Global Ethics or Universal Ethics?

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Kok-Chor Tan
Steve Coutinho
Zachary Penman
Saranindranath Tagore
Inés Valdez


Kok-Chor Tan argues that cosmopolitan liberalism can serve as a means to implement the ideal of moral universalism, if one sufficiently distinguishes non-toleration from intervention and moral universalism from dogmatism. In a further move, Tan claims that such an understanding of cosmopolitan liberalism can work to mutually regulate the behavior of states in the global arena. Tan’s co-panelists engage different aspects of his vision. Steve Coutinho underscores that changes within cultures do not typically result from a dialogue across cultures but from within individual cultures. Instead of propping up universal morality on the ideal of cosmopolitan liberalism, we should, Coutinho proposes, work toward finding values that have been implemented to create practical circumstances that resemble those found in liberal cultures. Putting the spotlight on the historical context of liberal cosmopolitanism, Zachary Penman argues that to engage in a global dialogue, the onus is on cosmopolitan liberals to shift the geography of reasoning from imperiality to decoloniality. Equally, their decolonial partners in this dialogue should throw into light the normative content of their decolonial practical reason to facilitate the shift. Saranindranath Tagore encourages Tan to think about a more expanded account of autonomy that is set on a more explicit cosmopolitan register. To this end, he suggests that a cosmopolitan sensibility be fostered through education. Sympathetic to Tan’s larger project of a liberal cosmopolitanism that subscribes to epistemic modesty, Inés Valdez brings into focus structures of epistemic dogmatism that currently allow for political and economic control and exploitation of other peoples and their resources. Tan’s response considers how his own defense of liberal cosmopolitanism as well as his interlocutors’ responses relate to the broader project of decolonizing philosophy.

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How to Cite
Tan, K.-C. ., Coutinho, S., Penman, Z., Tagore, S., & Valdez, I. . (2021). Global Ethics or Universal Ethics?. Journal of World Philosophies, 6(1), 99–138. Retrieved from
Author Biographies

Kok-Chor Tan, University of Pennsylvania

Kok-Chor Tan is professor of Philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of Toleration, Diversity and Global Justice (2000), Justice Without Borders (2004), Justice, Institutions and Luck (2012), and What Is This Thing Called Global Justice? (2017).

Steve Coutinho, Muhlenberg College

Steve Coutinho is Professor of Philosophy at Muhlenberg College. He specializes in Chinese philosophy, especially early Daoist thought.

Zachary Penman, University of Auckland

Zachary Penman completed his PhD in Philosophy on the epistemic and normative foundations of global order at the University of Auckland in 2020. He is a Pākehā Muslim decolonial scholar.

Saranindranath Tagore, National University of Singapore

Saranindranath Tagore, Associate Professor, Philosophy Department, National University of Singapore, teaches and publishes in the general areas of Indian Philosophy and Continental European Philosophy. He is one of the chief editors of Sophia:  International Journal of Philosophy and Traditions.

Inés Valdez, Ohio State University

Inés Valdez is an Associate Professor of Political Science at The Ohio State University. Her research is on questions of race, immigration, capitalism, and empire. Her award-winning work has appeared in the American Political Science Review and Theory & Event, among other outlets. She is the author of Transnational Cosmopolitanism: Kant, Du Bois, and Justice as a Political Craft and is working on a new book manuscript, tentatively titled Democracy and Empire: Labor, Migration, and the Reproduction of Western Capitalism.