A non-reductionist defence of global citizenship

Andries De Smet, Wouter Peeters, Sigrid Sterckx

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


According to Samuel Scheffler, a conflict exists between distributive justice and individual responsibility. At the heart of this debate lies the common-sense moral concept of ‘special responsibilities,’ i.e. responsibilities we only have to people with whom we have significant personal ties. For example, membership of the same community is often said to entail this kind of responsibility. However, this conception of individual responsibility is under attack from two different directions. On the one hand, according to the voluntarist objection, special responsibilities may constitute significant burdens for their bearers and hence, cannot be imposed on people without their consent or voluntary choice. The distributive objection on the other hand, claims that the common-sense moral conception of responsibility is overly limited in scope, and that it cannot be a sufficient guide for moral conduct, given the challenges we are facing in a globalised world (such as climate change, persistent poverty and rapid resource depletion). We will take the non-reductionist claim as the point of departure for our analysis. According to this claim, genuine special responsibilities are based upon relationships that one has reason to value, irrespective of whether or not these relationships are actually valued. Although non-reductionists defend special responsibilities against the voluntarist objection on this basis, we will argue that a sound conception of the reasons to value certain relationships can widen rather than restrict the scope of individual responsibility, thus meeting the distributive challenge as well. More specifically, we will examine which conditions might provide sufficient reasons to value relationships. We will conclude that such an account can widen the scope of special responsibilities to include the whole of mankind and shall defend a conception of global citizenship and cosmopolitanism.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPower, Justice and Citizenship:
Subtitle of host publicationThe Relationships of Power
EditorsDarian McBain
Place of PublicationOxford
PublisherInter-Disciplinary Press, Oxford
ISBN (Electronic)978-1-84888-292-8
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • non-reductionism
  • special responsibilities
  • global justice
  • global citizenship


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