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INT6080 The Ethics of War and Peace (10 sp)

In this course, we will delve into the contents and background of one of the most important developments of late 20th century thought about war: namely, the resurgence of the “just war” idea.

About the Course:

The last 100 years have seen brutal wars, murderous totalitarian regimes, genocide, and nuclear weapons. But we have also witnessed an unprecedented development of international law, a great resurgence of interest in international ethics and the ethics of war, humanitarian initiatives on a large scale, and the founding of international organizations such as the United Nations.

The idea of justice in war, and the need to restrain the use of violent force, has a long history in the Western tradition, with interesting parallels in other traditions. It is different from political realism on the one hand and from pacifism on the other, yet shares important traits with both. 

The course will analyze some of the most important contributions to the ethics of war. We will first look at the basic rationale for, and organizing of, the just war idea in modern texts, by focusing on excerpts from Michael Walzer’s seminal Just and Unjust Wars together with other important texts. Thereafter, we will study texts from some key historical figures who have contributed to the ethics of war, before finishing the semester with a return to our own age and current debates. 

The aim of the course is to gain intimate knowledge of the main ethical concepts we need to know in order to be able to debate the morality of using armed force, and to relate this to the quest for stable, peaceful solutions to armed conflict. We will be debating both the question of when to use armed force (ius ad bellum) and how to employ it (ius in bello). Since these questions are intimately related to questions about how war can end peacefully, and indeed how war can be avoided overall, we have decided to call the course “The Ethics of War and Peace”, even though our focus is on the use of armed force. 


  • gain knowledge of the historical development of international law pertaining to armed conflict, both ius ad bellum and ius in bello
  • discuss the concept of “just war”
  • explain how the just war tradition is different from political realism on the one hand and from pacifism on the other


  • evaluate arguments for and against use of armed force (ius ad bellum)
  • evaluate the ius in bello criteria for right conduct of war
  • use historical and contemporary examples to illustrate ethical dilemmas of war
  • refer to key literature on the ethics of war and peace


  • gain knowledge of central ethical concepts needed for discussing the ethics of the use of armed force


  • compulsory participation in discussions in the digital classroom


  • take home exam (individual essay); memo: 2500 words (+/- 10 % excluding front page and reference list) (60 % of the grade, grading system A – F)
  • 3 hour written exam (40 % of the grade, grading system A – F)