This book is an exercise in philosophical midwifery intended to assist the birth struggle of such new men.
This book is an exercise in philosophical midwifery intended to assist the birth struggle of such new men.
The Meaning of Tikkun OlamThe Hebrew words transliterated as "tikkun olam,"which mean to heal (or repair) the world, have become something of a buzzword in progressive Jewish thought in recent years. They have come to signify virtually any good deed or action that one thinks might be beneficial to the world in some way.
But this broad meaning, empty of specific moral and religious content, is troublesome because it does not adequately capture the historic meaning and origins of the term in Jewish thought. Rabbi Jill Jacobs has attempted to remedy this problem by proposing that the deeper meaning of this term weaves together four distinct historical strands of meaning. (Jacobs, Jill. "The History Of "Tikkun Olam"." Zeek, June 2007).
The first strand refers to the mystical idea from the Kabbalah of removing impurities from the world that impede the full manifestation of divine presence; the second implies the establishment of a sustainable physical world; the third argues for reforming untenable laws and structures of power that produce social injustices and oppressions, and the fourth draws on the Lurianic belief that a individual’s actions can affect the fate of the cosmos.
Drawing on these four strands of meaning, Jacobs proposes that “tikkun olam” means the process of fixing large social and environmental problems through the belief that our individual actions can have a positive effect on the material and the spiritual worlds. Large social problems that affect humanity include problems such as poverty, discrimination, social injustice, human rights abuses, and disease. The large environmental problems of the present time include those that affect the well-being of the physical world and that of other living things, such as global warming, deforestation, species extinction, depletion of natural resources, destruction of wilderness, and so on. The idea that ties these two together is the idea that human actions can affect these large scale issues in a positive way, and that by acting in this way, human beings can act so as to repair the world, even if the things they do are only a “small fix” to a much larger problem. By applying human thought, imagination, and caring to the world, we act as "co-creators" of the world. The idea of repairing the world reminds us of our shared social and environmental responsibilities. Tikkun olam signifies a universal moral responsibility borne by all moral agents to cooperate in sustaining and repairing the social and physical environments we all occupy.
Population Growth – The human population of Earth is expected to reach approximately 10 billion by the middle of the century despite efforts to control and reduce the fertility rates. Almost all of the additional population growth will occur in less developed countries (LDCs), those least able to afford the burden of additional people to feed, clothe, house, and employ. The growth of the human population will place additional strains on natural and other resources that are already becoming critically depleted. In addition, population growth is an important factor in reinforcing other problems, for instance, rapid unplanned urbanization, the spread of infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS, and rising levels of internal and international migrations of people seeking better standards of living.
Chronic Poverty – While the one and a half billion people living in the world’s rich countries generally have fairly commodious lifestyles, collectively they consume more than their fair share of the Earth’s resources, while the other three-quarters of the Earth’s human population, mostly those living in LDCs, barely scrape by with the bare essentials of life, and half of all human beings live on less than $2 a day. Some of the consequences associated with this endemic poverty are that: 850 million adults remain illiterate. 2.7 billion people lack adequate basic sanitation. 1.3 billion do not have clean water for drinking and cooking. More than 1 billion live in extreme poverty barely subsisting on the equivalent of less than $1 a day. Almost all of these are malnourished and lack adequate housing.
Depleted Natural Resources – Fresh water is becoming scarce in many parts of the globe, and this trend is likely to continue if nothing is done to stabilize the atmosphere. Soil needed for growing crops is being eroded by run-off and development, or depleted by over-farming. Oceanic fisheries have been decimated and in some cases have collapsed. Rangeland is being overgrazed. Desertification is accelerating in many regions of the world that were formerly able to support human and other species. Deforestation for land and fuel is continuing and is eroding the Earth’s atmosphere’s capacity to absorb carbon dioxide, the key greenhouse gas.
Global Climate Change – The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts that by the end of the twenty-first century the Earth’s average temperature will rise by as much as 10 degrees F due to global warming, largely produced by the burning of fossil fuels such as gas, oil, and coal. The Arctic ice cap, and Greenland’s ice sheet are melting as are glaciers world-wide. This global increase in temperatures in predicted to cause changes in global weather patterns, increases in droughts and floods, violent storms, and sea-level rise.
Environmental Pollution - Nitrogen run-offs from crop fertilizers have altered the chemistry of rivers and streams. Dumping of human waste and the build-up of persistent toxic compounds has further damaged water quality. Atmospheric ozone is still being depleted despite measures undertaken to slow the process. Nuclear and other persistent toxic wastes make large quantities of land and water unusable for human needs. Burning of fossil fuels, such a coal, and the products of internal combustion engines create unhealthy atmospheric pollution in some cities, such as Bangkok, Beijing, and Mexico City.
Loss of Biodiversity – Due to deforestation, desertification, air and water pollution, and global climate change millions of species are at risk of extinction. There is an accelerating loss of habitat for wild species leading to a loss of biodiversity. Wetlands and coral reefs are threatened by development and pollution. At the same time, there are increasing numbers of bio-invasions of alien species into already weakened ecosystems, further disrupting these systems ability to avoid collapse.
Nuclear proliferation – Despite the end of the Cold War, the United States and Russia continue to maintain massive nuclear arsenals which are capable of destroying the Earth many times over. Attempts to limit the spread of nuclear weapons technology, and other lethal technologies of mass destruction, have proven largely ineffective as more states have joined the nuclear club or appear to have plans to do so. Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, much of US security policy has been premised on the presumed importance of preventing “rogue states” and terrorist organizations from acquiring nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction.
People who study these issues understand that these twin social and environmental crises of the twenty-first century are interlinked in various ways. We know, for instance, that the extreme poverty that afflicts roughly one third of humanity is one of the causes of environmental destruction of forest lands, endangered species, and fisheries, and is a major driver of the migration of millions of poor people from rural villages to urban slums. We also understand that the high-consumption life-styles of the roughly one billion people who live in the rich world are also contributing to the global environmental crisis. For instance, by continuing the profligate burning of fossil fuels we are adding to the burden of greenhouse gases in the earth's atmosphere, which if left unchecked, will produce a global rise in the sea level which will inundate many coastal and low-lying areas. If we switch from gasoline to biofuels like ethanol that is made from crops like corn or soybeans, we drive up the price of food which hurts poor people, and indirectly promote deforestation by means of the economic incentive to convert rainforest into cropland, and will produce a net increase in the level of CO2 in the atmosphere.
While we want to promote economic development that will lift people out of poverty we realize that it cannot follow the same pattern as was followed the Western economies developed during the last two centuries. Billions more people emulating our Western high-consumption lifestyles would imposed additional burdens would on the Earth’s resources and environment would be too great to bear.
There is a sense that human civilization has reached a critical inflection point in its history at which the traditional ways in which we think and act have to change in fundamental ways. But it seems that our current political institutions are just not up to the task of tackling these sorts of problems in an effective and timely fashion. While academic theorizing and campaigning by social activists and nongovernmental organizations have succeeded in keeping these issues on the radar screen of social awareness, and some progress is being made in addressing some of these problems, these efforts have not yet succeeded in bringing about progressive change on the scale that is required.
The gap between what we need to do in the twenty-first century to solve these global problems and our effective capacity to solve them through the mechanisms provided by our existing national and international institutions is called “the global governance gap”. Whether one blames the governance gap it on “short-term” thinking, the parochialism of our current political institutions, ideological blindness, cultural warfare, or other factors, the bottom line is that our current methods for solving global problems are too slow and largely ineffective. As former World Bank official J. F. Rischard puts it: “Quite simply, the current setup for solving global problems doesn’t work. We need a better one and fast” (2002, 60).
These global threats are not the only ones that we face, but they form an important subset because they represent kinds of threats that differ in significant ways from traditional threats.
Traditional threats are ones that can be identified with the action or behavior of particular human agents, are local, are immediate or imminent, and are relatively simple to understand and respond to. For instance, common crimes are examples of standard threats. Threats of these kind cause harm through the deliberate actions of identifiable individual agents, and do so in an immediate and obvious fashion. One generally deals with these kinds of threats by attempting to deter them and by restraining or incapacitating the human agents that produce them. There are also various kinds of standard threats that do not arise from the actions of human agents, for instance, infectious diseases, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, and so forth. These have sometimes been termed “natural evils,” and we have been living with them for all of our history as a species. In recent centuries we have been able to devise some effective technologies for containing and controlling these natural threats to human well-being, for instance, in the fields of public health and hygiene and medicine, but preventing many natural threats, such as hurricanes and earthquakes, remains largely beyond our control.
But the global threats we now face have distinctive qualitative and quantitative features that distinguish them from standard threats and also make them particularly difficult to solve.
First, they are global in their scope and potentially affect the well-being of every single person and indeed all living things on the planet. This feature concerns the scope of the problem and also by implication the scale of the changes that need to take place to solve it. Local problems can have local solutions, but global problems require global solutions and our current institutions for global governance are too weak to deal with them.
Second, rather than arising from a specific determinate cause or small set of causes, the etiologies of these global threats are complex and their causes are diffuse. In most cases, the problems mentioned arise as the result of the aggregated behavior of large numbers of independent actors, individual human beings, individual corporations, or individual states. The individual actions that produce the unwanted consequences, e.g. driving ones car to work, producing electricity by means of burning coal, or converting rainforests into grazing land, may not by themselves be very harmful, but when aggregated in massive numbers, they can produce catastrophic consequences that threaten the well-being of the planet and its living inhabitants.
Third, because the harms and risks produced by these threat are the result of aggregated individual actions, the agents who are responsible for causing them cannot (in most cases) be said to have acted with malice of forethought or with the intention to do harm to others. Global threats are unintentional and no one is in particular to blame for having caused them. Because they result from the aggregation of large number of actions it may be pointless to attempt to assign responsibility in the sense of blame or liability for many of them.
Fourth, unlike traditional agent-centered threats, these global threats are slow rather than fast; the costs and harms that results are deferred into the future, and the harms they produce are merely probable rather than immediately discernable in their effects on particular persons.
Fifth, the global threats humankind is currently facing are complex and dynamic. There are complex interdependencies and causal loops connecting the various problems we are facing: for instance, population growth leads to greater demands for resources such as land and water, which produces more pressure to cut down forests, which in turn accelerates soil erosion and water pollution and exacerbates the problem of global warming. One cannot hope to understand these sorts of problem using linear causal reasoning. Their complexity, interactivity, and dynamism require that we adopt a systems theoretic approach to understanding and dealing with these kinds of threats.
The sixth important feature of global threats is they are to one degree or another the result of the human use of modern technology. Many of these problems have arisen in part because of new powers given to us by technological progress, powers which we have not learned to use wisely and responsibly. Part of the problem is that technology has been allowed to assume control of human affairs such that its widespread use has produced unexpected and unpleasant consequences. While there is a temptation to blame our current problems on science and technology, ridding ourselves of modern technologies and returning to some pristine state of nature is not the solution to our problems. If our use of technology is part of the problem, it must also be part of the solution. The problem is not in our having technological power, but in our inability to use it responsibly.
The seventh feature of these threats is that their existence indicates that we are running up against the limits of the Earth’s carrying capacity for a human population, which is currently at about 6.6 billion and is expected to rise to between 10 and 11 billion by mid-century. The patterns of economic development that powered the Industrial Revolution and which produced many of these threats are clearly unsustainable. In the past when human groups despoiled their environments they could usually simply move on to another place. But there are no more places left to move -- the Earth is now fully occupied. While some people continue to dream of space colonies as the last frontier for human exploration, those of us in the reality-based community have understood that the Earth, with its finite resources, is our only home in the Cosmos and we human beings finally have to learn to take responsibility for protecting it and preserving it.
If this narrative resonates at all with you, then the obvious question that presents itself is: “What am I to do?” Perhaps as individuals we accept some responsibility for addressing these twin social and environmental crises of the twenty-first century. Maybe we ride our bikes to work rather drive our cars; maybe we decide to become vegetarians, plant gardens in our back yards, or buy only locally grown organic foods and shop for fair-traded or fairly made goods. Maybe we donate money to various charities and nongovernmental organizations that work in the fields of human rights, humanitarian relief, development, or to environmental organizations working to prevent the destruction of the rainforest, protect endangered species, preserve the wilderness, and so forth. We may do these things partly out of a sense of guilt (because we have so much while so many others have so little), or perhaps out of a sense of gratitude (also because we have so much while so many others have so little).
But some of us do these kinds of things because we believe that it is our social responsibility to do so. Those of us who think in this way choose to “take responsibility” for solving some of these big problems, for repairing the world, even though we do so with the knowledge that the little bit we can do in our own lives, with our own homes and families, and in the institutions and organizations in which we work, is really insignificant and will hardly make a dent on the enormous challenges human civilization is facing. Yet we do these things anyway, not because (in most cases) the law tells us that we must do them, but because our reason and our consciences tell us that we ought to.
Those of us who work in these kinds of organizations fire up our computers every morning and hunt and gather information that we think might be useful in finding solutions to these problems, and put those gems we have gathered into articles, reports, and books, hoping that someone will read them who can make a difference. We fly in jet planes around the planet to meetings and conferences trading memes with other people who share our sense of social responsibility in the belief that if we gather enough committed, like-minded people, we can create a broad-based global social movement, and through it the major institutions of society, government and business, may reach a tipping point from which real change can begin.
But in the back of our minds, perhaps, is the doubt that any of this activity is really making a difference. We may have good intentions, and go to bed each night with a clear conscience that assures us that we are doing our part to address these global problems, but we worry that all that we are doing may turn out to be too little too late.
Many thoughtful people have a sense of helplessness and powerlessness when thinking about these kinds of problems. In large measure this reaction is due not only to the enormity of the problems which we face, but to the nature of these problems. There are basically two ways in which people react to these threats. One group sees in this a portent of doom about which they can do nothing, and so they decide to retreat into individualist ego satisfactions, a comfortable life for themselves and their dear ones, but not much involvement in the problems of society, since, they rationalize, such activity is a waste of time. Another group of people come to the conclusion that this retreat from public issues into the satisfactions of private life is part of the problem, and that society can no longer afford not to be oriented towards the collective, long term interests of humanity. They suggest that in order to preserve the world we all share, we must also attempt build into our political and economic systems a concern for the common interests of humanity, for future generations, and for other living things.
Given their urgency, seriousness, and complexity, these global threats are of concern to many people working in diverse disciplines who are actively studying these problems from a variety of different theoretical and practical perspectives. Engineers, economists, ecologists, atmospheric scientists, hydrologists, oceanographers, urban planners, sociologists, political scientists, policy makers, and many other specific scientific specialties can provide useful information and perspectives, and perhaps solutions, to these problems. Human rights activists, environmental campaigners, humanitarian workers, and many others are actively campaigning to find and implement practical solutions to these kinds of problems. And many well-informed individuals are taking steps in their own lives to respond to these kinds of global problems.
Being a philosopher, the kinds of questions that I ask about this constellation of problems and issues concerns the ethical framework we should use when attempting to address and solve them. What should be our ethical response to these kinds of global threats? How do threats of these kinds affect our moral values and the moral norms we live by? Do these kinds of threats raise questions and problems that cannot be adequately handled by our traditional ethics, or are they amenable to being understood and appropriately responded to within the framework of conventional ethical theory? In short, what kind of ethical framework is needed in order to address and solve these kinds of global problems? By providing answers to these kinds of questions perhaps moral philosophers can also make a contribution towards solving them.
Our present, conventional ethical ideas and values are largely incapable of dealing with the kinds of global threats we are facing. Global threats represent moral challenges of a kind that we have not experienced before in human history and they require an innovative ethical response. Indeed, dealing with these threats will require a revaluing of our values, a rethinking and reinventing of our ethical frameworks. I will argue that we need to have a new understanding of some basic assumptions we make about human rights and social responsibilities, and about the nature and scope of the moral community, if we are to develop an ethical framework that will enable us to more effectively address and solve the problems that humanity is facing. In short, I will argue that we need to develop a global ethics. This book explores the possibility of constructing a global ethics based on the concepts of human rights and social responsibilities.
A global ethics can be understood in contrast to conventional ethics. Within our conventional ethical framework most people regard themselves as having certain rights and responsibilities. Conventionally speaking, there are individual rights which persons can claim against other members of their own societies and which their own governments are supposed to enforce and protect. Additionally according to the conventional ethics most people accept, individual competent moral agents also have moral responsibilities to take care of themselves, to care for their families and loved ones, and to respect the civil rights of their co-nationals. But one’s moral responsibilities are generally thought to stop at national borders. On the conventional moral view, worrying about protecting the rights and well-being of people in other countries is their job, not ours.
Moreover, under conventional ethics we do not really have any serious moral responsibilities towards non-human life forms, e.g., animals, insects, plants, microorganisms, and to the complex ecosystems that support them. The non-human parts of the biological world are just not considered to be proper objects of moral concern and do not have any more moral standing than mere things.
Finally, under our conventional moral outlook, most people think we have significant moral responsibilities to care for our own children while they are young, and see to it that they grow up to become competent and responsible adults. Perhaps we also acknowledge a moral duty to ensure that our children and grandchildren will enjoy at least as good lives as we have had. But few people think that our moral responsibilities extend much further than the next one or two generations.
These ethical assumptions are, I believe, no longer viable in the global age we have now entered -- the Anthropocene Era.
The term 'Anthropocene' was coined by geologists Paul Crutzen and Eugene F. Stoermer in 2000. According to their reckoning the Anthropocene era began in the late 18th century, because “during the past two centuries, the global effects of human activities have become clearly noticeable. This is the period when data retrieved from glacial ice cores show the beginning of a growth in the atmospheric concentrations of several 'greenhouse gases", in particular C02 and CH4. Such a starting date also coincides with James Watt's invention of the steam engine in 1784” (2000, 17-18).[i] William Ruddiman has argued that human beings became the dominate influence on the earth's atmosphere long before the Industrial Revolution. According to his reckoning, the Anthropocene began with the Agricultural Revolution approximately 10,000 years ago when humans began clearing land for agriculture and causing deforestation. It is also the first time at which humans began domesticating wild grains and animal species, and breeding these species so as to select variants that better fit human needs.
While hominids have been evolving for millions of years, modern human beings like us, that is, homo sapiens (wise humans), have only been around for about 200,000 years. During most of our evolutionary history we lived as hunter-gatherers in small nomadic clans, and we had little impact on the ecology of the Earth. But due to our talent for technological innovation we have moved rapidly from the Stone Age to the Neolithic era (New Stone Age, circa 8500 BC) in which farming began in the Levant, to the use of metal tools in Copper, Bronze and Iron ages, and then in the 1750s onto the Industrial Revolution. While humans have been altering their natural environment in significant ways for about 10,000 years through farming and the domestication of wild plants and animals, only in the last several centuries has the scale and scope of our activities begun to pose a threat to our survival as a species.
In the twentieth century we acquired the capacity to destroy the Earth many times over with our nuclear weapons; with the advent of genetic engineering we have now learned how to alter life itself at the genetic level; and our current fossil-fuel dependent modes of industry and commerce are disrupting the atmosphere by pumping greenhouse gases into at an ever-increasing rate, risking major climate disruption.
In each of the earlier periods in which technological changes have made it possible for humans to alter their environments human cultures have adapted their ethics to the new kinds of social realities that their increasingly technological modes of living created. It was Karl Marx who proposed the general thesis that the technological base of society embodied in its dominant modes of production determines its cultural superstructure, including its dominant ethical outlook: “The handmill gives you society with feudal lords; the steam mill, society with the industrial capitalist;” and Peter Singer has suggested adding, “The jet plane, the telephone, and the Internet give you a global society with the transnational corporation and the World Economic Forum” (Singer 2002, 10).
In the Anthropocene epoch the technologies of globalization are creating new kinds of social relations and new kinds of interdependence among peoples, and also new kinds of global threats. Consequently, we must revise our ethics in order to adapt them to the conditions of a planetary civilization in which human action is the most significant force in shaping the future of the Earth.
Philosophers have long believed that ethics, the theories we have of moral goodness, duty, rightness, and virtue, cannot be directly derived from any set facts about human nature. To attempt to derive moral judgments directly on facts concerning natural human characteristics and dispositions is to commit the "naturalistic fallacy." However, in recent years there has also been a recognition that ethical theories should be developed in some sense empirically, within the context of our best current biological, anthropological, sociological, and psychological theories. In ethics we must alter our received ethical theories in order to better take account of our characteristics as natural and as social beings.
Traditional ethics has tended to abstract from the historical conditions of human existence, and has tried to frame theories which apply to all "rational beings." In doing so moral philosophers have sacrificed specificity to the existing human condition. We have failed, by and large, to take into account features of morality which vary according to the stages of the life cycle and have made exceptions of children, the sick, the mentally incapable, and the elderly. Through this abstraction we have made it appear that human beings pop into the world fully capable with a functional capacity for rational decision‑making and fully in command of their faculties and behavior. We have ignored the obvious fact that human beings come into the world in a state of utter dependency and vulnerability, that they attain maturity embedded within a network of interpersonal relationships involving parents, families, friends, teachers, and significant others, and that these relationship condition our existence as moral agents in fundamental ways.
We have also ignored the fact that human beings are related by history to their distant ancestors and to their future progeny, by commonalities of development within their communities and cultures, and that these networks of social relationships must be taken into account in our ethics. Above all, traditional ethics has been anthropocentric: we have regarded humans as separate from nature, and as the only parts of nature which have moral value and moral standing, and so have treated other species of living beings, as mere "things." While a preference for our own kind is perhaps predictable and in some sense natural for us, it cannot be defended on these grounds.
This book is an attempt to correct for these biases of traditional ethical theory. A naturalized ethics is one that takes seriously the idea that humans are natural biological beings who bear special moral relationships to other persons and to other members of the biological world. My approach to global ethics is also secular and nonconsequentialist but draws elements from various other ethical traditions.
I am not particularly interested in arguing against some other approaches that have attempted to develop a global ethics by reinterpreting traditional religious doctrines or applying utilitarian theory. My approach to global ethics is pluralistic, but draws heavily on the work of philosophers such as Hans Jonas (1984) The Imperative of Responsibility: In Search of an Ethics for the Technological Age. Chicago: University of Chicago Press; Robert E. Goodin (1985). Protecting the Vulnerable: A Reanalysis of Our Social Responsibilities. Chicago: University of Chicago Press; and Virginia Held (2006). The Ethics of Care: Personal, Political, Global. New York: Oxford University Press, each of whom have developed ethical theories based on the conceptions of responsibility, vulnerability, and care, notions that I believe are particularly well-suited to addressing the global problems we are facing.
My approach to developing a global ethics also builds upon the existence of the contemporary human rights paradigm, which is, in my view, the closest thing we currently have to the kind of global ethics that I envision. Both the responsibility-based approach and the rights-based approaches to ethical theory are going to be needed in order to construct a comprehensive global ethics, and my specific object here is to integrate them by means of an unorthodox theory of human rights that derives them from social responsibilities.
[i] (See William F. Ruddiman. (2007) Plows, Plagues, and Petroleum: How Humans Took Control of Climate. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press. My own preference would be to place the beginning of the Anthropocene Era around 1968 when the Apollo 8 spacecraft sent back the now iconic image of the Earth rising above the surface of the moon. This date is also close to the first time a human being set foot on the moon, July 20, 1969, and the first Earth Day held on April 22, 1970. I prefer this date because it marks the beginning of "conscious evolution" -- the point at which humans realized that we are responsible for the future evolution of life on Earth.
Conventional accounts of human rights tend to view them as “natural” or “God-given”, and see them as providing the grounds for responsibilities, mainly responsibilities borne by states. On my theory, social responsibilities that we owe towards other members of the human moral community to protect the vulnerable provide the grounds for creating rights. Persons have rights because they are valuable, and vulnerable, and other members of the moral community have the capacity and power to affect their vital interests for good or for ill. Human rights, on this view, are moral constructs which are designed to protect persons from the most commons forms of systematic or institutionalized oppression. While the primary responsibilities for observing and protecting human rights are ascribed to governments, states are only one among several kinds of institutions to which we ascribe the responsibility for observing, protecting, and fulfilling human rights. The shared social responsibility to protect the vulnerable among us is the basis for the moral obligation to oppose and prevent oppression and hence for the construction of human rights norms and their associated implementing institutions.
This inversion of the conventional view of the relationship between rights and responsibilities clears the way for subsuming the ethics of human rights within a more comprehensive ethics of social responsibility which extends the vulnerability/care principle to other kinds of moral relationships, in particular, to non-human species and the environments they depend upon, and to future generations of human beings, relationships that are not currently adequately addressed by the human rights framework. The ethical framework that results places moral responsibilities in the foreground without diminishing the importance of human rights. But it also leads away from our present anthropocentric understanding of the moral community and towards a conception of a global moral community that encompasses nonhuman nature and future generations.
Global ethics involves a radical extension of the boundaries of the moral community assumed by our conventional ethics. This expansion of the boundaries of the moral community entails a radical extension of our social responsibilities into three dimensions. First, we need a cosmopolitan ethics that describes the moral relations among human individuals (persons) who belong to different particular political communities, that is, people of different, ethnicities, nationalities, and citizenships. In a cosmopolitan ethical framework one regards all living persons as citizens of the same country and as members of a single extended moral community in which all of us have certain moral rights and also certain social responsibilities which we owe to others members of this extended moral community. The ethos of international solidarity is already part of the ethics of human rights and it is not very controversial because of the progress of the global human rights movement in the last sixty years. I will argue that we possess significant moral responsibilities towards our fellow human beings who have the same moral status as we do within this cosmopolitan moral community, and that the scope of these moral responsibilities is wider and the responsibilities they entail are stronger than we generally think.
The particular version of a global ethics developed here is thus highly inflationary in terms of our moral responsibilities. I argue that we adult human beings living at the dawn of the Third Millennium and (those who come after us) will have to accept moral responsibilities to other members of the global moral community that we rarely even acknowledge as having and even more rarely effectively fulfill. In particular, as members of a global moral community, nation states, corporations and other organizations, as well as individuals, have non-optional, and non-voluntary moral responsibilities to observe, promote, and protect the enjoyment of internationally recognized human rights for all living persons. A primary message of this book is that we must now acknowledge and accept these responsibilities and devise more effective global institutions as the means for implementing and discharging them.
In order to do this we must analyze the implicit division of moral labor assumed by our conventional ethics, and construct a new one based up an ethics of global social responsibility. Doing this requires that we revise our traditional interactional and personal view of moral responsibility in which individual persons are thought to be personally responsible for shouldering the burdens of solving the big problems of the world, and take an “institutional turn” under which our primary responsibility as individuals is to support the creation of new kinds of political, economic and social governance institutions at the local, national, and global level, that will more effectively fulfill these shared collective responsibilities on our behalves. Governments, transnational corporations and other business enterprises, and nongovernmental and civil society organizations must all shoulder some of the responsibility for managing our planetary civilization. While individuals must also assume the kinds of social responsibilities that fall within their own spheres of competence and capacity, the principal tasks in the new division of moral labor will be carried by institutions and organizations. Because the concept of organizational responsibility is relatively newly and largely unexplored, I will spend a good deal of time discussing this topic.
But, as I conceive it, a global ethics does not end with moral cosmopolitanism. It must also to extend the boundaries of the moral community into a second dimension -- to an intergenerational ethic that describes the moral responsibilities that living persons have towards both near and distant generations of human beings. The intergenerational ethics extends the moral community both backwards and forwards in time, from the present generations who are now alive back in time to our ancestors and forward to those who will come after us. I will argue that an ethics of global responsibility based on the concepts of vulnerability and care also provides a way of understanding these kinds of moral relationships, and indeed that it provides guidance and insight that a rights-only ethical framework cannot match.
Finally, a global ethics also requires the expansion of the moral community into a third dimension -- a biocentric ethics-- that describes the moral relations between human beings and members of other biological species and the elements of the natural world on which they depend. A biocentric ethics ascribes to living beings a moral standing different than mere “things”, which makes them the proper objects of moral concern and therefore of human moral responsibilities. Unlike many other approaches to environmental ethics, my approach employs a multicriterial theory of moral status, similar to that developed by Mary Anne Warren (1997), that creates several plateaus of moral status based upon the different of intrinsic and relational values of different kinds of creatures.
To summarize, as I will use the term, a global ethics is one that attempts to describe an ethical framework for a global moral community -- a community that includes all living persons irrespective national, racial, religious, ethnic, gender or other differences; previous generations of human beings as well as near and distant future generations, and all of those classes of organisms which possess some degree of moral standing and whose well-being, freedom, and survival are deserving of moral consideration by human moral agents. This third extension overturns the dominant anthropocentric character of most previous ethical systems by subsuming human ethics within the broader conception of a biocentric ethics. I believe that this fundamental change in our moral consciousness is now required by conditions of our present evolutionary stage – the Anthropocene Era – the age of the Earth in which human civilization is the dominant causal factor shaping the future of the planet.