Author's School

Graduate School of Arts & Sciences

Author's Department/Program



English (en)

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Chair and Committee

Larry May


Although we have obligations to address global problems at a political level, we disagree on the source, justification, and content of these norms. For example, what kinds of obligations exist across national borders and why? What international actions are right and wrong? Who is required to perform these actions? When it is it permissible to use coercion at the global level? In my dissertation, I develop an original theory of global justice that can answer these questions and I show how my theory applies to current problems. I start by articulating why we need a theory of international justice and introducing the theories that have already been proposed. I divide these theories into two general kinds. One theory says global political norms are rooted in objective facts about what is good for human beings. In this view, human beings have certain needs and desires, and so some ways of treating humans are forbidden: for example, harming others) and others are obligatory: such as helping others). The other theory says that international norms are the product of some contract or agreement. I call the former non-constructivism and the latter social contract theory. I then explain why neither of these two kinds of theories adequately describes or justifies international norms. Due to what I call the choice and specification problems, I argue that there are many ways to attain the goods we pursue in international relations, none of which is privileged, and that there are too many ways to specify norms, none of which is privileged. Next, due to what I call the constraint problem, I also argue that social contract theory is insufficient to ground a theory of global justice. Parties to contracts may agree to seemingly incorrect agreements or fail to agree to seemingly required contracts. Despite being insufficient by themselves to ground global justice, I argue that these theories are also necessary. I affirm the existence of objective facts and endorse their contribution to global justice. I also appeal to respect for rational agents, success in consensus, and practical considerations in showing social contract theory is necessary for global justice. In addition to the independent reasons necessitating these theories, we also have reason to include them in a theory of global justice insofar as they complete each other. I argue that social contract theory best solves the choice and specification problems and that non-constructivism best solves the constraint problem. Having found that both theories are individually necessary and jointly sufficient, I argue that a combination of the two succeeds. I defend such a combination--a hybrid theory--in two stages. In the first stage, I argue hybrid theory is possible and that it avoids the defects of each component without incurring any fresh difficulties. After defending hybrid theory generally, I proceed to a second stage of this defense, in which I develop a particular version of hybrid theory. I first seek a particular version of hybrid theory in history, considering Epicurus, Grotius, and Hobbes. I evaluate each hybrid theory, drawing out their strengths and weaknesses. However, I ultimately argue that none provides a successful theory of global justice. Next, I articulate and defend a particular version of hybrid theory that inherits the benefits of my predecessors. In my theory, something can be called a norm for international justice if and only if it pursues universal goods and promotes cooperation through consent, thereby avoiding the problems that beset other theories of global justice. I defend individuals as parties to the contract, while allowing for representatives in select cases. I also defend tacit consent as the most successful version of consent to global contracts. Because this particular hybrid theory raises the bar for global justice considerably, I also consider methods to evaluate global actors, actions, and norms that fall short of my criteria. Next, I show how my particular hybrid theory of international justice can help us find answers to problems raised by certain kinds of financial crimes, and the global response to those crimes, what is called, "anti-money laundering/combating the financing of terrorism": AML/CFT). These measures are nonviolent responses to terrorism and thus essential elements of broader efforts to end terrorism. Despite their successes, I argue that the current institutions are lacking, and that my theory offers possible solutions to those problems. For example, there seems to be no significant theoretical distinction between measures which are enforced universally without consent on the one hand, and ones which are enforced selectively against those countries who have agreed to it. This conduct runs the risk of losing legitimacy for those solutions to international problems that begin with the readiest support. By creating an explicit distinction between practices that require agreement and practices that do not, according to my hybrid view, current international legal institutions could benefit from transparency, legitimacy, theoretical grounding, and consistency while avoiding arguments or justifications grounded in might makes right for law enforcement, violations of sovereignty, and arbitrariness.


Permanent URL: