HKS Authors

See citation below for complete author information.

Director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy
Berthold Beitz Professor in Human Rights, Global Affairs and Philosophy


John Rawls's "Law of Peoples" has come in for a good deal of critical discussion recently, and most political philosophers seem to find it wanting for one reason or another. This study argues that Rawls's is a plausible view of what developed countries owe developing countries. Rawls formulates a stringent duty (putting the status quo to shame) in a philosophically sound manner that has a genuine chance of persuading policy-makers, while integrating normative argumentation and empirical claims in a way that does justice to both in a domain in which claims about facts and claims about values are intricately intertwined. Rawls gives us, in his words, a realistic utopia. To make my case, I use two argumentative devices. First, I develop the Rawlsian view through an assessment of the Rawls-Pogge debate. Thomas Pogge's account of the duty to developing societies differs from Rawls's in major points and contains forceful objections that must be rebutted for Rawls's view to have any plausibility. Second, I consult answers to an empirical question discussed by growth economists, to whit, why are some societies poor and volatile, and others wealthy and stable? The most promising answer (highlighting domestic institutions) supports Rawls. Unless that answer prevails, Rawls's account is implausible.


Risse, Mathias. "What We Owe to the Global Poor: Political Philosophy Meets Development Economics." KSG Faculty Research Working Papers Series RWP03-032, August 2003.