Academic journal article Global Virtue Ethics Review

The Provenance and Development of a Global Ethic

Academic journal article Global Virtue Ethics Review

The Provenance and Development of a Global Ethic

Article excerpt

Abstract

This article examines the provenance and development of a global ethic, which over the last half century has received growing public attention as its importance has risen. In the Introduction, the phrase global ethic is defined. The central theme of the study is stated: Movement toward formulations of a global ethic originated a few years after World War II largely because of an already widespread concern for human rights. Further development took place as a consequence of a convergence of four increasingly strong forces: political, economic, environmental, and religious. To understand better the concept of a global ethic, the body of the article first explores five semantic issues regarding its use. Then it examines each of the four forces. The resulting proposals for a global ethic reflect a rising global consciousness and an emerging, broad consensus based on a still abstract, but sometimes concrete, set of precepts derived from the spirit of a golden rule (doing unto others as they would do unto you or mutually abstaining from harmful actions;). The formulations embrace a chain of at least seven interlocking precepts: the primacy of human rights, a predilection toward representative government, a humane economic order, the maintenance of the planetary ecosystem, non-violent resolutions of disputes, a futuristic orientation, and the organic development of such an ethic. Continued progress within these dimensions is expect to yield a global ethos and eventually a global society broadly united in its adherence to these values but still culturally and nationally diverse under this umbrella.

Introduction

      By a global ethic we do not mean a single unified religion beyond all
   existing religions, and certainly not the domination of one religion over
   all others. By global ethic we mean a fundamental consensus on binding
   values, unconditional standards and personal attitudes. Without such a
   basic consensus in ethic, every community sooner or later will be
   threatened by chaos or dictatorship (Kung, 1997: p. 3).

This definition of the phrase global ethic comes from theologian Hans Kung in a document on this subject, written by him and endorsed by the Parliament of the World's Religions at its meeting in Chicago in 1993. Furthermore, the definition is only a starting point for an explanation of this phrase and for an exploration of an increasingly salient topic. The central theme of this article is that movement toward proposals for a global ethic originated a few years after World War II largely because of an already widespread concern for human rights; developed as a result of the convergence of four increasingly strong forces (political, economic, environmental, and religious); and reflects a rising global consciousness and an emerging consensus based on a still abstract, but sometimes concrete, set of precepts derived from the spirit of a golden rule (doing unto others as they would do unto you or mutually abstaining from harmful actions). An examination of this theme encompasses three subdivisions: 1) semantic issues regarding the global-ethic concept, 2) the forces pressing for it, and 3) a conclusion, which enumerates seven areas of a burgeoning consensus over the dimensions of a global ethic.

Semantic Issues

To understand better the concept of a global ethic, one may first discuss five semantic issues regarding its use: 1) its relation to proximate concepts, 2) a propensity for the singular, 3) its positive and negative denotations, 4) its relation to universality, and 5) its connection to ethnocentricism.

First, one may note that the term greatly overlaps a spate of other proximate concepts such as universal values, inalienable rights, international law, cross-cultural standards, hypernorms, worldwide principles, minimal criteria for humankind, as well as touchstones or benchmarks for transnational practices, morality, customs, and mores. …

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