Firm Foundations? Moral Foundations in a Pluralist International Society

Stream: Panel 43 - International Relations: Moral Claims and Global Politics 
Date: Tuesday, 27 September 2016
Time: 2.00 pm – 3.30 pm


Does it matter how we arrive at particular moral positions when thinking about ethics in International Relations? This paper argues that in a pluralist international society where there are multiple and competing moral positions, the process of how moral principles are formulated and founded is just as important as the discussion of the moral principles themselves. Beginning with Hedley Bull’s work on moral argumentation, and moving to subsequent developments in successive generations of English School scholarship, this paper will analyse the methodology of moral argument, a fundamental feature of international society. Importantly, it will argue that moral foundations, which underpin the moral principles that characterise an international society, have an essential role in maintaining that society. Following Bull, I argue that moral argument has two distinct components: a moral principles argument, where substantive moral positions are discussed and debated, and a moral foundations argument, where the grounds for those moral positions (simply assumed to be common in moral principles argument) are themselves discussed. It is this second “meta-ethical” type of moral argument, so often overlooked and neglected in the English School, that is necessary for the preservation of a pluralist international society.


Stephen McGuinness (Presenter), University of New South Wales
I am a third year PhD candidate in the School of Social Sciences at the University of New South Wales, Australia. My research focuses on Hedley Bull’s influence on the moral argumentation of the English School of International Relations.