Hostname: page-component-6d856f89d9-nr6nt Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-07-16T05:42:29.907Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false


Published online by Cambridge University Press:  14 May 2024

Julian Culp*
Philosophy, The American University of Paris


This essay revisits the metanormative version of the motivational critique of contemporary conceptions of cosmopolitan justice. I distinguish two ways of understanding this critique as leveling the charge of infeasibility against cosmopolitanism. Cosmopolitan motivation can be understood to be infeasible because it is impossible or because it is not reasonably likely to be achieved if tried. The possibilistic understanding is not persuasive, given that examples show that cosmopolitan motivation is possible. The conditional probabilistic understanding is more compelling, by contrast, because under certain social conditions it may not be reasonably likely that cosmopolitan motivation is achieved if tried. I argue, however, that whether cosmopolitan motivation is infeasible in the conditional probabilistic sense depends on malleable social conditions, given that, according to a plastic account of the human moral mind developed by Allen Buchanan, social conditions can undermine or favor the formation of cosmopolitan motivation. I illustrate this plastic account by showing how it can explain recent anticosmopolitan orientations as “tribalistic” reflexes to global crises, like the COVID-19 pandemic, which involved competition for survival resources and (existential) threats. I conclude that cosmopolitan motivation is not infeasible under all social conditions and that cosmopolitanism therefore requires bringing about and maintaining those social conditions under which cosmopolitan motivation is feasible.

Research Article
© 2024 Social Philosophy & Policy Foundation. Printed in the USA

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)



Department of History and Politics, The American University of Paris, Competing Interests: The author declares none. I would like to thank Ani Gonzalez Ward for superb research assistance. Earlier versions of this essay were presented at conferences in Frankfurt am Main and Washington, DC; I would like to thank those audiences for their valuable feedback. I also benefitted from the frank and fine feedback of Allen Buchanan, Dave Schmidtz, and anonymous referees.


1 In her recent assessment of the global justice debate, Flikschuh, Katrin, What Is Orientation in Global Thinking? (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2017), 2CrossRefGoogle Scholar, for example, identifies Internationalism as the “now increasingly dominant view.”

2 My focus here is mainly on global distributive justice, and I also mean this subject matter when using “global justice,” unless specified otherwise. For this narrative of the emergence of Internationalism, see also Valentini, Laura, Justice in a Globalized World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012)Google Scholar. For the use of the Statist, Globalist, and Internationalist terminology to characterize the global justice debate, see also Risse, Mathias, On Global Justice (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012)Google Scholar; Culp, Julian, Global Justice and Development (Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

3 Internationalists defend different sets of these human rights. On one end, theorists such as Rawls, John, The Law of Peoples (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999), 65 Google Scholar, limit this set to a right against slavery, a right to liberty of conscience, a right to personal property, a right to emigrate, and a right to the means necessary to subsist without including a right to democratic participation. On the other end, theorists such as Buchanan, Allen, Justice, Legitimacy, and Self-Determination (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 128–30Google Scholar, endorse a more expansive set of these human rights, including a right to democratic participation.

4 I reserve “Statism” for the view that there are no valid claims of justice outside the state. Others, such as Caney, Simon, “Global Distributive Justice and the State,” Political Studies 56, no. 3 (2008), 487518 CrossRefGoogle Scholar, refer to this position as Strong Statism and label as Weak Statism the view that there are only sufficiencitarian claims of justice outside the state and egalitarian claims of justice only domestically. I subsume Weak Statism under Internationalism.

5 The basic idea of the infeasibility charge is that feasibility functions as a constraint on the validity of a normative claim. It is contested, however, which kinds of normative claims are subject to such a feasibility constraint. Some, for example, hold that it is a constraint on prescriptive but not on evaluative normative claims. For surveys of the current debate, see Southwood, Nicholas, “The Feasibility Issue,” Philosophy Compass 13, no. 8 (2018)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. For the specific claim that the psychological feasibility of a moral motivation is a condition for its validity, see Kagan, Shelly, The Limits of Morality (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989), 277 Google Scholar, who speaks of a “motivational condition.”

6 For a discussion and overview of this motivational critique of Globalism, see Erez, Lior Cosmopolitanism, Motivation, and Normative Feasibility,” Ethics & Global Politics 8, no. 1 (2015): 4355 CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Erez, Lior, “Patriotism, Nationalism, and the Motivational Critique of Cosmopolitanism,” in Handbook of Patriotism, ed. Sardoč, Mitja (Cham: Springer, 2020), 545–59CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

7 I adopt these expressions of what is problematic about a normative theory that is infeasible from, respectively, Southwood, “The Feasibility Issue,” 5, and Gilabert, Pablo, “Justice and Feasibility: A Dynamic Approach,” in Political Utopias: Contemporary Debates, ed. Weber, Michael and Vallier, Kevin (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017), 99 Google Scholar.

8 For a recent analysis of the crisis of a global order akin to Internationalism, see Cooley, Alexander and Nexon, Daniel, “The Real Crisis of Global Order: Illiberalism on the Rise,” Foreign Affairs 101, no. 1 (2022): 103–18Google Scholar.

9 Rawls articulates this conception in A Theory of Justice (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1971). He provides the definite formulation of the three principles of this conception—the basic liberties, fair equality of opportunity, and difference principle—in John Rawls, Justice as Fairness: A Restatement (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002), 42–43.

10 Beitz, Charles, Political Theory and International Relations (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1979)Google Scholar, Part III.

11 Beitz, Political Theory and International Relations, 151.

12 Cf. also the “neo-Rawlsian” positions of Thomas Pogge, Realizing Rawls (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1989); Moellendorf, Darrel, Cosmopolitan Justice (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2002)Google Scholar; Tan, Kok-Chor, Justice without Borders (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

13 Nagel, “The Problem of Global Justice,” Philosophy & Public Affairs 33, no. 2 (2005): 113–47.

14 Nagel, “The Problem,” 114, 128.

15 Erez labels the critique of globalism, according to which the relevant agents are unable to maintain the requisite moral motivation over time, as the political version of the motivational critique of Globalism and distinguishes it from the metanormative version of this critique that deals with questions of moral psychology. This differentiation is confusing, however, because both critiques concern moral psychology and the long-term psychological feasibility is not simply a political question. The label metanormative is also not ideal, because it is not as specific as psychological. For the distinction between forming a motivation and maintaining this motivation, see Gilabert, “Justice and Feasibility,” 97.

16 Miller, David, On Nationality (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), 65 Google Scholar. See also Slote, Michael, The Ethics of Care and Empathy (London: Routledge, 2007), 33 CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Nussbaum, Martha, Political Emotions: Why Love Matters for Justice (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, chap. 1.

17 This psychological idea expresses David Hume’s moral sentimentalism, according to which moral judgments reflect feelings of moral approval or disapproval and our actions are never motivated by reason alone but always have feelings (or “passions”) at their source; cf. Hume, Treatise of Human Nature, ed. L. A. Selby-Bigge, rev., P. H. Nidditch (1739; repr., Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978); David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, ed. Tom Beauchamp (1748; repr., Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006).

18 MacIntyre, Alasdair, “Is Patriotism a Virtue?” The Lindley Lecture at the University of Kansas (Lawrence, KS: University of Kansas, 1984), 10 Google Scholar, argues that “typically moral agency and continuing moral capacity are engendered and sustained in essential ways by particular institutionalised social ties in particular social groups.” Cf. also Joseph Heath, “Rawls on Global Distributive Justice: A Defence,” Canadian Journal of Philosophy: Supplementary Volume 31 35 (2005): 193–226.

19 Miller, David, “Reasonable Partiality Towards Compatriots,” Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 8, nos. 1–2 (2005): 79 CrossRefGoogle Scholar, makes a similar point: “It has yet to be demonstrated that a purely cosmopolitan ethics is viable—that people will be sufficiently motivated to act on duties that are likely to be very demanding in the absence of the ties of identity and solidarity that nationality provides.”

20 See Simmons, Beth, Mobilizing for Human Rights (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Sikkink, Kathryn, The Justice Cascade (New York: W. W. Norton, 2012)Google Scholar; Moyn, Samuel, Not Enough (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2018)Google Scholar.

21 Held, David, Cosmopolitanism: Ideals and Realities (Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2010).Google Scholar

22 De Wilde, et al., eds., The Struggle over Borders: Cosmopolitanism and Communitarianism (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2019)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Reckwitz, Andreas, The Society of Singularities, trans. Pakis, Valentine (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2020)Google Scholar.

23 Mouffe, Chantal, “Democracy in a Multipolar World,” Millennium 37, no. 3 (2009): 549–61CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

24 Cooley and Nexon, “The Real Crisis of Global Order.”

25 These media include China’s CGTB and Russia’s RT television stations. The spyware that is used is Pegasus of the NSO technology group.

26 For the conditional probabilistic account, see Brennan, Geoffrey and Southwood, Nicholas, “Feasibility in Action and Attitude,” in Hommage à Wlodek: Philosophical Papers Dedicated to Wlodek Rabinowicz, ed. Rønnow‐Rasmussen, Toni et al. (Lund: Lund University Press, 2007), 125 Google Scholar. Subsequently, I will drop the qualifier “conditional” when referring to the conditional probabilistic account. The distinction between the possibilistic and the probabilistic understanding of feasibility is analogous to the distinctions between binary and scalar understandings of feasibility as well as between hard and soft feasibility constraints.

27 Sandel, Michael, “The Procedural Republic and the Unencumbered Self,” Political Theory 12, no. 1 (1984): 90 CrossRefGoogle Scholar; MacIntyre, “Is Patriotism a Virtue?” 9–10.

28 Rawls, The Law of Peoples; Beitz, Charles, The Idea of Human Rights (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

29 Cf. Mouffe, “Democracy in a Multipolar World,” for a similar claim from an agonist perspective, according to which “the political” is constituted by group identities distinguishing between us and them, the denial of which leads over time to antagonistic forms of intergroup violence.

30 Boehm, Chris, Moral Origins: The Evolution of Virtue, Altruism, and Shame (New York: Basic Books, 2012)Google Scholar; Joyce, Richard, Evolution of Morality (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2005)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Kitcher, Philip, The Ethical Project (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Greene, Joshua, Moral Tribes (New York: The Penguin Press, 2013)Google Scholar; Henrich, Joseph, The Secret of Our Success (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2015)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Tomasello, Michael, A Natural History of Human Morality (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014)Google Scholar; Boyd, Robert, A Different Kind of Animal (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2018)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. See also the references to Kim Sterelny’s work in the next footnote.

31 This paragraph follows the characterization of the current scholarly debate in Sterelny, Kim, “Life in Interesting Times: Cooperation and Collective Action in the Holocene,” in Cooperation and Its Evolution, ed. Sterelny, Kim et al. (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2013), 89108 CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Sterelny, Kim, “Cooperation in a Complex World: The Role of Proximate Factors in Ultimate Explanations,” Biological Theory 7 (2013): 358–67CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Sterelny, Kim, “A Paleolithic Reciprocation Crisis: Symbols, Signals, and Norms,” Biological Theory 9 (2014): 6577 CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Sterelny, Kim, “Norms and Their Evolution,” in Handbook of Cognitive Archaeology: Psychology in Prehistory, ed. Henley, Tracy, Rossano, Matt, and Kardas, Edward (London: Routledge, 2019), 375–97CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

32 See Seabright, Paul, The Company of Strangers (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, for the claims concerning scale and anonymity, and Sterelny, “Norms and Their Evolution,” for the claims concerning technological and economic changes.

33 Boehm, Moral Origins, 10.

34 Boehm, Moral Origins, 10, 180.

35 Boehm, Moral Origins, 11–12, 73–74.

36 Boehm, Moral Origins, 15, 17, 19, 31–32, 71–72, 87, 149–50.

37 Boehm, Moral Origins, 19–23, 28, 32–33, 43, 106–7, 185, 200.

38 Boehm, Moral Origins, 33–35, 73.

39 Boehm, Moral Origins, 12–13, 15, 31.

40 Boehm, Moral Origins, 23–25.

41 Another case in point is Kitcher, The Ethical Project, who, like Boehm, argues that the capacity to follow rules of social cooperation emerged within small groups that attempted solving so-called altruism failures. Altruism failures are cases in which individuals do not give sufficient weight to the interests of other individuals in their decision-making, e.g., when going on a large-scale hunt, and therefore fail to solve collective action problems.

42 See Simmons, Mobilizing; Sikkink, The Justice Cascade.

43 Cf. Buchanan, Allen and Powell, Russell, The Evolution of Moral Progress (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018)CrossRefGoogle Scholar as well as Buchanan, Allen, Our Moral Fate (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2020)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

44 Buchanan, Our Moral Fate, 67–68, characterizes the environment of evolutionary adaptation as follows: “(1) There weren’t many humans, and they lived in small, widely scattered groups. (2) When they encountered individuals from other groups, they were in a desperate competition for survival resources. (3) Because these groups were widely scattered, they had different immune histories, which meant that if you encountered people from another group, you might become infected with lethal pathogens…. (4) Individuals from other groups not only presented a risk of biological parasites but also could be social parasites, free riders on your group’s cooperative practices, because they hadn’t internalized your group’s rules and weren’t bound to you by the ties of loyalty that your group’s traditions and practices fostered…. (5) There was little or nothing in the way of social practices or institutions to enable peaceful, mutually beneficial cooperation among different groups …. (6) Because human groups were widely scattered and had their own histories, they had different languages, different styles of bodily adornment, clothing, hairstyles, and so on, and different ways of doing the basic things that all human societies must do to survive.”

45 Buchanan, Our Moral Fate, 76.

46 Buchanan, Our Moral Fate, 125.

47 Greene, Moral Tribes.

48 Buchanan, Our Moral Fate, 109, 105–18.

49 Gilabert, “Justice and Feasibility,” 118–23.

50 This is a different way of saying that the Internationalist ethos may appear infeasible (in the probabilistic sense) from a static perspective (e.g., due to the preponderance of anticosmopolitan orientations), even though it is feasible (in the probabilistic sense) from a dynamic perspective. For this distinction, see Hamlin, Alan, “Feasibility Four Ways,” Social Philosophy & Policy 34, no. 1 (2017): 209–31CrossRefGoogle Scholar. For my defense of how to change educational practices to create a more Internationalist (and democratic) consciousness, see Culp, Julian, Democratic Education in a Globalizing World (London: Routledge, 2019)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.