In his debut tome, The Role of Ethics in International Law, associate professor of law Donald Earl Childress III ("Trey") has authored and collected chapters encouraging a self-critical reflection on the function of ethical discourse in international law's public and private dimensions. Childress' aim is to push international lawyers to recognize inherent assumptions in their lines of argumentation that call for further scrutiny, especially as international lawyers make sense of the varying ideas of the right, the good, and the rule of law that exist throughout the world.
The norm-generative function of law is often underexplored in international legal discourse, explains Childress, stating, "Those questions are oftentimes more apparent when you're looking at domestic law, either because you have Congress specifically responding to an incident or including legislative history that tells you why Congress has acted." He attributes this gap to the opacity in the development and reasoning of international law and the lack of a strong international legislature and international court. "Even in domestic judicial proceedings," he says, "there is a clearer idea of why parties brought the case and the reasons why the court adjudicates in the fashion that it does."
Investigating this underexplored topic, asserts Childress, is important because few public and private international law scholars forthrightly engage in ethical discourse. Yet, the question of what role international law and international legal theory plays in an international community cannot be made in isolation from a very basic question that joins law and ethics inextricably: What is the best way to effectuate the international good through law?
"I'm putting the book together to take a step back from a lot of the vernacular that is used in the international law scholarship to see if there's something behind it that allows one to create visions of international law that aren't just founded in terms of what the legal argumentation is," he explains, "but bounded in some terms of normative framework for how we approach international legal questions."
The primary purpose of producing the book, however, was to inform readers that the theoretical understanding of international law is still in its infancy, and that it is a complex and dynamic discipline that requires serious thought about how state, individual, international, and domestic interests intersect and interplay with one another. "This book confirms that muchmore work remains to be done in exploring what we hope international law to be and how we hope to go about seeing that as a function of law and function of power and the relationship between the two," he concludes.