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Elective: Cosmopolitics: Ethics and International Politics, Theory and Practice


Admission requirements

This course is only available for third year students in the BA International Studies.
The number of participants is limited to 25.


Our world is one of great inequalities. Many people live in extreme poverty, whereas others live in great affluence and abundance. Some people have many possibilities to lead good lives, whereas others have very few. Inequalities exists both within states as well as between them, but they are treated very differently. Many states spend tremendous amounts of money distributing resources among their citizenry. This, many will feel, is what is required as a matter of justice. But we spend much less on addressing problems outside of our borders. The Netherlands, spending a lot on this compared to other countires, spends about 0,7% of it’s GDP on development aid. Given that there are much more people who are badly off outside of the Netherlands than within, one may be surprised that we spent so little on this. For example, there are about 2600.000.000 people living on less than 2 dollars a day (that is 2,6 billion!). One may think, as several philosophers have argued, that we have special duties of justice to our compatriots. But what – if anything – can justify this partial treatment? And, do these special duties mean we can ignore massive poverty and inequality abroad?

The question of international inequality and poverty is an example of one of the pressing issues in international politics that will be discussed in this course. Do we have special obligations to co-nationals? When is it permissible to start a war, and what means can one permissibly use in war? How should we deal with international war-crimes? Are current limits on migration justified? What should we do about global poverty? How should we address issues like climate change and resource depletion on an international level? What are the obligations of individuals in international politics?

This course has three main parts. The first part consists of a very brief introduction into mainstream political philosophy, which takes the state to be the proper scope of principles of justice. In the second part of course we will ask what the proper scope of principles of justice is: do principles of justice apply only among co-nationals, or beyond borders too? This is the debate of nationalism versus cosmopolitanism. In the third part, we’ll move to concrete issues in international politics: migration, ethics of war, international courts, climate change, human rights, global poverty, international trade, odious debt, etc. Students will have a say in which topics we’ll be discussing.

The key questions of this course are normative. We will not primarily be concerned with looking into how the international system works, but we’ll be thinking about how it should function: what are the most pressing injustices in the world, how can they be solved, and who should solve them?

Course objectives

The elective courses for International Studies are designed to teach students how to deal with state-of-the-art literature and research questions. They are chosen to enhance the students’ learning experience by building on the interdisciplinary perspectives they have developed so far, and to introduce them to the art of academic research. They are characterised by an international or comparative approach.

Academic skills that are trained include:

Oral presentation skills:

  1. to explain clear and substantiated research results;
  2. to provide an answer to questions concerning (a subject) in the field covered by the course
    a. in the form of a clear and well-structured oral presentation;
    b. in agreement with the appropriate disciplinary criteria;
    c. using up-to-date presentation techniques;
    d. aimed at a specific audience;
  3. to actively participate in a discussion following the presentation.

Collaboration skills:

  1. to be socio-communicative in collaborative situations;
  2. to provide and receive constructive criticism, and incorporate justified criticism by revising one’s own position;
  3. adhere to agreed schedules and priorities.

Basic research skills, including heuristic skills:

  1. to collect and select academic literature using traditional and digital methods and techniques;
  2. to analyze and assess this literature with regard to quality and reliability;
  3. to formulate on this basis a sound research question;
  4. to design under supervision a research plan of limited scope, and implement it using the methods and techniques that are appropriate within the discipline involved;
  5. to formulate a substantiated conclusion.

Written presentation skills:

  1. to explain clear and substantiated research results;
  2. to provide an answer to questions concerning (a subject) in the field covered by the course
    a. in the form of a clear and well-structured oral presentation;
    b. in agreement with the appropriate disciplinary criteria;
    c. using relevant illustration or multimedia techniques;
    d. aimed at a specific audience.


The timetable is available on the BA International Studies website.

Mode of instruction

Seminars are held every week, with the exception of the midterm exam week. This course includes supervised research.

Course Load

Total course load for this course is 10 EC (1 EC = 28 hours), this equals 280 hours, broken down by:

  • Attending lectures: 2 hours per week x 12 weeks = 24 hours

  • Time for studying the compulsory literature and completing weekly assignments (8 hours per week): 96 hours

  • Preparation for presentations: 16 hours

  • Writing the final research essay (including reading / research): 134 hours

Assessment method

Assessment & Weighing

Partial grade Weighing
In-class participation 10%
In-class presentation 10%
Weekly web posting (2A4) 30%
Final research essay (5,000 words) 50%

End grade

To successfully complete the course, please take note that the end grade of the course is established by determining the weighted average.


Students who have been active participants in class and submitted the final paper on time, but scored an overall insufficient mark, are entitled to a resit. For the resit, students are given a chance to hand in a new version of the final paper.
In case of resubmission of the final essay (insufficient grade only) the final grade for the essay will be lowered as a consequence of the longer process of completion. The deadline for resubmission is 10 working days after receiving the grade for the final essay.

Retaking a passing grade

Please consult the Course and Examination Regulations 2017 – 2018.

Exam review

How and when an exam review takes place will be determined by the examiner. This review will be within 30 days after official publication of exam results.


Blackboard will be used for tutorial groups. Students are requested to enroll on Blackboard for this course, but only after correct enrolment in uSis.

Reading list

  • Required readings will be announced on Blackboard.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

General information about uSis can be found here.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


S. Harb MA, MPhil

When contacting the lecturer, please include your full name, student number and tutorial group number.


The deadline for submission of the final essay is 15 June 2018.