Gross, Michael L. 1954-

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Gross, Michael L. 1954-


Born 1954. Education: Hebrew University of Jerusalem, B.A.; Northwestern University, M.A.; University of Chicago, Ph.D.


Office—Division of International Relations, School of Political Sciences, University of Haifa, Mount Carmel, Haifa 31905, Israel.


University of Haifa, Division of International Relations, Haifa, Israel, codirector of the graduate program in applied and professional ethics. Military service: Served in the Israeli Defense Forces.


Ethics and Activism: The Theory and Practice of Political Morality, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1997.

Bioethics and Armed Conflict: Moral Dilemmas of Medicine and War, MIT Press (Cambridge, MA), 2006.


An academic who has studied and taught philosophy, ethics, and politics, Michael L. Gross combines these various disciplines in creating his published works. His first book, Ethics and Activism: The Theory and Practice of Political Morality, is a study of the role of citizens within a democracy in keeping the state grounded in fundamental principles of ethics and justice. The traditional view among scholars is that popular movements within the state led by ethical citizens serve to correct the course of political leaders when they go astray from just courses of action. In his research, however, Gross comes to another conclusion, finding that many such activists are not motivated by ethics. "It is not individuals of high moral character, Gross argues, but the morally unsophisticated who prove more politically competent," reported Kristen Renwick Monroe in the American Political Science Review. "This, Gross claims, constitutes the central paradox of political morality." Gross then sets out to compare weak and strong moral reasoning. He explains that weak moral reasoning depends on subjective aspects, such as trying to ensure human happiness, whereas strong moral reasoning is based on universal concepts of justice. In strong moral leadership, which is espoused by philosophers such as John Stuart Mill, a small cadre of ethical leaders guide a state, while weak moral reasoning is often given impetus by factional political groups. Gross finds that strong political morality, which depends on unbiased, unaffiliated leadership, is less effective because leaders who are defined by such ideals are considered postconventional and fail to be politically effective. Thus, weak moral political reasoning proves more persuasive to larger groups of people and tends to influence a country's political character more readily.

Monroe had a problem with Gross's reliance on cognitive developmental theories over social learning theories in his analysis, maintaining that theories by such psychologists as Jean Piaget that hold that moral development is a linear process are not as relevant to politics as social learning theory. The critic felt that, while Gross's "analysis of the literature on democratic theory is excellent," his "empirical analysis is less convincing, however, and his jump from the discussion of the literature on political morality to his empirical examination of this literature is abrupt." Nevertheless, Monroe concluded: "Gross should be commended for tackling an important problem in democratic theory. His empirical work may be less than fully convincing, but at least it should stimulate others to build on his ambitious endeavor."

Bioethics and Armed Conflict: Moral Dilemmas of Medicine and War is a controversial work by Gross in which he argues that ethics during armed conflict should, of necessity, be different from ethics during times of peace. He writes at length on the issue of medical care on the battlefield, including treatment of enemy soldiers, noncombatants, and one's own soldiers. "He repeatedly emphasizes that during war the everyday principles of biomedical ethics must compete with equally relevant and conflicting principles anchored in military necessity and national security, where the welfare of the individual has far less importance than the welfare of the state and the political community," reported Arthur M. Smith in the Naval War College Review. Gross also addresses the issue of torture, finding justification for the practice in some cases and also noting that medical involvement in interrogation can and should be restricted. Foreign Affairs critic Lawrence D. Freedman appreciated how Gross unflinchingly addresses these difficult subjects without sentimentality, calling the book a "fascinating, challenging, and remorselessly unsentimental exploration of medical ethics in the midst of war." "For readers interested in exploring this complex matter in depth, Gross's book provides an excellent and most readable opportunity," concluded Michael Gordon in CMAJ: Canadian Medical Association Journal.



American Journal of Sociology, May, 1999, Laura J. Scalia, review of Ethics and Activism: The Theory and Practice of Political Morality, p. 1839.

American Political Science Review, March, 1999, Kristen Renwick Monroe, review of Ethics and Activism, p. 196.

British Medical Journal, December 2, 2006, Vivienne Nathanson, review of Bioethics and Armed Conflict: Moral Dilemmas of Medicine and War, p. 1177.

Choice, May, 1998, E.R. Gill, review of Ethics and Activism, p. 1607; February, 2007, J.M. Betz, review of Bioethics and Armed Conflict, p. 1014.

CMAJ: Canadian Medical Association Journal, March 27, 2007, Michael Gordon, "Ethics in Conflict," pp. 980-981.

Contemporary Sociology, November, 1998, Stjepan G. Mestrovic, review of Ethics and Activism, p. 635.

Foreign Affairs, January 1, 2007, Lawrence D. Freedman, review of Bioethics and Armed Conflict, p. 162.

Journal of Legal Medicine, January 1, 2007, Christopher W. Behan, review of Bioethics and Armed Conflict, p. 163.

Journal of Politics, February, 1999, Kay Lehman Schlozman, review of Ethics and Activism, p. 256.

Middle East Quarterly, summer, 2007, Michael Rubin, review of Bioethics and Armed Conflict.

Mind, July, 2000, Saladin Meckled-Garcia, review of Ethics and Activism, p. 604.

Naval War College Review, spring, 2007, Arthur M. Smith, review of Bioethics and Armed Conflict.

New England Journal of Medicine, March 29, 2007, John C. Moskop, review of Bioethics and Armed Conflict, p. 1386.

Political Studies, March, 1999, Vittorio Bufacchi, review of Ethics and Activism, p. 166.


Department of Political Science, University of Haifa Web site, (January 30, 2008), faculty profile of Michael L. Gross.