Westmont in Northern Europe
Philosophical Reflections on Conflict and Peacemaking
in Modern Europe
There are many ways to study conflict and peacemaking—historically, sociologically, economically, politically, to name just a few. This course will take a distinctively philosophical angle on these issues. We will explore the relationship of several major areas of philosophy—ethics, metaphysics, epistemology and political philosophy— to conflict and peacemaking.
We will examine several intellectual and political movements and key historical moments related to conflict and peacemaking in modern European and consider how philosophical developments, assumptions or implications might have contributed to conflict or peacemaking. As we do, we will discover many of the major questions addressed by the field of philosophy as well as major theoretical approaches to addressing these questions, and the significant historical figures associated with these approaches.
Though our exploration will be primarily philosophical, it will also be richly interdisciplinary. Historical movements, political developments, even religious belief, will always be close at hand, providing case studies for our philosophical reflections. And throughout the course we will discover connections with the literature we are examining in Studies in World Literature.
The course fulfills the Philosophical Reflections Common Contexts requirement of Wesmtont’s General Education program. This element of General Education has three major objectives for students:
- Recognize and articulate foundational questions of philosophy – especially foundational questions of particular interest to Christians – though the emphasis among knowing, being, and value will vary by course.
- Articulate some of the main components of a Christian liberal arts education and the interrelation of philosophy and other areas of academic study in the liberal arts, both in terms of content and the development and application of transferable skills.
- Articulate the relationship between philosophical commitments/academic life and their beliefs, feelings, commitments, and practices as components of an integrated life, considered as a whole.
In addition to these objectives, students will also be able to:
- Articulate the relationship between philosophical topics and the program themes of conflict and peacemaking.
We will accomplish these goals with readings, class discussions, writing assignments, guest lectures and site visits related to the following topics:
- The development of toleration and secularization as responses to religious conflict
- Religious toleration and theories of knowledge
- Toleration, ethical skepticism and ethical relativism
- Religious difference and theories of reality
- Secularization as a peacemaking strategy
- Secularization and epistemology
- Secularization and metaphysics
- The ethics of war, including just war theory, realpolitik, and pacifism
- The ethical and metaethical implications and underpinnings of various positions on the justice of war
- Christianity and the ethics of war
Course Readings (reading list is partial and tentative)
John Locke Letter Concerning Toleration
John Stuart Mill On Liberty
Michael Walzer On Toleration
David Heyd (ed.) Toleration: An Elusive Virtue
John Locke An Essay Concerning Human Understanding
David Wong “Moral Relativism”
Immanuel Kant Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals
Michael Walzer Just and Unjust Wars
John Howard Yoder The Politics of Jesus
John Howard Yoder Nevertheless: The Varieties and Shortcomings of Religious Pacifism
Reinhold Niebuhr Christianity and Power Politics
Immanuel Kant Prolegomena to any Future Metaphysics
John Stuart Mill Utilitarianism
Reflective essays posted to a shared online discussion space (the following topics are still in development).
Students will write a short reflection on the purpose(s) of higher education in general and of Christian liberal arts education in particular, and on their personal goals for their education. (Learning outcomes 2 and 3)
Students will write a short reflection articulating how they relate their learning and their faith. (Learning outcome 3)
Students will write a short reflection the roles that philosophy can play in a Christian liberal arts education, and which of their goals for their college education they will pursue by means of this class. (Learning outcome 2)
Students will write short reflections on readings, class discussions and site visits articulating their own positions on the following topics: (Learning outcomes 1 and 4)
- The 20th Century was marked by the growing presence of cultural and religious minority communities and by the emergence of starkly opposing political philosophies, and European societies responded to these changes in a variety of ways. What is my stance with respect to those whose religious, political or ethical beliefs differ from mine in essential ways? How does my society negotiate such differences?
- Does toleration of differences imply skepticism or relativism about religious or ethical truth?
- In the immediate aftermath of the bombing of Coventry, the Cathedral’s congregation responded with forgiveness and the hope of reconciliation. Could I respond to such an attack in that way? Is such a response morally required? Are there any moral problems with such a response?
- The bombing of Dresden was part of British and American military strategy that targeted the civilian populations. Can such attacks be morally justifiable? If so, on what grounds? If not, what underlying principle/s prohibits them?
- By the end of WWI many saw war as futile and many turned to various forms of pacifism. By the beginning of WWII many saw war as necessary and pacifism as irresponsible. What lessons might I have taken from the experience of WWI and how might I have responded to the rise of Nazism? What role would my faith have played in these responses?
- The Cold War was marked by a policy of nuclear deterrence, the threat of a nuclear attack in response to invasion. How does such a strategy relate to the principles of Just War Theory?
Summative writing project: Drawing on specific instances of conflict and peacemaking in modern Europe, develop your own position on what are our moral requirements and constraints with respect to engaging in conflict and responding to conflict. Your account should give attention to major positions on this question, and special attention to the ways in which religious faith might inform one’s position.
Tests: There will be two tests over the course of the semester, each consisting of two sections: a section of short questions (multiple choice/fill in/short answer) testing students’ knowledge of reading materials and the content of lectures, and an essay section which response to a short article or excerpt from primary source material on topics covered up to that point in the course.
Class participation is essential to each student’s success and to the success of the course as a whole. Class sessions will often begin with questions to students over the reading as a means to determine comprehension of the reading and to encourage student contributions on the topics we address.
Brief reflective essays 30%
Class contributions 15%
Summative writing project 25%
Test #1 15%
Test #2 15%
For the official Westmont description of the meaning of letter grades see:
A brief version of Westmont’s official position on plagiarism:
To plagiarize is to present someone else's work—his or her words, line of thought, or organizational structure—as your own. This occurs when sources are not cited properly, or when permission is not obtained from the original author to use his or her work. Another person's "work" can take many forms: printed or electronic copies of computer programs, musical compositions, drawings, paintings, oral presentations, papers, essays, articles or chapters, statistical data, tables or figures, etc. In short, if any information that can be considered the intellectual property of another is used without acknowledging the original source properly, this is plagiarism.
Please familiarize yourself with the entire Westmont College Plagiarism Policy. This document defines different levels of plagiarism and the penalties for each. It also contains very helpful information on strategies for avoiding plagiarism. It cannot be overemphasized that plagiarism is an insidious and disruptive form of academic dishonesty. It violates relationships with known classmates and professors, and it violates the legal rights of people you may never meet.
Please visit <http://www.westmont.edu/_academics/pages/provost/curriculum/plagiarism> for the entire policy.
Westmont in Northern Europe
Philosophical Reflections on Conflict and Peacemaking in Modern Europe