• Unit 2: Origins of the Contemporary Justice and Rights Discourse

    In this unit, we discuss foundational works for the contemporary debate surrounding concepts of global justice. We explore notions of justice based on an existing and unchanging natural order with justice born out of necessity or utility. We also address justice as an integral part of the progression of human nature. We introduce challenges inherent in establishing the legitimacy and authority of international law. Finally, we address the "state of nature" and the role justice plays in the international order based on state sovereignty.

    Completing this unit should take you approximately 2 hours.

    • 2.1: Grotius and Natural Right

      Hugo Grotius (1583–1645) was a Dutch philosopher and legal scholar who originated the ideas of natural law and just war. These concepts continue to influence international human rights and humanitarian law today. His influence continues to shape ideas about when and how it is justifiable for states to go to war.

    • 2.2: Hume and Utility

      Utilitarianism is a school of thought that argues that the actions that provide the greatest benefit to the greatest number of people are the most morally just. As you read about this philosophy, consider how its implementation might affect countries, communities, and minority groups. Also, consider: who gets to decide what benefits the greatest number of people? How large must the majority that benefits be for an action to be just? Who gets to have a voice in the decision-making process?

    • 2.3: Kantian Idealism

      Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) was a German philosopher during the European Age of Enlightenment and one of the founders of the German school of idealism. Some of his writing concerned how to establish peace between states and how to create the most morally just form of government.

    • 2.4: The Legitimacy and Authority of International Law

      Following our focus on the philosophical roots of international law in the previous section, we examine positivist legal theory and two international bodies that aim to enforce international law. Legal positivism provides a counterargument to the natural law theory. It argues that law is not naturally connected to morality and rooted in nature, but rather human-made. Pay attention to how positivism influences interpretations of law and legitimacy.

      The International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the International Criminal Court (ICC) are two international institutions that investigate and sometimes try international law cases. As you go through this section, think about these institutions' strengths and limitations in achieving global justice and protecting human rights.

    • 2.5: The State of Nature among Sovereigns

      Many political philosophers imagine a "state of nature" existed before states and national governments were established. Humans supposedly lived in a time of chaos and conflict, of all against all. While history shows no evidence this "state of nature" ever existed, it provides a useful way to think about how humans choose to form different kinds of societies and forms of government. Today, some theorists argue that a chaotic state of nature exists among states because we lack an overarching government or commonly-agreed-upon world order. Consider what this means for the practice of international law and the pursuit of global justice.

    • Unit 2 Assessment

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