To What Extent Can Beitz

’s Claim For A ‘cosmopolitan International Morality’ Be Sustained? Essay, Research Paper The main difference between Beitz and other moral cosmopolitanists such as John Rawls (who?s work Beitz based much of his theory on) is that he extends the moral cosmopolitan theory (previously confined to the ?domestic? realm) to that of an ?international? realm.

’s Claim For A ‘cosmopolitan International Morality’ Be Sustained? Essay, Research Paper

The main difference between Beitz and other moral cosmopolitanists such as John Rawls (who?s work Beitz based much of his theory on) is that he extends the moral cosmopolitan theory (previously confined to the ?domestic? realm) to that of an ?international? realm. Beitz argues ?that a suitable principle can be justified by analogy with the justification given by Rawls in a ?Theory of Justice? for an intrastate distributive principle.? (Beitz 1979b:8) Essentially, Beitz wants ideal theory to become a goal within the non-ideal world. In order to realize this, he must assume that there already exists sufficient interdependence among states that can constitute a cooperative scheme. He must also assume that the natural duty of justice provides the motivation and grounds for fulfilling it. If there was no natural duty of justice, then there would be no compelling reasons for individuals to apply principles of justice to the non-ideal world.

In short, I shall attempt to show how Beitz?s claims for a ?cosmopolitan international morality? cannot be sustained since he postulates a disjunctive relationship between ideal theory and the non-ideal world. Therefore, Beitz?s ideal only serves as a feasibility condition instead of an existence position. The central problem for Beitz revolves around the question of realization. The construction of his position is meant to serve as ?a critique and revision of orthodox views? (Beitz 1979b: vii). He identifies these orthodox views as coming from Realists, Hobbesians and skeptical. In fact, what we shall see is that Beitz does not distinguish himself enough from the orthodox views he so much criticizes.

In order to address this question, we must first of all define the meaning of a ?cosmopolitan international morality?. ?The moral point of view,? as Beitz states, ?requires us to regard the world from the perspective of one person among many rather than from that of a particular self with particular interests?(Beitz1979:58). Pogge who holds ?that all persons stand in certain moral relations to one another? defines moral cosmopolitanism. He states that a moral cosmopolitan requires us ?to respect one another?s status as ultimate units of moral concern- a requirement that imposes limits on our conduct.?(Pogge1992:49) Therefore the central idea of moral cosmopolitanism is that every person represents one unit of moral concern, which can be identified in many ways. For example, we could concentrate on subjective goods such as human happiness, or on more objective goods such as human need for natural resources.

Beitz?s ?picture of reason?, identified by Pin-Fat as the ?moral point of view? generates a global original position. Under the global original position, Rawls believes that individuals, however diverse their interests, would mutually agree on basic principles for governing the social affairs of their society. The global original position is ?hypothetically constructed to embody impartiality of both judgment and subjects.?(Pin-Fat1997:195) This original position is purely a construct of ideal theory and therefore must be the product of reflective reason. This reflective reason supports neutrality that is to be neither a product of history nor of the ?non-ideal world?. Ideal theory is an exploration into perfect conditions of justice in society that is considered necessary for providing the criteria not only of justice but also of injustice. Pin-Fat states that ?ideal theory is a necessary prerequisite of a partial compliance theory that studies the principles that govern how we are to deal with injustice?. (PinFat1997:188) Individuals would, however, be significantly constrained in their choice of principles behind the ?veil of ignorance?, a state in which parties would not know their fortune in the distribution of natural resources, thus people will be forced to be objective. The ?veil of ignorance? screens out ?morally arbitrary factors? (Rawls 1971:102) (considerations with no moral bearing on the choice of principles of justice). Beitz thus extends what are to be considered as ?morally arbitrary factors?. Deriving from this ?veil of ignorance?, Rawls arrives at his ?equal liberty principle?. Individuals should be free to pursue their own ends thus each person being entitled to an equal right ?to the most extensive basic liberty compatible with a similar liberty for others.? Therefore, it is to no surprise that Rawls advocates an equal distribution of resources within society. He urges individuals to adopt a principle capable of creating ?the greatest possible advantage to the least advantaged? regardless of any social and economic inequalities already existing, with the condition that all opportunities be available and open to all. This is Rawls?s ?difference principle?.

Beitz bases much of his work on Rawls?s ?equal liberty principle? and ?difference principle?. In one respect, Beitz further generalizes Rawls?s principles. His logic stems from the assumption that if every individual in the global original position is fully aware of the benefits and burdens that can be created within domestic society, why is it not possible for the principles of morality to be extended for international society? Surely they will agree that ?persons of diverse citizenship have distributive obligations to one another analogous to those citizens of the same state?(Beitz 1979b:58). Beitz claims that Rawls makes both theoretical and empirical errors when he applies his principles internationally. He does accept that national societies are self contained and self-sufficient, however, he opposes the assumption that the international version of the original position would lead to a set of purely formal rules. Under the veil of ignorance, Beitz proposes that state leaders would redistribute resources so each society would have ?a fair chance to develop just political institutions and an economy capable of satisfying its members? ?basic needs?(Beitz1979b 61). Beitz is trying to ?screen out? (Pin-Fat1997:195) states? particular interests, excluding precisely those characteristics or reality that make the world ?non-ideal?.

One of the main assumptions Beitz makes in his theory is that both the domestic and international realms are sufficiently similar enough so that the conjunction of political and international theory can generate international principles of justice. According to Beitz, Rawls? notion of a cooperative scheme is far too restrictive. By extending Rawls? theory to the international realm, Beitz is creating the possibility for arguing that international relations satisfy the criteria of a cooperative scheme. Generally, people have cooperative relationships in liberal pluralist societies, which they aim to maintain. They also place a high value on the institutions on which they are based. In our present society at least, people are willing to distribute some of the ?fruits of their labour?. Chris Brown comments that Beitz?s position is empirical, since it is by no means an established theory that postulates economic success as closely related to initial resource endowments. Thus, if an equal division of the world?s resources were to take place, it could hypothetically involve giving mineral rights to Japan and taking them away from Namibia.

Also, we may doubt whether individuals would act in the same way for others outside the social community of which we can identify as the state. Beitz claims that our perception about what is considered to be a ?right? or ?wrong? act is unreliable. He ignores our present existing social bonds labeling them as ?outmoded? and ?inadequate?. Thus Beitz insists upon basing his conception of justice on the ?reality? of economic interdependence. It is this interdependence, which provides the foundations for obligations of justice. Beitz draws on examples such as transnational transactions such as aid, trade and foreign investment to demonstrate that there exists sufficient interdependence between states that they constitute a cooperative scheme. We must also take note, however, that burdens such as political inequality and widening income gaps between wealthy and poor nations are as equally significant as the benefits resulting from interdependence. The point for Beitz in this regard is that the very existence of these burdens and benefits satisfy one of his criteria of the applicability of principles of justice, so that ?social activity produces relative or absolute benefits or burdens that would not exist if the social activity did not take place.? (Beitz1979b:131) However, Beitz?s stance on interdependence is met with significant criticism. Chris Brown, for example, notes that levels of mutuality between rich and poor states are very low indeed. Poor states generally depend far more on the richer ones than vice-versa.

Beitz?s position can seem rather contradictory. For example, he claims that his primary consideration is that a global difference principle need not be applied in the present (an existence condition) but it may be applied in the future (a feasibility condition). ?It was in this sense that ideal theory was made immune from empirical arguments about the nature of the non-ideal world at present.?(Pin-Fat1997:203)) This position is contradictory since Beitz?s interdependence argument is one built on the condition of existence in the present. Beitz believes that if anything, global principles of justice should be applied in the present since conditions of interdependence produce a cooperative scheme. However, we can question this logic since Beitz is of the opinion that the many and varied features of the non-ideal world cannot negate the applicability of global principles of justice. Beitz continues by suggesting that these principles of justice should be applied in the present because a condition of interdependence pertains. Thus it seems to be the case that Beitz has mixed ideal theory with observations about the non-ideal world. Principles of justice are intended to be the outcome of a reflectively rational choice within a global original position and decisions not including those founded on empirical ?fact?. This is precisely what separates ideal theory from the non-ideal world- ?without such a demarcation, there would be no need for postulating a global original position within which to choose principles of international distributive justice?(Beitz 1979b:155).

?There is no doubt that the main difference between international relations and domestic society is the absence in the former case of effective decision making institutions?(Beitz1979b). In contrast to Hobbes? analogy that the international realm could be linked to the state of nature, Beitz argues that this distinguishing feature is false. Nevertheless, he maintains that for the sole purpose of proving his theory concerning the application of international distributive justice, the distinction will remain true. He draws on the examples set by NATO and the European Union as sufficient evidence of a ?high degree of voluntary compliance with customary norms and institutionalized rules established by agreement.?(Beitz1979b:47) Thus we can see the emergence of a point of view that refutes the Hobbesian assumption linking international relations with a state of anarchy.

Towards the end of Political Theory, Beitz states that anarchy is a distinguishing feature of the international. We begin to notice another contradiction in Beitz?s theory regarding the international contrasted to that of the domestic. He states ?one cannot plausibly argue that these are similar in extent to those characteristics of most domestic societies.? (Beitz1979b: 155) This is a major fault in the Beitz theory. One may argue in defense of Beitz that such a contradiction was made because Beitz is refuting the possibility of a resemblance between international relations and a ?state of nature?. However, this defense seems to be foundationally weak. For example, most Realists regard the international to be associated with the state of nature. Also, we may add that Beitz does not maintain the assumption (grammatically) of anarchy in a Realist form. Beitz?s grammar constitutes the problem of international ethics as one of realization.

The problem of international ethics as one of ?realization? occurs namely because of the separation of ideal theory from the non-ideal world. International ethics becomes a problem when transferring it from a hypothetical state to a practical one. In short, therefore, ethical problems of realization become directly related to the primary characteristics of the non-ideal world. For example, the lack of a supra-national governing body would mean that there is no institution to ensure the equal distribution of resources. Also, it means that international institutions have no effective method of dealing with what are known as ?free-riders?- members who will avoid contributing equal to other members. We may also add that Rawls? theory of justice is a contract theory. This theory makes assumptions about the nature of the social relations between people. Regarding the problem of realization, Beitz does not completely distinguish himself from the Realists. Between the two, differences only surface regarding the question of interdependence (Realists believing it to be less significant). Thus the position that we arrive at is ironic since the realization of international principles of justice is hindered by the existence of anarchy in the international realm. Beitz constructs a problem of international ethics that is Hobbesian. On this point, it seems that critics of Beitz?s approach have uncovered a fact that renders his theory obsolete. The argument prior suggests that Beitz?s tack can be seen not as a radical divergence from the ?orthodox? view of the Realists he wishes to dislodge. Nor is it a withdrawal from the idea that the difficulty of ethics in the international realm is one of conjunctions. It raises very similar questions as to how to bring together the elements of ethics that exist domestically to the international.

Therefore, Beitz believes that ideal theory can generate principles of justice that can serve as a ?goal? to strive for. This is why Beitz stresses that it is important that these principles of justice need not be applied now (an existence condition), rather, that they may be applied in the future, meanwhile only functioning as ?ideals?. Here we can notice an apparent contradiction, since interdependence as an existence condition is inapplicable to the formation of a global original position, which creates principles that need not only be viable at some time in the future. So if Beitz?s interdependence argument is rendered obsolete, what can he now rely on?

In order for Beitz?s ?cosmopolitan international morality? argument to be sustained, he implicitly rejects the view that national interests should override international individual?s interests. Beitz does accept the principle of self-preservation, though not in the Hobbesian sense. Beitz views each person as an ethical subject, and that these persons, and not states should benefit from the international difference principle. However, we may ask what exactly it is that entitles a person to have worth as a moral end? His answer relies on the specification of ?the moral powers?. If Beitz is to convince us that a ?cosmopolitan international morality? is a feasible possibility, he has to ?insist on a universalistic conception of the person?.(Pin-Fat1997:36)

?If the original position is to represent individuals as equal moral persons for the purpose of choosing principles of institutional or background justice, then the criterion of membership is possession of the two essential powers of moral responsibility- a capacity for an effective sense of justice and a capacity to form, revise, and pursue a conception of the good.?(Beitz1979b:595) This statement represents a change in Beitz?s position. Instead of basing his theory on the obstacle facing ethics in international politics dependant on the question of realization, he changes tack and argues that it primarily depends on ?moral responsibility?. Nonetheless, Beitz does not dismiss his earlier argument that ethics in international politics can be realized, it is only that he no longer requires that conditions such as interdependence must exist. Thus, Beitz?s possibility of a ?cosmopolitan international morality? is not dependent on interdependence, but on a ?universalistic conception of the person?. This change in Beitz?s theory certainly limits the plausibility of his argument of sustaining the idea of a ?cosmopolitan international morality?. Janna Thompson questions whether a theory of international justice is a hopeless activity. ?Prescriptions about international justice, presuppose the existence of a moral standpoint which transcends the ethical traditions of particular cultures, and are thus subject to post-modernist criticisms of transcendentalism and ?totalizing? theories or to communitarian complaints about individualist approaches to ethical justification.?(Thompson1992:19) Critics of a ?cosmopolitan international morality? propose that theories attempting to validate policies by reference to human rights, the desirability of universal liberalism or eternal peace do not stem from a viable premise. The problem with Beitz?s picture of the subject is that he assumes characteristics of individuals, which are not universally true. His conception of the individual is inadequate. Beitz?s universalistic morality is criticized by communitarians who argue ?that the concept of the impartial moral agent, the transcendental ego of Kantian philosophy is incoherent and thus the moral principles of ethical standpoint which this self is supposed to validate are meaningless?(Thompson1992:18). According to Richarch Porty, this ?self? is a network of deeply rooted, historical and social beliefs and emotions, which continually change. Michael Sandal further elaborates on the conception of the ?self? stating that it is our membership of a particular community that shapes our self- identity. This ?self-identity? in turn shapes our views on what is, and what is not ?ethical behavior?. This makes it virtually impossible to appeal beyond the traditions which people have developed over time, in order to create some universal ideals.

It is in my opinion that Beitz has made significant advances towards the future application of international principles of justice. Even though his theory of a ?cosmopolitan international morality? has been criticized to the point that it has rendered his theory obsolete, we must not forget that this may be only the beginning of a lengthy process that will end with the consolidation of international principles of justice that will put an end to Third World poverty, for example. It is Beitz?s ?ideal? of which I place so much value. Nevertheless, we are only concerned with the extent to which Beitz?s theory can be sustained. The basic fact is that Beitz?s theory cannot be sustained because it is not practical, and is contradictory.

First of all Beitz bases his conception of justice on the ?reality? of economic interdependence and assumes that there is sufficient interdependence between states that they constitute a cooperative scheme. This initial observation means that Beitz?s argument must be built on the condition of existence in the present since a condition of interdependence pertains. However, Beitz later goes on to state that a global difference principle need not be applied in the present but may be applied in the future. Since Beitz does not completely distinguish himself from the Realists, he has constructed a problem of international ethics that does not count as a radical departure from the orthodox view he wishes to dislodge. Thus he changes tack from ??existence conditions? back to ?feasibility conditions? by enforcing criteria of membership of the global original position which rely on the moral personality and not the non-ideal world. In order to ensure impartiality, Beitz construct a hypothetical scenario of an international original position that by definition excludes the particularities of history, national identity among others. Beitz has managed his ideal theory, so that what has been deliberately excluded cannot undermine it. Thus the application of ideal theory to the non-ideal world is unidirectional.

Regarding the post-modernist and communitarian criticisms of Beitz?s picture of the subject, it seems as though they have placed an insurmountable barrier in his attempt to formulate a ?cosmopolitan international morality?. In order for Beitz?s theory to appeal, he must in some way go beyond the cultures of different communities in order to provide a basis for resolving disputes between them. Critics such as Thompson believe this appeal to be impossible. Thompson states that ?a theory of international justice, whether it comes from a transcendental standpoint or somewhere more mundane, seems to require general consensus, which, given the way in which moral agents are tied to their communities and the incommensurability of their traditions or discourses, is not likely to be forthcoming.?(Thompson1992:20) Given the fact that so much of what Beitz states is contradictory, and the weight of criticism behind these contradictions, we must conclude that Beitz?s ?cosmopolitan international theory? is ultimately unsuccessful.


?Beitz, Charles R. 1979. Political Theory and International Relations. Princeton: Princeton University Press

?Beitz, Charles R. 1983. ?Cosmopolitan Ideals and National Sentiment,? Journal of Philosophy 80: 591-9

?Pin-Fat, Veronique. 1997. ?Charles Beitz: From a moral point of view- ideal theory in a non-ideal world,? Ethics and the Limits of Language in International Relations Theory: A Grammatical Investigation. 5: 184-222

?Pogge, T.W. 1992. ?Cosmopolitanism and Sovereignty,? Ethics 103(1): 48-75.

?Thompson, Janna. 1992. Justice and World Order: A Philosophical Enquiry. London: Routledge