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Ethics and the Foundation of Global Justice

  • Amartya Sen
Extract

Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote in his Letter from Birmingham Jail: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” That was in April 1963, more than a half-century ago. He had been jailed for his agitation to end injustice against non-white people in his own country, and he would be killed soon after by an assassin who hated him and his vision.

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References
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NOTES

1 Rawls, John, A Theory of Justice (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1971); also his Political Liberalism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993).

2 Nagel, Thomas, “The Problem of Global Justice,” Philosophy and Public Affairs 33, no. 2 (2005).

3 Dworkin, Ronald, “What Is Equality?Philosophy and Public Affairs 10 (1981), no. 3 (pp. 185246) and no. 4 (pp. 283–345); and his Sovereign Virtue: The Theory and Practice of Equality (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2000).

4 Nagel, “The Problem of Global Justice,” p. 115.

5 Hobbes, Thomas, Leviathan (1651), ed. Tuck, Richard (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991). Also, Locke, John, Two Treatises of Government (1689), ed. Laslett, Peter (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988); and Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, The Social Contract (1762), ed. Cranston, Maurice (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1968).

6 While discussing how justice can be effectively pursued when there is an “antecedent covenant”—a much broader notion than a devised social contract—Hobbes went on to point out that “if we could suppose a great Multitude of men to consent in the observation of Justice, and other Lawes of Nature, without a common Power to keep them all in awe; we might as well suppose all Man-kind to do the same; and then there neither would be nor need to be any Civill Government, or Common-wealth at all; because there would be Peace without subjection” (Leviathan, p. 118).

7 Tuck, Richard, Hobbes (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1989).

8 A number of entries in the Encyclopedia of Global Justice, edited by Chatterjee, Deen (Dordrecht: Springer, 2011), have addressed particular problems of ethics and economics related to global justice.

9 Rawls, John, Political Liberalism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993), p. 119 .

10 I have tried to say a bit more on this issue in the 2015 Annual Lecture to the Royal Institute of Philosophy: see Reason and Justice: The Optimal and the Maximal,” Philosophy 92, no. 1 (2016).

11 Sen, Amartya, The Idea of Justice (London: Allen Lane, and Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2009).

12 See also Chatterjee, Deen, “Reciprocity, Closed-Impartiality, and National Borders: Framing (and Extending) the Debate on Global Justice,” Social Philosophy Today 27 (2011), pp. 199215 .

13 The critically important role of allowing incomplete agreements is discussed in my essay, “Reason and Justice: The Optimal and the Maximal” (2016).

14 Hart, Herbert, “Rawls on Liberty and Its Priority,” University of Chicago Law Review 40, no. 3 (1973). See also Rawls's discussion on this in Political Liberalism (1993), Lecture VIII.

15 Sen, Amartya, Collective Choice and Social Welfare (San Francisco: Holden-Day, 1970 , and Amsterdam: North-Holland, 1979; expanded edition, London: Penguin, and Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2017).

16 The expanded edition of Collective Choice and Social Welfare (2017) discusses a number of serious problems of injustice in the contemporary world.

17 Hume, David, An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals (1771, republished, La Salle: Open Court, 1966), p. 25 .

* This essay is based on a talk given at the University of Utah on April 22, 2016, at an event sponsored by the Daniels Fund Ethics Initiative at the Eccles School of Business. I have greatly benefited from discussions with Akeel Bilgrami, Deen Chatterjee, Erin Kelly, Lionel McPherson, Thomas Nagel, Hilary Putnam, and John Rawls.

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Ethics & International Affairs
  • ISSN: 0892-6794
  • EISSN: 1747-7093
  • URL: /core/journals/ethics-and-international-affairs
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