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Morality, care, and international law

DOI: 10.3402/egp.v4i3.8405

Keywords: international law , the ethics of care , moral theory , political theory , social contract , states , groups , Hobbes , Kant , Locke

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Whether we should respect international law is in dispute. In the United States, international law is dismissed by the left as merely promoting the interests of powerful states. It is attacked by the right as irrelevant and an interference with the interests and mission of the United States. And it follows from the arguments of many liberals that in the absence of world government the world is in a Hobbesian state of nature and international law inapplicable. This article reviews the thinking of Kant, Locke, and Rawls, among others and shows how arguments against respect for international law can be answered. It questions arguments based on the analogy between states and individuals, and between international law as it has developed and law based on an ideal social contract between individuals. It then turns to the ethics of care, a recent addition to moral theory, and examines its major characteristics and recommendations. It considers how the ethics of care would view international law and the guidance this moral approach could provide for international relations. The article shows how the ethics of care is compatible with various current trends, and how thinking about globalization and greater international interdependence would benefit from greater attention to it. The article argues that the ethics of care would clearly support respect for international law as it has developed, but that it would even more strongly support addressing current problems in ways that would, in the longer term, make appeals to law and its enforcements ever less necessary.


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