Department of Political Science


The Ethics of Counter-Terrorism

Course Code


Course Tutor

Dr Jeffrey Howard (Department of Political Science)


One 3,000 word essay

Credit Value


About this course

This module is an advanced study of various problems in normative political and moral philosophy that bear on counter-terrorism policy. It explores a series of questions about the moral principles that should guide and constrain the state’s efforts to prevent terrorist attacks on its citizens. It begins by assessing terrorism itself. What is terrorism, and what makes it morally distinctive among various forms of violence? Is terrorism necessarily wrongful, or could it be morally justified under certain conditions? The module then proceeds to examine a range of debates about the various means that state authorities have employed to prevent terrorism. Is torture of suspected terrorists ever justified? Is bulk collection of metadata a violation of individual rights? Under what conditions is it permissible to surveil citizens’ communications? Are police ever justified in using ethnic, racial, or religious profiling? What distinguishes permissible sting operations of suspected terrorists from impermissible “entrapment” operations? Is it permissible to detain a person suspected of terrorism even if he or she has not yet perpetrated an offence? Is it morally wrong for the state to attempt to alter its citizens’ moral and religious beliefs through “de-radicalisation” programmes? We will argue with each other about these questions in the context of ongoing scholarly debates in political philosophy, applying what we learn to related controversies as they arise in real-world politics.

Some previous coursework in political theory/philosophy is highly recommended. Students without such previous coursework may find the module difficult.