Critical Realism: an Ethical Approach to Global Politics

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My dissertation, Critical Realism: An Ethical Approach to Global Politics, investigates two strands of modern political realism and their divergent ethics, politics, and modes of inquiry: the mid- to late 20th century realism of Hans Morgenthau and E.H. Carr and the scientific realism of contemporary International Relations scholarship. Beginning with the latter, I engage in (1) immanent analysis to show how scientific realism fails to meet its own explanatory protocol and (2) genealogy to recover the normative origins of the conceptual and analytical components of scientific realism. Against the backdrop of scientific realism's empirical and normative shortcomings, I turn to Morgenthau and Carr to appraise what I term their critical realism. I map out the constellation of their political thought by reconstructing the interrelations between (1) the historical crises motivating their writings, (2) their philosophical and methodological criticisms and commitments, (3) their political prescriptions and ethics. My dissertation demonstrates how reading realist texts through the lens of contemporary methodological conventions decisively shapes our theoretical purview, empirical knowledge, and political judgments. Beyond illuminating the underappreciated radical, critical, and historical dimensions of political realism, my dissertation has implications for contemporary debates on international ethics and foreign policy as well as research in political science and political theory.





Lee, Ming-Whey Christine (2009). Critical Realism: an Ethical Approach to Global Politics. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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