Auguste Rodin's sculpture of "The Thinker"

ETHICS: constitutes a reflection on morality that seeks to analyze, criticize, and interpret rules, roles, and relations within society.

Ethics is concerned with the meaning of moral terms, the conditions in which decision-making takes place, and the justification of the principles brought to bear in resolving conflicts. Ethics is integral to the discipline of international relations insofar as behaviors and actions in the international sphere have ethical motivations and consequences. The morality of an action can be judged based on its consequences (teleological ethics) or according to its inherent/intended value (deontological ethics). The two principal ethical theories are moral absolutism, which upholds the existence of a definite standard of ethical behavior, and relativism, which argues that multiple standards of ethical behavior exist (see Cultural Relativism).



The study of ethics is often divided into four categories, each of which addresses particular ethical issues within international relations:

Metaethics pertains to the study of concepts in ethics and the philosophy behind our ethical values and judgments.

Questions: Are there universal values that supersede the particularities of cultures? What are the challenges associated with determining international standards for morality?

Descriptive ethics describes the particular rules of behavior of a group but does not require that the ethical justifications of these rules be judged.

Questions: Read Robert Kagan's discussion of the ideological drift between Europe and the United States in recent years. What explains this rift? What values and norms separate Europeans and Americans according to Kagan? Which ones unite them?

Normative ethics involves judging the ethical justifications of certain behaviors or actions and determining the moral standards for social behavior.

Questions: Recent military operations in Kosovo raised a key question regarding the role of the international community to defend against human rights abuses occurring within sovereign countries. Is it time, to rethink, in a systematic way, the notion that sovereignty is sacrosanct? Humanitarian concerns have also been evoked in justifying the war in Iraq. Are the invasions of Kosovo and Iraq morally defensible? Have Iraq and Kosovo weakened or strenghtened the international norm of sovereignty?

Applied ethics pertains to the practical aspect of a certain ethical choice or problem.

Questions:Should there be international standards of justice for war criminals, or are these issues better handled on the national level? Who should make decisions on justice (punishment) versus amnesty (reconciliation), and on what basis should those judgments be made?


Selected Carnegie Council Materials:

Ethics and International Affairs Journal
Morgenthau Lectures
Joel Rosenthal, "What Constitutes an Ethical Approach to International Affairs?"
Joel Rosenthal, "From the Margins to the Mainstream: A Blueprint for Ethics and International Affairs"
Joel Rosenthal," From Andrew Carnegie to Hans Morgenthau: A Lesson in Ethics and International Affairs"
The Political Ethics of International Relations  
Mary Maxwell, "Toward a Moral System for World Society: A Reflection on Human Responsibilities."

Further Reading:

Amstutz, Mark R. International Ethics: Concepts, Theories, and Cases in Global Politics; 2nd Edition. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2005.
Berlin, Isiah. The Proper Study of Mankind. Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 2000.
Brown, Chris. International Relations Theory: New Normative Approaches. Columbia University Press, 1992.
Buchanan, Allen. Justice, Legitimacy, and Self-Determination: Moral Foundations for International Law. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.
Hoffmann, Stanley. Duties beyond Borders: On the Limits and Possibilities of Ethical International Politics. Lexington: D.C. Heath, 1981.
Mackie, John L. Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong. New York: Penguin Books, 1977.
Mill, John Stuart. "Utilitarianism", in Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, ed., J.M. Robson. London: Routledge and Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991.
Moore, G.E. Principia Ethica. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1903.
Morgenthau, Hans J., Kenneth W. Thompson and David Clinton. Politics Among Nations, 7th edition. McGraw-Hill, 2005.
Nardin, Terry and David R. Mapel. Traditions of International Ethics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.
Niebuhr, Reinhold. Moral Man and Immoral Society: A Study of Ethics and Politics. Charles Scribner Sons, 1932. Westminster John Knox Press, 2002.
Rosenthal, Joel (ed.), Ethics & International Affairs: A Reader, 2nd Edition. New York: Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, 1999.
Schlesinger, Arthur M. "National Interests and Moral Absolutes" in Cycles of American History, Houghton Mifflin, 1995.