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The Moral Reality in Realism

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This paper aims to gain a deeper understanding of the different forms of moralism in order to throw light upon debates about the role of morality in international affairs. In particular, the influential doctrine of political realism is reinterpreted as objecting not to a role for morality in international politics, but to the baneful effects of moralism. This is a more sympathetic reading than that usually given by philosophers to the realist doctrines. I begin by showing the ambiguity and elusiveness of realist claims about morality in politics and then distinguish six forms of moralism, understood as a distortion of genuine morality: moralism of scope, of imposition, of abstraction, of absolutism, of inappropriate explicitness, and of deluded power. I argue that most of these are relevant to typical realist claims and can make their objections more plausible. But, though realists can be interpreted as rightly drawing attention to the dangers of moralism in international and national affairs, their conflation of moralism with morality wrongly leads them to an exaltation of the pursuit of national interest and to the rejection of policies and judgements that are not in fact moralistic.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: August 1, 2005


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