Lunch seminar with Lorenzo Gasbarri

Virtue Argumentation and the International Court of Justice


One of the reasons to turn to ethics for describing global governance is that positive rules are ‘not good enough’. Rules have a difficult job in constraining the interpreter, regardless of whether they are perceived as formal law or as argumentative instances, accumulated trends of past decisions, coercive techniques of violence that reproduce social hierarchies. Scholarship on legal interpretation has described the process and the extent by which the indeterminacy of law becomes a source of norm creation. These analyses conclude that the study of the international society by the only means of its rules is not good enough to describe, and eventually prescribe, the behaviour of international actors.

From this starting point derives the attempt to describe legal choices also in terms of ethical choices, and to expose how the functioning of international law is inextricably linked to the individual capacity to perceive what is right and what is wrong. The intention of this research is not to undermine the importance of formal rules, but to describe how individual choices explain and valorise their indeterminacy.

Normative ethics, and in particular virtue ethics, has the merit to put individual choices at the centre of the investigation. Judicial virtues, and their distinction between moral and intellectual qualities, provide a method that unravels the inner mechanism of decision-making. They focus on what should be expected by an international judge, giving sense to the requisite of “high moral character” enshrined in the statute of many international courts. I will focus on the nature of legal argumentation in order to expose the role of ethics in the process of decision-making performed by judges of the International Court of Justice.

All interested are welcome to attend. Registration is not necessary.