Statism, Nationalism, and Cosmopolitanism: An Essay on the Scope and Structure of Distributive Justice

Student thesis: Phd


According to many political philosophers, one cannot consistently think that the world is radically unjust while denying that the well-off members of that world have highly demanding and enforceable duties to rectify or at least try to improve the situation. The consistent position is either to admit that the world is not radically unjust or to accept that the well-off have highly demanding duties of global justice. Interestingly, though, many well-off people seem unwilling to accept either of these alternatives; they are sure that the world is unjust, but they are also fairly sure that they don't have any highly demanding and enforceable duties to rectify the situation. Are the philosophers right? Are the people who believe both of these claims simply confused?In this essay I argue that the people who hold both claims to be true may not be as confused as many philosophers think they are. I begin by refuting the positions of 'Statists' and 'Nationalists', both of whom argue that claims of radical injustice can only arise within the boundaries of contemporary nation-states, and that the belief about the radical injustice of the global distribution is therefore simply false. I argue that statist justifications for this 'domestic scope restriction' of justice are self-contradictory, because when properly understood they actually imply that the scope of justice is global. And I argue that nationalist justifications for the domestic scope restriction are untenable, because when properly understood they actually entail the implausible conclusion that the scope of justice is more severely restricted than even the domestic scope restriction suggests.Having rejected the statist and nationalist positions I turn my attention to the more positive task of explaining why people who hold the two 'inconsistent' claims are not, in fact, as confused as they might initially seem to be. The solution to the problem lies in the way we understand the concept of distributive justice itself. The central aim of this thesis is to defend a new way of interpreting the concept along the lines of what I call the 'dual-component model of distributive justice'.In order to develop and defend this model I begin by conducting a detailed analysis of the four main ways in which the concept of distributive justice has traditionally been interpreted. These are: the currency view; the institutional view; the coercion view; and the fairness view. I argue that the currency view and the institutional view should be rejected. I then claim that the coercion view and the fairness view both capture a necessary and important truth about justice, but that neither view on its own is sufficient to explain the full range of our intuitions about justice.My solution is to combine the coercion view and the fairness view within a single conceptual framework. The dual-component model of justice consists of two distinct sets of principles to which different roles are assigned within the theory. One set of principles, which corresponds to the fairness view of justice, specifies an ideally fair distribution. The other set of principles, which corresponds to the coercion view, specifies the limits on how people may be justifiably coerced. Both sets of principles - both 'components' - must be satisfied before a distribution can be declared fully just.The dual-component model promises to explain how and why the radical injustice of the global distribution, on the one hand, and the duties that well-off individuals have to respond to this situation, on the other hand, can be seen as two distinct issues. If my argument is right then the reason why Statists and Nationalists, as well as many other approaches to justice, are coming up with the wrong conclusions is because they misunderstand the nature of justice itself.
Date of Award1 Aug 2011
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorJonathan Quong (Supervisor) & Hillel Steiner (Supervisor)

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