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This is an electronic version of an article published in Philosophical Studies 138.3 (2008): 349–365. Copyright 2006 Springer. The definitive version is available as a PDF from the publisher here.
Is There a Genuine Tension Between Cosmopolitan Egalitarianism and Special Responsibilities?
Arash Abizadeh and Pablo Gilabert
Received: 27 April 2006 Accepted: 2 September 2006 Published online: 25 October 2006
Abstract Samuel Scheffler has recently argued that some relationships are non-instrumentally valuable; that such relationships give rise to “underived” special responsibilities; that there is a genuine tension between cosmopolitan egalitarianism and special responsibilities; and that we must consequently strike a balance between the two. We argue that there is no such tension and propose an alternative approach to the relation between cosmopolitan egalitarianism and special responsibilities. First, while some relationships are non-instrumentally valuable, no relationship is unconditionally valuable. Second, whether such relationships give rise to special responsibilities is conditional on those relationships not violating certain moral constraints. Third, these moral constraints arise from within cosmopolitan egalitarianism itself. Thus the value of relationships and the special responsibilities to which they give rise arise within the parameters of cosmopolitan egalitarianism itself. The real tension is not between cosmopolitan equality and special responsibilities, but between special responsibilities and the various general duties that arise from the recognition, demanded by cosmopolitan egalitarianism, of a multiplicity of other basic goods. Indeed, even the recognition of special relationships itself gives rise to general duties that may condition and/or weigh against putative special responsibilities.
Keywords Cosmopolitanism ∙ Special responsibilities ∙ Associative duties ∙ Egalitarianism ∙ Global justice
Our commonsense morality acknowledges two kinds of demands whose rationale and implications appear to conflict with each other. On the one hand, it recognizes that all persons deserve equal treatment: that we cannot make arbitrary distinctions between them when we allocate our moral responsibilities. This commitment is cosmopolitan in nature, because it assumes that all persons qua persons have equal moral worth. On the other hand, commonsense morality seems to recognize that we may (and even must) prioritize, in the allocation of our scarce resources, those with whom we share certain special relationships (such as family, friendship, and, more controversially, nationality) over those with whom we do not share them. This commitment links to special responsibilities that are owed not to all persons qua persons, but to some persons whom the agent of the responsibilities has reason to declare near and dear.
It may seem obvious that these commitments to cosmopolitan egalitarianism and to special responsibilities may conflict with each other. Suppose that A must decide how to allocate scarce resources and that B and C lay claims to them. Suppose that C is needier than B. Assume also that B is, and C is not, connected with A as party to a special relationship. On the one hand, it seems that cosmopolitan egalitarianism demands that A allocate scarce resources to C rather than to B, since C is needier than B and egalitarian distribution should always focus primarily on those who are worse off. On the other hand, the commitment to special responsibilities seems to demand that A prioritize B over C. A special responsibility just is the kind of responsibility that marks those who are near and dear as having priority over those who are not.
Moral and political philosophers have reacted to this puzzling situation in different ways. Particularly powerful and original is the view that Samuel Scheffler develops in his recent book Boundaries and Allegiances. Scheffler’s central and intriguing claim is that we can and must seek a middle way between two extreme positions. The first is an “extreme cosmopolitanism” that emphasizes general egalitarian duties with universal scope and acknowledges special responsibilities only to the extent that they can be derived from them. The second is an extreme “communitarianism” that defends underived special responsibilities but denies the relevance of universalist egalitarian considerations. These two extreme positions share, according to Scheffler, an endorsement of what he calls “Nussbaum’s dilemma.” This dilemma says that when we try to “justify our particular attachments and loyalties,” we must choose between two mutually exclusive options: “Either we must argue, as Nussbaum does, that devoting special attention to the people we are attached to is an effective way of doing good for humanity at large, or else we must suppose that the people we are attached to are simply worth more than others”  (p.115). Nussbaum’s dilemma entails that “a commitment to the equal worth of persons is incompatible with a recognition of underived special responsibilities to the members of one’s own community” (p. 119). Scheffler rejects this dilemma as spurious, and seeks to find a middle way between extreme cosmopolitanism and extreme communitarianism. His “moderate cosmopolitanism” acknowledges underived special responsibilities, but demands that they be “balanced and constrained” by some universalist egalitarian considerations (p. 115).
The purpose of this paper is to propose an alternative account of the relation between cosmopolitan egalitarianism and special responsibilities. We begin by examining critically Scheffler’s attempt to find a middle way between the demands of cosmopolitan equality and special responsibilities and, against this background, develop our alternative. Scheffler’s attempt is based on the claim that we do not face a “dilemma” between cosmopolitan equality and special responsibilities, but a “genuine tension” between them: we do not have reason to simply drop one of them or reduce one to the other but should, instead, search for a reasonable “accommodation” between them (pp. 7, 65, 76, 78–80, 94–5, 123–4). Our first central thesis is that while it is correct to argue that special relationships give rise to special responsibilities that are not mere instruments for fulfilling general duties, it is a mistake to think that these special responsibilities are in tension with the cosmopolitan egalitarian ideal of equal moral worth of persons. This is because while special relationships are non-instrumentally valuable, they are not unconditionally valuable. And this conditionality indicates that special responsibilities, like general duties, arise within the framework of cosmopolitan egalitarianism. Our second central thesis is that the relevant tension is not between cosmopolitan egalitarianism and special responsibilities but, in particular cases, between the various general duties and special responsibilities to which cosmopolitan egalitarianism itself gives rise. This tension between various general duties and special responsibilities arises because the ideal of the equal moral worth of persons demands recognition of a multiplicity of basic goods necessary to the well-being of persons, of which special relationships are only one example, and because the recognition of the non-instrumental value of special relationships gives rise both to special responsibilities and to general duties. Before developing this alternative approach (in Sec. III), we will explain in more detail what Scheffler’s own argument for the existence of a “genuine tension” between cosmopolitan egalitarianism and special responsibilities is (in Sec. II).
We can reconstruct Scheffler’s argument for a “moderate cosmopolitanism” in five theses. The first may be called “the Phenomenological Thesis:”
The Phenomenological Thesis: If one values a relationship to some person non-instrumentally, then one acknowledges underived special responsibilities to that person (pp. 97–9, 100, 104, 118, 121–2).
This thesis reconstructs ordinary moral thought’s view that special relationships generate special duties to one’s associates. These duties are supposed to result immediately from one’s participation in special relationships, and do not need any “derivation” by appeal to general cosmopolitan duties (such as the duty to help those in need and the thought that one can most effectively do so by helping those  who are near and dear) or previous interactions among those sharing the relationship (such as contracts, promises, harmful actions requiring compensation, and so on).
Scheffler refines the Phenomenological Thesis by also advancing what we may call “the Non-derivationist Thesis:”
The Non-derivationist Thesis: If one has reason to value a relationship with some person non-instrumentally, then one has reason to acknowledge underived special responsibilities to that person (see pp. 101, 104, 121–2).
While the Phenomenological Thesis merely fleshes out what it invariably means for agents to subjectively value relationships non-instrumentally, the Non-derivationist Thesis explains the case where a relationship is in fact of non-instrumental value and so provides the agent with reason to value the relationship. This distinction is important, because one might value special relationships without really having reason to do so (as when a spouse thinks she must honor a relationship with an abusive husband (p.103)), and one might have reason to value certain relationships without presently valuing them. (The first point explains why an “extreme communitarianism” that takes the value of existing special relationships for granted is implausible.) According to the Non-derivationist Thesis, relationships that are non-instrumentally valuable provide underived, that is, “independent” (p. 115), “fundamental” (p. 95), or “ultimate” (p. 118), reasons for acknowledging special responsibilities toward those who are near and dear. This entails the rejection of the “extreme cosmopolitan” view that all special duties are instrumentally derived from general ones (as in, for example, Robert Goodin’s consequentialist “assigned responsibility model,” according to which special duties are only “devices whereby the moral community’s general duties get assigned to particular agents” because this set of assignments is the most efficient way to discharge general duties globally).
The third thesis advanced by Scheffler is the “Justificatory Thesis”:
The Justificatory Thesis: Since one has reason to value some relationships non-instrumentally, one has reason to acknowledge underived special responsibilities between the related persons (see pp. 6 and 101–5).
This thesis goes further than the Non-derivationist Thesis by claiming that we indeed have reason to value some relationships non-instrumentally, and thus to acknowledge  the underived special responsibilities to fellow associates grounded in them. Scheffler explains this in the following passage:
We human beings are social creatures, and creatures with values. Among the things that we value are our relationships with each other. But to value (non-instrumentally) one’s relationships with another person is to see it as a source of reasons for action of a distinctive kind. It is, in effect, to see oneself as having special responsibilities to the person with whom one has the relationship. Thus, in so far as we have good reasons to value our interpersonal relationships, we have good reasons to see ourselves as having special responsibilities. And, accordingly, scepticism about such responsibilities will be justified only if we are prepared to deny that we have good reasons to value our relationships (pp. 103–4).
Scheffler is aware, however, that a commitment to special responsibilities may generate suspicions on the part of at least some liberal egalitarian philosophers. Even though the latter would feel comfortable with one aspect of the Non-derivationist Thesis (the one rejecting extreme communitarian views of the unqualified value of special relationships), they would still have some qualms regarding the Justificatory Thesis. They would think that Scheffler’s justification of special responsibilities fails to address some important objections. One objection, which Scheffler calls “the distributive objection,” says that a commitment to special responsibilities may lead to disadvantaging unfairly those who are not party to the special relationships the agents are keen to honour. This objection is based on the idea of equality, and leads to rejecting associative duties that fail to recognize the claims of outsiders who are worse off than members of the association (pp. 4–7, 56–64, 83–95, 105, 107–10).
Scheffler recognizes the power of this objection. This is why, for him, the non-instrumental value of some relationships only yields “presumptively decisive reasons” for special responsibilities, reasons that can be outweighed by other morally powerful considerations (p. 100). Scheffler thinks that we must acknowledge the significance of the value of equality underlying the distributive objection. He does not think, however, that we must for that reason drop our commitment to underived special responsibilities. What we need, instead, is to recognize that we face a “genuine tension” between the values of equality and loyalty (p. 76), and that we should, instead of dropping any of these values or seeking to reduce one to the other, pursue a “reasonable accommodation” between them. Scheffler is, in effect, arguing for the following two theses:
The Genuine Tension Thesis: There is a genuine tension or conflict between our cosmopolitan egalitarian commitment to the equal moral worth of all and our commitment to the ideal of loyalty and underived special responsibilities.
The Accommodation Thesis: Since we have reason to acknowledge the ideal of equality independently of the ideal of loyalty and the concomitant value of  special responsibilities, we have reason to seek an accommodation between the moral demands of the latter and of the former.
These two theses mark the originality of Scheffler’s “moderate cosmopolitanism.” They imply that “Nussbaum’s dilemma,” endorsed by both extreme communitarians and extreme cosmopolitans, is spurious. According to moderate cosmopolitanism, we can and indeed ought to recognize the force of the commitment to equality and the force of the commitment to underived special responsibilities, and we can and indeed ought to seek a reasoned accommodation between them.
Does Scheffler’s argument succeed at showing that there is a genuine tension between cosmopolitan egalitarianism and special responsibilities? A necessary condition for his argument to work is that the justification of each of the two components said to be in tension can in principle be developed without reference to the other. In what follows we argue, first, that Scheffler’s argument does not satisfy this necessary condition: the justification of special responsibilities given by Scheffler indeed presupposes the cosmopolitan ideal of the equal moral worth of all persons. We claim, second, that Scheffler’s Genuine Tension Thesis should be reformulated to refer instead to a tension between the various general and special duties to which an egalitarian recognition of a multiplicity of basic goods gives rise, rather than between the special responsibilities to which one basic good (special relationships) gives rise and the general ideal of equal treatment. We argue, finally, that this reformulation retains the insights underlying Scheffler’s critique of extreme cosmopolitanism and communitarianism, while providing it a clearer rationale and a sharper critical edge.
On Scheffler’s characterization, “extreme cosmopolitan” theories claim
that particular human relationships and group affiliations never provide independent reasons for action or suffice by themselves to generate special responsibilities to one’s intimates and associates...[or] that one’s special relationships and affiliations need to be justified by reference to the ideal of world citizenship itself, or that any legitimate reasons we have for promoting the interests of people we care specially about must be derivative from the interests of humanity as a whole (p. 115).
By contrast, according to the Non-derivationist Thesis and Justificatory Thesis, we have reason to recognize some special responsibilities that are “underived.” Scheffler’s objection to “reductionist” theories, which ultimately attempt to ground special responsibilities in some impartialist justification beyond the fact of the relationship itself, is that the failure to see the relationship itself as a sufficient and basic ground for special responsibilities is also a failure to recognize the non-instrumental value of some relationships. As we have seen, according to Scheffler, the requirement of further justification fails to acknowledge what is obviously true: that some relationships have non-instrumental value. Goodin’s assigned responsibilities model, for example, implies that special responsibilities and the relationships  that ground them are justified solely instrumentally, as the most efficient instruments for realizing the best overall consequences.
We accept the premise of Scheffler’s argument: some relationships have non-instrumental value. And non-instrumentally valuable relationships can give rise to special responsibilities that are in one sense “underived”: they are not conditional on their grounding relationships being efficient means to realizing the best state of affairs. But the value of relationships and the special responsibilities to which they give rise are conditional in another sense. This second sense turns on adequately keeping apart what Korsgaard has rightly called “two distinctions in goodness.”
The first distinction is between instrumental and non-instrumental value, or between means and final ends. Instrumental values are clearly conditional values—conditional on the value of the final end for which the former are a causal means. Final ends, by contrast, are valuable for their own sake. Korsgaard’s insight, however, is that not all final ends or non-instrumental values are unconditionally valuable: instrumental value is only one kind of conditional value. The value of some final ends may be subject to conditions that are not causal means-ends conditions. We would distinguish between four kinds of final end: (a) unconditional value, (b) constitutive value, (c) state-conditional value, and (d) moral-conditional value. (a) An unconditional (or “intrinsic” or “ultimate”) value is a final end whose value is independent of anything else. The value of everything else is ultimately explained by reference to unconditional values. (A frequent candidate is well-being.) (b) A constitutive value is valuable insofar as it is a constituent part of some other final end. For example, living with art and beauty may be valuable for its own sake, but its value may be explained by the fact that living with art and beauty is a necessary constituent of (and so contributes to) human well-being. In that case, its value is not instrumental (since it is not the cause of well-being but a part of it), but nonetheless conditional on the value of human well-being. Third, (c) a state-conditional value is a final end whose value is conditional on the presence of some other state of affairs in the world. For example, living with art and beauty may be valuable for its own sake, but its value may be conditional on being accompanied by certain mental states, such as the person actually endorsing or enjoying such a life; if so, then living with art and beauty would not be valuable for a person upon whom it was coercively imposed, or who hated art. Fourth, (d) a moral-conditional value is a final end whose value is conditional on it not involving the violation of certain (e.g. deontic) moral constraints. For example, some might think that the non-instrumental value of a life with art and beauty would be entirely compromised if the art in question were of a kind that inherently involved harm to innocent and non-consenting persons. Whether or not any value is moral-conditional in this way is, of course, a matter of some controversy; we distinguish the category here as a logical possibility.
Notice, then, that a non-instrumental but conditional value may be conditional in at least three ways—constitutively conditional, state-conditional, and moral-conditional—and that the different conditions may be inherently related. For example, the precise states of affairs on which a value is conditional may result from the ultimate value of which it is constitutive: the value of living with art and beauty may be state-conditional on an agent’s subjective endorsement of such a life because otherwise living with art and beauty could not contribute to a person’s well-being.
The implication of the structure of value, as we have outlined it, for relationships is that relationships, though non-instrumentally valuable, might nonetheless be of conditional value, and this in potentially three ways: constitutively conditional, state-conditional, or moral-conditional. And we think it is clear that while some relationships are non-instrumentally valuable, no relationship is unconditionally valuable. We call this claim, about the value of special relationships, the Conditionality Thesis. The value of friendship, for example, is conditional on the fact that partaking in such relationships is a constituent part of human well-being. What explains the value of relationships such as those of friendship or family is that they are arguably a necessary constituent of human well-being, and perhaps even a necessary constituent of a life with moral agency. Their value is “derivative” in the sense that the whole institution of friendship or family is justified by reference to the value of human well-being of which it is arguably a part. Having such relationships is valuable for its own sake, non-instrumentally (since it is not the cause of well-being but a part of it); but its value is nonetheless explained by and so conditional on the ultimate value of human well-being. This fact, that the value of relationships is constitutive, immediately provides a prima facie condition under which a person would not have reason to value a particular relationship: namely, if it systematically undermines the well-being of the related persons. As Scheffler acknowledges, an abusive relationship that systematically undermined the well-being of the related persons is not in fact valuable, even if valued by the persons themselves—and so does not give rise to special responsibilities. Scheffler, in other words, acknowledges the truth of the Conditionality Thesis. The case of abusive relationships shows that the mere existence of a relationship that one values non-instrumentally is not sufficient to ground special responsibilities: one must also have reason to value the relationship, or, to put it differently, the relationship must in fact be non-instrumentally valuable.
The question is whether the value of relationships is not just constitutively conditional, but moral-conditional as well. Our thesis is that on this question Scheffler faces the following dilemma: either (a) the value of relationships is moral-conditional (that is, conditional on the relationship not violating certain moral constraints), or (b) if their value is not moral-conditional, then non-instrumentally valuable relationships give rise to special responsibilities only if they do not violate certain moral constraints (that is, the non-instrumental value of relationships is not sufficient to give rise to special responsibilities, and so strictly speaking the Non-derivationist Thesis is false). In either case, special relationships cannot give rise to special responsibilities unless they already satisfy certain moral constraints. The reason for this is the following: if special responsibilities comprise genuinely moral responsibilities, and do not simply receive their justification from what is merely good for oneself, then special responsibilities  require that one have moral—and not just prudential—reason to value the relationship that ostensibly grounds them. (And, clearly, Scheffler wants to say that special responsibilities are genuinely moral responsibilities.)
Given that the value of relationships is constitutively conditional, the dilemma arises as soon as one grants the cosmopolitan egalitarian moral ideal, according to which each person is of equal moral worth. Once one grants this ideal, as Scheffler does, then any plausible theory of value has to acknowledge the ultimate value of each person’s well-being, and not just that of some class of human beings. From the moral point of view that Scheffler shares, the constitutive value of special relationships (to which agents attribute non-instrumental value), and the special responsibilities to which these relationships give rise, presuppose the equal value of each person’s well-being, and not merely the well-being of some class of human beings. Special relationships, which ground special responsibilities, have non-instrumental value because having such relationships is constitutive of anyone’s well-being. If the value of relationships is constitutive of, and so conditional on, the value of human well-being, then from a moral point of view the justification of relationships such as friendship must also be compatible with respect for the well-being of each human being, and not just those party to the relationship. After all, the whole point of avoiding “Nussbaum’s dilemma,” for Scheffler, is to ground special responsibilities without resorting to the claim that some persons are “worth more than others” (p. 115). And this is precisely what drives the “distributive objection” whose force Scheffler acknowledges: the well-being of each individual figures into the justification of relationships in general and the special responsibilities to which they give rise, and this condition places constraints on whether any particular relationship does indeed give rise to special responsibilities. On either horn of the dilemma facing Scheffler, some of the relevant moral constraints, on which special responsibilities are conditional, arise directly from the same fact that serves to justify special relationships in the first place: the fact that special relationships are constitutive of human well-being.
If one seizes the first horn of the dilemma, these moral constraints directly impinge on the value of relationships themselves. On this approach, the non-instrumental value of relationships is not merely constitutive, it is also moral-conditional, i.e., the value of any relationship is conditional on that relationship not violating certain moral constraints. So, for example, if friendships or family relations in a particular society were constituted such that they systematically oppressed half the human population (such as women), then to that extent these relationships would fail to be non-instrumentally valuable from a moral point of view and would consequently fail to ground special responsibilities. The related persons might in fact value these relationships non-instrumentally, and partaking in non-instrumentally valued friendships and familial relationships may be a necessary constituent for well-being, but these relationships would not provide anyone with reasons for action, because they are not in fact valuable relationships. For the non-instrumental value of a relationship is conditional on that relationship not unduly limiting the well-being of others and not insulating the related persons from fulfilling their general responsibilities. The non-instrumental value of  any particular relationship would be conditional on the implications of that relationship for the well-being of not just those party to the particular relationship, but of others as well. Notice, then, that once one grants the cosmopolitan egalitarian ideal that each persons’ well-being must matter equally, some of the moral constraints on which the value of relationships depends arise directly from the ultimate value of well-being which must serve in the justification of special responsibilities.
But it might be objected that some relationships failing to satisfy the relevant moral constraints are not merely valued by the persons partaking in them, but are genuinely valuable to the persons partaking in those relationships—that is, these persons might have reason to value these (morally suspect) relationships. For example, a relationship may be an essential constituent of a person’s “ground project,” and so be a necessary constituent of his well-being, despite the fact that the relationship prevents him (inherently, let us say) from fulfilling his moral duties to other people. Such a person would still have reason to value the relationship and so, it might be concluded, the relationship is in fact valuable (for this person). This is to reject the moral-conditionality of the value of relationships, of course. But then one faces the second horn of the dilemma. Once one accepts, as Scheffler does, the moral point of view, and wishes to claim for special responsibilities the status of moral responsibilities, then it is not sufficient to show that a person has just any kind of reason to value a relationship. In particular, a prudential reason to value a relationship is not sufficient to show that it gives rise to (morally justified) special responsibilities. Rather, one must have moral reason to value the relationship. And one has moral reason to value a relationship only if it does not violate certain moral constraints. The upshot of this second account is that the mere existence of a non-instrumentally valuable relationship is not sufficient to give rise to special responsibilities; rather, such a relationship gives rise to special responsibilities only if it does not violate the relevant moral constraints. And, once again, some of these moral constraints arise directly from the same consideration that serves in the justification of special responsibilities, namely, the equal value of each human being’s well-being.
So either (a) the value of relationships is sufficient to give rise to special responsibilities, but their value is itself conditional on not violating certain moral constraints, or (b) while the value of relationships is not moral-conditional, valuable relationships can give rise to special responsibilities only if they do not violate certain moral constraints. In either case, relationships give rise to special responsibilities only if they do not violate the relevant moral constraints: special responsibilities cannot arise from relationships that involve undermining or neglecting others’ fair access to the basic goods that are constitutive of their well-being.
Scheffler of course recognizes, at least implicitly, that the value of relationships is conditional. This is what explains why one might not have moral reason to value  some relationships that one happens to value as a matter of fact. As he puts it, people may “have no (net) reason to value relationships which themselves offend against important moral values or principles, so that such relationships do not generate special responsibilities even if people do in fact value them” (p. 109). It seems to us that saying this also requires saying that whether or not a relationship grounds special responsibilities is conditional on satisfying some moral constraints. At least as we understand these terms, a relationship no longer seems to provide a basic, sufficient, or ultimate reason for acknowledging special responsibilities. But the semantic point is not the relevant one here. The relevant point is that these moral constraints, which figure into the justification of special responsibilities, arise directly from the cosmopolitan egalitarian ideal of the equal moral worth of all. Scheffler’s justification of special responsibilities presupposes, in other words, the cosmopolitan egalitarian ideal, because the value of non-instrumental relations, which that justification presupposes, is itself conditional on the ultimate value of the well-being of each person. Once we mark the distinction between unconditional and conditional value, it becomes clear that Scheffler does not ultimately provide an account of special responsibilities justified without “reference to the interest of all human beings considered as equals” (p. 115).
The upshot is that Scheffler cannot claim that there is a genuine tension between cosmopolitan egalitarianism and special responsibilities. One cannot accept cosmopolitan egalitarianism and special responsibilities unless one is prepared to justify the latter subject to the former. Such justification is not, of course, “derivative” in the instrumental sense that some forms of consequentialism demand. It does not say that a special responsibility holds only if discharging it produces the best overall outcome the description of which does not cite the non-instrumental importance of partaking in special relationships. Cosmopolitan egalitarianism has room for claims about the non-instrumental value of special responsibilities. What it does not have room for is the claim that special relationships provide fundamental, independent, or ultimate—that is, unconditional—moral reasons that do not need to be couched by appeal to the satisfaction of universal principles elaborating the ideal of equal treatment of all persons.
This does not mean that Scheffler is not on to something quite important with his critique of extreme communitarianism and extreme cosmopolitanism. Scheffler indeed uncovers genuine tensions, but these tensions exist not between cosmopolitan egalitarianism and special duties, but between various duties (both general and special) that arise from the recognition, demanded by cosmopolitan egalitarianism, of diverse basic goods (including special relationships, a basic constituent of human well-being). These are tensions within cosmopolitan egalitarianism itself.
To see what these tensions are and how they might arise, it helps to distinguish between three levels of moral reasoning within a cosmopolitan egalitarian outlook. The first is the fundamental cosmopolitan ideal of the equal moral worth of all persons. This ideal provides the normative framework within which normative  claims at other levels are adjudicated, in light of equal concern for the well-being of, and equal respect for, each person. The second level inquires into what basic goods all persons have reason to value and whose recognition the cosmopolitan egalitarian ideal concomitantly demands. Such goods are basic conditions for the well-being of each person, and include goods such as special relationships and the material resources necessary for subsistence. The third level specifies the duties that arise from adequately recognizing these as basic goods to which each person has a claim.
There are, in principle, at least three kinds of (general and/or special) duties to which the cosmopolitan egalitarian recognition of a basic good might give rise. The first are moral duties concerning how persons can rightfully be treated, irrespective of distributive questions. Importantly, these duties are not duties primarily concerned with the distribution of any particular good. (Autonomy is often thought to give rise to such duties; recognizing a person’s autonomy might, for example, normally forbid one systematically to lie to that person.) Deontic constraints provide typical examples of this kind of duty. The second kind are moral duties to provide others with (or not deprive others of) precisely the same good whose recognition as a basic good helps ground the duty in the first place. (An obvious example would be the material resources necessary for subsistence.) The third kind are moral duties to provide others with (or not deprive others of) some goods different from the good whose recognition as a basic good grounds the duties. (Special relationships often give rise to such duties: duties concerned with distribution, but not with the distribution of relationships.) For convenience, we shall call these non-distributing, same-distributing, and other-distributing duties, respectively. The recognition of a single good can potentially give rise to duties of more than one kind. Autonomy, for example, might be thought to give rise both to non-distributing general duties (such as the duty not to lie) and to other-distributing general duties (such as the provision of education).
Similarly, special relationships may give rise to special duties unconcerned with distribution (such as a duty not to betray friends’ secrets, or a duty not to backbite about them) and to special duties concerning the distribution of other goods (such as especially helping friends out with material resources). The special responsibilities arising from the cosmopolitan egalitarian demand to recognize the basic good of special relationships thus generally take the form of non-distributing and other-distributing duties. Putative special responsibilities grounded in special relationships can thus relate to general moral duties arising from the recognition of other basic goods in a number of distinct ways.
According to the Conditionality Thesis, non-distributing general duties (in the form of deontic constraints, for example) can condition and thus simply prevent a special relationship from giving rise to special responsibilities—when, for example, the particular relationship inherently violates the non-distributing general duties. Scheffler grants this in the case of internally abusive relationships; one ought also to add many relationships whose purpose is to abuse others. Similarly, when general duties arising from recognizing other basic goods (subsistence goods, for example) concern the distribution of the same goods that putative special duties arising from special relationships purport to regulate, these general duties can condition, and so prevent, the rise of the special duties. Insofar as the “distributive objection,” whose force Scheffler recognizes, prevents the rise of putative special responsibilities between the rich when their relationships involve neglecting the claims of the poor (pp. 88–93, 108–9), it is best understood as an important illustration of such a case.  (Scheffler claims that special relationships among people within a wealthy group should not be a ground for shielding them from duties to assist poor people who are not members of that group.)
The Conditionality Thesis shows that special responsibilities arise within the framework of (and are not in tension with) the ideal of moral equality of persons. It does not, however, show that there are no tensions within the cosmopolitan framework. Tensions between special responsibilities and general duties exist because while the fulfillment of some general duties does condition the existence of special responsibilities, it is not the case that the fulfillment of all general duties wholly conditions all special responsibilities. General duties sometimes condition, but at other times weigh against special responsibilities. The recognition of basic goods other than special relationships can give rise to non-distributing, same-distributing, and other-distributing general duties that conflict with genuine special responsibilities arising from special relationships. This occurs, for example, when relationships give rise to other-distributing special duties that regulate other goods (such as material resources) the independent recognition of which, as basic goods in their own right, gives rise to same-distributing general duties regulating these same goods. Thus the recognition that the material resources required for subsistence is a basic good may give rise to general duties concerning the provision of such resources to everyone, at the same time that the recognition of special relationships gives rise to special duties concerning the provision of material resources to one’s near and dear. Under conditions of material resource scarcity, conflicts may arise, and these prima facie duties will need to be weighed against one another.
How do we know when general duties condition the rise of special duties and when they weigh against them? One suggestion is that it depends on the way in which the special relationship itself relates to the relevant general duties. Consider two kinds of morally suspect relationship: a relationship whose pursuit inherently conflicts with some basic moral duties (in the sense that the very basis and/or purpose of the relationship is immoral), and a relationship whose pursuit under the circumstances incidentally conflicts with moral duties not related to the relationship. It might be thought that the first kind of relationship does not give rise to any special responsibilities, since it fails to meet some basic moral constraints, while the second case describes a situation in which pursuing a non-instrumentally valued special relationship can lead to incidental but genuine conflicts with (prima facie) general duties. We can capture this point by going back to the example introduced in the first two paragraphs of this paper and reframing the cosmopolitan egalitarian argument behind the “distributive objection” along the following lines:
1. Partaking in non-instrumentally valued relationships is a basic constituent of the well-being of each person, and so is a basic good to which each person ought to have access.
2. All other things equal, partaking in a non-instrumentally valued relationship that does not inherently violate basic moral constraints gives rise to special responsibilities.
3. Therefore, all other things being equal, A has (moral) reason to prioritize B over C if B does, and C does not, share a non-instrumentally valued relationship with A that does not inherently violate basic moral constraints.
4. Assume, however, that C faces life-threatening poverty whereas B is, like A, quite rich. 
5. Avoiding life-threatening poverty is a basic good to which all persons ought to have access.
6. Therefore, (a) everyone has a negative duty to avoid practices causing others’ life-threatening poverty and (b) all those who, with no grievous sacrifice, can help people to overcome life-threatening poverty have a positive duty to do so.
7. Therefore, if the pursuit by A and B of their special relationship incidentally contributes to the production of life-threatening poverty for C, then A might not have reason to prioritize B over C in the allocation of resources that could help C avoid life-threatening poverty.
8. Therefore, if the pursuit by A and B of their special relationship incidentally involves neglect of the plight of C who lives in life-threatening poverty, then A might not have reason to prioritize B over C in the allocation of resources that could help C avoid life-threatening poverty.
9. Therefore, A’s special responsibilities to B are in conflict with her (a) negative and/or (b) positive duties to C.
10. Therefore, A’s special responsibilities to B ought, all things considered, to be balanced against A’s negative and/or positive duties to C.
There are three important things to notice about this argument. The first is that the tension identified in (9) is not a tension between cosmopolitan egalitarianism and special responsibilities. The tension here is between the prima facie duties arising from the recognition of the basic good of special relationships assumed in (1) and the prima facie duties arising from the recognition of the basic good of avoiding life-threatening poverty mentioned in (5). According to this argument, both goods are basic goods equal access to which is required by a plausible elaboration of the cosmopolitan egalitarian ideal of the equal moral worth of all persons.
The second point is that the prima facie duties arising from the recognition of these two goods might be in conflict in two different ways. One refers to the possibility that pursuing some special relationships may incidentally involve violating the negative duty not to harm people unduly by causing them life-threatening poverty. The other refers to the possibility that pursuing some special responsibilities may incidentally involve failing to honour a positive duty to assist those who face life-threatening poverty. When A prioritizes B over C, A may be harming C or failing to assist C. A cosmopolitan egalitarian has reason to recognize the moral importance of A’s and B’s special relationship. But she also has reason to recognize the moral importance of C’s avoiding life-threatening poverty. It makes a difference, from the point of view of cosmopolitan egalitarian morality or justice, whether A’s discharge of her special responsibilities to B involves failure to honour positive or negative duties to C. The all-thing-considered case in favour of allowing A to discharge her prima facie special responsibilities to B looks far weaker when other things, such as the plight of C, are taken into account. Whether A really has an all-things-considered duty to prioritize B over C will depend on the particular balance of reasons involved in recognizing the two basic constituents of well-being mentioned.
The third issue has to do with how such a balancing act should proceed. This is the question raised by a proper construal of Scheffler’s “distributive objection” in cases where general same-distributing duties must be weighed against special other-distributing duties. Scheffler himself emphasizes the importance of this question for our  contemporary context, which includes powerful trends of economic integration of global scale. These trends force us to rethink the traditional “concentric circles” picture of normative responsibilities, according to which the further away people are from us, the less we have normative responsibilities to them. But how are we to account for the relative weight of the claims of B and C on A? We will not answer this question here, but mention three considerations that are relevant for answering it. First, we must ask how significant the bond between A and B is. Some special relationships, such as familial relationships, may be more important than others, and are thus more likely to ground resistance to global redistributive duties. Second, we need to ask how serious the plight of C is and how wide the disparity of resources between C, on the one hand, and A and B, on the other, is. Third, we need to ask whether the situation under consideration engages A’s positive duties to C only or also her negative duties. Some claims of special responsibility may limit the force of positive general duties, but have no force whatsoever with regard to negative ones.
Finally, it is important to see that it is not simply the recognition of other basic goods that can condition or weigh against the special responsibilities arising from special relationships. Recall that, within the cosmopolitan egalitarian framework, the non-instrumental value of special relationships must be recognized for each person. The upshot is that the basic good of special relationships gives rise not only to special responsibilities, but also to general duties to help provide (or refrain from undermining) the goods necessary for anyone to be able to form such relationships. This means that the putative special responsibilities arising from any particular special relationship must be considered not only in light of general duties arising directly from the recognition of other basic goods, but also in light of other-distributing general duties arising from the recognition of the good of special relationships itself. Under conditions of scarcity, these general duties can condition or weigh against the putative special responsibilities as well.
What is gained by reclassifying the tension triggered by attending to the “distributive objection” as one between general duties and special responsibilities related to the recognition of a multiplicity of basic goods—such as special relationships and access to the basic material conditions of life-reproduction—rather than seeing it as a tension between cosmopolitan egalitarianism and special responsibilities? We think that there are two major benefits. The first is that the reclassification helps us to achieve greater integration in our moral thinking. The second is that it gives current demands of global justice a sharper edge. We close this paper by discussing these two advantages.
The first advantage of the reclassification proposed here is that it retains Scheffler’s central points while securing more coherence within our moral outlook. Scheffler’s most important points are arguably the following. First, Scheffler is right  that partaking in special relationships is a basic good. This fact has been largely neglected in much of contemporary liberal egalitarian thought. Second, Scheffler is also right that special responsibilities can ground resistance to some economic redistributive claims. A distributive outlook that neglects the importance of special responsibilities is an implausible one, because it fails to recognize that most people cannot have meaningful lives without devoting some degree of special attention to those who are near and dear.
But these two points can, as we saw, be articulated within the framework of cosmopolitan egalitarianism itself. As a matter of fact, no plausible defence of one’s duties to prioritize the near and dear over distant others merely cites the fact that the former are one’s own associates whereas the latter are not. Since it is obvious that one may be engaged in outrageous associations or be shamefully dismissive or neglectful toward the claims of others, a moral defence of one’s special associative duties must always appeal to some more complicated story. This story will say not only “I have a special duty to help B rather than C because B is, and C is not, my associate,” but also “the kind of association I share with B is one everyone has reason to respect,” and/or “the priority I give to my associative responsibilities toward B is not, under the present circumstances, a failure to attend to more urgent claims that all have reason to recognize and help fulfil.” These further justificatory devices appeal to the cosmopolitan egalitarian ideal of equal moral worth, and use it to show that access to certain goods merits general respect and support. Indeed, the connection between the ideal of equal moral worth and the reference to basic goods is necessary for either of them to have any purchase on our moral reasoning. The ideal of equal moral worth cannot by itself produce an account of what human interests are important and, so, how equal persons ought to be treated. Symmetrically, an appeal to basic goods needs to mobilize the ideal of equal moral worth to ground moral duties rather than merely subjective preferences. One cannot, for example, justify one’s practices by simply saying that they facilitate one’s own access to basic goods, without also considering the issue of whether those practices undermine others’ access to basic goods (or compromise one’s doing one’s fair share in assisting disadvantaged others to gain access to basic goods). And crucially, the greater coherence of the approach adopted here enables us not only to see the way in which the recognition of other basic goods can condition and weigh against special relationships, but also the way in which recognizing the good of special relationships gives rise to general duties that may condition or weigh against the special responsibilities to which these relationships also give rise.
The second advantage of the redescription we propose here is that, by specifying more precisely how and why the value of special relationships is conditional, it provides that conditionality a much sharper critical edge. Once we see that special  relationships, despite being non-instrumentally valuable, are just one basic good among others, and that they themselves also give rise to general other-distributing duties, it becomes less easy to deflect demands generated by claims of global distributive justice. Special relationships are at no point insulated from cosmopolitan egalitarian reasoning on the allocation of normative responsibilities. Their force is never fundamental or ultimate. Recognizing this strengthens our demand that those who insist on prioritizing the near and dear pay attention to the plight of distant strangers. And this is particularly important in the globalized contemporary context Scheffler urges us to consider more directly. This context includes an enormous and increasing disparity of wealth and resources between the global rich and the global poor. It also exhibits appalling facts regarding the destitution of the global poor. It finally involves various mechanisms violating negative duties on the part of the global rich. The current process of economic, political, and military integration in the world is largely controlled by the global rich, is slanted in their favour, and visibly threatens the fulfillment of the most basic socioeconomic rights of the global poor. In these circumstances, a moderate cosmopolitanism should not be too moderate. It should accept that special relationships have non-instrumental value. But it should insist, in much more forceful terms than Scheffler seems prepared to do, that no reference to them can be a conversation-stopper when urgent claims of global justice are on the table. Some claims of special responsibility should not be accommodated at all.
Acknowledgement The authors would like to thank the Fonds québécois de la recherche sur la société et la culture for a team grant in support of the research leading to this paper.
 Samuel Scheffler, Boundaries and Allegiances: Problems of Justice and Responsibility in Liberal Thought (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001). Parenthetical page numbers in this paper refer to pages in this book.
 As an example of “extreme cosmopolitanism,” Scheffler refers to Martha Nussbaum’s article “Patriotism and Cosmopolitanism,” reprinted in Joshua Cohen, ed. For Love of Country? (Boston: Beacon, 2002), pp. 4–17. As an example of extreme “communitarianism,” Scheffler refers to Alisdair MacIntyre, “Is Patriotism a Virtue?” The Lindley Lecture, Lawrence, Kansas, 1984. We do not address the question here of whether MacIntyre and Nussbaum would find Scheffler’s reconstruction of their position accurate.
 Scheffler uses the expression “reduction” to refer to previous interactions and “derivation” to refer to general egalitarian considerations (see chapters 6 and 7 of his book, respectively). For the sake of exposition, we use the term “derivation” only. A good account of the nature of the partialist stance involved in special relationships is presented by John Cottingham in the following two sentences. “Those picked out for special treatment are specified not in terms of some descriptive (and therefore universalizable) quality or feature that they possess, but in terms of some particular relationship which they have to the agent. Thus, in the fire case, my decision to favour my child is based simply on the fact that she is my daughter: there is a non-eliminably particular, self-referential element in my rationale for selecting this child rather than some other.” John Cottingham, “Partiality, Favouritism and Morality,” The Philosophical Quarterly 36.144 (1986), pp. 357–73, at 358–9. Cottingham also discusses the scope of different kinds of partialism, finding that only some are really justifiable (e.g. nationalism does not, but familism does, seem to be a necessary component of a flourishing life for most agents).
 Robert E. Goodin, “What Is So Special about Our Fellow Countrymen?,” Ethics 98 (July 1988): 663–686, at 678.
 Scheffler also considers what he calls “the voluntarist objection,” which says that special responsibilities may involve the oppressive imposition on individuals of burdens they did not voluntarily accept to shoulder. This objection is based on the notion of autonomy, and leads to rejecting any associative duty that does not stem from relationships chosen by rather than ascribed to agents (pp. 4–5, 62–4, 105–7, 110). We do not treat this objection here.
 The genuine tension includes also the value of autonomy mobilized by the “voluntarist objection.”
 Christine M. Korsgaard, Creating the Kingdom of Ends (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), pp. 249–274.
 Korsgaard’s own example of a state-conditional value is that of an extraordinarily beautiful painting: the beauty of the painting may be valuable for its own sake, but this value may be dependent on there existing conscious beings in the world who could actually appreciate its beauty. The state-conditional value of the painting’s beauty does not mean, however, that it is only of instrumental value (as an instrument for causing pleasure in conscious beings’ minds, for example). See Korsgaard, Creating the Kingdom of Ends, pp. 264–265.
 The horns (a) and (b) represent two different ways of encoding moral constraints in the moral justification of special responsibilities. Korsgaard herself chooses (a). See Korsgaard, The Sources of Normativity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), Lectures 3 and 4. For an example of an account of the moral status of special responsibilities endorsing (b), see Barbara Herman, The Practice of Moral Judgment (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993), chapter 2. As will become clear, our argument in this paper does not depend on choosing between (a) and (b).
 Scheffler acknowledges that we at least have some minimal responsibilities “toward other people simply as such—to avoid various forms of mistreatment, for example, and also to provide limited forms of assistance in certain contexts” (p. 48). As we shall see, however, genuine prima facie special responsibilities can indeed lie in tension with prima facie general responsibilities; the point is that this tension arises from within the framework of cosmopolitan egalitarianism.
 Bernard Williams, Moral Luck: Philosophical Papers 1973–1980 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981).
 This means that Scheffler’s defence of special responsibilities is quite different from more common ones referring to the trumping character of relational facts. Scheffler’s view would, for example, be the object of Williams’s famous “one thought too many” objection (focused on ridiculing demands that agents provide more grounds than a reference to the fact of a relationship to another agent when they choose to favour that agent as opposed to a stranger). See Williams, Moral Luck, p. 18. For a useful discussion of Williams and Scheffler on this count see Christopher Heath Wellman, “Relational Facts in Liberal Political Theory: Is There Magic in the Pronoun ‘My’?” Ethics 110 (April 2000), pp. 537–62.
 See, e.g., David O. Brink, “Utilitarian Morality and the Personal Point of View” The Journal of Philosophy LXXXIII.8 (1986), pp. 417–38; and Goodin, “What Is So Special about Our Fellow Countrymen?”
 See chapter 2 of Scheffler’s book. The tensions between local and global responsibilities as addressed by Scheffler are discussed in an illuminating way in Elizabeth Ashford, “Individual Responsibility and Global Consequences,” Philosophical Books 44.2 (2003), pp. 100–10.
 The difference in weight between negative and positive duties for the arguments regarding global justice is systematically discussed in Thomas Pogge, World Poverty and Human Rights (Cambridge: Polity, 2002), especially chapter 5. See also David Miller, “Reasonable Partiality Toward Compatriots,” Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 8.1–2 (2005), pp. 63–81.
 There is, for example, no mention of special relationships in the list of “primary goods” presented by John Rawls in his A Theory of Justice (Cambridge, MA.: Harvard University Press, rev. ed. 1999), pp. 54–5. Other liberal egalitarians have, however, recognized the importance of such goods and see them as primary. See, for example, Will Kymlicka, Multicultural Citizenship (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), chapters 5 and 6.
 On this point, see Wellman, “Relational Facts in Liberal Political Theory.”
 This is the insight in Rawls’s remarks that “the right and the good are complementary” and that “the just draws the limit, the good shows the point.” See John Rawls, Justice as Fairness: A Restatement (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001), pp. 140–1. See also Rawls, Political Liberalism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996, second edition), p. 174.
 See Pogge, World Poverty and Human Rights. In a more recent article, Pogge provides updated data. In the 15 years since the end of the Cold War, “billions of people have suffered greatly from poverty-related causes: from hunger and malnutrition, from child labor and trafficking, from lack of access to basic health care and safe drinking water, from lack of shelter, basic sanitation, electricity, and elementary education. Some 18 million people have died prematurely each year from poverty-related causes, accounting for fully one third of all human deaths. This 15-year toll of 270 million is considerably larger than the 200 million death toll from all the wars, civil wars, genocides and other government repression of the entire 20th century combined.” “By shaping and enforcing the social conditions that foreseeably and avoidably cause the monumental suffering of global poverty, we [the global rich] are harming the global poor... we are active participants in the largest, though not the gravest, crime against humanity ever committed.” Pogge, “Real World Justice,” The Journal of Ethics, 9.1–2 (2005), pp. 29–53, at 30–1 and 33. Scheffler acknowledges the importance of the problem of global harm in his “Reply to Ashford, Miller and Rosen,” Philosophical Books, 44.2 (2003), pp. 125–34, at 127.