Brilliant take on evolution of ethics
Reviewed by B. L. Chakoo

Global Ethics: An Introduction
By Heather Widdows, Acumen Publishing, Durham, 2011. Pages 294. Price not mentioned.

Heather Widdows
Heather Widdows

Global ethics is an interesting and fast-emerging field of study. Scholars of global ethics come from many and several different backgrounds, including politics, public policy, religion, law, science, international development and sociology. They also come from policy-making and governance communities and from activist and NGO groups. Heather Widdows, on the contrary, is professor of global ethics in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Birmingham, and is also one of the lead editors of the Journal of Global Ethics.

Her book Global Ethics: An Introduction — which offers a comprehensive analysis of the "new dilemmas" that arise in the context of globalisation, such as global governance and citizenship, Virtually everything one needs to know about the whole sphere of global ethics, including the complexity of negotiating global-ethics issues and universalism which is assumed in all areas of global governance, is discussed here with insight.

With Widdows as your erudite and intelligent guide you will be led through a wealth of various theories of global ethics, including generous portions of the words of Kant, Aristotle, Plato, Herodotus, Peter Singer, and many others. Undoubtedly, it is a book of extraordinary power, altogether different from those numerous text books, monographs and edited collections which, in the past many years, have been published on "themes that fall within the broad field of global ethics." The book’s eleven chapters aim not so much at focusing attention on the phenomenal growth in global ethical issues – issues that cannot be addressed "within individual nation states or single jurisdictions" — as at providing contexts that will enhance the understanding of the processes of globalisation and its different theories. Thus the introductory chapter, What is Global Ethics,undertakes to examine fundamental real-world issues, real injustice, human suffering, and global threats. To address the ethical challenges facing the globe, the writer argues, policy, theory and practice must all combine.

Rich in evidence and complexity of analysis, chapter 2, Case studies for global ethics, is significantly an important chapter. It takes up three case studies on the female genital cutting, the buying of body parts and torture – which Widdows subsequently uses to illustrate the theories and arguments that are put forward in chapters 3, Moral theory for global issues, 4 Political theory and global, and 5 Rights theory for global ethics. Introducing "case studies" in these chapters demonstrates how the theory and practice "interconnect." Subsequent chapters, Global governance and citizenship (which looks at a spectrum of views about the institutions and duties that global citizenship requires), Global poverty (that discusses creatively the problems of poverty as set out by Singer and O’Neill) and Global conflict: war, terrorism and humanitarian intervention (which critically examines the possibility of global government and citizenship) — are wonderfully clear, rewarding and thought-provoking.

Three final chapters: Global Bioethics, Global environmental and climate change, and Global gender justice offer fresh insights, informed by recent theories involved in bioethical issues and holistic and sustainable approaches to nature, such as those "promoted by deep ecology and the stewardship model" and in women’s rights and control policies. Widdows has succeeded in constructing a unique history of the evolution of global ethics consciousness, and at the same time in representing the body of theories as the phenomenology of this same evolution.

Illuminating, and written in a prose of almost Biblical simplicity and beauty, this accessible work will offer a valuable contribution to global ethics for scholars and readers in general.