Global ethics and problem solving

Global ethics and problem solving


Global problem-solving and ethics intersect in a number of ways. Obviously, the manner in which issues such as climate change, resource depletion, violent death, savage inequalities in life chances, and threats to biodiversity are approached and conceived, let alone resolved, embody muultiple and profound ethical issues. At the most basic level, the perception of the existence of a problem is derived from a sense of incongruence between a given situation and the values the viewer deems relevant to that situation. Accordingly the structure of values that leads to the deeming of problems as “global problems” needs investigation. But equally, problems are not “solved” in any abstract or disembodied neutral or “value-free” sense. They are resolved, or there is work to resolve them, in directions or according to criteria and goals derived from values sets. Accordingly, the values attached to or underlying, explicitly or implicitly, global problem-solving actions and conceptions needs investigation.

There are at least three main areas of intersection of ethics and global problems, closely inter-related, and each of which has a number of subsequent distinctive areas.

Global rules and ethical globalisation

The first deals with the ethical practice of global social relations, or as one of the most important projects in this areas frames the goal, that of ethical globalisation. This includes work by the Ethical Globalisation Initiative and others working on the ethical aspects of global rules of engagement for state, market, and society, and includes institutional initiatives such as the Ethical Globalisation Initiative, the United Nations Global Compact, and the Universal Declaration of Human Responsibilities, as well as great range of work in law, human rights advocacy, and the application of ethical principles to the management of global problems such as climate change, labour and migration in transnational production systems, HIV/AIDS and other pandemics, and the impacts of divisions of humanity by class, gender and ethnicity.

A global ethic

The second broad area of work is also best characterised by the work of one of its most active proponents, the work of Hans Kung and his colleagues on the production and dissemination of a global ethic. Though greatly stimulated by the dynamics of the current phase of globalisation, this work and that of others is the latest development of a much older tradition of moral and philosophical inquiry: the question of whether there is in fact or aspiration a discernible “global ethic” or “global ethics” that may in whole or part provide a basis for affiliation transcending not just national boundaries, but the boundaries of far large and deeper cultural schisms – those of the major religions and the major civilizational streams.

Cosmopolitanism and global responsibilities


Project coordinator: Richard Tanter
19 May 2008