Philosophy and the Ethics of Political Violence: Peace, War and Terrorism

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

Course Description

  • Course Name

    Philosophy and the Ethics of Political Violence: Peace, War and Terrorism

  • Host University

    Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

  • Location

    Amsterdam, The Netherlands

  • Area of Study


  • Language Level

    Taught In English

  • Course Level Recommendations


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    Hours & Credits

  • ECTS Credits

  • Recommended U.S. Semester Credits
  • Recommended U.S. Quarter Units
  • Overview

    The aim of this course is to introduce students to the main philosophical and ethical concepts on violence and non-violence, war and peace (-building), and the current phenomenon of terrorism – in the context of a globalized world. Special attention will be given to religiously motivated violence and the potential role of religion in peace-building.

    Learning Objectives
    When finalizing the course, students will have knowledge and understanding of
    - The prospects and problems of the main political-philosophical and ethical concepts of war and peace;
    - The prospects and problems of violent and non-violent peacebuilding concepts;
    - The historical, cultural and economic contexts in which certain approaches concerning war and peace have emerged and have been applied;
    - The prospects and problems of religion as one of the main contributors to violence (terrorism) as well as to non-violent peace (-building) in a globalized world

    For centuries, in the Western World the concepts of war and peace have been developed and discussed in the field of philosophy linked to theology, due to the fact of the corpus christianum (the medieval concept of a unity of church and state). The just-war-theory is the predominant model of reasoning in this tradition, challenged only by some religious minorities who pronounced non-violence as the moral obligation within Christian ethics.

    During the Enlightenment period, this societal unity of political and religious powers begins to fall apart, due to new ways of thinking and reasoning. This has lead the (European) societies into violent (freedom-) struggles within, resulting in a clear separation of “church and state”. This paved the way to secular states on the one hand and religious plurality on the other. Nevertheless, current phenomena like some forms of terrorism, “New Wars” as well as the “Renaissance of the Just War theory” demonstrate, that moral reasoning of religious communities still plays a major role in orienting people of faith – and implicitly also people of no faith – in their ethical judgements. This is not only true for some ethical dilemmas (such as collective self-defense, emergency assistance for populations at risk or violent struggles for political liberty and independence) but also for concepts of non-violent resistance, peace-building, and reconciliation (see Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, World Council of Churches etc.). – In times of economic globalization, cultural diversity, and religious plurality the discourse on war, (non-) violence and peace (-building) finds itself in rapidly changing contexts – and new forums of analysis and engagement.

    Seminar-style with presentations and discussions Attendance mandatory (80%)

    Two written assignment

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