Principles or Imagination? Two Approaches to Global Justice

Mark Coeckelbergh

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperAcademic


In this paper I distinguish and discuss two approaches to global justice. One approach is Rawlsian and Kantian in inspiration. Discussions within this tradition typically focus on the question whether Rawls’s theory of justice (1971), designed for the national level, can or should be applied to the global level. For example, an important question is whether Rawls’s Difference Principle can be globalised. I will discuss the cosmopolitan position in this debate, arguing with Rawls (1991) against Rawls’s own proposal in The Law of Peoples (1999). Another approach to global justice has been developed by Martha Nussbaum in Cultivating Humanity (1997), Poetic Justice (1996), and other work. I will construct her view and critically examine it by looking at her arguments about the relation between empathy, literature, and global justice. At first sight, these two approaches seem to be opposed. The former puts an emphasis on principles, universal reason, and the moral aspects of institutions and their policies, whereas the latter is rather concerned with the relation between imagination and justice, with the particular, and with individual moral development. But is this necessarily so? I will show not only that both approaches could benefit from each other’s insights to strengthen their own position, but also that some integration between them is feasible and desirable if our aim is to provide a more comprehensive account of global justice. Moreover, the tension between these approaches is one that can be found within ethical theory in general. For example, pragmatists like Johnson (1993) and Fesmire (2003) have argued for imagination and against principles. On the basis of my analysis, I will conclude that the opposition between principles and imagination is weaker than is commonly assumed.
Original languageUndefined
Publication statusPublished - 2006
Event1st International Conference on Global Ethics “What is Global Ethics and how to research it?” - Ghent
Duration: 27 Apr 200629 Apr 2006


Conference1st International Conference on Global Ethics “What is Global Ethics and how to research it?”
Other27-29 April, 2006


  • IR-76250

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