The Dialogue of Global Ethics

| March 2012
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The message of Michael Ignatieff’s reflections on reimagining a global ethic is a comforting one for political philosophers. It is vital, he writes, for philosophers to keep doing what they have been doing: addressing the injustices of globalization from a perspective of strict impartiality that treats every human being as the object of equal moral concern. Philosophers should continue to elaborate this “one world” perspective against those partial perspectives arising from the claims of one’s particular country or particular religious faith. But their aim should not be to replace the one with the other, but to prompt an ongoing critical dialogue in which more particularistic doctrines of country or faith are called to justify themselves before the one-world ethic’s impartial standards— thus prompting the kind of critical self-reflection that is essential to moral change. And in so doing, the one-world ethic cannot be uncritical of itself, for there are different ways of conceiving a global ethic, each of which must answer to the others.

True to the spirit of Isaiah Berlin, Ignatieff’s is a cosmopolitanism shorn of any totalizing impulse. Its ultimate value is dialogue; its ultimate requirement is that we submit our ideals to the challenges posed by other perspectives. It is a comforting view, but also bracing—in holding that, while philosophers should continue doing what they have been doing, they cannot do so by talking only to themselves.

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Category: Essay, Global Governance, Issue 26.1, Symposium: In Search of a Global Ethic

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