Beyond cosmopolitanism: towards a non-ideal account of transnational justice

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CHWASZCZA, Christine (2008)
  • Publisher: Co-Action Publishing
  • Journal: (issn: 1654-6369, eissn: 1654-4951)
  • Related identifiers: doi: 10.3402/egp.v1i3.1859
  • Subject: Cosmopolitanism, statism, ethical individualism, methodological individualism, collective agents, collective responsibility | Cosmopolitanism; Statism; Ethical individualism; Methodological individualism; Collective agents; Collective responsibility

Cosmopolitanism in normative theory of transnational justice is often characterized by the thesis that the moral and legal status of states must be entirely derived from the moral status of the individuals who constitute them. Although the thesis itself is rather indeterminate in substantive and analytical content, it is generally understood as the claim that states should not be granted the status of moral and legal agents sui generis. This article argues that such a view is analytically and methodologically misleading, and that any fruitful approach towards a liberal theory of transnational justice must face the challenge of coming up with a more complex concept of statehood, and acknowledge that in international relations and international law states are collective moral agents in their own right that can be addressees of genuinely collective forms responsibility. The argument starts with a critical examinations of two common interpretations of the cosmopolitan thesis, a reductivist reading, which suggests that we can reduce the moral and legal status of states to the rights and duties of the individuals (section I), and a methodological reading, which suggests that the moral status of individuals must based on the acknowledgment of “universal” individual rights (section II). For different reasons, both readings are argued to fail. Section III then presents an outline of how to conceive of states as agents that possess moral and legal status sui generis and be addressees of collective responsibility.Keywords: cosmopolitanism, statism, ethical individualism, methodological individualism, collective agents, collective responsibility(Published online: 25 August, 2008)Citation: Ethics & Global Politics 2008. DOI: 10.3402/egp.v1i3.1859
  • References (7)

    Charles Beitz (2005) Cosmopolitanism and global justice, Journal of Ethics, 9, 11 27. See also Kok-Chor Tan (2004) Justice without borders: cosmopolitanism, nationalism, patriotism.

    Cambridge, Cambridge University Press. Despite the acknowledged vagueness of the term, Beitz' account of cosmopolitanism is, of course, not shared by all who use the term or related terms. For different accounts see e.g. Monique Canto-Sperber (2006) The normative foundations of cosmopolitanism, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 106, 267 283; Jeremy Waldron (2000) What is cosmopolitan? The Journal of Political Philosophy, 8, 227 243; David Held (2005) Principles of cosmopolitan order, in: Gillian Brock & Harry Brighouse (Eds), The political philosophy of cosmopolitanism. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 10 27.

    See Robert Goodin (1988) What is so special about our fellow countrymen? Ethics, 98, 663 686.

    To avoid a possible understanding from the beginning: I am here concerned with the structure of ethical argument, not with the normative significance of state-sovereignty or political coercion, as e.g. Michael Blake (2001) Distributive justice, state coercion, and autonomy, Philosophy and Public Affairs, 30(3), 257 296; or Thomas Nagel (2005) The problem of global justice, Philosophy and Public Affairs, 33(2), 113 147, and others.

    Despite considerable interest in both the analysis of agency of corporate actors and the analysis of collective responsibility of groups of natural persons, the specific problem of the moral and legal status of states conceived of as institutional actors is widely neglected; see e.g. the majority of contributions in Peter A. French & Howard Wetterstein (Eds.) (2006) Shared intentions and collective responsibility ( Midwest studies in philosophy, Vol. xxx). Oxford/ Boston, MA, Blackwell. An alternative approach will be outlined in section III.

    For an attempt to reconstruct states as superorganisms see Alexander Wendt (2004) The state as a person in international relations theory, Review of International Studies, 30(2), 289 326. Although I find Wendt's argument unconvincing, I will not enter into a discussion of it, because my own analysis takes a completely different starting point from his.

    See e.g. Philip Pettit (2003) Groups with minds of their own, in: Frederick Schmidtt (Ed.), Socializing metaphysics: the nature of social reality. Lanham, MD, Rowman and Littlefield,

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