Causal Realism & Idealism Essay

Causal Realism & Idealism Essay.

We next part of the chapter the book discusses is Cogito, “I think, therefor I am” means that the act of thinking presupposes the existence of the subject – the thinker. This is important because it requires no other predicates. The mere act of questioning means that there is a questioner. The reading material then moves to the criticisms of cogito. The most universally accepted opinion is that the conclusion is extremely limited. Descartes was incapable to express his doubts. Thus, the attempt to doubt anything would be necessarily self-defeating.

The next theory for discussion is “Representative Realism”. Representative Realism argues that we experience reality indirectly by perceptions that represent the real world. So, if we see a brown table, what we are actually seeing is not the table itself but a representation of it. Criticisms of representative realism argue that it is difficult to clearly define what a real or objective experience might consist of because every description is also another viewpoint.

This is the same with anything, from physical objects to ideas.

The problem then seems to be that if we can only ever experience perceptions of objects (what Locke would have called secondary qualities), who is to say that they actually exist? The author the goes into a discussion of Idealism. Idealism is a group of philosophies which assert that reality, or reality as we can know it, is fundamentally mental, mentally constructed, or otherwise immaterial. There are several criticisms of this theory, starting with hallucinations and dreams. The book uses the example of a guitar, and the visual experience. This whole section is pretty left field, so I won’t try to explain it beyond my knowledge.

Solipsism is the next argument that criticizes representative realism. Solipsism is the view that all exists in my mind and the creation of everything else is of your own invention. The last criticism of representative realism is the “simplest explanation”, this explains that we might want to know what is the cause of these experiences and where did they come from? It argues that it is God, not physical objects that cause us to sense experience. All of this criticism and skepticism of representative realism leads us to Phenomenalism, which is a hypothesis of realism.

Phenomenalism, like idealism, is based on perception. Like Idealism, it argues that our knowledge about the world comes through our senses. Furthermore, it also shifts knowledge about the world away from any talk of “the object itself” and replaces it with our experiences of it. This is difficult to grasp because it is a theory of truth and not just an account of perception. There are two criticisms of Phenomenalism in our book, the first is the difficulty of describing objects, and the second is the objection of solipsism and the Private Language Argument. The chapter then turns to Causal Realism.

Causal realism assumes that the causes of our sense experiences are physical objects in the external world. Causal realism takes as its starting point the observation that the main biological function of our senses is to help us find our way around our environment. It is through our senses that we acquire beliefs about our environment. There are two criticisms of Causal Realism in our book, they are “Experience of Seeing” and “Assumes Real World”. The qualitative aspect of seeing something is pretty self-explanatory and as the old saying goes, “Seeing is believing! The Assumes Real World objection is more towards everyone’s own perception of what’s real and what’s not.

This chapter certainly didn’t lack theories and objections to choose from. I personally learn towards the “seeing is believing” argument. The main criticism of causal realism is that it doesn’t take actual account of what it feels like to actually see something. They don’t take into account the qualitative aspect of sight. It reduces the experience of seeing something to more of a form of information gathering. It’s awfully hard to devalue what it is that YOU see. That’s just one man’s opinion on how the world works.

Causal Realism & Idealism Essay

The Realist Approach to International Relations Essay

The Realist Approach to International Relations Essay.

The realist approach to international relations has its roots in the state’s pursuit of power and the outright importance of the state above all else. Realism states that international relations should not be studied as how things should be but as how they are. We can distinguish between the ‘economic person’, the ‘religious person’, the ‘moral person’, the ‘political person’ etc. In order to understand politics, we must study only the ‘political person’ for example we should study the political actions of a statesman as a synonym of a state.

The theory of political realism is based on the idea of a rational actor. We should compare the real events to this ideal, normative picture. Realism begins with the principle that states must act to preserve their security by amassing instruments of violence.

Necessity prevails as the dominant concept in realist theory. The necessity of preserving immediate security and survival while overlooking the search for international harmony, the necessity of identifying the unavoidable constrictions on political choice, and the necessity of not pushing the boundaries of political change.

Today’s notion of realism developed as a reaction to the idealism of liberalists after the First World War. Idealism puts forward morality, international law and international organization as opposed to power as the basis of international relations.

Be it with its ancient philosophical inheritance, its critical analysis of utopian ideology or its influence on diplomacy, realism has secured an important part in the international relations of today. It might be thought that realism, being such an old and recognized theory is fairly easy to define, but looking at examples of representative definitions of realism by political theorists and scholars proves that there is a relative amount of diversity in the definition of realism.

A too precise definition excludes some areas of realism; too broad a definition loses some trains of thought. Of the ideas that make up the realist school, the most important ideas include:

International relations are open to objective study. Events can be described in terms of laws, in much the way that a theory in the sciences might be described. These laws remain true at all places and times.

The state is the most important actor. At times the state may be represented by the city-state, empire, kingdom or tribe. Individuals are of lesser importance. Thus the United Nations, Shell, the Papacy, political parties, etc, are all relatively unimportant.

The first consequence is that the international system is one of anarchy, with no common sovereign.

A second consequence is that the state is a unitary actor. The state acts in a consistent way, without any sign of divided aims.

State behaviour is rational – or can be best estimated by rational decision-making. States act as though they logically assess the costs and benefits of each course open to them.

States act to maximise either their security or power. The distinction here often proves debatable as the optimum method to guarantee security is frequently equal to maximising power.

States often rely on force or the threat of force to achieve their ends.

The most important factor in determining what happens in international relations is the distribution of power.

Ethical considerations are usually discounted. Universal moral values are difficult to define, and unachievable without both survival and power.

There are many arguments for and against this approach to the relationship between states. A totally Machiavellian approach to international relations only results in continual conflict. Idealism fails however because of the inevitability of conflict. Successful policy theories should encompass aspects of both idealism and realism.

Political realism, also known as realpolitik or simply power politics, has a history which dates back to the Greek historian Thucydides who, in the fifth
century BC, stated that “the strong do what they have the power to do, and the weak accept what they have to accept.” Thucydides is often thought of as the founder of realism. His analysis of the Peloponnesian War was an example of realist concepts. He thought that the real reason for the war was the growth of Athenian power and the fear that this caused in Sparta. Thucydides founded a school of thought that, in Europe at least, went into recession.

Idealists believe that the practice of international relations should stem from morality. The Chinese writer Mo Ti called attention to the fact that every person knows that murder is wrong, but when murder is committed in war it is applauded and dubbed to be a righteous act. Mo Ti, who lived over 2000 years ago, found this nonsensical, he said “If a man calls black black if it is seen on a small scale, but calls black white when it is seen on a large scale, then he is one who cannot tell black from white.” At around the same time, during the “warring states” period, Chinese strategist Sun Tzu, who advised the rulers of the era to use power to further their welfare, argued that morality should be discarded as it was not very useful to rulers of states who were faced with armed and dangerous opponents.

It was not until the early 1500s that a realist political philosopher could share Thucydides’ status. Niccolo Machiavelli was widely condemned at the time, and since, for his cynical and amoral advice on the way government should be conducted. However, what he captured in his writings became the soul of what we know today as realism. In his book, The Prince and the Discourses, he states:

But since my intention is to say something that will prove of practical use to the inquirer, I have thought it proper to represent things as they are in real truth, rather than as they are imagined. Many have dreamed up republics and principalities which have never in truth been known to exist; the gulf between how one should live and how one does live is so wide that a man who neglects what is actually done for what should be done learns the way to self-destruction rather than self-preservation. The fact is that a man who wants to act virtuously in every way necessarily comes to grief among so many who are not virtuous. Therefore if a prince wants to maintain his rule he must learn how not to be virtuous, and make use of this or not according to need.

The First World War presented a major challenge to Realism. Realist practices were increasingly challenged, particularly in the United States whose national experience to date differed markedly from the European states. The US President, Woodrow Wilson framed his Fourteen Points as the basis for the subsequent peace. These points included banning secret treaties, freedom of navigation and trade (aimed at increasing interdependence), arms reductions, self-determination and the formation of what became the League of Nations. The allies largely acquiesced. The post-war era was one of optimism and pacifism.

By the late 1930s the optimism that accompanied the end of the First World War was unravelling. The new Nazi regime in Germany was intimidating its neighbours, Italy had swallowed up Ethiopia, Japan was carving a new empire out of China, civil war had swept through Spain – and the World could do little to stop these new catastrophes. In this climate the historian and former diplomat, E.H. Carr launched an attack on the liberal principles that had marked the young international relations theory of the inter-war years. According to Carr, every field of study passes through a naive phase of “utopianism”. He offered as an example the efforts of early alchemists, which eventually gave way to the physical sciences. Carr argued that the antidote to utopianism was “realism”:

The impact of thinking upon wishing, in the development of a science, follows the breakdown of its first visionary projects, and marks the end of the specifically utopian period, is commonly called realism. Representing a reaction against the wish-dreams of the initial stage, realism is liable to assume a critical and somewhat cynical aspect. In the field of thought, it places its emphasis on the acceptance of facts and on the analysis of their causes and consequences.

Yet while Carr, argued his case strongly, he saw that as the discipline matured there was scope for the blending of realism and utopianism. In the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, Hans J. Morganthau was credited with having systematised classical Realism. Morgenthau starts with the claim that he is presenting a “theory of international politics”. He sees his theory bringing “order and meaning” to the mass of facts. It both explains the observed phenomena and is logically consistent, based on fixed premises. Like Carr, he sees this realism as a contrast to liberal-idealism. Morgenthau’s theory is based on six principles he states in his first chapter. In summary, these principles were:

International relations “…is governed by objective laws that have their roots in human nature”.

The key consideration “…is the concept of interest defined in terms of power’.

“…Interest defined as power is an objective category which is universally valid”, although its exact meaning may change with time and circumstance.

While moral principles have a place, they cannot be defined identically at every time and place, and apply differently to individuals and the state.

“The moral aspirations of a particular nation…” are not “moral laws that govern the universe”.

Politics is an autonomous sphere that needs to be analysed as an entity, without being subordinated to outside values.

In 1979 Kenneth N. Waltz attempted to reformulate realism in a new and distinctive way. His aim was to cure the defects with earlier theories of international relations, including classical realism, by applying a more scientific approach. The approach he took in Theory of International Politics became known as Neorealism.

While classical Realists saw international politics in terms of the characteristics of states and their interaction with each other, Waltz believed that there was a level above this. According to Waltz, “The idea that international politics can be thought of as a system with a precisely defined structure is Neorealism’s fundamental departure from traditional realism” . The conditions of the system as a whole influenced state behaviour, not just state level factors.

By concentrating on the nature of the system-level structure, Waltz avoided the need to make assumptions about human nature, morality, power and interest. Neorealists were thus able to see power in a different way. For the classical Realists power was both a means and an end, and rational state behaviour was simply accumulating the most power. Neorealists found a better guide was provided by assuming that the ultimate state interest was in security, and while gathering power often ensured that, in some cases it merely provoked an arms race. Yet while power was no longer the prime motivator, its distribution was the major factor determining the nature of the structure.

Realists believe that states exist in a natural anarchy of world politics where every state looks out for its own national interest. The security dilemma stems from the idea that all states are potential enemies and that enhancing the security of one state produces a relative loss of power for all other states. Realists believe that peace can only be achieved by a balance of power among several states as opposed to a bi-polar, hegemonic world. Idealists or liberal institutionalists believe that states can achieve security through construction of international regimes and structures. There are many alternative approaches to realism, for example constructivism or identity politics which explores world politics from the viewpoint that international relations can be best explained by a collection of identities, rather than states.

Instead of taking the state as the given and only relevant unit of analysis this theory imagines the possibility of many different states, many distinct identities. It then follows that alternative kinds of states do not treat each other in a similar manner. This approach has been used to explain many of the hard questions in international politics that realism has difficulty answering. For example, the notion that there is more than on “Russian state” is a prime concern of identity politics. Russia’s behaviour in international politics is an outgrowth of these identities. What are Russia’s identities? Consider the vast number of terms used to describe Russia in journals and newspapers. Russia is an “ex-communist state”, it is a “developing state”, it is a “democratic state”, it is an “Asian state”, a “nuclear state” and so on. According to theories of identity politics, we can best understand Russian behaviour by studying these particular identities and how policy choices influence these identities. Therefore, identity politics considers a dramatically different set of variables than realism.

Critical theory appeals to a number of different non-quantitative fields to analyze world politics, whereas realists believe that the influence of religion, culture, history and other variables is subordinate to precise measurements of material capabilities. Realist theory is also unable to explain major events in world politics such as the end of the Cold War and the two world wars. Whereas realists measure only the role of states and the balance of power between them in world politics, critical theories take a more expansive course, incorporating actors like non-governmental organisations, transnational corporations and factors like domestic politics into their explanation of world politics. Thus a succesful international relations policy should include aspects of realism and other maybe more idealistic theories.


Linklater, A., Beyond Realism and Marxism – Critical Theory and International Relations, Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire RG21 2XS, The Macmillan Press Ltd., 1990, pg.1-8.

Goldstein, J.S., International Relations, London, Pearson Longman, 2004, 5th Edition. pg.71-78.

Spegele, R.D., Political Realism in International Theory, The Pitt Building, Trumpington Street, Cambridge CB2 1RP, Cambridge University Press, 1996, pg.230-244.

Donnelly, J., Realism and International Relations, The Edinburgh Building, Cambridge CB2 2RU, Cambridge University Press, 2000, pg.6-13.

Burchill, S. and Linklater A., Theories of International Relations, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, St.Martin’s Press, Inc., 1996, pg.67-90.

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The Realist Approach to International Relations Essay

Political Realism Essay

Political Realism Essay.

According to realists, the conduct of international leaders differs very little from the conduct of a leader of a criminal organization. Realists’ underlying assumption, i. e. that the international system is in the condition of perpetual anarchy, is close to how crime bosses perceive the neverending competition between different gangs, clans or “crime families”, like the one Tony Soprano heads. Just like in relations between competing crews or between criminals and the government, no progress towards lasting peace is possible in international relations.

International relations are by definition conflictual, unlike domestic matters of a state, since there is no supreme authority over sovereign subject which would possess monopoly on force similar to the one a state has on its territory. Conflicts in international relations, according to realists, are always resolved by the use of force. Here the analogy of Tony Soprano is particularly applicable, since he has killed at least eight people. Similarly, power in international relations, according to realists, is associated with military superiority and ability to defeat enemies.

Crime families pursue their own interests using resources they command, but they are well aware of resources and capabilities of their competitors. The same way states in international relations make calculations of their power and interests vs. power and interests of their rivals. Therefore, intelligence information (everything that can be used against competitors) is equally valuable in international relations and criminal activity. Peace and stability is only possible when a durable balance of power exists that reflects actual standing of great powers on the international arena.

The same happens in the criminal world. Although gangs and crime families have no moral obligations towards each other, they can sometimes cooperate against a common enemy (states on their part form international alliances). Balance of power among criminal organizations is of a paramount importance for peace and quiet in a city or neighborhood. As Sullivan (2000) informs, criminal groups sustain “spatial or economic spheres of influence – ‘turf’ or ‘markets’” (p. 86). The states act the same way when they perceive certain regions of the world as their spheres of influence.

For the U. S. , the Middle East is a region of strategic importance, as its enduring military presence there clearly indicates. Similarly, Russia “is treating the former Soviet republics as a priority…in an effort both to obtain lucrative assets and to enhance its political influence” (Trenin 2006, p. 91). Realists also believe that there is a difference between private and political morality: for the public and private spheres, there should be different codes of ethical conduct, and some actions inacceptable in private morality terms can be indispensable in politics.

This argument can be perhaps extended further to state that different ethical codes are applied to domestic matters and international relations: some actions that would be deemed inacceptable by domestic publics are carried out in or against foreign states, sometimes with the approval of the population at home. Here, an interesting example is the involvement of Henry Kissinger in the uprooting of Allende’s democratic regime in Chile.

While it would be a plausible to assume Kissinger believed that democracy served the interests of American people (since he hasn’t made attempts to subvert the public order), he has been reported to comment on the Chilean election of socialist Alllende in the following way: “The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves” (cited in Zarembka 2006, p. ix). He has in fact denied that Chileans had a right to elect their own leaders, while Americans could teach other countries about right and wrong.

In everyday life, this would be referred to as hypocrisy; however, according to political realists, this is how politics is made on the daily basis. In a similar fashion, many crime bosses are good at maintaining two distinct sets of values, one to be applied to intra-organizational matters and another one for the rest of the world. Inside their “crime family”, gangsters exhibit such qualities as loyalty, honesty, and nobility. All criminal organizations have a code of conduct that is strictly enforced, although such codes have little to do with morality and ethics in the conventional sense.

That is why to the outside world, they appear as cruel, self-interested beasts. Similarly, political leaders have to maintain two sets of values: in their private affairs, they have to be an example of integrity and righteousness, as the scandal with Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky shows. Also, they have to be good to their electorates and even political rivals. However, in international relations, they are expected to defend vital interests of their country with determination and firmness. The Road to War This section will look into strange and unusual circumstances and events that lead to wars.

The extent to which types of government and domestic publics have an impact on war proneness of states will be discussed. At a first glance, the recent U. S. attack of Iraq is an example of a war between a democracy and undemocratic country, so it is not particularly applicable for testing the democratic peace theory. In fact, the official reason for going to Iraq, as Scowcroft (2002) reports, was regime change: Saddam Hussein oppressed his own people and posed a threat to international security. It was exactly the undemocratic nature of Iraq that made it a tangible threat to the U.

S. ; it was deemed that its democratization would automatically provide for peace. Saddam was portrayed as a leader that was impossible to deter by diplomatic means, sanctions, or the threat of force, therefore the invasion was deemed the only viable option for preventing Iraq from acquiring and deploying WMD (Mearsheimer & Walt 2003). However, even before the actual deployment, there were forces in the foreign policy establishment calling for a more careful balancing of various U. S. interests at home and abroad. The war on Iraq, as Scowcroft (2002) then argued, would divert U. S.

resources from other important pursuits such as the war on terror or resolution of Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As the difficulties in Iraq have powerfully brought home, realism for the U. S. nowadays does not mean the use of force but rather refraining from it. The Bush doctrine implied going to war and falling out with allies for the sake of furthering American ideals (Rose 2005), on the aforementioned assumption that democratization is a necessary prerequisite for peace. This neoconservative line is sometimes referred to as “democratic transformationalism”, which is essentially liberal interventionism (Goldberg 2005).

In his second term, however, Bush has been increasingly more inclined towards realism and looking out for actual American interests. To that end, he mended relations with Europe and returned to negotiating with rogue states (Rose 2005). This is in line with the need to balance one’s power and interests against those of other great powers. Such a change in orientation once again suggests that changes in leadership have a significant bearing on the war-proneness of a democratic state, a conclusion Elman (1997) has reached after analyzing the 1982 war between Israel and Lebanon.

While no change of leadership has taken place in the U. S. , a change in President’s orientation and some reshuffle in the foreign policy establishment were responsible for the shift. While people like Henry Kissinger are vilified as amoral hypocrites, moralism in foreign policy has never led to anything good for the U. S. : Harry Truman was responsible for the Korean War, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson have initiated the Vietnam War, and Bill Clinton has presided over the Balkan conflict and a deterioration of relations with China.

However, right- or left-wing moralists have almost always been succeeded by realists and foreign policy pragmatists who helped to clear the mess (Rose 2005). This mirrors the discussion by Postel (2004) of how democracy-spreading ambitions of George W. Bush worry American realists (together with libertarians and traditionalists). Realism’s main assumption is the primacy of state sovereignty, therefore an interference into the affairs of another state is only justified if an existential threat exists to one’s own country.

Before that point is reached, “the internal organization of another country is [not] any of our business” (Goldberg 2005, para. 25). A far more important reason to worry about the spread of “democratic transformationalism” is the human and economic cost of it. As Johnson (2000) clearly shows, the U. S. is an overextended empire struggling to sustain its military commitments abroad, and “the people of the United States are neither militaristic enough nor rich enough to engage in the perpetual police actions, wars, and bailouts their government’s hegemonic policies will require” (p.

221). This argument suggests that populations at home ultimately have some say over foreign policy or at least over the economic cots of overseas military exercises. This point will be explored in greater detail further in this section. The supporters of “democratic transformationalism” think that the threat posed by Saddam at the turn of the century was the natural consequence of the limited nature of the U. S. intervention during the first Gulf War. Then the U. S. , in accordance with the U. N. mandate, focused on removal of Iraq from Kuwait and not the removal of Saddam from Iraq.

Neoconservatives called it “an unfinished job”: the focus on stability instead of democratization has lead to the current mess, in their opinion (Goldberg 2005). Some commentators believe that the sole reason why the U. S. did not go to Iraq then was the “Vietnam syndrome” (Ferguson 2004). While historical evidence is mixed wit regard to the democratic peace theory (and therefore the feasibility of “democratic transformationalism”), it is too early to dismiss it as trivial. This theory might as well be applicable in the 21st century, even if it has failed for most of the 19th and 20th centuries, for two major reasons.

First of all, with the advent of new technologies, the level of interconnectedness between peoples of the world has increased dramatically. Citizens of democratic states enjoy unrestricted access to the Internet and the ability to travel to other democratic countries, usually without a visa. Therefore, public opinion in a democratic country is unlikely to support a military action against another democratic country, since there are personal ties between citizens of both, or the consumption of cultural products from another country (e. g.

French cinema or Danish design) has created an emotional attachment to a foreign land. The EU can be held up as a prime example. The European continent has been at war for most of its existence. However, nowadays no one can imagine a war between two EU members. Perhaps it was not the participation in common decision-making institutions (which are still weak and contested) but the strength of people-to-people contacts (encouraged by student mobility programs, the rise of an international professional class, cross-border marriages, and even the proposed mobility program for military staff) that has delivered the change.

A valid objection to this reasoning would be that professionalization of armies has diminished the level of control publics have over armed forces. As Johnson (2000) explains, for most of the 20th century, national armies were formed by universal conscription, by volunteers, or by a combination of both. It was of paramount importance to sustain patriotic spirit among troops and persuade them by means of propaganda that an enemy poses an existential threat to their nation.

If states failed to maintain a firmness of purpose among soldiers, insubordination, desertion and sabotage render an army effectively non-battleworthy. However, professional soldiers perceive their mission merely as a special kind of employment. Although states still initiate massive campaigns to convince their publics of necessity of a war, like it was in the case of Iraq, professional soldiers would be ready to battle any enemy their state commanded them to.

Moreover, a state can hire private security providers to wage wars for them. Although there was no case when a war was waged by using such providers only, the involvement of private military companies (PMC) and private security companies (PSC) in Iraq has received a lot of attention (Singer 2004). Thus, a government can still wage a war against another country in opposition to domestic public opinion by relying on a professional armies or private security provides.

Political Realism Essay