How Do Nations Resolve Ethical Disagreements?
Parties may have different standards of rightness and goodness and give fundamentally different answers to serious moral questions. When groups have different ideas about the good life, they often stress the importance of different things, and may develop radically different or incompatible goals. This can lead to conflict.
Pointing out inconsistency is a regular feature of ethical arguments even among members of the general public. In arguments over the death penalty, individuals who oppose abortion but accept use of the death penalty are often accused of logical contradiction, and anti-death penalty activists urge them to end the inconsistency by altering their views on the death penalty. The simpler version of this charge asserts that the right to life principle settles the question by requiring rejection of both. A more complex version acknowledges that other ethical values may be at stake as well, and its adherents would ask why an anti-abortion supporter of the death penalty believes the right to life should be weighed more heavily than other values at the start of life but not later on. Even in less charged ethical debates, probing the logical consistency of the reasoning behind existing or proposed ethical rules is another way of improving that reasoning.
These transformations are changing much in the world, including, it seems, the shape of organized violence and the ways in which governments and others try to set its limits. One indication of change is the noteworthy decrease in the frequency and death toll of international wars in the 1990s. Subnational ethnic and religious conflicts, however, have been so intense that the first post-Cold War decade was marked by enough deadly lower-intensity conflicts to make it the bloodiest since the advent of nuclear weapons (Wallensteen and Sollenberg, 1996).
It also encourages us to explore the reasons underlying beliefs that differ from our own, while challenging us to examine our reasons for the beliefs and values we hold.
Schelling, T.C. 1960 The Strategy of Conflict. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Stern, P.C., and D.Druckman 1995 Has the earthquake of 1989 toppled international relations theory? Peace Psychology Review 1:109–122.
Wallensteen, P., and M.Sollenberg 1996 The end of international war? Armed conflict 1989–1995. Journal of Peace Research 33:353–370.