Module Catalogue 2019/20

POL3116 : The Ethics of War

  • Offered for Year: 2019/20
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Adrienne de Ruiter
  • Owning School: Geography, Politics & Sociology
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
Semester 1 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0
Pre Requisites
Pre Requisite Comment


Co Requisites
Co Requisite Comment



This module addresses the ethics of war in both contemporary and historical contexts. It questions whether we can ever legitimately go to war and, if so, under what circumstances it may be permissible. The module begins by looking at and critiquing ethical frameworks such as Just War Theory, Deontological and Consequentialist Ethics, Virtue Ethics, and Pacifism. All of these are reinforced with several empirical foci, such as Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism, Religious Wars, International Military Intervention, Nuclear War, Drone Warfare and Cyberwarfare. By the end of the module, students will have strong theoretical and empirical knowledge on war and be able to assess whether war is, or can ever be, ethical.

Outline Of Syllabus

The module will draw upon a number of sources and methods to establish when war (if ever) is morally justified, and when particular acts of international violence are justified. It will cover the following topics and questions:

Just War Theory

- When is war permissible?
- How should we conduct ourselves within war?
- What are our responsibilities post-war?

Ethical Approaches to War
-       Does the principle and intentions of a war matter as much as consequences?
-       Do the ‘virtues’ of combatants, or those making decisions about war, matter?
-       Is war inherently wrong? Is pacifism more legitimate?
-       Is there any way to actually assess the ethics of war?

Military Intervention

- Where has military intervention taken place? What justifications were offered?
-       Is military intervention ever justified? Or is it just imperialism?
-       Should we encourage overthrowing autocratic regimes through military means?
-       Is Military intervention in anticipation of future threats legitimate?

Religion and War

-       How do different religions justify or condemn war?
-       Does religion make an ethical predisposition in favour or war more likely?
-       Can religious ethics help us assess wars today?


- What is terrorism? Why is it so hard to define?
-       Can terrorism ever be justified? Or is it inherently wrong?
-       How far should counter-terrorism go?

The Future of War: Drone Strikes, Targeted Killing, and Cyberwarfare

- Do UAVs change our fundamental assessments of war?
-       Is it justifiable to just extra-judicial strikes to eliminate threats?
-       Is Cyberwarfare a more desirable form of war?

Learning Outcomes

Intended Knowledge Outcomes

- Knowledge of key concepts in analytical political philosophy, such as ‘rights’ and ‘liability’.
- Knowledge of the methods used to determine justice in war.
- An understanding of the key disagreements between philosophers working on the ethics of war.
- An understanding of the methodology of analytical political philosophy as applied to theories of war, terror, colonialism, and international justice.

Intended Skill Outcomes

- The ability to carefully formulate a persuasive argument, and the ability to distinguish between a claim, premise and conclusion.
- The ability to formulate multiple arguments in support of a single claim.
- The ability to raise examples in support of arguments and claims.
- The ability to rebut and critique arguments in the literature.
- The ability to collaborate with fellow students to create a solid case in support of a given claim.
- The ability to apply key concepts, such as ‘rights’ and ‘liability’ to cases involving war and terror.

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture221:0022:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching101:0010:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesDrop-in/surgery41:004:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study1164:00164:00N/A
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

Lectures will convey key themes and issues noted in learning outcomes, and seminars will provide opportunity to discuss these in greater depth.

Reading Lists

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Description Length Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Written Examination901A45Essay style examination
Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Essay1M452,000 word essay
Prof skill assessmnt1M10Seminar participation
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

The aim of the essay is for students to demonstrate their ability to present a set of clear and rigorous arguments in support of a central claim. Students will be given the option of giving an oral presentation to the class, outlying their plans for the essay. This presentation will include time for questions and comments from fellow students, helping presenters critically examine their own work and respond to objections. The aim of the exam is to assess students’ abilities to engage with literature outside the scope of their 2,000-word essay.


Past Exam Papers

General Notes


Disclaimer: The information contained within the Module Catalogue relates to the 2019/20 academic year. In accordance with University Terms and Conditions, the University makes all reasonable efforts to deliver the modules as described. Modules may be amended on an annual basis to take account of changing staff expertise, developments in the discipline, the requirements of external bodies and partners, and student feedback. Module information for the 2020/21 entry will be published here in early-April 2019. Queries about information in the Module Catalogue should in the first instance be addressed to your School Office.