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  • Print publication year: 2014
  • Online publication date: September 2014

1 - A human rights approach to global justice: elements of theory and practice



Philosophers operating within a cosmopolitan framework have made powerful claims regarding what global justice requires of us. Beginning from the premise of the fundamental equality of persons, whether understood primarily in terms of interests, agency, or dignity, it is argued that there are strong requirements to more equally distribute wealth, resources, or opportunities so as to alleviate poverty, or to meet basic needs, or to develop people’s capabilities so they can be relatively equally agential in the course of their lives. Although drawing on different philosophical frameworks – consequentialist, contractarian or contractualist, capabilities and positive-freedom based – these approaches can be highly demanding in requiring massive aid to the poor, or else comprehensive redistributive schemes at the global level, or at the very least intensified forms of development assistance. They may also call for the introduction of institutional frameworks to effect these distributions and to promote development, and they may contain innovative proposals for changes to the international system.

Among the prominent approaches is Peter Singer’s call for affluent people to donate a substantial percentage of their income to poverty relief, more institutionally oriented calls for the implementation of a global difference principle, as in the early work of Charles Beitz, or Thomas Pogge’s proposals for a global resource dividend. Again, cosmopolitan luck egalitarians concerned with the deep economic inequalities at the global level may propose achieving genuinely equal opportunity by correcting for the unchosen features of people’s circumstances such as the availability of natural resources, since these so affect their life chances. Alternatively, they may focus on the way that existing institutions function to transform natural facts about people or their environment into social disadvantages and on institutional ways of correcting that in the interest of equality.

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