UCL Faculty of Laws


‘See and Keep Silent’ - The Morality of Wartime Espionage

23 April 2019, 4:00 pm

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A UCL Colloquium in Law, Politics, and Philosophy

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Hong Kong Alumni Room
UCL Laws, Bentham House
Endsleigh Gardens

Professor Cécile Fabre
All Souls College, Oxford

This event will feature discussion of a pre-circulated paper. If you are not on the mailing list for this series, please email jeffrey.howard@ucl.ac.uk to request the copy of the paper.


Books, of fiction and non-fiction, articles, and policy papers about espionage number in the dozens of thousands. Philosophers, on the other hand, and save for a few exceptions, have not deemed it worthwhile to give it serious attention. In the light of the overwhelmingly voluminous body of work in just war theory, this is surprising, in so far as espionage is a handmaiden of war. My aim, in this paper, is to start filling that gap. I argue that belligerents are justified in engaging in espionage against the enemy a means to thwart rights-violations. This claim may seem obviously true. Yet, I show that it is at odds with both the laws of war and much of the (very scant) literature on intelligence ethics. Having thus defended wartime espionage, I address two important objections against it, namely that it is ineffective, and that it is wrongfully deceitful.


Cécile Fabre is Professor of Political Philosophy and Senior Research Fellow at All Souls College, Oxford University. She has published extensively on just war theory, the ethics of foreign policy, distributive justice, and numerous other topics in political philosophy. Find out more at https://www.cecilefabre.com/


Book your place (free of charge)