Review of PS3233 – Political and International Ethics

For other reviewed modules, please check here.

(Alternate Title: PS3233 – Crash course in political ethics. Strangely like GL1101E but more in-depth.)


I needed to clear my PT basket and I had my appetite for political philosophy/ethics whetted after taking a module taught by a political philosopher, so this module seemed like the best choice. Plus I had heard good reviews about both this course’s content and the prof from seniors who had taken it (it was said to be as popular as PS1101E, which was only slightly exaggerated), so…yea. Sounds quite fun, sign me up!

What I expected

I had been told that it dealt heavily with the ethical side of international actions on controversial topics (humanitarian intervention, torture, use of drones etc) and because of that it would be a good flip-side to what one learnt in International Security. Basically looking at the same issues but from a different angle, so why not?

What I got

A very good primer to topics of political and international ethics (like duh, isn’t that the title?) taught by a very nice prof (Prof Bain). Let me explain.

On one hand, it would not be incorrect to say that this module shares many similarities with GL1101E, at least based on the topics I had covered in that module back when I took it. In fact, I would argue that about 50% of this module’s themes are similar to what was covered in GL1101E, most notably on the topics of Human Rights, Just War and Humanitarian Intervention. That is however where the differences end, as both modules have sufficient content not to seem like a redux/cloned version of each other: The former goes into refugeedom and a little global political economy along with global societal trends while the latter goes into torture, global justice and moral crusading.

In short, those who had taken GL1101E and covered the same topics I mentioned above would have found many concepts in this module familiar – one to two readings were even repeated, which was great 😀 . But there is still much to learn, and even what seems familiar is only in surface as this module goes much deeper than GL1101E on every topic: Instead of, say, pitting two authors against each other because they stand opposed, this module offers a much broader perspective from the varied authors one reads (of) and it’s not uncommon for one to get slightly lost due to the complexity of a few readings covered.

Of mention would also be Prof Bain’s teaching style, which may entice some while dissuading others. On one hand, he really seems like a ‘sage on the stage’ – a guru if there ever was one. At the same time he tries to connect (usually successfully) with his students outside of formal class time by way of informal pre-lecture jokes or through occasional sharings about his life as a father or quirks about Singapore. Because he’s a ‘sage on the stage’ though, his emphasis is more on vocals than slides; that is to say, he doesn’t use slides nor believe in their utility as a teaching tool. I found his lectures sufficiently compelling (and really interesting) even without visuals, but those more accustomed to visual cues or seeking to download slides may be found wanting. There is one saving grace of having audio recordings (at least in my semester), but the lack of slides may surprise some unused to this style.

[Webcasted?] Nope, similar to what Prof Smith does in GL1101E.  He does offer lecture outlines in the form of Word docs pre-lecture for download though, but because he significantly expounds upon these points in the lecture one can’t get by not hearing his lecture (whether live or in the recorded audio) and skimming the outlines to figure out what he’s talking about.

[Course Materials?] We used the 2015 textbook by Chris Brown titled ‘International Society, Global Polity’ for this module and I’m looking to sell my copy for those interested. Please buy :>

Assessment & Workload

One is assessed as follows:

  1. Tutorial Participation (10%) – every lecture is packed with content and so there’s basically not much time to talk back and forth except during the breaks like some other lectures are conducted. I was taught by TA Aaeshah who does a pretty good job of getting people to participate and doing up mindmaps which I didn’t really use but probably was of helped others.
  2. Essay (40%) – A fairly high weightage for an essay, but this is really one of the easiest papers one could ask for. 3k words (about par for the course for a 3k module), QUESTIONS GIVEN AT THE START – not those ‘we’ll release the questions the week before recess week and the paper’s due after recess week ends so good luck’ papers – and a good variety of questions to pick from. In short, nothing that might concern one too much given that they follow the course material and consult regularly.
  3. Finals (50%) – I can’t quite remember what the exact questions were but it’s alright – the past year papers (PYPs) are available on IVLE for this module (since some mods lack the PYPs being uploaded). According to the syllabus I used it was 10C2 but I can’t remember if the actual paper was 8C2 instead – in any case, an essay every hour is pretty relaxing a pace so it’s alright. Just has a bit more ‘A Level feels’ because a lot more’s riding on one paper than, say, if this was weighted at 30% or 35%.

I actually found the workload for this module surprisingly light, especially for a PT mod – you’re looking at two to three readings per week, occasionally two medium to one short and two medium readings for roughly 90~100 pages max. Maybe an hour to an hour and a half max for the readings? Because the work’s seasonal (not much prep needed for tutorials aside from doing readings and the readings also double up as lecture prep), once one works through their essay it’s smooth sailing all the way till finals.

Expected Grade

Having received an A- for my essay, I was expecting a B+ at worst, A- if I maintained or an A if things turned out really well at finals. So…yea a B+ to A- was a safe bet.

Actual Grade

I’m fairly surprised I received an A+ for this module – I guess the finals swung a lot more than expected. Also my first A+, which is cool. Still worth as much as an A (5.0 now, nothing in the future once one has a job), but it’s a bit like a milestone/achievement cleared – get an A for a mod, check, get an A+ for a mod, check. As usual, TGBTG ^^

Conclusion & Tips

There isn’t much which can be said which hasn’t been said already – this module’s great for those looking to get their toes wet in PT (and need to clear their PT basket) but don’t wanna do GL1101E (since GL1101E can’t be mapped for one’s PT basket anyway but serves another useful function instead). I’d recommend it for anyone interested in the sexy topics of war and peace, torture and drones, terrorism and counter-terrorism etc. but prefer to philosophize/think more rather than taking a hammer to every perceived nail.

  1. Consult, consult, consult. Both Prof Bain and the TAs can offer great advice for one’s essay or clearing up misconceptions about the module, so what’s wrong about taking a bit of time to check in with him? As he wryly notes (and roughly paraphrased), “I become super popular around the time essay deadlines start to roll in (also as finals approach) but otherwise it’s like a graveyard at the beginning of the semester. I like having people drop by just for anything though – we can talk about academics, life in general or other things, so just make an appointment and drop by!”. He was NOT kidding about being super popular around the time essays began to roll in, I went for a consult and found six people ahead of me in the queue. That was the first time I saw an office packed to the brim like some game of ‘how many clowns can you fit in a car’… but I jest and digress. He gives great advice, so does his TAs, talk to them and they’re more than happy to help you with course material or other stuff.
  2. Keep up with the readings as usual – he doesn’t reiterate the readings during his lectures but expects you to be already familiar with them before having stepped in. Occasionally he’ll pull off like 10% of what a reading talked about and incorporate it into his lectures so…yes, I’d certainly recommend doing them BEFORE and not AFTER the lecture since (for me at least) it makes a difference based on how much one takes away from the lecture.
  3. Add on notes to the lecture outline he provides – don’t just listen passively and wait for the audio recordings to be uploaded because 1. there might not be any audio recordings in future iterations of this module and 2. sometimes one becomes a bit too lazy to even look up these recordings. So…go in fresh, listen attentively, take down notes (whether typed/written), ask questions where curious and consult where uncertain. Pretty simple to follow, but somehow it can be screwed up as well.

No materials to preview unfortunately 😦

Here are some personal notes I’ve taken though ^^

One thought on “Review of PS3233 – Political and International Ethics

  1. Pingback: Review of PS 4311 – International Relations in Political Thought | Ramblings of Roe

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