Changing views of what should engage the attention of social philosophers and students of ethics make this an appropriate time for a book series which aims to make a reasoned contribution to debate about ethical decision-making in many areas of practical policy where the moral map seems unclear and opinion is frequently divided.
To some extent, this is always to be expected, but the start of the third millennium was greeted in the Western world with particular hope and optimism. It was a world eager to put behind it the twentieth century, the first half of which had seen two world wars, the second a period in which the two ideologies of communism and free democracy had remained precariously poised on the brink of mutually assured destruction. The apparent removal of that threat produced a millennial mood of new hope for the future that was reflected in public celebration and a widespread welcome for change; the new, the novel, the innovatory, the modern and the modernising, were key words reflecting these aspirations. And indeed the world did change, although it took another year or two to reveal that this was not to be in the benevolent way people had hoped. The events in New York of September 11th 2001 and subsequent developments elsewhere in the world produced a seismic shift in the way the world would be viewed, reversing the complacency that had followed the ending of the cold war. A new religious divide was opening up between a secularised West with its origins in Judaeo-Christian values and an observant Islam; at the same time, religious divisions attached compulsory labels even to the religiously uncommitted.
One consequence of all this is that it has become clear how far Western values, public and private, shifted in the second half of the twentieth century. Even the first half of that century would not have produced such contrasts in values, expectations and behaviour amongst the main cultural divisions of the world. Dress, customs, marriage traditions, women’s role, entertainment – in all these areas, a certain commonality would have prevailed, capable of oiling the wheels of cultural contact and exchange. Currently, though, a widening gulf is to be found in views about what is decent or permissible in the private sphere; and this . . .