Academic journal article Boston College Law Review

A Précis of on Global Justice, with Emphasis on Implications for International Institutions

Academic journal article Boston College Law Review

A Précis of on Global Justice, with Emphasis on Implications for International Institutions

Article excerpt


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 immigra- tion to trade to climate change. The two traditional ways of thinking about justice at the global level either limit the applicability of justice to states-the only distributions that can be just or unjust, strictly speak- ing, are within the state-or else extend it to all human beings. The view I defend rejects both of these approaches and instead recognizes different considerations or conditions based on which individuals are in the scope of different principles of justice.1 Finding a philosophically convincing alternative to those approaches is the most demanding and important challenge contemporary political philosophy faces; it is one that, in turn, reflects the significance of the political issues that are at stake.

My own view, and thus my attempt at meeting the aforementioned challenge-a theory called "pluralist internationalism" -acknowledges the existence of multiple grounds of justice.2 My view grants particular normative relevance to the state, but qualifies this relevance by embed- ding 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.3 The grounds I discuss are: (1) shared membership in a state; (2) common humanity; (3) humanity's collective ownership of the earth; (4) shared membership in the global order; and (5) shared involvement in the global trading system.4 I in- quire about the state only in a global perspective, and my view is proba- bly most unique in its conceptualization of common ownership as a ground of justice.

My theory is about global justice as a philosophical problem and about political problems on which principles of justice bear at the global level. As a result, I do not explore familiar questions about the state's constitution and internal structure beyond what is required to show that shared membership in a state is a ground of justice to which particular principles of justice apply. Nonetheless, my view does regard the state as special within a theory of global justice, and this distin- guishes my approach from more "cosmopolitan" approaches.5

My presentation of pluralist internationalism is meant to exemplify the kind of work philosophers can, and must, do to help solve the world's political and economic problems, including problems raised by globalization. Attempts at solving such problems inevitably lead to questions about what kind of world we should have. Philosophical in- quiry rarely leads to concrete policy advice unless much of what most people currently believe and much of how our institutions work is tak- en as constraining what such advice could look like. Nonetheless, we need visions for the future of the world. If such visions try to dispense with political philosophy, they forfeit conceptual tools that are plainly needed to develop and defend them. At the same time, political thought that proceeds with too little connection to the problems that preoccupy those who want to change the world often is complacent and boring-as is philosophical inquiry that mostly investigates its own nature and thinks of political discourse only as one source of input for metaethical analysis.

This Article explores the obligations of justice that states and in- ternational organizations owe in a globalized world. Part I summarizes and defines the various approaches that philosophers have taken to determine what principles of justice apply to various institutions.6 Part II explains how my theory of pluralist internationalism recognizes mul- tiple grounds of justice and thereby transcends the debate among those approaches.7 Finally, Part III examines how these grounds of justice ap- ply to states and to the World Trade Organization (WTO) to determine those institutions' obligations of justice in a global world. …

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