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Abstract

A global ethic needs to be cosmopolitan in a sense which is explained; this excludes certain kinds of communitarian ethic. Contracttheories, Kantianism, basic-rights theories, Ross-type deontology and theories of virtue ethics are reviewed and found to encounter severe problems. Consequentialist theories, however, are found capable of coping with Williams’ objections, and practice-consequentialist theories capable of coping with right-making practices and with Lenman's unpredictability objection. Variants that exclude from consideration unintended consequences, the results of omissions, or impacts on possible people, or which prioritize average over total outcomes, fail to improve on the Total View, which is argued to overcome objections based on population numbers and on good procedures, but which needs to be biocentric in scope. Theories of this kind are capable of coping with global problems, while also favouring alliances between global citizens of diverse normative outlooks.
THE SHAPE OF A GLOBAL ETHIC
Robin Attfield, Cardiff University
SECTION ONE: A COSMOPOLITAN ETHIC
My aim in this paper is to sketch the shape of a global ethic, that is, an ethic applicable to
global problems and the agents who have to tackle them, and at the same time to
intersocietal and international arrangements, the kinds of arrangements likely to be needed
for global governance and for coping with global problems. After eliciting some
implications of these aims, I will proceed through a process of hypothesis and refutation
with a view to executing the proposed sketch.
Among the reasons why nothing more than a sketch is envisaged is that a detailed ethic
would need to be harnessed to a developed value-theory, and there is insufficient space
here to argue for such a theory. While in fact I hold that value attaches to much else
besides pleasure, and not least to the development of the characteristic capacities of both
human beings and members of other species, and that it is possible to arrive at defensible
priorities between such values, I cannot argue for all this here, and must instead seek to
supply the schematic framework of an ethic that could be harnessed to any of a whole
range of value-theories, only one of which is my own. Correspondingly I shall speak of
promoting the good, or of averting the bad, or of making the greatest available difference
to the foreseeable balance of the good over the bad, rather than specify that this involves,
at least in my view, promoting the kinds of well-being in which characteristic capacities
(such as, among humans, autonomy and practical reason) are developed or exercised.
Granted the requirements of a global ethic, one of the features of such an ethic must, I
suggest, be cosmopolitanism. Thus responsibilities or obligations that attach to anyone
will fundamentally and typically attach to anyone relevantly similar, irrespective of
national, ethnic or cultural differences or boundaries. This is not to deny that special
obligations, owed perhaps to fellow-citizens or fellow-taxpayers may exist. However, the
underpinning of such obligations will remain universal obligations (for example to
humanity or to other humans, present and future), and in general, such obligations will be
underpinned by universal obligations which can best be fulfilled by citizens or taxpayers
of a particular country through such special obligations. Thus the range of agents to whom
obligations apply will be unrestricted and universal, and, by parity of reasoning, so will
the range of moral patients, or of parties to be taken into consideration. This does not
mean that all actions and policies should benefit all parties, not least because effective
action will usually be focussed on the few with whom the agent is interacting, and not all
of these can always be benefited. But in principle no one and nothing in the present or the
future that can be benefited can be ignored or regarded as not counting. (Universal
obligations to keep promises and contracts will in effect mean that many people of the
past cannot be ignored either, where promises or contracts made to or with them remain in
force.)
Imagine that things were otherwise, and responsibilities either had a limited application or
were essentially limited with regard to the range of moral patients to be taken into
consideration. Global problems could then not be tackled on any concerted basis, since
there would be no reason (beyond self-interest) to expect agents from other cultures or
countries than one's own to participate in a concerted programme of action, and no reason
to expect the bearers of recognised responsibilities to heed the interests of large sectors or
swathes of humanity. Hence if ethics were restricted in any of these ways, there would be
no serious prospect of global problems being tackled. There may be further reasons for the
same conclusion (for example, the logic of universalisability and thus of the need to treat
like cases alike might be suggested as such a reason), but they may well prove
insufficient, granted narrow interpretations of universalisability, and in any case the
reasons just given are sufficient for present purposes.
There are, of course, ethical systems that limit responsibility to fellow members of a given
nation or culture or religion, and it is not my claim that they do not comprise moralities. I
am rather suggesting that they could not form a global ethic in the sense mentioned at the
outset. At the same time I am suggesting that this makes them less satisfactory as action-
guides than a global ethic, for the very reason that they cannot cope with global problems
in the way that a global ethic has to be capable of doing. These considerations, I suggest,
count against one sort of communitarianism, the kind that holds that responsibilities both
arise within and are restricted to particular communities. However, they do not count
against other sorts of communitarianism, the sorts that commend community as a
(universal) value; for such a positive valuation of community (wherever and whenever
located) could well form a vital component of a viable cosmopolitan ethic.
One or another kind of global ethic would be recognised by global citizens, or people who
recognise obligations with regard to (at least) all other human beings of the present and
future. Such people recognise (at least) humanity as a community (and could thus be
regarded as communitarians of a kind). But for the same reason they do not require that
obligations flow from membership of existing political or social communities, as the less-
than-satisfactory kind of communitarianism does. For it is possible to be a citizen of
unofficial or incipient or potential communities (such as the global community), whether
they are recognised or not as communities; and only if people and organisations work
towards fair institutions at this kind of level are pressing global problems likely to be
tackled in time. Because many people recognise the need for improved global governance,
there are probably more global citizens than the number that would subscribe to this label,
including some who actually reject the notion of global citizenship as incoherent, but
recognise relevant responsibilities
So far, I conclude that a global ethic would be of the cosmopolitan kind, in the sense
indicated.
SECTION TWO: PROBLEMS FOR CANDIDATE THEORIES
There are several kinds of theories capable of being regarded as a global ethic, including
contractarianism (at a global level), Kantianism, basic-rights theory and deontological
theories such as that of the late Sir David Ross. However, these types of theory all
encounter problems when confronting global issues, and I shall argue that these problems
make them less than equal to the role of a satisfactory global ethic.
Plausibly none of these theories, with the possible exception of rights theories, can cope
with obligations with regard to nonhuman animals. Animals are excluded from entering
into contracts, fail the rationality requirement for being respected by Kantians, and are
likely to be neglected unless noticed and favoured by benevolent followers of Ross; while
their inability either to make claims or to authorise claims to be made on their behalf
disqualifies them in the eyes of many from bearing rights. Since, however, I have not
shown that a global ethic must cope with such obligations (obligations with regard to
nonhuman animals), I will set this problem aside (for the time being), and turn to the
capacity of these theories to cope with obligations with regard to future people, something
that can resonably be required of a global ethic.
Now contractarians such as Rawls seek to underpin intergenerational obligations by
modifying the otherwise egoistic motivation of the choosers in his original position, and
making each of them concerned for their own descendants. But this move has the
weakness that such motivation is bound to get weaker for more distant descendants and
thus support insufficient obligations, has no bearing on obligations to people of the future
to whom one is not related, and also is an intrinsically unsatisfactory device, since this is
the only non-egoistic concern of his choosers, who are not allowed to be aware of any
other loves or friendships or concerns, and seems selected ad hoc to prevent his theory
being silent about posterity.
Hence some of his followers have further modified the original position to avoid this
arbitrariness, so that the people there include representatives of all future generations.
Such choosers, it is suggested, would choose fair inter-generational principles.
Unfortunately, this arrangement begs the question. For the principles selected in the
original position affect how many generations there will be, and whether humanity dies
out within a couple of centuries or endures for millennia. So it cannot be known prior to
this selection of principles in the original position how many generations there will be to
be represented. Further, if there are merely representatives of some generations likely to
exist in any case, this skews the decision-making forum in favour or the near future (the
part of the future likeliest to be represented) and against any succeeding generations.
Accordingly, contractarianism seems unable to make satisfactory provision for
intergenerational obligations. (There are some parallel problems for Scanlon’s
contractarianism, with its exclusion of possible people from consideration.)
Kantianism seems more promising, exhorting us to treat future people as ends and never
as means only. This is good advice where those to be respected are actual, whether as
existing children or adults or as embryos or foetuses already conceived. But it is much less
help with the people of the twenty-second century and onwards, who are, as of now,
merely possible people, and of whom many different alternative subsets could be brought
into being. Where such possible people are concerned, it is difficult to discern what
respecting them as ends amounts to, when not all of those who, if they come into being,
would belong to the same generation can exist together at all. Many of them would only
exist given the adoption of one set of present policies, and not at all given the adoption of
others. But in these circumstances we cannot regard either set as helping or harming them,
or as respecting them better than alternative policies would. Thus they cannot be wronged,
whatever we do, and we cannot fail to respect them as individuals. This problem (which
derives of course from the work of Derek Parfit) does not mean that all policies are on an
ethical par and that none is better than others, but it does strongly suggest that Kantianism
cannot cope with a large swathe of intergenerational issues.
The same issues raise profound problems for basic-rights theories, theories, that is, in
which rights are not derivative and not grounded in the difference they make to needs and
interests or in related obligations, but comprise the fundamental bedrock of the theory.
While rights-theories are promising for identifiable bearers of rights, it is hard to see how
they can cope with future people whose existence depends on current decisions and
policies. Most future people are in this position, and so, according to such theories, the
fundamental basis of such decisions are to be the rights of the possible people who might
or might not exist. But since possible people exist only in one possible future, would not
be harmed if they do not exist, and would not have been treated better than this by their
predecessors if they do exist, how their rights could assist with such decisions turns out to
be problematic. Let us imagine, however, that they all somehow have rights, and that such
rights should guide our choices. It will often happen, if so, that rival candidates for
existence (A, B and C) will each have rights against us to be brought into being at the
same time and place. So if we ought to honour all these rights, we are faced with
contradictions, and if we select between them, then we have no choice but to override the
rights of those we deselect. I am not suggesting that there are no current obligations with
regard to people of the further future, for I have no doubt that there are obligations to
preserve a habitable natural and social environment for whoever there will actually be.
But I am suggesting that they cannot be based on basic rights, or indeed on any other
system within which obligations are always owed to someone or other who is identifiable.
Our obligations could be to foster the quality of life of whoever there will be, but cannot
be grounded in rights or entitlements or any other entirely personalised ethical system.
Nor does Ross-type deontology fare any better. While it advocates benevolence as one of
its prima facie principles, it is unclear that all the possible people of the further future are
to be taken into consideration, as opposed to the identifiable ones of the near future, and it
is clear that this principle can clash with a number of others, such as observing promises
made to current people. Thus anyone such as a politician who has promised not to adopt
policies that could involve sacrifices for present people (such as voters) actually has an
obligation not to support any policies involving sacrifices for the sake of future people,
whether in terms of supplying an urban infrastructure, preserving green places and
habitats, or fostering national or international institutions that future people would benefit
from. True enough, they could also have contrary obligations at the same time, given the
theory of Ross. But that is another problem with such forms of deontology; there is no
criterion by which to prioritise obligations, or to select some that are genuinely obligatory
as opposed to the others which merely seem obligatory (on a prima facie basis).
Nor does it help to offer the criterion for genuine obligations that they are the ones that the
virtuous person would implement, unless we can be given a criterion of being virtuous
that marks off agents not only as courageous, wise and just but also as capable of coping
with all the dilemmas introduced by modern technology, such as those generated by
artificial intelligence and genetic modification. Otherwise it is implausible that virtuous
people will manage to act rightly in such dilemmas. The virtues must be given their due in
any satisfactory ethical theory including a satisfactory global ethic, but in the absence of
such a criterion they cannot be brought in as if they made good the shortcomings of
deontology, or were capable of enduring that (for example) the needs of future generations
would be heeded by agents in the present.
The common problem for all the theories mentioned is that they cannot cope with
obligations with regard to future people, and thus cannot cope with the full range of
foreseeable consequences of current decisions. Maybe no other theory can do this either.
However, this problem suggests that we consider next whether theories based on valuable
outcomes can cope any better. So I now turn to consequentialist theories.
SECTION THREE: SOME MERITS OF PRACTICE-CONSEQUENTIALISM
Peter Railton has recently defended what he calls objective consequentialism, by which he
means objective act-consequentialism. This is the theory that ‘the criterion of the rightness
of an act or course of action is whether it in fact would most promote the good <out> of
those acts available to the agent’. Railton contrasts this theory with subjective
consequentialism, in which promoting the good is treated as a decision-procedure, and
thus supplies a sophisticated response to critics of consequentialism such as Bernard
Williams who claims that consequentialism disrupts agents’ lives, places overdemanding
burdens on them, and is thus alienating. Such objections, Railton argues, apply to
subjective consequentialism, but need not affect objective consequentialism. For objective
consequentialists could reasonably decide to adopt beneficial dispositions, rules or
commitments, compliance with which would foster the good at least as well as
deliberating each time about consequences, and would have some serious chance of
making the world better thereby. Subjective consequentialism, by contrast, is likely to be
so alienating for its adherents that the goal of life being made more worthwhile would be
undermined, a counterproductive tendency that Williams mistakenly ascribes to
consequentialism in general. There are probably some lessons in all this for global
citizens, whose lives could readily be made a misery if they had to weigh up the impacts
of their actions on all the problems all the time.
Thus act-consequentialism can cope with some of the objections that it confronts, such as
Williams’ objections about alienation. But it seems to cope less well with practices such
as promise-keeping and upholding due process for those accused of crimes. Here Railton
holds that the practices concerned may be beneficial, but are not what makes actions that
comply with them right. But, while I agree that the actions that comply with these
practices are not invariably right (since other factors and outcomes may in rare cases be
more important), I am reluctant to agree that these practices do not make these actions
right, other things being equal. For we do hold that the fact that an act would be a case of
keeping a promise is a right-making characteristic, and we could hardly do otherwise as
long as the institution of promising remains current (which probably means as long as
humanity survives at all). I conclude from this that where beneficial practices (ones that I
have elsewhere called ‘optimific’) apply, it is the practices that make actions falling under
them right, except where practices conflict, or
where extremely grave harm would result (or, to take up the problem about people of the distant future,
where the quality of life of whoever there will be at that time would be gravely affected).
Railton counters that compliance with practices whose acceptance-value would be high could be
disastrous for agents where they are not yet generally accepted. My view about this is that the
beneficiality of practices (e.g. abstention from bribery) still makes compliance right except where
extremely grave consequences are likely to result, and that in that kind of situation the agents are
exonerated from compliance in any case. Hence this problem does not require us to revert to act-
consequentialism, in cases where practices are either in being or in prospect. For other cases, however, it
is their own foreseeable consequences that make acts right, but it is not necessary to decide each case on
this basis, as better overall outcomes are foreseeable through adherence to the kinds of commitment to
beneficial dispositions, rules or relationships, as commended by Railton. (Such practices can be argued to
include ones enshrining rules of natural justice and those requirements of minimum standards that we call
respect for human rights.) This practice-consequentialism seems preferable to act-consequentialism, and
seems a strong candidate for a satisfactory global ethic if other problems do not prove overwhelming.
A further objection to act-consequentialism has recently been supplied by James Lenman, in an article
called ‘Consequentialism and Cluelessness’. There is a wide range of consequences of many acts that
cannot possibly be foreseen, and accordingly agents will seldom be in any position to optimise the
consequences of their actions. However, as Lenman indicates, this would not be an objection to kinds of
consequentialism focussing on foreseeable consequences, nor again to rule-consequentialism,
presumably because rule-consequentialism could be presumed to take foreseeable (as opposed to other)
consequences into consideration when optimific rules or practices are identified as such. Besides, there is
a strong rationale for focussing on foreseeable consequences; for these are the only kind or consequences
that can provide agents with reasons for acting or for forbearing. Railton’s act-consequentialism would
seem vulnerable to Lenman’s objection, but the practice-consequentialism defended here is not thus
vulnerable, as long as the relevant consequences are recognised to be those that are foreseeable.
SECTION FOUR: ALTERNATIVES
A number of alternative or modified kinds of consequentialism should at this stage be reviewed. One is
the suggestion that our theory should be restricted to the consequences of actions rather than to those of
omissions. Indeed Bernard Williams’ objections to consequentialism in general include the claim that
making agents responsible for the consequences of omissions produces a theory that is overburdensome.
This objection at least has the merit of recognising that omissions can and do have consequences,
something that philosophers sometimes deny. For example, the omission of the current British
government to renationalise the railways when it had sufficient funds and public support to do so will
have significant consequences for a good while to come. But granted that some omissions have
consequences, it becomes difficult to deny that agents who can or could have foreseen these
consequences can have responsibility for bringing them about.
Further the appearance of burdensomeness arises in part from reflecting on the multitude of our
omissions, rather than comparing like with like. Where actions are concerned, people are not held
responsible for what they bring about in ways beyond their own control or unforeseeably; and by parity,
the same applied to omissions. We cannot help not being in Cardiff now, just as we cannot help
contributing to the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere through breathing now, and can in neither case be
held responsible. But if we
plead that we are not responsible for differences e.g. to the relief of poverty that we could
have made and know that we could have made, on the grounds that we are concentrating
on projects central to our lives instead (as Williams suggests that we always may), then
we can sometimes rightly be criticised for neglect, and would sometimes rightly be so
criticised by the adherents of any satisfactory global ethic. While this is not a complete
response, Railton’s treatment of the overdemandingness objection supplies, at least in my
view, what is centrally needed.
Nor, fairly clearly, can the consequences of action or inaction to be taken into account be
restricted to those that are intended by the agent. For this would exclude consequences
that are foreseeable but unintended (as in the Doctrine of Double Effect). But if we could
prevent grave, foreseeable but unintended consequences (such as, for example, avoidable
continuations of global warming), then, other things being equal, we should surely do so.
Nor does this apply to single actions with grave consequences alone. For, as Jamieson and
Parfit have argued, some grave consequences sometimes result from large numbers of
isolated acts, e.g. of unnecessary car journeys, that each have such slight impacts that they
seem inoffensive, even though the joint outcome is both grave and foreseeable. Such
examples show, I suggest, that appeal cannot be made to the unintended status of
consequences, and that our theory should not be qualified to allow of this.
Another modification of the comprehensive inclusion of the foreseeable consequences of
action (or of the Total View, as Parfit has called it), is to appeal instead to consequences in
terms of average quality of life. This is supposed to avoid the possibility that the Total
View might authorise overpopulation. To that possibility we can return, but first the
Average View (again Parfit’s designation) should be considered. While the Average View
seems to avoid some potential problems, it gives rise to others that are quite surprising.
Thus the Average view could forbid happy people to have children, in circumstances
where the average happiness was at all likely to drop if this were done. This being so, the
Average View could also forbid humanity in general to have children, if such
circumstances became widespread, Thus the Average view could require the extinction of
whole peoples or even of humanity, an even more counterintuitive implication than the
one it was introduced to avoid.
At this point some have suggested that the Total View be retained, but be restricted to
consequences for actual people, ones that can already be identified, rather than to possible
people. (This is sometimes called the Person-Affecting View, and sometimes the Prior
Existence View). In a previous section I was assuming that such a view has to be rejected,
but the reasons for this should now be reviewed. The fundamental reason is that everyone
living in the next century or thereafter comes into the category of possible people, since
the identity of such people cannot be known. Thus all the people of the further future
become treated under this theory neither as first-class nor as second-class citizens, but not
as counting at all, unless the prospect of their existence enhances the quality of life for
those recognised as counting. But this amounts to quite unjustifiable discrimination,
particularly as there are numerous ways in which current policies can impact on the
distant future. Burying radioactive waste-products is just one, but it is a good example of
action that might cause no harm to identifiable people, and yet drastically lower the
quality of life of their unidentifiable successors. This the Prior Existence View should be
rejected.
But is not the Total View open to the overpopulation objection? No. This is a long story,
but I will try to abbreviate it. For the world as it actually is, the Total View can hardly
advocate population increases, because the prospect of lengthening the global food queue
when well over one billion people already lead lives of ‘absolute poverty’ (in the World
Bank sense of that phrase) is likely to cause a large increase in misery, not credibly likely
to be offset by the happiness of additional happy people. For the world as it is, the Total
View rather advocates that population levels be stabilised as soon as possible.
Just say, though, that additional resources became available on one or more planets that
were habitable or that had been made habitable, and in addition that this could be done
without generating ecological damage to those planets (considered either on an
anthropocentric or a biocentric basis). For this scenario the Total View might well
advocate population increases, as long as poverty on Earth were likely to be relieved in
the process. But such an advocacy is surely unobjectionable.
What people object to when they consider population increases is overcrowding in the
more habitable portions of the Earth, plus the stretching and sharing of existing resources
among further people; they are not, I suggest, objecting to population increases in
principle. Although this is far from the full story, it must suffice for now to suggest that
the Total View is not undermined by the overpopulation objection.
Nevertheless some people continue to fear that consequentialist theories overstress
outcomes and understress processes, and that specific mention of good processes needs to
be included in our theory to entrench such processes against their overthrow or disregard.
But here I want to ask what makes good processes to be good ones. And one of the
obvious answers is their benefits, or rather the overall balance of foreseeable benefits over
foreseeable disbenefits, whether to people (if only people count) or to creatures in general
(if nonhumans count as well). If this were to prove a credible answer, then good processes
could readily be endorsed by practice-consequentialists, and even by act-consequentialists
such as Railton too, without their basic theories needing to be modified. I have offered a
much more detailed version of this argument in a book called: Value, Obligation and
Meta-Ethics, and cannot say more here, except that even this criticism from the
deontological stable proves far from conclusive.
A much more cogent criticism of Total-View consequentialism would arise if it were to
exclude the interests of nonhumans. Such a speciesist stance cannot, I suggest, defensibly
be held in any satisfactory global ethic; the widespread acceptance of the wrongness of
both cruelty towards animals and neglect of the animals in one’s charge presuppose
nothing less. But if so, then the various problems mentioned above for contractarianism,
Kantianism and most kinds of rights-theories re-emerge, and combine to suggest not a
rejection of consequentialism as such, but a rejection of any theory that is anthropocentric
(anthropocentric consequentialism included). Nor is an expanded rights-theory likely to
help, because of the multiple conflicts of rights that would arise, which would need to be
resolved by appeal to something other than rights, such as needs or interests. What should
be preferred, I suggest, is a biocentric consequentialism, that locates value in whatever is
good in the lives of nonhumans as well as humans. But what that is, and how far such
intrinsic value extends down the evolutionary ladder, is not something that can be tackled
today, for the same reasons as those for which a value-theory cannot be elaborated here
either. For related reasons, theories of degrees of intrinsic value cannot be discussed, or
therefore inter-species principles of obligation. These too I have tackled elsewhere, in the
book just mentioned.
SECTION FIVE: COSMOPOLITAN CONSEQUENTIALISM AND GLOBAL
CO-OPERATION
My conclusions include the capacity of a biocentric version of Total-View practice-
consequentialism to cope with the various problems. The problems, of course, include
problems of global governance. For example, we need an equitable world system to
develop out of the Kyoto regimen for greenhouse gas emissions, embodying both reduced
emission levels and provision for the basic needs of the poor and of poor countries.
Applying consequentialism to this issue means that none of the relevant interests are
disregarded, and that a viable system (with emission quotas proportioned to countries’
population, I suggest) can be defended on that basis. Other global problems, such as
allocation of fresh water, could be tackled on a comparable basis.
However, many global citizens would be likely to adhere to other forms of global ethic.
What prospects have these other forms of coping? My suggestion would be that their
prospects are larger if they accommodate rules such as those of natural justice and human
rights than if they instead comprise theories that appraise acts one by one. They will fare
better if they cover omissions as well as actions, unintended foreseeable consequences as
well as intended ones, and possible people as well as identifiable ones. Better, for
example, a rights-theory with an epicycle to cover the interests of possible people than one
restricted to the recognised entitlements of actual people. And, just as important, they are
more likely to cope if they recognise the moral standing of nonhuman creatures than
otherwise. Those theorists who claim that human and nonhuman interests invariably
converge, and that therefore the latter interests can safely be ignored, neglect the long ages
during which there may be life on earth after the demise of humanity, but only if
humanity, while still persisting, does not eliminate those life forms that otherwise have a
chance of outliving it.
Global citizens would be likely to urge other people to adopt theories and principles as
unrestricted as possible, but would aim at alliances with people of all theories and of none.
In the case of consequentialists, this would be a principled stance, as more good is likely
to arise from sharing a common platform with people of different persuasions than
through refusing or neglecting to do so. Such neglect or refusal could well involve a
wrongful omission, particularly where worthwhile life could otherwise be fostered or
safeguarded. They would also advocate the virtues of tolerance and co-operation, not on
virtue-ethics grounds but on consistently consequentialist ones. Indeed they could, as
Railton explains, even support suppressing mention of their own principles in
circumstances where expressing them would be divisive and thus counterproductive.
Silence on matters of principle could often prove a principled stance, particularly on the
part of a satisfactory, cosmopolitan global ethic.
REFERENCES will be needed to Attfield (VOME), Glover (PAP), Jamieson, ?Kant or
Kantians, Lenman, Parfit, Rawls, Railton, Ross, Singer (PEV), Williams.
THE SHAPE OF A GLOBAL ETHIC
Robin Attfield, Cardiff University
1. A COSMOPOLITAN ETHIC. What a global ethic involves and requires. Why a
cosmopolitan theory is needed. The kinds of communitarianism that this precludes: any
denying that we have unrestricted responsibilities, at least where humanity is concerned.
2. PROBLEMS FOR CANDIDATE THEORIES. Problems for contract-theories,
Kantianism, basic-rights-theories, Ross-type deontology and virtue-ethics. The common
problem; they cannot cope with full range of the foreseeable consequences of action. (The
interests of most future people are neglected in one way or another by all these theories.)
3. SOME MERITS OF PRACTICE-CONSEQUENTIALISM. Act-consequentialism can
cope with Bernard Williams’ objections about overdemandingness and alienation, but fails
to cope with right-making practices, or with Lenman’s objection about unpredictability.
Practice-consequentialism copes with these difficulties.
4. CONSEQUENTIALIST ALTERNATIVES. No improvement is made by excluding
from consideration omissions, unintended consequences, or impacts on possible people, or
by adopting the Average View. The objections to the Total View based on overpopulation
and on good processes can be overcome. But (like other kinds of theory) consequentialism
needs to heed nonhuman interests. A biocentric consequentialism is needed.
5. COSMOPOLITAN CONSEQUENTIALISM AND GLOBAL CO-OPERATION Such
a theory could be applied to global problems such as coping with global warming. Others
seem to cope less well, but cope the less badly if they are rule-theories (accommodating
rules of natural justice and human rights), if they include unintended consequences and
possible people, if they apply to omissions, and if they are biocentric. Global solutions
will however be promoted by mutual toleration and co-operative alliances among global
citizens of diverse normative outlooks.
... 3. See Attfield (2006) for an extensive discussion of the nature of a 'global ethic'. ...
... Various charters for the earth also pursue the aim of a global ethical and environmental vision, including ones by the UN as well as the Earth Charter Commission founded in 1997, with such notable advocates as Maurice Strong and Mikhail Gorbachev, who almost saw their charter ratified at the World Summit on Sustainable Development, Johannesburg, 2002 ('The Earth Charter'). There have also been a number of books and articles in this area published by scholars of different hues (e.g., Attfield 2006;Singer 2002;Graham 1999;Grieder 1997). We can therefore see that there is strong interest in pursuing some type of GE. ...
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Since the coming to the fore of cosmopolitan social thought in the wake of the decline of postmodernisms, a variety of scholars have attempted to develop notions of ‘cosmopolitan social thought’, organising them in terms of the varieties of projects they deal with, ranging from the development of cultural competencies enabling equitable treatment of all peoples, to the creation of transnational governance mechanisms, to the establishment of international social movements and forums. Still others have critiqued these theoretical offerings, noting their basis in a particular set of material resources that go unacknowledged or the failure of cosmopolitan ethical positions to impact on the material inequalities in the world today. Yet, no one has to date observed the core of the problem of cosmopolitanism as a lived, resistant practice: namely, that cosmopolitanism social thought must address both the ethical and cultural part of the equation and the material inequities in the world.
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This book relates the value present in the natural world and in human creativity to an underlying purpose which it traces in creation. It opens by invoking the wonder aroused by nature’s value and celebrated by poets, and moves to a cosmic purpose as the best explanation of this value. Natural evils are considered and set in their evolutionary context. Human creativity is later related to inspiration, and to traditional theistic teaching about the purpose of human life. Criticisms of “the value approach” are considered, together with the quest for meaning, and fears that Darwinism undermines it, which are found to be illusory. New ground is broken through this response to the spectre of bleakness. The author’s previous studies of meaningful work are applied to the question of the nature of a worthwhile life and life’s meaning. While the world’s value is argued to point to creation by a transcendent lover of value, human beings are shown to be capable of augmenting that value through their creativity (not least through activities such as craftsmanship and gardening). In integrating the themes of value, creativity and purpose, the book contributes a new synthesis to the literature of philosophy, environmental studies and theology.
Article
The Future of Ethics interprets the big questions of sustainability and social justice through the practical problems arising from humanity's increasing power over basic systems of life. What does climate change mean for our obligations to future generations? How can the sciences work with pluralist cultures in ways that will help societies learn from ecological change? Traditional religious ethics examines texts and traditions and highlights principles and virtuous behaviors that can apply to particular issues. Willis Jenkins develops lines of practical inquiry through –prophetic pragmatism,— an approach to ethics that begins with concrete problems and adapts to changing circumstances. This brand of pragmatism takes its cues from liberationist theology, with its emphasis on how individuals and communities actually cope with overwhelming problems. Can religious communities make a difference when dealing with these issues? By integrating environmental sciences and theological ethics into problem-based engagements with philosophy, economics, and other disciplines, Jenkins illustrates the wide understanding and moral creativity needed to live well in the new conditions of human power. He shows the significance of religious thought to the development of interdisciplinary responses to sustainability issues and how this calls for a new style of religious ethics.
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