A Materialist Critique of Cosmopolitanism: Part Two

Further, cosmopolitan morality is bound to an ideal.10 Couture and Nielsen wrote:

‘A cosmopolitan is a world citizen, but “world citizenship” should not be taken literally for it is basically the expression of a moral ideal. We, as the Stoics thought, should give our first allegiance to the moral community made up of the humanity of all human beings. We should always behave so as to treat with respect every human being, no matter where that person was born, no matter what the person’s class, rank, gender, or status may be. At the core of the cosmopolitan ideal is the idea that the life of everyone matters, and matters equally. This, in broad strokes, is the cosmopolitan moral ideal.’11

The orientation to and around the concept ‘ideal’ recurs throughout cosmopolitan theorising: Kok-Chor Tan writes of ‘the cosmopolitan egalitarian ideal that the terms of distributive justice ought to be defined independently of people’s national commitments’,12 Pogge writes that he is ‘guided by the cosmopolitan ideal of democracy’13 and of ‘an ideal world of reasonably just and well-ordered societies’ – although our world is ‘non-ideal’.14

Wallace Brown wrote ‘Kant’s theory of justice is an a priori ideal…Kantian justice is…meant to provide an ideal standard from which all existing civil legislation is to be judged. …As Kant argues, “such is the requirement of pure reason, which legislates a priori, regardless of all empirical ends.” ’15

Beitz wrote ‘We might begin by asking, in general, what relevance social ideals have for politics in the real world. Their most obvious function is to describe a goal toward which efforts at political change should aim. …Ideal theory…supplies a set of criteria for the formulation and criticism of strategies of political action in the non-ideal world, at least when the consequences of political action can be predicted with sufficient confidence to establish their relationship to the social ideal’16

O’Neill, critical of idealisation, argued that it can easily lead to error. ‘An assumption, and derivatively a theory, idealises when it ascribes predicates – often seen as enhanced, “ideal” predicates – that are false of the case in hand, and so denies predicates that are true of that case.’17

She adds that ‘ordinary processes of confirmation and testing are likely to detect and reject (idealisations). Idealisations are far more dangerous in practical reasoning, because it aims at guidance’18 Further, ‘A convincing conception of practical reasoning…must start from the gritty realities of human life’.19

She wrote that conceptions of practical reasoning may be divided into two broad types – teleological (Platonist) or action-oriented (which embody types or principles of action and are Kantian).

But there is a ‘third’ type of ‘practical reasoning’ – materialist. Both of the types O’Neill identified give priority to consciousness (as perfectionism) over that which is independent of it – ‘matter’.20 O’Neill puts her constructive approach forward as practical, yet she shies away metaphysically from a materialist theoretical basis – which lies not in the considered observation of ‘gritty reality’ but in the recognition and understanding of the necessary relationship between theory and practice – i.e. how theory arises from the abstraction of perception and is tested through practice in the material world.

Besch wrote: ‘The fact (if it is a fact) that I tend to accurately represent my environment does not supply me with a guideline by which I can avoid misrepresenting it, but supposes that I have some such guideline.’21 That guideline, the vehicle for ever deepening truth is praxis.

Lenin summarised the process: ‘From living perception to abstract thought, and from this to practice, such is the dialectical path of the cognition of truth, of the cognition of objective reality. Kant disparages knowledge in order to make way for faith: Hegel exalts knowledge, asserting that knowledge is knowledge of God. The materialist exalts the knowledge of matter, of nature’22 The truth of knowledge is practically verified.

Part two/to be continued…


10. Any uncritical use of the concept ‘ideal’ or its derivatives is to place consciousness prior to matter – with one exception: ‘X is idealistic’ implies an emotional response to the world, not a linguistically reasoned position. Marx never theorised about communism because he knew that to do so would be to prioritise consciousness over the objective world. However ‘communism’ itself is an ideal which fails to cater for contingency and the profundity of contradiction which drives the world (which the theory of evolution does do). It is most noteworthy that two of the greatest dialecticians – Hegel and Marx – believed there was an ‘end point’ – either in the Prussian state or communism.

11. Jocelyne Couture and Kai Nielsen, ‘Cosmopolitanism and the compatriot priority principle’, in Gillian Brock and Harry Brighouse, Eds., The Political Philosophy of Cosmopolitanism, Cambridge UP, Cambridge, 2005, pp. 180-195, 183. They continue ‘To be committed to such an ideal involves understanding that we are part of and committed to the universal community of humanity whether there is anything actually answering to the idea of there being such a community or not. If we are at all tough-minded, we will realise there is no world community and that the actual world is more like a swinerai (pigsty).’ 184. A little further on they wrote ‘it is unfortunately only in ideal theory that we can find a global order that is just.’ Ibid., 189.

12. Kok-Chor Tan, ‘The demands of justice and national allegiances’, in The Political Philosophy of Cosmopolitanism, op. cit., Cambridge UP, Cambridge, 2005, pp. 164-179, 167.

13. Thomas, W. Pogge, ‘Cosmopolitanism and Sovereignty’ Ethics Vol. 103 No. 1 (Oct., 1992), pp. 48-75, 70.

14. Thomas W. Pogge, ‘An Egalitarian Law of Peoples’, Philosophy and Public Affairs, Vol. 23, No. 3 (Summer, 1994), pp. 195-224. pp. 201-202.

15. Garrett Wallace Brown ‘Kant’s Cosmopolitanism’, The Cosmopolitan Reader, op, cit., pp. 45-60, 49. Rawls, though not a cosmopolitan, was consistent with this, writing that Utopian requires the use of political/moral ideals, principles and concepts. John Rawls, The Law of Peoples, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1999, 14.

16. Charles R. Beitz ‘Justice and International Relations’, The Cosmopolitan Reader, op. cit., pp. 85-99,  97.

17. Onora O’Neill, Towards Justice and Virtue, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1996, 41.

18. Ibid., 42.

19. Ibid., 61.

20. ‘We have reconstructed O’Neill’s attempt to ground a Kantian constructivist conception of practical reasoning on a fundamental requirement of all reasoned thought, and we have seen that this attempt fails. …O’Neill’s case for Kantian constructivism…is self-defeating.’ Thomas M. Besch, ‘Constructing Practical Reason: O’Neill on the Grounds of Kantian Constructivism’, The Journal of Value Inquiry, vol. 42, no. 1, 2008, 74. Also, in failing, O’Neill’s ‘case about the scope of practical reasoning (shows that) there are perfectionist value judgements at the normative core of Kantian constructivism.’, Thomas M. Besch, ‘Kantian Constructivism, the Issue of Scope, and Perfectionism: O’Neill on Ethical Standing’, European Journal of Philosophy, vol. 19, no. 1, 2011, pp. 1-20, 2.

21. Ibid., 9.

22. V.I.Lenin, Collected Works, Vol., 38 (Philosophical Notebooks), Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1976, 171.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s