Global distributive justice

This dissertation is concerned with the moral-philosophical dimensions of global poverty and inequality. The first chapter argues in favour of justice-based – contrasted with beneficence-based – obligations asking the wealthy to actively do something about severe poverty abroad. The distinguishing property of justice-based obligations is that they derive their high level of moral stringency from the fact that they ask the obligation-bearer to rectify for past and/or present violations of negative obligations, such as the obligation not to harm anybody (regardless of geographical distance). Partly in following and partly in reinterpreting Thomas Pogge the first chapter concludes that the current economic and political order harms the global poor by making it difficult or impossible for them to satisfy their basic needs. To the extent that better-off states (citizens and their democratically accountable governments) uphold such an unjust global order and contribute to the poor’s enduring dire straits they have obligations of justice to secure the basic needs of the poor. This is why the approach introduced and defended in this essay is called “basic needs cosmopolitanism”. The second chapter examines the idea of “basic needs” more detailed. Basic needs cosmopolitanism employs a specific notion of basic needs that is derived from Martha Nussbaum’s list of ten central human functional capabilities. These capabilities are of universal appeal, i.e. they are concerned with activities and states of being that are indispensable features of every human life. After discussing Nussbaum’s justification for the universal applicability of her list and after examining in more detail the list itself the argument distinguishes between basic needs for the material (financial, resource-related, etc.) and basic needs for the non-material (political, social, etc.) prerequisites for possessing these central capabilities. Both groups of basic needs have to be satisfied by a sufficient quality and quantity in order for a society to count as being able to meet its citizens basic needs and as being able to secure all its citizens’ central capabilities. The crucial idea is that if Nussbaum’s central capabilities are presented as having universal appeal, the related basic needs are of global applicability as well. The standard of material and non-material prerequisites is applied to a) the question of whether and to what extent the global order harms the poor and b) the question of what and how much material transfers from the wealthy to the poor are required on grounds of justice. Since this dissertation’s topic is global distributive justice the primary focus of this argument lies on the material pre-requisites that have to be available in order to secure central capabilities for all. This does not imply that the non-material basic needs for living in a society ruled by just and stable political and social institutions are less important. A complete version of basic needs cosmopolitanism will have to dedicate equal consideration to obligations of justice related to the global order’s responsibility for poor countries’ lack of the non-material prerequisites. The notion of “potential functionings”, introduced in concluding this essay, is supposed to underline the importance of securing central capabilities for all members of poor societies and expresses again basic needs cosmopolitanism’s commitment to identifying universal minimal standards of social and economic global justice.
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