I'm trying to puzzle something out in relation to the way in which I classify different approaches to distributive justice in the first section of my thesis. I've drawn a distinction between relational and non-relational approaches to justice (see earlier comments on this here). I make it following Sangiovanni, Julius, Nagel, Pogge, Caney and so on, but generalise somewhat from all of their accounts. I drew this distinction in the following way:
According to a relational approach, obligations of justice arise through association and relationships. Absent such interaction, considerations of justice are inappropriate. In other words, it is certain features of particular relationships and associations which make them justice-apt (which features of which types of relationship are relevant will vary). Accoring to the non-relational approach, by contrast, obligations of justice are not linked to interaction and associatin, existing prior to them and independently of them. considerations of jsutice are therefore appropriate even when no interaction has taken place - relationships and associations are not needed to make a situation justice-apt.
The distinction is relevan to global justice debates because it fundamentally alters the grounds of any kind of global justice. Rawlsian views are relational - they ground justice in relationships and interactions between people. On these views principles of (egalitarian) justice apply to the basic structure, and not before the basic structure exists. Competing (generally cosmopolitan) theorists of global justice, such as Kok Chor Tan, argue that egalitarian principles are relevant prior to and absent such interaction and insitutions.
I took these approaches to be differing answers to the question: 'How do relational facts determine principles of justice?' but I now see that this needs further clarification. The question they are answering is 'Are principles of justice relevant prior to or absent the existence or some kind of relationship or interaction between individuals?', or to put it in more person-specific terms, 'Can I owe any kind of egalitarian justice to someone with whom I have no interaction or relationship?' One, more general, way to understand this is, 'Are relational facts a relevant consideration when determining the scope of principles of justice?'. This is different, of course, the separate question ‘Are relational facts a relevant consideration when determining the content of principles of justice?’. To the first question the answer for the relational and non-relational approaches is clear – ‘yes’ and ‘no’ respectively. To the second question it seems to me that both approaches can answer either yes or no, depending on other aspects of the theory in question. A further related but separate question is ‘Are relational facts a relevant consideration for departing from general principles of justice?’. Again, both approaches can answer yes or no to this question.
The upshot of all this, it seems to me, is that the non-relational approach is not necessarily committed to some kind of universalism, or 'impartiality thesis', about the content of principles of justice. The relational approach is therefore not necessarily any better placed to provide principles of justice which account for our intuitively stronger obligations to those with whom we are in relationships, or with whom we share institutions.
I might be wrong, and non-relational approaches might be committed to excluding relational considerations from questions about both the scope and content of principles of justice. If this is so, then presumably it's because the justification for excluding relational considerations from questions about scope also implies excluding them from questions about content.