I will be arguing against a school of thought and an epistemology. The school of thought is ‘scientific neorealism’, as it is called in the study of international relations. This perspective is shaped by the insistence that ethics and international politics have nothing to do with one another, save insofar as morality is brought in as window dressing in order to disguise what is really going on: the clash of narrowly self-interested powers. The world of international relations is construed as a zone of self-help in a Hobbesian clash of a war of all against all. For more than twenty-five years now, I have argued that, to the contrary, ethics does not stop at the water's edge and morality is not silent during war.
The epistemology that I will contest is not so much argued against up front as challenged by a narrative that makes an antipositivist case. Contrary to the presuppositions of the political science in which I was trained, description and evaluation are not entirely separate activities. We do not layer evaluations onto a neutral description; rather, moral evaluation is embedded in our descriptions. How we describe is itself often a moral act. This is a case made eloquently in a book that seems to have disappeared from view, Julius Kovesi's Moral Notions. The argument against positivism is also an argument against an account of moral evaluation named ‘emotivism’, which holds, roughly, that our moral evaluations are not rationally defensible and bear no serious cognitive content.
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