The Ethics of the English School

Molly Cochran

in The Oxford Handbook of International Relations

Published in print August 2008 | ISBN: 9780199219322
Published online September 2009 | | DOI:


The Ethics of the English School

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The English School understands ethics to be central to the study of world politics. However, the English School never aimed to evaluate the moral appropriateness of the choices made by statesmen. The evaluative conclusions drawn by the English School were few. For much of its history, any judgments made by these writers were limited to what they believed necessary to responsible international society management. Today, English School scholars are asking whether international society is viable as a moral concern. However, in doing so, both the long shadow of moral scepticism and the School's recourse to empiricism remain. This article argues that the extent to which the English School tradition can demonstrate promise as an approach to international ethics will rest on whether it develops criteria for moral-philosophical judgment that are workable within the themes and concerns of English School thought. The article addresses the following issues: the extent of the horizon of ethical possibility which exists within international society according to the English School; the degree to which these notions have changed over time within the tradition; and, regarding the concepts of ethics employed within this tradition, one more minimal and one more maximal, the best way to define the English School. In the course of this discussion, reference is made to the relationship of the English School to other approaches such as realism and critical theory, and their conceptions of international ethics.

Keywords: world politics; international relations; international society; moral scepticism; empiricism; international ethics

Article.  5205 words. 

Subjects: Politics ; International Relations ; Political Theory

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