Ethics Resources for Model UN

Ethics Primers

The Prindle Institute for Ethics has put together a series of “ethics primers” to provide background information on core ethical issues that are relevant to your Model UN cases.  We hope you find these helpful!

Download a primer by clicking on one of the topics below

Justice: An Overview

Almost all UN discussions will involve disputes about some aspect of justice. No matter what case you’re discussing, it would be helpful to familiarize yourself with some fundamental concepts/positions related to justice.

The Ethics of Borders

Many UN policy discussions involving refugees or immigration will be influenced by ethical opinions related to the ethics of borders. 

The Ethics of Globalism

Some view the UN as the most obvious manifestation of a neoliberal effort to guide globalization, called Neoliberal Globalism. This type of globalism is largely a product of neoliberal, capitalist powers that tie the world closer via trade and economic factors. Although this is perhaps the dominant theory of globalization, some see wide inequalities created by this system.

The Ethics of Economic Development

The questions regarding the fair and equal economic development have been characterizing discussion in various UN bodies. With one of the core ethical dilemma often being on who has a right to economic development, and is the concept of economic development even ethical?

The Ethics of Conservation

Many UN policy discussions may be influenced by a variety of underlying ethical issues related to conservation and sustainability. Conservation ethics focuses on what responsibilities do we have to the environment, mainly concerning the ethics of resource use, allocation, exploitation, and protection. There are (at least) two key categories of questions when thinking about conservations. 

The Ethics of Cultural Heritage

Ethical issues related to cultural heritage undergird a lot of UN discussions. One of the core issues is whether there is an intelligible notion of cultural property.

The Ethics of Power

In considering the ethics of power, it is first necessary to understand what power is. Some ethicists consider power to be a kind of resource or social good to get things done despite resistance. Thinking of power as a resource raises questions of justice as to whether it is distributed equitably or not. Some ethicists like to think of power as something that it inherent in relationships or systems by which some people have more advantages and opportunities. You can have power to do things that others do not have (even if you do things without resistance). Again, this still raises the question as to whether or not something should be done to distribute this kind of power more equitably. 

The Ethics of Non-Military Intervention

The United Nations often seeks solutions that require a non-military form of intervention. Intervention can come in the form of aid or cultural intervention. Usually, intervention is used to mitigate a situation of violence or human rights violations. However, there is an ethical consideration of whether or not intervention is harmful to cultural/group autonomy.

The Ethics of International Trade

International trade has recently become a hot button issue in world affairs. Critics on both the far right and far left charge that neoliberal trade agreements, such as NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, as well as groups like the World Trade Organization, benefit the elite at the expense of the working class, pointing out jobs lost as global corporations transfer unskilled labor to take advantage of the cheaper workforce in third-world countries. Proponents of free trade disagree, pointing out perceived advantages in efficiency and overall economic growth that free trade brings. 

Applications of Just War Theory

Many UN discussions involve analyzing the ethics of military use of force. Just War Theory is a classic way to analyze these actions. Recently, ethicists have noted that Just War Theory might might be useful in analyzing other acts of aggression such as cybercrime or violence by non-state actors.

The Ethics of Ownership

Ownership is the right, secured by a lawful claim, to possess, sell, use, or even destroy an item of property in the means that an individual chooses. Ownership could be seen as a step above possession, which is exclusive control over a material or object. The difference between ownership and possession is that although someone is in fact “holding” an object, or have possession of it, that does not mean that they are legally bound with the object. Along with ownership, another key concept is private property rights. Private property is defined as a system that has allocated objects to individuals that have the freedom to exercise and mange as they place, to the exclusion of others. Private property is the acting policy in modern day society that is founded on the right to ownership.

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