Reconciling Global Duties with Special Responsibilities: Towards a Dialogical Ethics

  • An VerlindenEmail author
Part of the Studies in Global Justice book series (JUST, volume 6)


Current discussions in global justice are often marked by the conceptual divide between communitarianism and cosmopolitanism. Both positions start from an ideal theory of justice – justice as dependent on the social context of a particular society on the one hand and justice as Kantian impartiality on the other. Both conceptions have repercussions on how people’s moral responsibilities in a global context are conceptualized. The problem with ideal theories, however, is that their ontological and epistemological foundationalism neglects the impact of historical, cultural and social contingencies on human reflection. Therefore, the communitarian-cosmopolitan debate on global justice ends up in an impasse within liberalism, offering little help in dealing with concrete ethical dilemmas. In order to move from ideal theory to non-ideal praxis, this paper argues for a “third way” approach that focuses on the lived reality of people. This “third way” aims at tackling the tension between the universalizing trend of moral principles and the particularizing trend of institutions, cultures and practices through a contextual, action-oriented method of “moving back and forward” between those two opposites. This method is based on the dialogical philosophy of Emmanuel Lévinas and Martin Buber, both of which defend an ethics of responsibility as generosity and hospitality towards the other. The paper explores how the dialogical approach can avoid the communitarian-cosmopolitan deadlock within practical ethics.


Global justice Special and general obligations Associative duties Communitarianism Dialogical philosophy Lévinas Buber 

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Ghent UniversityGhentBelgium

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