Course Description and Syllabus

Nature and Aims of the Course

This course examines the basic moral claims, conflicts and dilemmas that arise in a global context. These claims, conflicts and dilemmas concern questions of human rights and global distributive justice, as well as questions of justice in the relations between states.

In discussing these questions, we shall take for granted certain facts about the international world: that states exist, lay claim to territories, and exercise coercive power; that states protect, but also violate, human rights; that conflicts, including armed conflicts, arise between states, and between groups within and across states. We shall be trying to explain, not these facts themselves, but our moral reactions to them, and the duties and claims of justice that we think states, groups, and individuals have with respect to one another in the various contexts that these facts create.

Many of the moral dilemmas to be discussed in this course can be understood as conflicts between different kinds of moral right. We shall therefore discuss the concept of a right and, more generally, the contrast between deontological and consequentialist forms of moral reasoning. We shall then move on to apply these conceptual tools to several interrelated groups of ethical questions that arise in a global context:

  • What duties, if any, are owed by richer nations to poorer nations? Is justice within a state different from justice between states?
  • How, if at all, can a state come to have a moral right to govern and control a particular territory? What are the ethical grounds of national self-determination? Under what conditions states can be thought to have a just claim to resources that are within their borders? Should countries have a duty to open their borders to immigration flows?
  • How does the concept of justice bear on cases of violent conflict? Can an act of war ever count as just? Do combatants, and terrorists differ in their degrees of moral immunity to attack?

We shall discuss these issues with the help of a selection of readings which, as well as constituting influential contributions by prominent political philosophers, are representative of particular (often conflicting) ethical standpoints. You are encouraged to adopt a critical approach to these readings, and are expected to come to the seminar discussions prepared with critical points.

The course aims to provide students with:

  • knowledge of the main dilemmas and arguments that have featured in contemporary ethical debates in the above-mentioned areas;
  • understanding of the philosophical theories behind those dilemmas and arguments;
  • an improved ability to make clear and informed ethical assessments of the political and legal scenarios and decisions studied in other, less normatively oriented courses;
  • an improved ability to engage in ethical debates with efficacy and argumentative


New topics will be introduced during the professor’s lecture on Thursday, then expanded upon during the seminar portion the following Wednesday. In this way, students have the opportunity to prepare to discuss and debate each new topic in depth. The book Global Distributive Justice: An Introduction by Chris Armstrong (Cambridge University Press 2012) will be used as a reference throughout the course.

Introduction (13 Feb)

Lecture: Introduction. Global Distributive Justice what and why (02/13)

Required reading:

Global Distributive Justice, CH 1


Unit 1 (14 & 20 Feb): Global Distributive Justice

Lecture: Rawls’ Law of Peoples and his critics (14/02)

Demo Seminar: Rawls’ Law of Peoples and his critics (20/02)

Required reading:

-John Rawls, The Law of Peoples, intro, Part 1 and Part 2


Unit 2 (21 & 27 Feb): Deontological Reasoning, Consequentialism and Duties

Lecture: Utilitarianism and Global Poverty (21/02)
Seminar: Deontological reasoning, consequentialism and rights (27/02)

Required Reading:

-Peter Singer “Famine, Affluence and Morality” Philosophy and Public Affairs, vol. 1, no. 1 (Spring 1972), pp. 229-243


Unit 3 (28 Feb & 6 March): Global Egalitarianism

Lecture: Global Egalitarianism: relational vs non-relational approaches (28/02)

Seminar: Global Egalitarianism: relational vs non-relational approaches (06/03)

Required reading:

-Beitz, Charles R. “Justice and International Relations.” Philosophy & Public Affairs, vol. 4, no. 4, 1975, pp. 360–389. JSTOR,

-Global Distributive Justice, CH 2


Unit 4 (7 & 13Mar): Minimalist Approaches

Lecture: Minimalism and Coercion (07/03)

Seminar: The scope of Justice: Coercion and the State (13/03)

Required Reading:

-Thomas Nagel, (2005) “The Problem of Global Justice”, Philosophy & Public Affairs, 33: 113–147)

Global Distributive Justice, CH 3


Unit 5 (14 & 20 Mar): Nationalism and Global Justice  

Lecture: Nationalism and Global Justice (14/03)

Seminar: Nationalism Global Justice and Egalitarianism (21/03)

Required Reading:

-KC Tan (2002). “Liberal Nationalism and Cosmopolitan Justice”. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, 5(4), 431-461.


Unit 6 (21 & 27 Mar): Human Rights

Lecture: Human Rights (21/3)

Seminar: Toward a theory of human rights (27/03)

Required Reading:

-Cohen, Joshua “Minimalism About Human Rights: The Most We Can Hope For?”

-Global Distributive Justice, CH 4


 (3 Apr): Mid-term break

Special lecture: A guide to essay writing for the global Justice exam (04/03)


Unit 7 (10-11 Apr): Just War Theory

Lecture: Just War theory (10/04)

Lecture: Just War theory and Terrorism (11/04)

Required Reading:

-Walzer, Michael. “The Moral Standing of States: A Response to Four Critics.” Philosophy & Public Affairs, vol. 9, no. 3, 1980, pp. 209–229. JSTOR, JSTOR,


Unit 8 (17 Apr): Terrorism

Seminar: Just War Theory and Terrorism (17/04)

Required Reading:

Talal Asad, Thinking about terrorism and just war, Cambridge Review of International Affairs Volume 23, 2010 – Issue 1


Unit 9 (24 Apr – 2 May) Global Justice and Natural resources

Lecture: Global Justice and natural resources (24/04)

Seminar: Global Justice and natural resources (02/05)

Required Reading:

-Wenar, Leif “Property Rights and the Resource Curse”, Philosophy & Public Affairs (2008), Volume 36, Issue 1, pages 2–32

 Global Distributive Justice, CH 5


Unit 10 (8- 9 May): Global Justice and Migration

Lecture: Global Justice and migration (08/05)

Seminar: Global justice and migration (09/05)

Required Reading:

-Carens, J. (1987). Aliens and Citizens: The Case for Open Borders. The Review of Politics, 49(2), 251-273. doi:10.1017/S0034670500033817

 Global Distributive Justice, CH 8

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