Global Justice, Utilitarianism and Cosmopolitanism

Benjamin Bourcier, PhD student, Université de Rouen et Université Catholique de Lille (France).
Email :
Malik Bozzo-Rey, Assistant-Professor, Université Catholique de Lille (France)
Email :

Utilitarianism is recognized as one of the major traditions of moral and political thinking in Western philosophy. One way to approach utilitarianism can be found in Krister Bykvist’s words: “Utilitarianism states that we ought to make the world as good as we can by making the lives of people as good as we can.” (Bykvist, 2010) This general assumption shows a clear relation with political morality and ethics in general. If utilitarianism is concerned with “mak[ing] the world as good as we can by making the lives of people as good as we can”, what can be said about global justice and cosmopolitanism from a utilitarian perspective?

This general interrogation takes its roots from the simple observation that the broad literature on cosmopolitanism, global issues and utilitarianism is mostly developed with a mutual ignorance as if the plural cosmopolitan family knew that a utilitarian is per se non-cosmopolitan and conversely, as if the utilitarian family knew that a cosmopolitan cannot be a utilitarian. Indeed, everything happens as if there was a natural and mutual exclusion between cosmopolitanism and utilitarianism. It seems commonly accepted the central tenets of cosmopolitanism (e.g. individualism, egalitarianism, universalism) are directly and necessarily incompatible with the central tenets of utilitarianism (e.g. consequentialism, egalitarianism, maximization, welfarism).

However, the “incompatibility thesis” (that is implicitly or explicitly running through the literature on cosmopolitanism and utilitarianism) is challenged today by some works in the history of utilitarianism and in the contemporary debates on global issues such as global justice and global democracy.

Indeed, while contemporary cosmopolitan theorist such as S. Caney recognizes Jeremy Bentham as a cosmopolitan theorist (Caney, 2005, p. 4), most of the Bentham and utilitarian scholars ignore the relation between utilitarianism and cosmopolitanism. In this area, the works of Peter Niesen (2077) and Gunhild Hoogensen (2005) on the history of utilitarianism1 are opening the Pandora Box and advocate the cosmopolitan character of Bentham’s philosophy. In the contemporary debates, an important step has been realized on global justice with the works of R. Marchetti and C. Jones. They both have recently defended “consequentialist cosmopolitanism” and clearly argue against the “incompatibility thesis”.

Indeed, in his book Global Justice, Defending Cosmopolitanism (OUP, 1999), Charles Jones argues that the most plausible and relevant theory of global justice takes its root in the utilitarian tradition. More precisely, he argues that the “basic interest utilitarianism” is the best candidate responding to global justice issues. Raffaele Marchetti endorses consequentialist cosmopolitanism in order to respond to the issue of global democracy. In his book, Global Democracy: For and Against, Ethical Theory, institutional design, and social struggles (Routledge, 2008), he defends an “all-inclusive version of consequentialist cosmopolitanism” (p. 35) which grounds a model for global democracy.

The aim of this workshop is to query the utilitarian tradition, the cosmopolitan tradition and the global literature on this general idea: what can be said about global justice and cosmopolitanism from a utilitarian perspective? Can we properly use the label“cosmopolitanism” to qualify a utilitarian doctrine? Does utilitarianism redefine the cosmopolitan ideal or does it radically contradict its real essence? (etc.) This workshop aims to clarify, explicit and develop a critical thinking about the theme of cosmopolitanism, global justice and utilitarianism in the domain of history of philosophy and contemporary philosophy.

Many topics are developed for this workshop. Here is a non-exhaustive list of items that presents some of the problems and concepts expected for this workshop:

  • Institutional Design and Cosmopolitanism
  • Theory of Collective Decision
  • Legal Theory and Cosmopolitanism
  • International Law and Cosmopolitanism
  • Classical Utilitarianism and Cosmopolitanism
  • Nationalism and Utilitarianism
  • World Citizenship and Utilitarianism
  • War and Peace in Utilitarianism
  • Empire, World Government and Utilitarianism
  • International Relation Theory and Utilitarianism
  • Global Democracy and Utilitarianism
  • Transnational Justice and Utilitarianism
  • Utilitarian Cosmopolitan Rules and Principles
  • Utilitarian Climate Ethics and Global Issues
  • Utilitarian Intergenerational Ethics and Global Issues

Papers will be pre-circulated in advance. Each paper will be attributed 50 minutes. The format will be 30-35 minutes presentation for each paper followed by 15 minutes of questions and discussion.
Papers proposal of maximum 1500 words should be sent by June 19th, 2014.
Papers may be sent in English or in French, however, note that the working language of the conference will be English.
The organizers of the Workshop cannot provide any financial support for speakers.