Prompt 1 (3020: Global Justice 2016)

What Does Global Justice Require of Us?

One of the central debates in global justice scholarship concerns who we owe obligations of justice to.  Some political philosophers (e.g., Rawls or Dworkin) argue that principles of justice only “apply within the boundaries of a sovereign state” (Nagel 2005: 121-2).  If correct, this would mean that issues of global poverty, disproportionate global resource distribution, effects of climate change and transnational environmental disasters, civil wars and genocidal violence, the exodus of refugees, and so forth, all fall beyond the purview of justice.  While we may have certain weaker responsibilities to foreigners, this perspective implies that we commit no injustice, for instance, by failing to help those in other nations who need our assistance, or by perpetuating some status quo that disadvantages some people in other countries (e.g., contributing to the current global trade in electronic waste).

Those who deny this (e.g., Caney, Nagel, Young) maintain to the contrary that the geopolitical boundaries of nations do not constrain our obligations of justice.  According to this “cosmopolitan” perspective, we have duties to foreigners around the globe, and when we fail to show foreigners the regard we owe our fellow citizens, we do them wrong—we commit an injustice.  This is to say, for instance, that to help those in other nations who need our assistance, or to eliminate some status quo that disadvantages some people in other countries, is not a matter of charity or benevolence or choice: it is our obligation.

In thinking about this divide in the literature, do you agree with Nagel’s claim that “Justice as ordinarily understood requires more than mere humanitarian assistance to those in desperate need, and injustice can exist without anyone being on the verge of starvation” (Nagel 2005: 118)?  Why or why not?  What would you say global justice requires of us?  In answering this question, you must discuss one real-world example that illustrates your conclusion.

PLEASE NOTE: with these sorts of normative questions that we’ll be engaging throughout the semester, where there is no clear right or wrong answer, you must do more than merely state your opinion.  This would fundamentally fail to satisfy the expectations of these thesis-driven and evidence-based writing assignments.  Your task is to take a stand on the issue and to defend this position by writing an educated and informed response, incorporating specific ideas from the readings that support your thesis.


Filed under 3020_2016: Global Justice

7 responses to “Prompt 1 (3020: Global Justice 2016)

  1. Chandler G.

    A Potentially Idealistic View on Global Justice

    Nagel argues that justice is more than humanitarian efforts to those in “desperate need,” (Nagel 119). He defines justice as “Justice, by, contrast, is concerned with the relations between the conditions of different classes of people, and the causes of inequality between them,” (Nagel 119). I agree that in order to achieve global justice people cannot simply seek out those in the direst need and simply assist them. Global justice, as I see it, applies to all levels of economic status. The root at which global justice achieves to attack is equality of all.

    The author divides to theories of thought early on in this article, cosmopolitanism and political. Cosmopolitism is the thought or theory that we are all connected by ideas and commonalities. This view strives to complete global justice, however there are strong obstacles preventing it. The political theory argues that people are only tied to those within a sovereign state, or country. The political view provides no guilt, need, or want towards global justice. Nagel argues that both lead to an institution that is the sovereign of the globe, monitoring justice and what is owed of all of us (Nagel 119-122).

    While I refuse to pretend that I understand all of the aspects and theories of global justice, it seems that the best way to tackle global inequalities is through the cosmopolitan lens. If a country has the ability to assist another without harming themselves, then there is an obligation to step up and work towards equality. We all have an obligation to work towards equality, despite borders.

    Yes, this is incredibly idealistic. The cosmopolitan argument may only apply if everyone agrees to help each other despite differences. However, if the majority, or the ones in power, believe in the cosmopolitan idea, then global justice could be achieved.

    The EU is currently in a state of crises with the influx of refugees fleeing from the Middle East, most notably Syria. The EU does not want to accept new people and accept the responsibility, however, the refugees continue to seek a new home within their borders. In 2015 alone there was a total of 1,321,560 asylum claims in Europe (BBC). Many countries within the EU have the capabilities to help refugees, but despite that they are sending people away. Hungary and Bulgaria are even building fences around the borders to prevent people from entering their countries. Hungary is not in a poor economic state; they are experiencing surplus, GDP is increasing, and public debt is decreasing (OECD). They should be willing to process these refugees, as they have the means to do so. But the burden isn’t on Hungary alone EU countries should all step up. A system needs to be created, but progress won’t come from countries building up their borders and turning their backs on those in need.

    Works Cited
    “Economic Survey of Hungary 2016.” Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 June 2016. .

    “Migrant Crisis: Migration to Europe Explained in Seven Charts.” BBC News. N.p., 04 Mar. 2016. Web. 02 June 2016. .

    Nagel, Thomas. “Problem of Global Justice.” Philosophy & Public Affair 33.2 (2005): 113-47. Web. 02 June 2016.

    “Why Is EU Struggling with Migrants and Asylum?” BBC News. N.p., 03 Mar. 2016. Web. 02 June 2016. .

    • Wyatt R.

      Universal Equality: A Worthy Dream… Far from Reach

      Response to Chandler G.

      In the pursuit of Global Justice, we must understand the limitations imposed by the world in which we live. While the idea of Global Justice, a society in which all are equal, is absolutely ideal, it’s unfortunately something that is far from reach.

      In response to the above post by Chandler, I absolutely agree that the cosmopolitan argument proposed by Nagel is one that resonates strongly with many people, myself included. While this “cosmopolitan” argument may seem to be idealistic, I don’t believe that it’s something countries should give up hope on achieving. When we refuse to help others and stand to the side on major issues of inequality and injustice, we are guilty of promoting these injustices. Nagal, when speaking on injustice, states: “injustice can exist without anyone being on the verge of starvation” (Nagel 2005:116). This quote resonates very strongly with each and every country on earth who face their own forms of injustice– here in the United States, for example, injustice has shown itself in the form of racial violence and prejudice. A cosmopolitan view on global justice can work; a good example of this is the refugee crisis in Europe, and how countries outside of the EU, namely Canada, have promoted a sense of justice in taking refugees en masse. “The Canadian public’s wides[read embrace of a plan to accept thousands of Syrians stands in stark contrast to the controversy over the issue in the United States…” (Austen) states the New York Times, commenting on the arrival of refugees to Canada.

      Examples of success and opinions aside, this “dream” of all countries helping each other is idealistic at best– it’s far from becoming reality because countries seem to be more concerned with domestic issues rather than those of other countries. This is especially true in the United States– according to an article from POLITICO, a survey of Americans found that “of 19 options for cutting government spending, only one– reducing foreign aid– was supported by more than 40 percent of Americans” (Robillard). Until we are able to think like global citizens instead of citizens of our respective nations, we are bound to find that a concept of “cosmopolitan” justice is far away.

      Works Cited:
      Nagel, Thomas. “Problem of Global Justice.” Philosophy & Public Affair 33.2 (2005):118. Web. 05 June 2016
      Robillard, Kevin. “Poll: Most Only Want Foreign Aid Cuts.” POLITICO. Web. 05 June 2016.
      Austen, Ian. “Syrian Refugees Greeted by Justin Trudeau in Canada.” The New York Times. 11 Dec. 2015. Web. 5 June 2016.

    • Matt S.

      Institutional Justice

      Response to Chandler G.

      I agree with Nagel’s claim that “Justice as ordinarily understood requires more than mere humanitarian assistance to those in desperate need, and injustice can exist without anyone being on the verge of starvation”. Simply offering aid to countries in turmoil does not solve the core issue, which lies within its institutions. Given the two philosophies discussed so far, I disagree with Chandler and I think the political approach would be most successful at solving the core issues. Ideally, justice would be rooted in each sovereign nation’s institutions and it would not be the responsibility of outside institutions to provide humanitarian assistance.
      Merely reacting to injustices like starvation by offering relief services is not a long-term solution for global justice. There is evidence that these efforts actually negatively affect these countries in need. Often these efforts lead to corrupt government officials benefiting while the ordinary citizens are worse off (Bovard).

      The only long-term solution is nurturing stable government institutions that promote justice. Spreading democracy across the world is one way to achieve this stability.

      In this pro-democracy scenario, it would be in each nations best interest to abolish any injustice within its borders. Citizens could elect a leader that meets their standards of justice. Economic incentives such as inclusion in trade would also persuade leaders to adhere to standards of justice. Unless a tyrant leader took control of a nation it would not be necessary for nations to intervene on each other’s practices.
      My belief is that justice should be a preventative measure and not a reactionary solution. The Syrian conflict is an example of a government failing to originally provide justice to its people. If the rebels to Assad’s regime were provided justice to begin with, there most likely wouldn’t be a civil war. I know I’m oversimplifying the situation but I think there is some truth there. Now, there are millions of refugees seeking asylum and this creates another question (i.e. Should European countries provide asylum?) of global justice that is a reaction to the initial injustice. Hopefully some countries will accept the refugees but the ongoing conflict is the true problem. In order to achieve lasting peace “negotiations that deal with the root problem and the demand for real political transition” must take place. (Pierret)

      Bovard, James. “The Continuing Failure of Foreign Aid.” CATO Institute. Cato Insititute. 31 January 1986. Web. 5 June 2016.

      Pierret, Thomas. “No Stability in Syria without Change.” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. 12 February 2014. Web. 5 June 2016.

  2. John P.

    No Two Countries are Created Equally: A Call for Global Justice Reform

    Due to the fact that not all countries have the same access to financial and natural resources, it is necessary that for global justice to be achieved most efficiently, countries must look outside of their borders to both give and receive help. This was exemplified with the massive progress that Haiti has made following the devastating earthquake in 2010 with the help of U.S. aide.

    Just like on an individual level, there comes a point where destruction and hope has been loss to such a degree that it can not be restored without help. People were not put on this planet to get through their struggles and losses alone, nor were countries and borders built to separate humans from doing something that is so innately natural to mankind, helping one another.

    Rawls however, uses the argument of the individual in the opposite manner. He explains that just as what we owe our fellow citizens is different than what we owe one another as individuals, so too, what we owe our fellow inhabitants of the globe is different than what we owe our fellow citizens. This however, seems to be a selfish way to create a world of social justice.

    Without U.S. aid and help from other countries around the world, Haiti would not be in the position of repair that it is now. The progress made is immeasurable, yet a few facts can show what lending a hand can do. What is important to note however, is that the U.S. did not stop at feeding and providing shelter for those affected by the tragedy, they created systems for future success. For example, the U.S. has created nearly 5,000 jobs in Haiti’s undeveloped northern region by partnering with Inter-American Development Bank, the government of Haiti and the private sector ( Are we crossing our civic duties in doing this? Though we may not be feeding the starving, we could be preventing future starvation by creating a community where a healthy economy can exist and thrive.

    Years later after many starving have been fed, one of the biggest issues Haitians are facing is their declining agriculture. Instead of relying on more “instant gratification” efforts that could be considered the “necessary” aid we have shifted the focus on fixing the source of the issue. The World Bank approved $50 million to support agriculture products, which is a much more sustainable way to approach the issue instead of being purely reactive. ( This could not be achieved without international help however.

    Therefore, due to immense inequality of financial, structural and natural resources, it is necessary for countries to lend a hand across borders and beyond boundaries for social justice to be achieved.


    “2010-2015 U.S. Assistance to Haiti Overview (2015).” U.S. Agency for International Development. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 June 2016.

  3. Abigail D.

    Injustice does not only exist within the bounds of states that have extreme starvation, injustice can exist on many levels. Nagel’s claim is quite agreeable for myself. I would consider myself a humanitarian; I care about the world and the people who lie outside of our own borders, people who do not share my own nationality. I may hold these views, but my own humanitarian ideology is not enough to help provide justice to those who were unlucky enough to be born where they were. We are all born into unequal opportunities and in order to provide equal opportunity, we must go beyond the sheer claim of being a humanitarian. During World War 2, 6 million Jews were systematically exterminated under the leadership of Adolf Hitler. The only country in the world to agree to provide asylum to these refugees was the Dominican Republic and only about 200 Jews ever made it to the island. The United States was actively aware of what was happening in Europe for over 1 year before they finally decided to act and many European leaders were aligned with Hitler himself. The Jews of Europe may not have shared our own nationality but they were in fact humans who did not choose to be born during those unjust years. Global justice requires us to look past our citizens and realize that these people could have easily been you or me if we had been born to a different family at a different time. The reason we are here in this moment means nothing, as it could have so easily been another. Global justice is about seeing each other as human beings who share one common thing, the will to survive. As humans we have an obligation to help each other survive because if we had been born to such unfortunate circumstances we would want the more fortunate to help. If we can help, why would we not?

  4. Briana C.

    The Moral and Ethical Responsibility of Sovereign Nations

    The notion of global justice is an incredibly complicated discourse—the questions and answers are far from absolute. In accordance to Nagel’s cosmopolitan viewpoint, I argue that democratic citizens have a distinct moral and legitimate responsibility to all human beings that transcends international borders; sovereign nations have a duty, at the very least, to attempt to bring justice to unjust countries. However, I emphasize that human starvation and hunger is not the only constituent for unjust societies—injustice occurs repeatedly even when individuals are far from starving.

    In recent years, climate change has posed a threat to global justice. The United Nations climate summit at the end of 2015 entered the final push to enact a long-term strategy for dealing with climate change (BBC News). However, some campaigners have said that the summit has still denied ‘climate justice’. This is because rich countries have a responsibility to ensure a fair global deal for everyone, not just themselves, and poorer countries must not settle for anything else. Fortunately, this 2015 summit in Paris produced a deal that would come into force in 2020, ensuring long-term changes in the global economy. Sovereign and wealthy nations have a moral duty to go to extreme lengths to stop global warming.

    Although it is evident that global justice without global sovereignty is an extremely difficult, almost impossible goal to achieve, I purpose that this does not equate to ignoring our international obligations as sovereign citizens. With wealth comes great responsibility, and due to the arbitrariness of an individual’s place of birth, how is not our duty to extend democratic governance to illegitimate regimes? On the other hand, we can try to solve our problem of global justice, but that problem is too significant to know what the full ideal of global justice entails (Nili: 2011: 644). I am not arguing that the pursuit of global justice by democratic nations should come at a insurmountable cost to their citizens; but, continued unjust and dictatorial actions in developing and illegitimate countries is a detriment to the sovereignty and power of developed nations.

    Nili, Shmuel. “Our Problem Of Global Justice.” Social Theory & Practice 37.4 (2011): 629-653. Academic Search Premier. Web. 3 June 2016.

    “COP21: Final Push for Climate Deal amid ‘optimism'” BBC News. BBC News, 2015. Web. 03 June 2016.

    • Emma S.

      Beauty and the Beast: The Allure of Federal Systems

      Response to Brianna C.

      Briana espouses an important humanitarian perspective. Members of developed nations do have a moral obligation to assist other struggling human beings and nations. Nevertheless, there are other distinctions worthy of thoughtful consideration. The development of a federal system is a way to join Nagel’s Cosmopolitan and Political Perspectives on justice and ultimately offer a way to address our humanitarian responsibilities.

      While acknowledging the importance of affiliation and association, the federal system allows members to transcend the limits of sovereign states. The United Nations or a similar organization has the potential to act as an international federal system. For instance, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, passed in 1948, outlines the specific protocols that many member nations have signed. These rights range from “the right to life, liberty and security” to “the right to freedom of opinion and expression” (The United Nations art. 21.3). The protections and support built into this document have the potential to enable participating nations to join together and hold each other accountable to the agreed upon ethical standards.

      On paper, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights sounds like a wonderful solution. In reality, it is not always successfully deployed. Hafner-Burton focuses on the difficulties that arise for an organization such as the United Nations. She states, “there is no global police force or criminal justice system to put these laws into effect” (Hafner-Burton 2013: 9). This perspective can seem daunting. Made up of 193 nations, the United Nations is not of single opinion. It is a mixture of culture, politics, ideals and economic disparity. Each member is still a sovereign state.

      Admittedly, the United Nations is far from perfect. However, to become a part of this organization, a country must indicate interest in affiliation and cooperation. At this moment in time, the United Nations is the largest international federation that strives to respond to humanitarian crises. Thus, it is the first step towards what hopefully will become a less partisan opportunity for us to achieve and fulfill our moral, humanitarian obligations to one another.

      Work Cited
      Hafner-Burton, Emilie M. Making Human Rights a Reality. N.p.: Princeton UP, 2013. Web. 4 June 2016.

      The United Nations. Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 1948. Web. 4 June 2016

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