Debating the Ethics of War and Political Violence
“[I gained] a new level of appreciation for political philosophy....I would highly recommend this course to anyone who enjoys debating in a comfortable environment without any fear of judgment on thought-provoking philosophical topics.” - Sofia Regalado, 2013
“The conversations were intriguing- I became friends with people from all around the world…and read books that contribute in every way to my knowledge and understanding of life.” - Ilana Naim, 2013
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.
Bjorn Gomes is a Ph.D. candidate in political science at Columbia University. He was previously a research scholar in the Department of Political Science, National University of Singapore. His research interests include political philosophy, international political thought, and international relations. At Columbia, he has taught classes on citizenship and exclusion, human rights, and justice.
Specific course information, such as hours and instructors, are subject to change at the discretion of the University.