When phone-in talk shows, the press, and undergraduates debate the case for cosmopolitan accounts of global distributive justice, there are a number of standard rationalizations given for why we don’t have a duty to help. These include: “we have duties only to our fellow countrymen”; “poverty is caused by corrupt leaders, so not our fault, and therefore not our responsibility“; and “humanitarian aid is counter-productive.” Unlike the other two sorts of rationalization, the latter claim does not necessarily deny the moral cosmopolitanism premise that we have extensive duties to relieve the suffering of those beyond our borders. Rather, it follows that good cosmopolitans shouldn’t give aid because doing so will violate the negative duty not to harm others, including those in other states. Yet I think we ought to be wary of this claim, given what Thomas Pogge calls our “rationalizing tendencies.” That is, we often interpret our moral values and empirical judgments in own favor. Consider, for instance, the frequent flyer who convinces herself that global warming is exaggerated in order to excuse her own significant carbon footprint. Claims of dependency by the “new colonialists” may fall into the same category. They provide a convenient excuse for individuals not to support aid agencies and international charities—our donations and support are only going to worsen the situation of those needing help anyway.
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"Cosmopolitanism and Rationalizing Tendencies,"
Human Rights & Human Welfare: Vol. 8:
9, Article 4.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.du.edu/hrhw/vol8/iss9/4