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Teaching Ethics


published on December 1, 2017

Landon Frim

Nature or Atoms? Reframing the IR Curriculum through Ethical Worldviews

The international relations (IR) curriculum has long presented a dichotomy between the so-called “realist” and “idealist” positions. Idealists seek to embody universal norms of justice in foreign policy. Realists, by contrast, see competition between states, the balance of power, and relative advantage as basic to international politics. Though considered polar opposites, both the realist and idealist affirm the primacy of the nation state as a sovereign political unit, and so neither embraces cosmopolitanism in the strongest sense, i.e., the transcendence of national divisions as such. Opening up the IR curriculum to such a radical possibility requires its reframing in terms of underlying, ethical worldviews. Under this lens, it becomes evident that the realist and idealist share far more in common than contemporary policy debates would suggest. It also points us toward the space for an alternate ethical worldview, provided by Stoic rationalism, which is more viable for grounding cosmopolitan thought.

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