BA Politics, Philosophy and Economics / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Ethical Issues in World Politics

Course unit fact file
Unit code POLI30321
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This course involves studying the ethical aspects of various principle issues in contemporary world politics. Its main aim is to introduce students to a number of ethical difficulties surrounding identifying and applying ethical principles to aspects of world politics, such as war and human rights. We will begin by asking to what extent moral action is possible in international politics. As such, the course starts by analysing theoretical approaches to the place of ethics in world politics and then moves to consider specific issues such as war, human rights, and the politics of the human and torture, for example.


The objectives of the course are both general and subject-specific. The former includes the development of oral skills through general discussion and presentations, written and analytical skills through the assessed essay and critical thinking tasks, and research skills from using and assessing enormous amounts of complex and often contradictory material.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course, students should attain the subject-specific objectives of an advanced undergraduate level ability to:

• Identify, describe and analyse the conflicts of value and priority within the dominant approaches to ethics in world politics;

• Identify and critically assess the assumptions that underpin specific ethical positions and arguments;

• Outline, compare and evaluate competing understandings of a specific ethical issue;

• Understand and critically engage with the possibilities and limits of universality in world politics;

• Develop your own ethical position as a critical evaluation of both theories and practices of ethics in world politics.

Teaching and learning methods

The course will be taught based on one weekly lecture (2 hours) plus one interactive tutorial per week over ten weeks. The tutorials have been carefully designed as a form of inquiry-based learning (EbL). They provide you with many opportunities to participate, discuss, apply, enhance and problematise your knowledge. The amount of knowledge you will gain from the tutorial experience depends on your preparation, willingness to participate and ability to share information. Learning is deep, dynamic, participatory, and a group endeavour, including your peers as well as the course convenor. Tutorial readings are listed under each subject heading in the course guide. There will be ten tutorial meetings during the term.

Assessment methods

Course Content Engagement, 8 x Ethical Issues Journal Entries worth 30%

Article Review, 1100 words worth 20%

Essay, 2750 words worth 50%

Feedback methods

Politics staff will provide feedback on written work within 15 working days of submission.

Students should be aware that all marks are provisional until confirmed by the external examiner and the final examinations boards in June.

For modules that do not have examination components the marks and feedback for the final assessed component are not subject to the 15 working day rule and will be released with the examination results.

You will receive feedback on assessed essays in a standard format. This will rate your essay in terms of various aspects of the argument that you have presented your use of sources and the quality of the style and presentation of the essay. If you have any queries about the feedback that you have received you should make an appointment to see your tutor.

On assessments submitted through Turnitin you will receive feedback via Blackboard. This will include suggestions about ways in which you could improve your work in future. You will also receive feedback on non-assessed coursework, whether this is individual or group work. This may be of a more informal kind and may include feedback from peers as well as academic staff

Recommended reading

Pin-Fat, Véronique (2010) Universality, Ethics and International Relations: A Grammatical Reading. London: Routledge.

Bell, Duncan (2010) Ethics and World Politics. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (Includes further online resources)

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Sabrina Villenave Unit coordinator

Additional notes

This course is available to all students.


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