The Combination Of Kantian, Religious And Communitarian Ethics As A Global Constitution: A Suggestion For The Establishment Of Global Ethics

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Liberal democracies have been inclined to establish global ethics since the end of Second World War in particular. While some scholars have not tended to support the idea that the establishment of global ethics is one of the political requirements in the contemporary era, others influentially maintain its existence because of transfrontier troubles such as poverty, environmental matter, starvation, malnutrition, discrimination, terrorism, air pollution to name but a few. It is claimed at this point that all of those troubles requires collaboration among states, and this collaboration should be based on some ethical points. Many forms of ethical theories have been introduced in this respect; however, there has still not been any common forms. Hence, it is suggested in this essay that the combination of Kantian, religious and communitarian ethics may be regarded as the most proper form of global ethics.

Ethics has two senses in terms of moral philosophy: (i) ethics might be codes of conduct or an alliance of values in order to determine what is right or wrong; (ii) it refers to the systematic philosophical investigation of the foundation and nature of ethical rules. According to philosophical ethics in this context, there are three kinds of ethics, namely, normative ethics, meta-ethics, and applied ethics. Meanwhile, Hans Küng emphasises a distinction between ethic and ethics. He argues in this regard that ‘ethic’ connotes the essential moral attitudes of the individual or groups, whereas, ‘ethics’ denotes the philosophical theory of moral norms and values (Hutchings, 2010; Lynch, Lynch and Cruise, 2001: 60).

Global ethics is a framework of theoretical query that appeals to ethical inquires in the global arena. In other words, global ethics is the view of a global understanding of ethical awareness (Hutchings, 2010). In global ethics, individuals depend on collective essential ethical values, criteria and attitudes for peaceful coexistence both at a world-wide, and national even local level.

The possibility of global ethics has been scrutinised since the 1950s in particular. To clarify, international realists, on the one hand, claim that a global ethics might not be possible because self-interest comes before moral principles and the international sphere is intrinsically anarchic in international relationships among states. Furthermore, permanent fear and the unending wish to wield absolute power against other states might lead to an absence of negotiation about common moral principles (Forde, 1992: 62-63; Donnely, 1992: 85-87). Liberals, on the other hand, assert that global ethics might be possible within the frame of three attributes: democracy, a world of peace, and human rights (Slaughter, 1995: 514). International liberals suggest in this context that negative and positive freedom, describes civil and political terms and social and economic rights, respectively, should be supported as basic human rights and respected by all states. In addition, nationalism shall be viewed as an obstacle to global ethics (Smith, 1992: 209-211).

The purpose of this essay is to clarify the possibility of global ethics. To do so, some ethical theories will initially be studied. Then, it will be asserted that the possibility of global ethics can be expound under three ethical theories, namely Kantian ethics, religious ethics, and finally communitarian ethics. Afterwards these ethical theories will be analysed, respectively. While scrutinizing Kantian ethics, it will be understood that a collaboration between ethical theories need to be constructed for global ethics. Hence, religious ethics and communitarian ethics will become important in the establishment of global ethics. Those ethical theories will be interpreted and the resolutions of those theories to the problems will be introduced, in this context. Finally, it will be asserted that global ethics might be possible under the combination of these three ethical theories.

 Ethical Theories as a Starting Point

Before starting to study the possibility of global ethics, the analysis of some essential ethical theories and the cornerstones of those theories might contribute to better understanding of the following points of this essay.  First, utilitarian ethics, which claims ethical rules based on the goodness and badness of the indications of those rules, underscores Bentham’s idea based on a tendency from unhappiness to happiness and the maximum happiness of the greatest population. Second, contractualist ethics, which asserts there should be exact essential features and foundational presumptions, emphasises Rawls’s assertion that individuals shall conclude ethical principles with the help of the general rule of justice known as equilibrium. Third, deontological ethics, which alleges ethics should be based on rules and moral principles, underlines Kant’s suggestion describing the necessities of the universal moral law. Fourth, discourse ethics, which suggests ethics should include both an agreement as contractualism proposes and certain moral principles as deontology offers, stresses Habermas’s emphasis of rational consensus and speech by means of communication and argumentation. Fifth, feminist ethics, which is a section of feminist philosophy, maintains that it cannot be acknowledged that there is a privilege of male over female historically. Sixth, postmodernist ethics suggests that ethics is shaped by cultural habits due to the fact that there are just relative values, not exact ones in modern society. Last but not least, virtue ethics, Aristotle’s ‘golden mean’, implies finding a middle way between deficiency and excess to provide citizens with what is essential to support a consistent and affluent city-state, in which citizens have two essential responsibilities: to establish a convenient government; and to guard and enrich social values by phronesis (or ‘practical wisdom’) (Hutchings, 2010; Lynch et al., 2001: 61).

It can be understood through this summary that the possibility of global ethics has actually been analysed by both a number of traditional ethical theories and modern ones. It should be claimed at this point that even though those theories have scrutinised the possibility of global ethics, they have not suggested any possible drafts covering crucial points of global ethics in order to adopt by both politicians and lawyers. Nevertheless, a draft could be prepared by combining three essential fields of ethical studies, namely, Kantian ethics, religious ethics and finally communitarian ethics. Therefore, these are studied in the next sections, respectively.

 Kantian Ethics as the First Instrument of the Draft

Kantian ethics has already examined by many theorists and academics. It should initially be mentioned in this context that according to Kantian ethics, global ethics could be possible under two conditions, namely the acceptance of ‘common morality’ and the existence and maintenance of the ‘Golden Rule’, in other words, ‘Kant’s Categorical Imperative’. Those conditions are expounded by Forsyth as follows. First, ‘common morality’ recognises morality as a universal code. Second, ‘common morality’ also shows a distinction between negative and positive duty. Meanwhile, negative duty, on the one hand, regards people as individuals and not objects; positive duty, on the other hand, implies doing good rather than avoiding bad. Finally, according to Kantian ethics, the ‘Golden Rule’, which means that “one should always act so as to treat other human beings as an end and never as a means” should be recognised as the benchmark in the establishment of global ethics. (Nardin, 1992: 10; Forsyth, 1992).

Since the establishment of Kantian ethics, many political scientists have supported the idea that global ethics can really be possible under its perspectives. To put differently, they have acknowledged Kantian ethics as a possible provider of global ethics. Hence, those political scientists have tried to find resolutions for the creation of global ethics by utilizing the perspectives of Kantian ethics. Firstly, Onara O’Neill probes both Rawl’s and Kant’s ideas in terms of the content of justice. She identifies that justice needs more than internal efforts. According to her, whilst Rawls’s ideas are not enforceable because of inadequate definitions of liberal person and state borders, Kant’s ‘public reason’ provides various advantages to justice beyond borders (Booth, Dunne and Cox, 2000: 9-11). It should be emphasis in this respect that Kant’s ‘public reason’ enables the establishment, maintenance and also development of universal moral codes. Kenan Malik’s suggestion should be mentioned at this juncture. According to Malik, racism is an obstruction to global ethics; however, it can be sorted out by the universalism of the rights, which could already be fulfilled by Kantian universal moral codes.  (Booth et al., 2000: 17-20).

Goodin also analyses the perspectives of Kantian ethics. He maintains that there might not be any common universal accepted manifestations; however, there might be reliable forms such as the ‘Golden Rule’ of Kantian ethics. In more detail, according to him, people have both general duties and special duties to certain individuals closely related to them. Goodin also claims in this regard that even though global ethics can be possible under the acceptance of the Golden Rule’ and other perspectives of Kantian Ethics, two problems work against global ethics: (1) special duties due to the lack of a universal moral code; and (2) borders leading to an aversion of thinking globally (Goodin, 1988). By the way, the issue of border is supported by others, too. For instance, it is claimed that the hindrance of ethical selection starts at birth due to the fact that individuals are nationalised in pursuant of borders when they are born (Booth et al., 2000: 1).

As can be understood in this part, Kantian ethics may have a crucial effect on the possible establishment of global ethics. Its two essential perspectives, namely common morality, which is sometimes recognised as universal moral codes, and the ‘Golden Rule’ have been regarded as potential keystones for global ethics. Nonetheless, as claimed by Goodin, when faced with challenges caused by special duties or nationalism, Kantian ethics could not be sufficient to construct global ethics itself. Hence, the second instrument of the possible draft to global ethics is examined in the next section.

Religious Ethics as the Second Instrument of the Draft

Religious concepts have always been analysed within the context of ethics, in order to demonstrate the requirement for the establishment of global ethics in particular. Firstly, the analysis of religious concepts could be found in Allot’s work. To clarify, Allott claims that revolutions have taken place regularly and now, humankind is on the verge of one of them because with the decline of Christianity and the rise of democracy and capitalism, ‘the institutionalisation of selfishness’, to expand the public realm of the states, have happened via ‘benevolent totalitarianism’, which is the combination of democracy, capitalism and scitechracy (the combination of science and technology). He supports in this respect that a new humanism created by the next revolution might establish global ethics (Allott, 1995: 351-356). Meanwhile, he instructs individuals how to construct an ethical public realm. He begins with the contents of global society in this sense: notion, implementation, and law. The law has some duties in this regard: to provide equality and freedom; to enforce rules for international peace; to balance the economy; to construct public realm; and to create constitutionalism. The ethical public realm and its expansion is, therefore, made by the law of global society (Booth et al., 2000: 11).

Nardin also starts one of his articles with an opinion of religious concepts and supports two allegations: (1) there are no differences between ethics, law and religion in view of medieval ideas and Islam; (2) ethics should consist of both principles and commentary of the principles by individuals (Nardin, 1992: 2-3). Moreover, in view of a solution for possible global ethics, he also maintains two assertions: international law ought to have moral values and the values should also be subject to moral criticism; international pluralism and the rule of law shall be applied together (Booth et al., 2000: 14). It can be asserted at this point that both Allot’s work and Nardin’s study could be considered as the analyses underlining the significance of Kantian universal moral law.

Hans Küng’s claims are also based on religious concepts. According to him, the beginning of the new century is hazardous for mankind due to the fact that dogmatism, which underlines that the differences among people are more crucial than the similarities, rules religion. He claims in this connection that an agreement based on mutual respect via the ‘Golden Rule’ between religions should constitute global ethics. Thomas Lynch and Cynthia Lynch develop  Küng’s suggestion by means of the ‘spiritual wisdom literature’, which tries to find similar values between religions to indicate common sense, too (Lynch et al., 2001: 60-66).

As indicated in this part of the essay, political scientists have also underscored the importance of the perspectives of Kantian ethics in the establishment of global ethics while examining religious concepts for global ethics. However, religious studies could be also acknowledged as the resolution to the issue of special duties. To clarify, the problem of special duties, resulting in some obstacles to global ethics, is due to the lack of universal moral codes as is known thanks to Goodin’s analysis. It is also assured by Thomas Lynch and Cynthia Lynch that the ‘spiritual wisdom literature’ purports to analyse and find similar moral codes between religions. It could be asserted at this point that the similar moral codes found by the ‘spiritual wisdom literature’ can be capable of resolving the issue of special duties. Nevertheless, there is still one problem working against global ethics: the issue of borders. Therefore, the importance of togetherness is examined in the next section in order to resolve the last problem.

Communitarian Ethics as the Last Instrument of the Draft

Togetherness is essentially scrutinized by cosmopolitanism because the world is regarded as the society of all humankind in cosmopolitan approaches. Cosmopolitanism also identifies an individual as a citizen of the world and supports global justice relying on Kantian concepts in the process of finding a solution to global ethics.  However, the importance of togetherness can be better understood by Communitarianism. In more detail, three keystones of communitarianism, namely, close relations between individuals; the significance of cooperation; and the emphasis of common good rather than personal wishes, reflect the significance of togetherness (Bennett-Woods, 2005).

Doyle believes in the context of togetherness that global democratisation with campaigns against inequality between states and core identity might be a solution for a global ethics. What Derek Heater offers is instruction on how to be a world citizen, which might be a solution. Robert W. Cox and Emilia Steuerman also mention togetherness via their own allegations: ‘a multi-civilizational world’ and ‘the idea of solidarity’, respectively (Booth et al., 2000). Singer looks from a different point of view; however, he emphasises togetherness as well. In detail, he analyses the starvation of East Bengal and suggests that three touchstones, namely, the redefinition of charity; new efforts to famine relief; and the alteration of the thought of ‘consumer society’ should be applied by both states and individuals (Singer, 1972).

As shown in this part of the essay, the keystones of Communitarianism could have a capacity to resolve the last problem, the issue of borders, in the establishment of global ethics. To clarify, Communitarianism is inclined to accept citizenships as a universal concept rather than national, local, or regional notion. This allows all citizens to pay attention to learning general rules of citizenships, which always mirror democratic values (the respect for basic human rights, the rule of law, and equality in particular). Ultimately, this encourages the whole population of the world to consider only universal codes rather than national preferences.


In conclusion, this essay aimed to analyse the possibility of global ethics. In doing so, firstly, a number of ethical theories was initially studied. Then, Kantian ethics was examined and it was demonstrated as one of the instrument of the establishment of global ethics. Afterwards, it was understood that Kantian ethics was not sufficient to construct global ethics, therefore, other ethical studies, namely, religious and communitarian ethics were scrutinized for the resolution of problems in the establishment of global ethics. I am of the belief at this juncture that global ethics could be really possible under a global constitution. However, this constitution need to meet some conditions.

First, the global constitution should be rested on the perspectives of Kantian ethics, namely the ‘Golden Rule’ and ‘common morality’. However, as is known, those perspectives require collaborations with other analyses in the establishment of global ethics. The second condition emerges at this point. The constitution need to consider the contribution of the ‘Spiritual Wisdom Literature’ in order to resolve the issue of special duties. Nevertheless, there is still one problem as is predicted, namely the issue of borders. The third condition becomes crucial at this juncture. It should be claimed under the third condition that the constitution ought to reflect the importance of the keystones of communitarian ethics. As a consequence in this regard, I am also of the belief that if the global constitution considering all of these three conditions is created, global ethics will be possible.

Written by Hakan Holcak



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