Right and Wronged in International Relations: Seeing the Ubiquity of Morality in Foreign Affairs

Thu December 8th 2022, 3:30 - 5:00pm
Encina Hall, William J. Perry Conference Room
616 Jane Stanford Way, Stanford, CA 94305
ethics and political violence logo 22-23

We cannot understand much of anything about power politics without morality. Yet up to this point we have tried to do just that. By turning our attention to how states respond to being wronged rather than when they do right and realizing the moral basis of the groups that interact in foreign affairs, I show that morality is virtually everywhere in international relations – in the perception of threat, the persistence of conflict, the judgment of domestic audiences, and the articulation of expansionist goals. The inescapability of our moral impulses owes to their evolutionary origins in helping individuals solve recurrent problems in their anarchic environment. Rather than a transcendence of material reality, morality is material reality. 

About the Speaker: Brian C. Rathbun is Professor of Political Science and International Relations at the University of Southern California. He is the author of four other books on international affairs and is a distinguished scholar of the International Studies Association. His latest book with Cambridge University Press, Reasoning of State, won the 2020 award for best book on foreign policy from the American Political Science Association.

This event is part of our Ethics & Political Violence series jointly sponsored by the McCoy Family Center for Ethics in Society and the Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC). The series of seminars and public lectures features philosophers, lawyers, historians, social scientists, human rights activists, soldiers and political leaders grappling with vexing moral questions raised by uses of violence in international relations and domestic politics.