Fall 2013

The Moral Significance of National Borders

Listed in: Philosophy, as PHIL-475


Daniel A. Koltonski (Section 01)


Despite some movement towards increasing political integration (particularly in Europe) in recent years, the world is still generally organized into separate political territories with precise borders between them.  These political territories—"states"—organize in important ways the lives of those who reside within those borders, including their interactions both with one another and with those outside the borders.  And they usually claim that the vast majority of these people—"citizens"—owe them allegiance. 

In this seminar, we will consider several moral questions that arise in this sort of global situation: Do people in developed countries owe the poor in developing countries a demanding duty of aid, a duty that holds regardless of state borders?  Or do they owe it to them because of the harms to citizens of developing countries that the system of separate states does or allows?  Or do features of the political community protected by national borders justify compatriot priority with regard to distributive justice?  Does the domineering power of the contemporary American state over other developing countries give America particular (and particularly demanding) duties towards citizens of developing countries? What might be the value of nationality—to individuals and/or to the community—and what steps, if any, may states take to protect that value?  Is military invasion across borders objectionable because it violates communal autonomy, and, if so, how might that affect the permissibility of humanitarian intervention?  We will read a variety of contemporary answers to these and other questions, and, though the course is organized into sections, many of the issues are interrelated and so themes from one section regarding the moral significance of borders will reappear in later ones.

Requisite: Two courses in Philosophy or consent of the instructor. Limited to 15 students. Fall semester.  Visiting Professor Koltonski.

If Overenrolled: Priority will be given to seniors, then juniors, etc


2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2013