What is Global Ethics?
Global ethics is a new term that has emerged over the past few decades. In an exceptionally short time it has become established as a recognized area of study: it has a particular approach to ethical dilemmas and some consider it to be becoming a distinct academic discipline rather than a subset of other disciplines. Th is dramatic growth means that global ethics is an exciting fi eld to be in because those who enter
it are committed to discussing, and more importantly to seeking solutions to, the most pressing contemporary ethical issues. Issues addressed in global ethics include the “war on terror”, rogue states, child labour, torture, scarce resources, traffi cking, migration, climate change, global trade, medical tourism, global pandemics, humanitarian intervention and so on; the list goes on and on. Global ethics is not only topical – these are issues we are all concerned about – but also important. How we resolve (or fail to resolve) the dilemmas of global ethics will determine the framework of future global governance. Th is will shape and limit the possible relationships and opportunities of all global actors; moreover, decisions made now will aff ect future generations. Th is is true not only for problems of climate change, where our actions now determine the environment our children and grandchildren will inherit, but also for decisions about what it is acceptable and permissible to do to human beings. For instance, if we collectively decide that it is acceptable to torture or to buy body parts then we are making judgements about what human beings are, and these decisions will limit and shape what is possible or permissible for future human beings. Th is is relevant not just for those who are tortured or who buy and sell body parts, but for all of us. If such things are permitted, then human beings will become types of beings who have parts that can be bought and sold, or who can have pain and suff ering (to the point of death) infl icted on them in certain
circumstances. These things matter in terms of how we understand human beings now and into the future and are at the heart of creating a world where human beings are treated ethically.
Students of global ethics come from many and various backgrounds, including philosophy, politics, public policy, law, theology, international development and sociology. Importantly, students also come from “the fi eld”, from policy- making and governance communities and from activist and NGO communities. In the past ten years, numerous monographs, textbooks and edited collections have been published on
themes that fall within the broad fi eld of global ethics, such as human rights, global justice, research ethics and environmental ethics. In short, the fi eld is burgeoning and, in terms of ethics, global ethics is a good place to be.
Global ethics is an academic forum for philosophical debate that is not separate from the real world. Rather, it is fundamentally about practice: about how to make the world more just and overcome exploitation and injustice. Global ethics cannot, therefore, be done in a vacuum or an academic ivory tower but must be connected with real- world injustice. Accordingly, global ethicists must think about not just the consistency of their arguments but also the impact of what they say and do to actual people and policy. To this end, and to ensure we think about practice and the implications of our theorizing even in the theoretical section of the book, case studies will be used. Th ere are three case studies – on FGC, the buying of body parts and torture which will be used to illustrate the theories and arguments that are put forward in Chapters 3, 4 and 5. Introducing case studies in these chapters shows how the theory and practice interconnect and how important theoretical tools are
to addressing real- world practices of injustice.
The case studies are intended to be returned to time and time again as you progress through the book and develop your knowledge of global ethics. They can be used in diff erent ways and in conjunction with diff erent chapters. You might find it useful to look at them first – before you have learnt the theories of global ethics – simply to get an initial and untutored reaction. While you will not be able to answer all the questions that follow until you have progressed further, nor understand the moral theories referred to in the questions, you will have a first response that you will fi nd exceptionally useful in working out how you feel about an issue. It may also be useful to return to the case studies when you work through chapters that address related concerns: the torture case study when you look at war in Chapter 8; the body part case study when you look at bioethics in Chapter 9; and the female genital cutting (FGC) case study when you consider gender justice in Chapter 11. Finally, you may also wish to return to the case studies when you have completed the book in order to see how much your views have changed and how you have progressed and developed your thinking and expertise in global ethics.