Ethics in Global Politics (L7093S)

30 credits, Level 6

Spring teaching

The module will cover conceptual and normative questions about ethics in global politics. It introduces you to the academic study of global ethics by exploring its origins within contemporary political philosophy in the Anglo-American tradition, and within the IR sub-field of ‘normative International Relations’. In particular, the module explores the inter-relationship between normative, conceptual and practical questions in international relations.

You will explore the substantive areas of international distributive justice and international human rights, which are thought by many to constitute the core of the subject of global ethics. This is followed by the more cutting-edge areas of agency, responsibility, judgement and authority. Several sessions are devoted to bridging the theoretical concerns of global ethics with particular areas of contemporary practical and policy relevance, including:

  • the responsibility to protect human rights
  • international criminal justice
  • acting on obligations to distant strangers.

By taking this module, you will explore some of the following questions, among others:

  • Are the obligations that we have to those inside our national communities different from obligations to outsiders?
  • Do we all have ‘human rights duties’, or do these fall only on states?
  • Would action to curb global climate change place an unfair burden on developing countries?
  • Should political leaders be indicted by international courts for humanitarian atrocities, even if doing so could prolong civil conflict?
  • What is the best way to understand the relationship between ‘security’ and other values (for example, in the context of contemporary debates about humanitarian intervention, torture, or privacy)?

The assessment is a 7000-word term paper.


100%: Seminar


30%: Coursework (Essay, Group presentation)
70%: Written assessment (Essay)

Contact hours and workload

This module is 300 hours of work. This breaks down into 36 hours of contact time and 264 hours of independent study.

This module is running in the academic year 2017/18. We also plan to offer it in future academic years. It may become unavailable due to staff availability, student demand or updates to our curriculum. We’ll make sure to let our applicants know of such changes to modules at the earliest opportunity.


This module is offered on the following courses: