ILO L215: Ethics in the Practice of Foreign Affairs
Many of an individual's most morally significant decisions and actions occur at work. This is true whether one works in the private sector, the public sector, or the NGO sector. The normative weightiness of such decisions is particularly high in many of the careers to which Fletcher students aspire. At the same time, it is well established that social and organizational context plays a key role in shaping behavior, including by shaping an individual's behavior in ways that can run contrary to her independent ethical judgment. In other words, it is extremely difficult to think and act ethically at work. Detached from the professional context, graduate school provides a crucial opportunity for moral reflection at a moment when that reflection can have a real impact in shaping future action. Seizing on that opportunity, this course wrestles with the key dimensions of moral difficulty likely to face those working at the transnational or international level (broadly construed). We begin with philosophical foundations, covering the three key modes of moral reasoning: consequentialism, deontological ethics, and virtue ethics. We then turn in the second part of the course to thinking through problems at the intersection of morality and psychology, understanding the concept of moral dimensions (culpability, blame, and burden), and clarifying the distinction between justification and excuse. The third and dominant part of the course isolates and focuses on the most vexing normative issues and challenges likely to arise for those working in the transnational realm. Among others, this will include wrestling with the dilemmas involved in negotiating with criminal or terrorist actors, doing business in a context of mass corruption, prioritizing recipients of humanitarian aid, engaging in whistleblowing or disobedience, and deciding whether to serve in an administration engaged in nefarious. The objective of the course is to empower students with the philosophical tools to shape their professional lives in such a way that they can ultimately reflect back upon their careers and endorse them morally from a position of honest and searching self-evaluation.