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


Admission requirements

This course is only available for students in the BA International Studies who have succesfully completed the second year elective course.
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 written 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

Lecture, seminar style discussion and supervised research.

Course Load

Total course load for the course: 10 EC x 28 hours= 280 hours:

  • Hours spent on attending lectures: 24

  • Hours spent on weekly readings: 120

  • Hours spent on weekly assignments: 26

  • Hours spent on research + proposal final paper: 50

  • Hours spent on final paper: 60

Assessment method

Weekly assignments, and a final paper of approx. 4-6,000 words (excluding tables and bibliography).
Note: The maximum possible grade to be obtained for re-submission of the final essay is a 6.0


Blackboard will be used quite a bit, please check regularly. We will use blackboard for:
1) Distribution of the readings
2) Assigning + handing in assignments, and for receiving feedback.
3) Pointing students to additional readings, postcasts, events, etc.
4) Announcing changes in the schedule.
For tutorial groups: please enroll in blackboard after your enrolment in uSis
Students are requested to register on Blackboard for this course.

Reading list

In this course we’ll read state-of-the-art articles and (selected readings from) books in the contemporary literature. These primary sources will be supplemented with secondary literature. The details will be announced in the syllabus, but examples of text we’ll use are capita selecta from:

  • John Rawls, Justice as Fairness

  • John Rawls, The Law of Peoples

  • Simon Caney, Justice beyond borders

  • Chris Armstrong, Global Justice: An Introduction

  • Catriona McKinnon, Issues in Political Theory

  • Jefferson McMahan, The Ethics of Killing in War

  • David Miller, National Responsibility and Global Justice

  • Lea Ypi, Global Justice and Avantgarde Political Agency

  • Thomas Pogge, World Poverty and Human Rights

  • Amartya Sen, Development as Freedom

  • Michael Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars

  • Jonathan Wolff, An Introduction to Political Philosophy

And articles like:

  • Axel Gosseries, ‘Historical Emissions and Free-Riding’

  • Onora O’Neill, ‘The Dark side of Human Rights’

    *Onora O’Neill, ‘Justice and Agents of Justice’ - Debra Satz, ‘’What do we Owe to the Global Poor’

  • Charles Beitz, ‘Human Rights as Common Concerns’

  • David Enoch, ‘Why I am an Objectivist about Ethics (And Why You are Too)’

  • Michael Blake, ‘Distributive Justice, State Coercion and Autonomy’

  • Martha Nussbaum, ‘Women and the Law of Peoples’


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


T. Meijers MA, email