Debating the Ethics of War and Political Violence

Level: Open to students entering grades 11 or 12 or freshman year of college in fall 2015.
Session: II, July 21-August 7, 2015
Days & Time: Monday–Friday, 10:10 AM–12:00 PM and 2:10–4:00 PM.
Michelle Chun,
Related Courses:

Students interested in this course might also be interested in Constitutional Law.

I gained a lot from this class and now feel comfortable debating controversial topics. This is a class for those who love to argue political issues. — Lucas Nacif, 2014

Course Description

What are the ethics of war? Can we apply our ordinary moral judgments and political commitments to war? Does it even make sense to talk about an ethics of war that is not simply an expression of power? This course in political philosophy explores the relationship among war, politics, and ethics.

The first week addresses the issue of realism and skepticism, assessing the argument from necessity, as well as the idea that moral language about war presupposes relations of power, especially the power to define the meaning of moral terms. The second week examines war from the perspective of the international order, looking at the legal and practical norms governing war and how they are changing. The final week is devoted to the boundary cases of terrorism and humanitarian intervention: do these cases amount to war? Are they crimes and police actions? How should they be assessed? Examples draw widely from contemporary political debates to political philosophy, literature, painting, and film.

Class time is divided between discussion of the reading assignments in the morning and debates, group projects, and student presentations in the afternoon. The morning sessions are devoted to helping students achieve a firm grasp of the philosophical arguments found in the readings, while the afternoon sessions allow participants to creatively apply these ideas through a variety of interactive contexts.

While experiencing the rigor and fun of political philosophy, students hone skills in formulating, clarifying, and expressing their own political ideas.

Note: Students explore the above issues in part through the very rich resource of war films, some of which contain mature themes.


Michelle Chun

Michelle Chun is a JD/PhD candidate in Columbia’s Law School and Department of Political Science, where she focuses on legal and political theory. Her dissertation examines issues in contemporary democratic theory and jurisprudence through the lens of John Dewey’s thought. At Columbia, she has served as a teaching assistant in courses on justice, the history of human rights, the First Amendment, and Middle Eastern politics, among others, and as a writing consultant at the University’s Writing Center. She holds an MA, MPhil, and JD from Columbia and an undergraduate degree with highest honors in social studies from Harvard College. 

Specific course information, such as hours and instructors, are subject to change at the discretion of the University.