Development ethics: Distance, difference, plausibility

Philosophy and Geography 1 (1):35 – 53 (1998)
Abstract
This paper defends some aspects of the intentionalist and internationalist worldviews of (an expanded) mainstream development studies against certain moral claims emanating from the New Right and a diverse post-Left. I contend that citizens and states in the advanced industrial world have a responsibility to attend to the claims of distant strangers. Although it is difficult to specify in determinate ways how this responsibility should be discharged—save for attending to basic human needs and rights—the responsibility itself derives from the interlinking and asymmetrical exchanges that bind distant strangers together in an interdependent world economy. I draw on Rawls and Roemer to specify the nature of this responsibility. I also draw on Benhabib to make a modified Rawlsian theory of justice less abstract while continuing to insist on the possibility and necessity of conversations between radically different social actors. The final part of the paper attends to questions of plausibility. I suggest that New Right and (more so) post-Left critiques of an expanded mainstream in development studies and policy are ethically deficient to the extent that they commend alternative development strategies without giving proper consideration to their costs and disbenefits. Development ethics, I conclude, is not just about questions of transnational justice and positionality; it is also about the construction of plausible alternative worlds and practical development policies.
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