On Global Justice

On Global Justice

On Global Justice

On Global Justice


Debates about global justice have traditionally fallen into two camps. Statists believe that principles of justice can only be held among those who share a state. Those who fall outside this realm are merely owed charity. Cosmopolitans, on the other hand, believe that justice applies equally among all human beings. On Global Justice shifts the terms of this debate and shows how both views are unsatisfactory. Stressing humanity's collective ownership of the earth, Mathias Risse offers a new theory of global distributive justice--what he calls pluralist internationalism --where in different contexts, different principles of justice apply.

Arguing that statists and cosmopolitans seek overarching answers to problems that vary too widely for one single justice relationship, Risse explores who should have how much of what we all need and care about, ranging from income and rights to spaces and resources of the earth. He acknowledges that especially demanding redistributive principles apply among those who share a country, but those who share a country also have obligations of justice to those who do not because of a universal humanity, common political and economic orders, and a linked global trading system. Risse's inquiries about ownership of the earth give insights into immigration, obligations to future generations, and obligations arising from climate change. He considers issues such as fairness in trade, responsibilities of the WTO, intellectual property rights, labor rights, whether there ought to be states at all, and global inequality, and he develops a new foundational theory of human rights.


In James Joyce’s short story “The Boarding House,” we learn about one character that “she dealt with moral problems as a cleaver deals with meat” (Dubliners, 1992, 58). That person presumably cut through all complexities of a moral question by formulating a clear and strong position that simply ignored all voices of doubt. the contemporary debate about global distributive justice is not amenable to this kind of approach. in an increasingly politically and economically interconnected world, it is hard to ascertain what justice requires. It is difficult to spell out how principles of justice apply, to begin with, and hard to assess what they entail for pressing political questions ranging from immigration to trade and climate change.

The two traditional ways of thinking about justice at the global level either limit the applicability of justice to states or else extend it to all human beings. the view I defend rejects both these approaches and instead recognizes different considerations or conditions based on which individuals are in the scope of different principles of justice. To my mind, finding a philosophically convincing alternative to those approaches is the most demanding and important challenge contemporary political philosophy faces (one that in turn reflects the significance of the political issues that are at stake). It is in light of my confidence in the importance of this kind of work—but indeed only when taking that perspective—that I feel like the “good author” in Nietzsche’s Human, All Too Human, “who really cares about his subject” and therefore “wishes that someone would come and destroy him by representing the same subject more clearly and by answering every last question contained in it” (1996, 57).

My own view, and thus my attempt at meeting the aforementioned challenge, acknowledges the existence of multiple grounds of justice. This book seeks to present a foundational theory that makes it plausible that there could be multiple grounds of justice and to defend a specific view of the grounds that I call internationalism or pluralist internationalism. Internationalism grants particular normative relevance to the state but qualifies this relevance by embedding the state into other grounds that are associated with their own principles of justice and that thus impose additional obligations on those who share membership in a state. Other than shared membership in a state, it is humanity’s common ownership of the earth that receives the most sustained treatment. and it is probably in the conceptualization of common ownership as a ground of justice that my view seems strangest.

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