Ethics and International Affairs

What is the relationship between morality and policy?  In the statecraft of international affairs, is it enough to develop effective policies, or should they be ethical policies as well?  If so, what are the foundations of ethics in foreign policy, and how do ethical considerations apply in particular issues and situations? 

This course will examine the normative questions of international relations and challenge students to consider what those questions mean for our conduct as citizens and as aspiring policymakers.  There are many vexing normative issues in international politics.  When, if ever, is the use of force justified?  Should one state impose its moral code on another? To what extent do normative considerations influence the way states behave?  To what extent ought they?  Is there a different standard of morality for individuals than for governments?  What about non-governmental and transnational organizations?

The course will begin with a consideration of various philosophical, religious, and psychological foundations for ethics.  It will then explore how ethics might apply to a range of specific issues and circumstances, including war and pacifism, human rights and humanitarian intervention, foreign assistance and poverty, torture and detention, and the complex relationship of personal conscience, citizenship, and duties to the state.  Readings will include philosophical and religious texts, issue case studies, and historical treatments, and class activities will include extensive discussions and simulations of various ethical dilemmas.  The class will not offer easy answers, but will attempt to equip students for ethical reflection and action throughout their careers.  It will also equip students to better understand the moral judgments that people from other traditions make, which is essential for functioning in a pluralistic policy world.

This syllabus has a heavy – perhaps heavier than usual – reading load.  Students are strongly encouraged to take the weekly reading assignments seriously in part because a substantial portion of your grade depends on class participation.  More importantly, the books in particular have been selected because of their enduring value; they are books that, 5 or 10 or 15 years from now, you will (hopefully) be thankful to have read.

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