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“This book offers a timely introduction to the emerging subject of global
ethics and provides the reader with the theoretical tools and information
necessary to understand issues of global importance.”
nick buttle, University of the West of England
Global ethics is an exciting and growing field of study. It addresses the most pressing
contemporary ethical issues, including torture, scarce resources, poverty, migration,
consumption, global trade, medical tourism and humanitarian intervention.
Global ethics is both topical and important. How we resolve (or fail to resolve)
the dilemmas of global ethics shapes and limits how we understand human beings,
our relationships and social and political frameworks of governance, now and into
the future. This is obviously the case with climate change, where our actions now
determine the environment our grandchildren will inherit, but it is also the case in
other areas, because our decisions about what it is permissible for humans beings to
do to each other determines the type of beings we are.
This book introduces the reader to the theory and the practice of global ethics,
with particular focus on global governance and citizenship, poverty and development, war and terrorism, bioethics, environmental and climate ethics, and gender
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Taylor & Francis Group
For Kit and Gillian
First published in 2011 by Acumen
Published 2014 by Routledge
2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN
711 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10017, USA
Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group,
an informa business
© Heather Widdows, 2011
This book is copyright under the Berne Convention.
No reproduction without permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or
reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical,
or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including
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or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers.
Practitioners and researchers must always rely on their own
experience and knowledge in evaluating and using any information,
methods, compounds, or experiments described herein. In using
such information or methods they should be mindful of their own
safety and the safety of others, including parties for whom they have
a professional responsibility.
To the fullest extent of the law, neither the Publisher nor the
authors, contributors, or editors, assume any liability for any injury
and/or damage to persons or property as a matter of products
liability, negligence or otherwise, or from any use or operation of
any methods, products, instructions, or ideas contained in the
material herein.
isbn: 978-1-84465-281-5 (hardcover)
isbn: 978-1-84465-282-2 (paperback)
British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
Typeset in Minion Pro.
1. What is global ethics?
2. Case studies for global ethics
3. Moral theory for global ethics
4. Political theory for global ethics
5. Rights theory for global ethics
6. Global governance and citizenship
7. Global poverty
8. Global conflict: war, terrorism and humanitarian intervention
9. Global bioethics
10. Global environmental and climate ethics
11. Global gender justice
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This book has been long in the making. In 2002 the University of Birmingham
launched the first Masters in global ethics and in 2005 the Journal of Global Ethics followed. Thanks should go to my first colleagues in global ethics: to Donna Dickenson,
the first Professor of Global Ethics (who gave me my first academic job), and to
Christien van den Anker and Sirkku Hellsten.
Most thanks must go to those who have pioneered the field of global ethics: thinkers who have built on the work of previous thinkers and have carved out distinctive global-ethics approaches. Of these fellow travellers I would first like to thank
those I know best: Bob Brecher, Simon Caney, Nigel Dower, Darrel Moellendorf and
Leslie Sklair. They have been truly excellent colleagues and working with them on
shared projects, publications, workshops and conferences has been a great pleasure.
Other global ethicists to whom I am exceptionally indebted – either personally or
academically – are Richard Ashcroft, Gillian Brock, Roger Brownsword, Alastair
Campbell, Ruth Chadwick, Normal Daniels, Andrew Edgar, Carol Gould, Stan van
Hooft, Kim Hutchings, Alison Jaggar, Peter Jones, Graeme Laurie, Fiona MacCallum,
Martha Nussbaum, Bhikhu Parekh, Anne Phillips, Thomas Pogge, Sigrid Sterckx,
John Tasioulas, Leif Wenar and Gillian Youngs. Particular thanks must go to Bob
Brecher for his editing comments, which were well beyond the duties of a reviewer
and improved the manuscript no end. I would also like to give thanks to Phil Shiner
and his team: an inspirational example of someone working against the odds at the
coalface of global ethics.
I would like to thank my current colleagues in the philosophy department of
the University of Birmingham, particularly Helen Beebee, Darragh Byrne, Nick
Effingham, Alex Miller, Yujin Nagasawa, Jussi Suikkanen and Joss Walker. Special
mention should be given to Iain Law and Lisa Bortolotti, co-founders with me of
the Birmingham “Health and Happiness” Research Cluster, who provide criticism,
humour and support on a daily basis. Helen Harris also deserves special mention
for support above and beyond the call of duty. A final, and perhaps most important,
thank you to a Birmingham colleague must go to Sean Cordell, who was my research
assistant through the final months of this project. His intelligence, patience, humour
and reassurance were fundamental in bringing this project to fruition. Others I
would like to thank at the University of Birmingham are Leslie Brubaker, Lynne
Brydon, Luis Cabrera, Francesca Carnivalli, David Cheetham, John Hick, Heather
Marquette, Jean McHale, Stephen Pattision, Nicola Smith, Martin Stringer, Michael
Taylor and Simon Yarrow. Thanks must also go to Acumen, particularly to Tristan
Palmer, who has been wonderful to work with in all possible ways. The progress of
the book has not been easy and a number of delays were experienced. Tristan was
understanding and encouraging throughout, and demonstrated a rare trait in current
academic publishing: a real interest in the topic.
My final thanks are to my family. The past few years have been eventful – hence
the delays: I have given birth to a beautiful daughter, Clara, and lost a magical father.
Therefore the book is dedicated to my parents, Kit and Gillian, who in their political
activism and community engagement set me on the path to global ethics. I can never
thank them enough. Final thanks are to Matthew Hilton, my partner, fellow traveller and inspirational thinker. I thank him for his intellectual rigour, critical analysis,
imagination and optimism about what can be achieved.
Association pour la Taxation des Transactions financière et l’Aide aux Citoyens
Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women
European Court of Human Rights
economics in transition
female genital cutting
female genital mutilation
greenhouse gases
gross national income
Global Resources Dividend
Human Genome Organization
International Monetary Fund
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
non-governmental organization
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
United Nations
United Nations Development Programme
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
United Nations Children’s Fund
World Health Organization
weapons of mass destruction
World Trade Organization
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Global ethics is a new term that has emerged over the past few decades. In an exceptionally short time it has become established as a recognized area of study: it has
a particular approach to ethical dilemmas and some consider it to be becoming a
distinct academic discipline rather than a subset of other disciplines. This dramatic
growth means that global ethics is an exciting field to be in because those who enter
it are committed to discussing, and more importantly to seeking solutions to, the
most pressing contemporary ethical issues. Issues addressed in global ethics include
the “war on terror”, rogue states, child labour, torture, scarce resources, trafficking, migration, climate change, global trade, medical tourism, global pandemics,
humanitarian intervention and so on; the list goes on and on. Global ethics is not
only topical – these are issues we are all concerned about – but also important.
How we resolve (or fail to resolve) the dilemmas of global ethics will determine
the framework of future global governance. This will shape and limit the possible
relationships and opportunities of all global actors; moreover, decisions made now
will affect future generations. This is true not only for problems of climate change,
where our actions now determine the environment our children and grandchildren
will inherit, but also for decisions about what it is acceptable and permissible to
do to human beings. For instance, if we collectively decide that it is acceptable to
torture or to buy body parts then we are making judgements about what human
beings are, and these decisions will limit and shape what is possible or permissible
for future human beings. This is relevant not just for those who are tortured or who
buy and sell body parts, but for all of us. If such things are permitted, then human
beings will become types of beings who have parts that can be bought and sold, or
who can have pain and suffering (to the point of death) inflicted on them in certain
circumstances. These things matter in terms of how we understand human beings
now and into the future and are at the heart of creating a world where human beings
are treated ethically.
Students of global ethics come from many and various backgrounds, including
philosophy, politics, public policy, law, theology, international development and sociology. Importantly, students also come from “the field”, from policy-making and governance communities and from activist and NGO communities. In the past ten years,
numerous monographs, textbooks and edited collections have been published on
themes that fall within the broad field of global ethics, such as human rights, global
justice, research ethics and environmental ethics. In short, the field is burgeoning
and, in terms of ethics, global ethics is a good place to be.
This book will explore the whole sphere of global ethics. It will consider the most
pressing global ethical issues facing the contemporary world, from poverty, through
terrorism, to climate change. It will map the ethical responses to such dilemmas. It
will consider what sorts of global ethics are currently available and being developed
and their appropriateness for addressing global dilemmas. It will present and evaluate theoretical and practical approaches and explore the application of these in the
light of key dilemmas.
Very crudely, the first part of the book sets out the theory necessary to understand and analyse the dilemmas of global ethics. These chapters provide the reader
with knowledge of the main moral and political theories that are most useful in
approaching these issues; together these theories make up the “ethical toolbox” of
global ethics. As we shall discover, global ethics is not the kind of area or discipline
where theory can be separated from practice. To address the ethical challenges facing
the globe, theory, policy and practice must all combine. Unlike other philosophical
approaches, global ethics is neither “top-down” nor “bottom-up”, but regards theory
as necessary for successful practice and practice as essential for informing accurate
theory. Accordingly, global ethics is both normative and applied and emerges from
and influences policy and practice. The connection of theory and practice is fundamental for global ethics, and something we shall explore further later in this chapter.
These early chapters are anything but dry and theoretical, ignoring the realities and
limitations of real-world practice. Not only are the policy and practical implications
of the theories considered throughout, but Chapters 3, 4 and 5 (the most theoretical
chapters) are also meditations on the practical cases studies of Chapter 2.
The case studies detail some of the facts and figures of three controversial contemporary global issues: female genital cutting (FGC), the buying of body parts and
torture. These case studies provide an overview of these practices and introduce
W H AT I S G L O B A L E T H I C S ?
primary sources, for example quotes from different viewpoints and core documentary evidence. The case studies can be used on their own as useful exercises in
exploring these issues, or in conjunction with the early chapters of the book. They
are analysed in detail in Chapters 3, 4 and 5, respectively. This is useful in a number
of ways. First, it helps in understanding how the theoretical approaches introduced
in these chapters play out in practice. Second, it shows how theoretical standpoints
colour and shape how the ethical concerns of any issue are seen. Theory is not
neutral, but frames what is seen to be ethically important in any given situation;
considering how different theories approach such controversial issues shows the
importance of understanding theory, not only to make one’s own arguments but also
to understand where others are coming from and the claims they are making. Third,
it shows how global ethics is actually done and the complexity of negotiating these
global issues. Exploring case studies helps one to develop one’s own position and
to test it in light of real dilemmas; for instance, a theoretical approach might seem
attractive on paper, but once what this would actually mean in terms of a real-world
issue is considered, one might change one’s mind. This aspect of case studies is fundamental to global ethics because, unlike much philosophy, global ethics is not an
academic endeavour where attempting to win an argument is a kind of philosophical
game. Global ethics is concerned with fundamental real-world issues, real injustice,
human suffering and global threats, so it cannot be regarded as a mere intellectual
exercise; we would worry about the humanity of anyone who treated it as if it were!
The second half of the book looks at specific issues or areas of global ethics: issues
of global governance and citizenship, poverty and development, war and terrorism,
bioethics, environmental ethics and gender justice. Just as the early theory-focused
chapters are full of discussion about policy and practice, so the later chapters on these
issues show how theoretical approaches can clarify, critique and influence policy and
practice. These chapters focus on some key global-ethics concerns: however, they
are representative rather than exhaustive of the core concerns of global ethics. In a
book of this size it is unavoidable that more has been left out than has been included,
and there are numerous equally pressing global ethical issues that could have been
the focus of chapters. For example, there could have been far more discussion about
fossil-fuel consumption; scarce resources; international criminal activities such as
people-trafficking and drug-trafficking; the role of religion and law and the supposed
clash of cultures; business ethics, sweatshops and corporate social responsibility; the
role of civil society, anti-capitalist and anti-globalization movements; new social
movements and single-issue political campaigns; nuclear war and weapons of war.
This list could go on. These issues, and no doubt many others, have claims to being
“core” issues of global ethics and no doubt there will be arguments as to why these
are more pressing than those that have been included. All that can be said in response
is that in selecting these issues the aim is to show the range, complexity and connection of global-ethics issues, not to consider all important issues. To do so would
be impossible given their number, breadth and complexity. Even those issues that
are included are considered in very partial and limited ways. Whole books could
be written on every chapter and the topic would still not be exhausted. Something
similar must be said about the omission of many influential theorists of global ethics
and global justice. Some key thinkers and arguments are absent for the same reason,
and this is not in any way a comment on their import for the topic or usefulness in
exploring the dilemmas of global ethics. This book is an introduction, and therefore
merely provides a taste of the issues involved and the theories, policies and practices
available to address these issues. It is hoped that the ethical toolbox and the illustrations of how global ethics is done will be just as useful when assessing issues not
included in the book as for those included.
How you choose to explore these different aspects of the book will depend on
your reasons for using the book. If you have a primary interest in one of the global
dilemmas, for example contemporary conflict and terrorism, you may wish to focus
on Chapter 8 as an introduction to these topics. In addition, you will find the case
study on torture useful in thinking about what is acceptable in contemporary conflict. You many also wish to dip in and out of other chapters; something that becomes
clear as soon as you begin to examine these global dilemmas in any depth is that it
is very difficult to separate one issue in global ethics from others. For instance, other
sections that will be useful regarding conflict are found in Chapter 7, where there
is a discussion of humanitarian aid and conflict, Chapter 10, where the increasing
competition over resources is predicted to become a cause of conflict, and Chapter
11, where rape in war is discussed. You will also wish to explore Chapters 3, 4 and 5
if you are interested in how to understand the rights and wrongs of contemporary
conflict, and Chapter 5 will be particularly useful because the case study of torture
is analysed using the rights framework set out in that chapter.
Global ethics is a new and distinctive area of study, so the question is: why now?
After all, ethics, understood as an attempt to answer the question “How ought we
to live?”, goes back to Plato and the earliest philosophy. Likewise, as we shall see,
some of the distinctive political approaches of global ethics, such as the cosmopolitan approach, which sees all people in some sense as citizens of the world, also
go back to the Greeks. Given this, it would seem that global ethics is continuous
with previous moral and political thinking. This is certainly true; but it is also
true that there are new ethical dilemmas that arise in the context of globalization.
Globalization, and the political, technological and social changes and advances that
accompany it, raise new dilemmas, and global ethics is a response to these. For
W H AT I S G L O B A L E T H I C S ?
instance, pre-globalization ethical …
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