Principles or Imagination? Two Approaches to Global Justice


Coeckelbergh, Mark (2006) Principles or Imagination? Two Approaches to Global Justice. In: 1st International Conference on Global Ethics “What is Global Ethics and how to research it?” , 27-29 April, 2006, Ghent.

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Abstract:In this paper I distinguish and discuss two approaches to global justice. One approach
is Rawlsian and Kantian in inspiration. Discussions within this tradition typically
focus on the question whether Rawls’s theory of justice (1971), designed for the
national level, can or should be applied to the global level. For example, an important
question is whether Rawls’s Difference Principle can be globalised. I will discuss the
cosmopolitan position in this debate, arguing with Rawls (1991) against Rawls’s own
proposal in The Law of Peoples (1999). Another approach to global justice has been
developed by Martha Nussbaum in Cultivating Humanity (1997), Poetic Justice
(1996), and other work. I will construct her view and critically examine it by looking
at her arguments about the relation between empathy, literature, and global justice.
At first sight, these two approaches seem to be opposed. The former puts an emphasis
on principles, universal reason, and the moral aspects of institutions and their policies,
whereas the latter is rather concerned with the relation between imagination and
justice, with the particular, and with individual moral development. But is this
necessarily so? I will show not only that both approaches could benefit from each
other’s insights to strengthen their own position, but also that some integration
between them is feasible and desirable if our aim is to provide a more comprehensive
account of global justice. Moreover, the tension between these approaches is one that
can be found within ethical theory in general. For example, pragmatists like Johnson
(1993) and Fesmire (2003) have argued for imagination and against principles. On the
basis of my analysis, I will conclude that the opposition between principles and
imagination is weaker than is commonly assumed.
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