Global Collective Obligations, Just International Institutions And Pluralism

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It is natural to think of political philosophy as being concerned with reflection on some of the ways in which groups of human beings come together to confront together the problems that they face together: in other words, as the domain, par excellence, of collective action. From this point of view it might seem surprising that the notion of collective obligation rarely assumes centre-stage within the subject. If there are, or can be, collective obligations, then these must surely constrain the ways in which we can act collectively. Indeed, one might even suspect that considerations about collective obligations ought to play a central role in demarcating the form that any legitimate form of political organization ought to take. Elsewhere I have argued that we have good reasons for accepting the existence of global collective obligations - in other words, collective obligations which fall on the world’s population as a whole.(Wringe 2006, 2010, forthcoming, under review) For example, the existence of such obligations provides a plausible solution to a problem which is sometimes thought to arise if we think that individuals have a right to have their basic needs satisfied. In this paper, I shall argue that in many situations, forward-looking global obligations give rise to an obligation on individuals to work towards bringing into existence and support an institutional system which will enable their obligations to be met. Call such an obligation the ‘Obligation to Promote Satisfactory Global Institutions.’ I shall also examine a significant challenge to this line of argument, which I call the ‘Pluralist Challenge’ One might suppose that the ‘Obligation to Promote Satisfactory Global Institutions’ could be met by providing strategic support to attempts to modify and extend existing international institutions. After all, creating new institutions is a difficult matter: perhaps it would be better, especially where stringent obligations are concerned, to concentrate on those institutions which we already have. On the other hand, existing international institutions are subject to a range of significant moral and ethical criticisms. It would simply be naïve to suppose that their existence of such institutions is based on an international consensus about what justice requires; and it is not clear how we could motivate individuals who have severe ethical reservations about the existence of such institutions, or why we should wish to. This suggests that those who think that there are global collective obligations, and that such obligations should play an important role in shaping how we think of international distributive justice are faced with a significant dilemma: either support a program of extending and strengthening existing institutions in a way which risks entrenching some existing forms of injustice; or commit oneself to a program of attempting to build new institutions which will have to compete with those institutions we have already and which are unlikely to be in a position to meet help us to discharge our collective obligations at any point in the near future. Neither option seems satisfactory. I shall argue that our response should be to look for plausible ethical constraints on how international institutions should be developed, and suggest that these constraints are likely to take a cosmopolitan form.



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Bill Wringe
Bilkent University

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