics, Emotions, and Weapons Scientists

What is violence? This article explores conceptions of violence from the perspective of scientists engaged in weapons research. Ballistics scientists are routinely excluded from the “violent” label on grounds of class, status, education, and emotional comportment. The article analyzes the science of ballistics through the lenses of ethics and emotions. How do scientists justify experiments in ballistics, or the science of designing weapons and other technologies aimed at destroying environments and inflicting wounds (often fatal) and other forms of injury on people and nonhuman animals? In stark contrast to those who analyze weapons development as an objective science and who impart violent agency to autonomous technologies, I situate wound ballistics as a branch of applied moral philosophy. Its practice always involves an “ought.” Although the central job of ballistics scientists is the “effective production of wounds,” this is not regarded as violent, except by their victims, of course. In part, this lacuna is due to an ideological relationship forged between “violence” and particular emotional states. It is also part of a political project defining “the human.”