Main point of Welch's "Can we think systematically about ethics and statecraft " is: identify the ‘moral standards’ with which we can criticize the actions of leaders and politics, by asking the following question: can we think systematically about ethics and statecraft? And if so, how?
- moral theory: helps us think systematically about ethical matters
à provides guides for resolving tensions + instructs us how to give answers to difficult moral problems
à can be seen in 2 ways:
1. Moral theory as a means of disciplining our moral judgements: we should treat moral theory as our guide: moral judgements are thus subservient to moral theory.
2. Moral theory as subservient to moral judgements
à Rawls: moral theory is an attempt to describe our moral capacity à we will seek to adjust our moral principles so that they make sense of our powerful moral convictions. BUT: whose moral sense do we seek to articulate??
- we can also reason in accordance with ethical traditions like the natural law tradition or the Christian tradition
à they permit good analysis of often very complex moral issues
HOWEVER: - conclusions reached by only reasoning with a particular ethical tradition can only be paired with adherents to that ethical tradition: old ethical traditions might be unable to reason systematically about other cases with each other.
- modern societies often contain a variety of competing ethical tradition: political leaders must therefore confront the question of which of those traditions to follow à BUT: no ethical tradition can answer which tradition to follow.
- We are left with:
1. seek alternative basis for rendering systematic ethical judgements
2. Give up all hope and live with ethical discourse or attempt to expunge ethical discourse from international affairs: BUT: this does not find the problem and is impossible (human beings see the world through a moral lense)
à option 1 is preferable
- Whether we accept claims on international affairs is solely a function of justification
Rawls: justification is argument addressed to those who disagree, or to ourselves when we are of two minds (..) seeks to convince of the reasonableness of the principles upon which our claims and judgements are founded
- is always addressed to a particular audience for a particular reason
- will always fail unless resting on claims or principles that the audience already accepts
à the more we restrict the group whose assent we require, the more likely radical disagreements are about leaders’ moral choices from people and groups who proceed from incommensurable ethical premises.
à the less we restrict the group whose assent we require, the more difficult it will be justifying our actions + policies, and the weaker our ethical foundations are.
QUESTION: what is the appropriate audience for an ethical justification of state action?
- Universalism (Kant, liberals): all rational autonomous moral agents must assent (no restricted groups)
- Islam: requires only the assent of the faithful
Conclusion: turning to particular traditions can’t help us
- It is also not enough to say that leaders should stick to their own principles in order to act ethically in international affairs (look at Hitler)
- if we are to implement ethical standards on society of states, states would only preach own perspective.
- If we are to implement universal ethical standards, they would have to be very weak standards, seeing as there are so many different ethical views.
Conventionalism as a long-term alternative to foundationalism
Foundationalism: deduced from basic beliefs, can be used justify certain beliefs
Conventionalism: grounded on societal agreement rather than external belief à search for minimal standards of ethical conduct in international affairs.
à is based on conventionalist moral theory: a theory based on a fact of agreement between two or more parties. Conventionalism:
1. has authorities only to those who regard it has authoritative.
BUT: is it moral or bargaining? E.g. a developing country can agree with the authority, but can disagree with the costs
2. its justification is straightforward: common denominator, premises accepted by audience
BUT: it is unknown how or when parties agree.
3. It feats neatly with prevailing norms of state sovereignty: if states are unwilling to consent to something, they do not have to
4. is attractive regardless of purpose of moral theory: there is a fixed moral compass, we can more easily discipline disagreeing judgements + we have the ability to map moral judgements in IR.
Conventionalism has contributed to the grow of international regimes (contractual or consensual arrangements that fix norms + standards of behaviour for their members in specific issue areas)
à problem: - states can leave and enter international regimes
- states can ‘agree’ to enter international regimes out of anxiety.
HOWEVER: Welch states that this is not enough to forget about the conventionalist theory:
- great powers must learn to forebear coercing weaker states to ‘agree’ out of anxiety: must stop behave like great powers. Even though this may be too much to ask, the willingness of the great powers to not abuse their position is useful to see how much they are willing to promote moral order
à e.g. pluralistic security communities North Atlantic, Scandinavia, Australia show that when larger states are willing to cultivate social aspects of international society (interacting with smaller powers on terms of mutual concern) all parties benefit.
In difficult moral cases however, we must address our existing moral commitments ßàgoes against conventionalism.