Sunday, 3 January 2010

International Justice and Beneficence

One of the peculiarities of much attention paid to questions of international scope by philosophers is the way it is often presented through the prism of ethics, principally by means of a discussion of beneficence. This type of agenda has a natural home in utilitarian theory and much of the general discussion of global problems, particularly questions concerned with the global poor, has emerged from the utilitarian tradition of thinking. Without going deeply into the question of the various reasons for wishing for a different approach to such problems than can be provided by the utilitarian tradition it is worth noting that there is little scope within utilitarianism for a specific theory of politics. Without such a theory then questions that concern justice tend to be reduced to questions of a merely ethical level.

By contrast, Kantians should certainly not primarily respond to questions that are global in scope by means of a view that begins by asking questions about the scope of beneficence though this is not to assert that some self-declared "Kantians" do not do just this. Perhaps one of the reasons for this reflex is due to the correct intuition that there needs to be some appeal made to specific actors for the problems at issue to be addressed. It is, however, noticeable, that the majority of actions that can be requested from individuals in relation to matters of global concern tend only to revolve within the area of charity, an area that can hardly, alone, address the questions at issue with the desired throughness or coherence.

Rather than thinking of questions of global concern in such terms it is useful instead to attend to the question of such concerns as a matter of justice, that is, as requiring reflections on the kinds of institutions that can be developed such that a response to global inequities has some kind of chance of being resolved in ways that reflectively mirror those that can shape the reasons for forming a state. Kant himself does this in various ways in the different texts that are concerned with international matters and it is notable that these texts do not address international questions through the prism of the virtue of beneficence.

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