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The question of whether states are capable of moral agency in world politics remains an important concept of debate in international relations. In addressing the argument for and against considering the status of states as moral agents in international relations this essay will begin by considering how moral agency can be attributed to the state. In assigning moral agency to states it is conveyed that states have the ability – like its individual citizens – to form moral judgements or actions and be held accountable for those judgements or actions. However, states are not individuals in the human sphere when discussing moral agency; rather they have been considered as institutions and collectives, (Erskine, 2001) – as institutional actors within the international system. States are made up of individual citizens, and represented by a collective of those citizens, forming different groups and bodies, with a particular group of citizens being their representatives – the government. Moral agency has predominately been assigned to the individual, however, the state can be considered merely a collective of its citizens – a collective of moral agents.
States as Moral Agents
There have been numerous authors who argued in favour of states having moral agency and the ability or potential to hold moral duties (Erskine 2001, Hoover 2012, Schwenkenbecher 2011). The notion provided is that the state possesses a distinct identity – independent of the respective identities of citizens and collectives. States play central roles in the international relation arena, and in such they have appeared to qualify as an institutional moral agent (Erskine, 2001). Erskine proposes three criteria in determining the status of states as moral agents, that ...

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...eohane, 1984). Keohane argues that if states are regarded as moral agents, they not then responsible for the actions of its people and therefore greatly more susceptible to the outcomes of the decisions of the collective. There is a degree of ambiguity in the state holding the moral duty as apposed to its individual citizens. Schewenkenbecher (2011) suggests that the moral duty of a state ultimately rests with the individual citizens, representatives who contribute to the collective and achieves the collective’s desired outcome. Runciman does go further in doubting the ‘capacity of the state to behave in any straight forward manner as a moral agent’.
The state will always be contingent on how individuals and collectives of individuals choose to view it, therefore it the moral agency of the state will be bound to the moral agency of its individual and collectives.

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