Beyond the Catch 22?
: Towards a Phronetic Approach to the Intervention Dilemma

  • Lucas Van Milders

Student thesis: Master's ThesisMaster of Economic and Social Studies


The intervention dilemma, initially articulated by Hedley Bull and commonly conceived as the key dispute between pluralist and solidarist proponents of the English School of International Relations, has gradually become one of the central dilemmas in the context of tackling human suffering. Roughly defined as a stalemate between doing something through intervention (which inevitably tramples the norm of non-intervention) and doing nothing (which entails moral indifference and possibly ‘dirty hands’ through idly standing by), this dissertation broaches two distinct strands of Liberal Peace critique as expressions of each position of the aforementioned juxtaposition. Relating this debate between Roland Paris and David Chandler to the cosmopolitan-communitarian divide, the intervention dilemma will be defined as a Catch 22, in which opting for one choice makes the other one seem more eligible. The only way to overcome this entrenched debate is by letting go of these foundationalist views on morality. Following Oliver P. Richmond’s assertion that sustainable peace can only be reached through dialogue that takes the everyday context as its designated starting point, the Linklaterian notion of dialogical politics will be defined as a crucial element of overcoming the intervention dilemma. Finally, this can only be achieved through a so-called phronetic approach that elects practical judgements in favour of theoretical frameworks. The conclusion is then drawn that if we want to assess the necessity of intervening or not in the case of human suffering and therefore make practical judgements that matter, the notion of power has to be taken into account by asking questions of the power relations among the parties involved, including the researcher, and of who wins and who loses in the case of humanitarian intervention
Date of Award2013
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Aberystwyth University
SupervisorDaniel McCarthy (Supervisor)

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