Document Type


Publication Date

Winter 2016

Publication Citation

23 Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies 249 (2016)


Each operating in a presumptively general or universal register, 'public goods" and "human rights" are among the most popular and visible contemporary carriers of ideas of global law and governance and are therefore prime sources for any broader project of global justice. Their combination, moreover, holds out the prospect of a fertile engagement between the two core concerns of modern political morality our collective requirements and potential (public goods) and our individual dignity and well-being (human rights). Yet for all their ambition, public goods and human rights each face the formidable challenge of placing considerations of political authority and political morality in productive balance. Exploring both, we face the frustrating phenomenon of one hand clapping-a failure to reconcile authority and morality in a satisfactory manner. The discourse of global public goods presupposes rather than provides grounds for the relevant 'puiblic" and so suffers from a general deficit of political authority. In turn, this reinforces the incompleteness of its claim in political morality. The discourse of human rights, perhaps surprisingly, reveals stronger authoritative roots; however, these are locally situated, and the soil becomes very thin as we move away from the state to the broader global environment and the familiar yet ethically abstracted moral discourse of universal entitlement. In conclusion, I argue, it is precisely because both of these dimensions of global ethics-public goods and human rights face the same type of difficulty of the grounding political authority that their conjunction in a single scheme does not allow either to compensate for the deficiencies of the other.

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