Reuniting Ethics and Social Science: The Oxford Handbook of International Relations

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If International Relations as a scholarly endeavor is to remain relevant it must speak to today’s most pressing dilemmas of political action in world politics: theoretically, analytically, and practically. How should we combat terrorism? When, if ever, is humanitarian intervention justified? How should we address the transborder movement of peoples? What is an appropriate response to global climate change? What should the international community do about “failed states”? How should we respond to persistent global poverty and political alienation? How do we reconcile trade liberalization and environmental protection? Who is the “we” that has responsibility for acting in such situations?

If it is to speak to such questions—if it is to be a practical discourse—International Relations needs to be more than an explanatory project; it has to occupy the difficult terrain between empirical and normative inquiry. In whichever context it arises, the question of “how we should act” requires both an appreciation of the political conditions of action and an understanding of the good(s) we wish to achieve. Empirical theory and inquiry contributes to the first of these tasks, but it is normative inquiry that illuminates the second. As E. H. Carr observed long ago, if International Relations as a political science is to speak to the most pressing issues of international political action, it must be a science “not only of what is, but of what ought to be.”

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Category: Essay, Issue 22.3

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