Global justice  

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"Think globally, act locally."

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Global justice is an issue in political philosophy arising from the concern about unfairness. It is sometimes understood as a form of internationalism.


Global ethics and international justice in western tradition is part of the tradition of natural law. It has been organized and taught within Western culture since Latin times of Middle Stoa and Cicero and the early Christian philosophers Ambrose and Augustine.

What we owe one another in the global context is one of the questions the global justice concept seeks to answer. There are positive and negative duties which may be in conflict with ones moral rules. Cosmopolitans, reportedly including the ancient Greek Diogenes of Sinope, have described themselves as citizens of the world.

Utilitarian thinker and anarchist William Godwin argued that everyone has an impartial duty to do the most good he or she can, without preference for any one human being over another.

The broader political context of the debate is the longstanding conflict between more and less local institutions: tribes against states, villages against cities, local communities against empires, nation-states against the UN. The relative strength of the local versus the global has waxed and waned over recorded history. From the early modern period until the twentieth century, the preeminent political institution was the state, which is sovereign, territorial, claims a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence in its territory, and exists in an international system of other sovereign states. Over the same period, and relatedly, political philosophers' interest in justice focused almost exclusively on domestic issues: how should states treat their subjects, and what do fellow-citizens owe one another? Justice in relations between states, and between individuals across state borders was put aside as a secondary issue or left to international relations theorists.

Since the First World War, however, the state system has been transformed by globalization and by the creation of supranational political and economic institutions such as the League of Nations, the United Nations, and the World Bank. Over the same period, and especially since the 1970s, global justice became an important issue in political philosophy. In the contemporary global justice debate, the general issue of impartiality centers on the moral significance of borders and of shared citizenship. Realists, particularists, nationalists, members of the society of states tradition, and cosmopolitans take contesting positions in response to these problems.

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