Postgraduate Modules

The Ethics of Warfare

Module Code

POL 6230

Module Title

The Ethics of Warfare


Level 4




30 credits

Taught by:

Dr Alasdair Cochrane

Module Description:

This module offers a critical engagement with the key debates in just war theory. It begins by examining two important schools of thought which object to the very idea of just war: pacifism and realism. The remainder of the module then addresses just war theory by exploring systematically its component parts: jus ad bellum (just cause for war); jus in bello (justice in war); and jus post bellum (the move from war to peace). In so doing, such controversies as humanitarian intervention, preemptive strikes, terrorism, the status of combatants and noncombatants, and the prosecution of war crimes are all examined in detail.

Module Aims:

This module aims to provide an in-depth examination of the rights of war and peace. By the end of the module, a student will:

  • Have the ability to construct and criticise normative arguments in political thought;
  • Have an in-depth understanding of the normative debates pertaining to the justifiabilty of war, the justified conduct of war, and the transition from war to peace;
  • Demonstrate appropriate cognitive, communicative, and transferable skills, including understanding complex concepts and theories, exercising critical judgement, making effective oral and written presentations, utilising specialist primary and secondary sources, and deepening the capacity for independent learning.

Module Schedule:

1 Introduction
2 Pacifism (objections to the just war 1)
3 Realism (objections to the just war 2)
4 Self defence (jus ad bellum 1)
5 Pre-emption and prevention (jus ad bellum 2)
6 Humanitarian intervention (jus ad bellum 3)
7 Non-combatant immunity (jus in bello 1)
8 The moral equality of combatants (jus in bello 2)
9 Drones and lethal autonomous robots(jus in bello 3)
10 Mercenarism (jus in bello 4)
11 Assigning responsibility (jus post bellum 1)
12 The transition to peace (jus post bellum 2)

Teaching Methods:

  • 12 * 2 hour seminars


  • Essay 1 (2,500 words) - 40% of mark
  • Essay 2 (3,500 words) - 60% of mark

Resources Available:

  • Individual feedback and guidance sessions with module tutors.
  • Detailed 20-page module handbook.
  • Dedicated module site on MOLE2.
  • Extensive library materials, including a wide variety of electronic and digitised resources.

Indicative Reading:

Michael Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations, (New York: Basic Books,1977)

Brian Orend, The Morality of War, (Ontario: Broadview Press, 2006)

M. Evans (ed.), Just War Theory: A Reappraisal. (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2005)

C. A. J. Coady, Messy Morality: The Challenge of Politics, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008)

David Rodin, War and Self-Defense, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003)

Larry May (ed.), War: Essays in Political Philosophy. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008)

Larry May, War Crimes and Just War, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007)

What our Students Say:

"Really enjoyed all the seminars, the tutor made all the topics very easy to understand by handouts, group discussions and notes on the board."

"Group work was very useful; to exchange our views about specific topics. Also, a handout given in every seminar was very useful to complement my understanding of topics."