Bahai News - The charter for a responsible, plural and united world: Its origin, purpose and process
The charter for a responsible, plural and united world: Its
origin, purpose and process
What would a charter for a responsible, plural and united world be like?
Why is it necessary and what purposes would it serve? Which are the
requirements for its content? How should it be drawn up? By whom and how
could it be approved? What practical effect might it have? Here we shall
attempt to answer these and other questions. What is a charter for a
responsible, plural and united world?
Since it was drawn up in the framework of an international citizens'
initiative - the Alliance for a Responsible, Plural and United World -
the title as such comprises a whole programme.
A charter is a fundamental agreement between the parties involved. It is
a reference document, more important than a constitution, than the law and
laws. A charter is a document which can be signed, and by means of which
individuals, countries and institutions commit themselves.
It is a reference document with which they can identify in a double sense:
with the content of the charter and with others to whom they are committing
A charter for. It is not a reference document in the abstract sense of a
collection of ethical principles, but a charter with a purpose. It is for
the sake of a responsible, plural and united world. The criterion for
evaluating it is therefore not only the truth of what it says but also, and
above all, its usefulness: will such a charter contribute to progress
towards a more responsible, more diverse world marked by greater solidarity?
In some sense, the charter unites its signatories around this common goal.
In this way it creates relations with others.
A charter for a world. So it has its place beyond the nations, even the
United Nations in which the international order found expression at the
end of the second world war. "World" means that it comprises both the
relationships within humankind and the relationships between humankind and
the biosphere. "World" implies a specific reference to the ongoing process
of globalization, to which we shall come back. It takes a stand on the
nature of globalization. "World" means that it has its place, on the one
hand, beyond the rights and dignity of individuals contained in the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and beyond peace between the nations
contained in the charter of the United Nations, on the other. It embraces
them within a greater whole: a responsible, plural and united world.
A charter for a responsible world. In this case, a responsible human race.
Right from the beginning, the charter refers to a new, considerably broader
definition of responsibility. Firstly, it is not only concerned about
responsible individuals but about a responsible world, a responsible human
race. It recognizes the collective dimension of responsibility, because the
impact on society and the environment is to a large extent the consequence
of the sum total of our behaviour.
Responsibility also refers to the possibility of awareness. When trying to
deny one's responsibility one can always claim, "I did not know" - to which
the reply is, "It was possible to know". This is the responsibility
characteristic of consumers, scientists, shareholders, company directors
and professionals. They can always claim they were not aware of the impact
of their actions, but responsibility is broadened to include the duty of
This responsibility then relates to the impact of an action irrespective of
the intention behind it or the precise nature of the action. This kind of
responsibility does not question the purity of intentions or the legality
of the action performed; it is only concerned about the result. Such a view
of responsibility is essential for all who shape or guide public opinion.
They cannot limit their own responsibility to the internal deontology of
their context. The purity of the scientist's intentions, his or her
scrupulous attention to truth, however necessary, does not exhaust the
impact of his or her action and hence the question of his or her
Responsibility also refers to the possibility of enjoying the freedom to act
and the possibility of exercising power. As with awareness, it is always a
matter of potential and not only of the "reality" of the situation. One can
always claim - and we frequently do as ordinary citizens, scientists,
company directors and shareholders "There was nothing I could do about it",
"I was totally impotent in the face of mechanisms beyond my control." To
take an example from the university, where this point is very important:
every university and faculty can consider itself dependent on some
institutional or economic logic beyond its control; but this does not lessen
its responsibility to do everything possible to build up networks able to
speak out on crucial issues facing society today. As early as 1993, with
the platform for a responsible and united world, we set out this principle
of responsibility, underlining the fact that each person's responsibility
is involved in proportion to their knowledge and their power. Similarly,
our responsibility is engaged in proportion to the rights which we enjoy.
A charter, finally, for a plural and united world. The significance of
the two terms "plural" and "united" is that both relate simultaneously to
stating a fact and affirming a value.
A plural world. This recognizes the diversity of the world with its
societies, cultures and ecosystems. But this diversity is also claimed as
a right, the right to difference, and as a value for the community as a
whole: the right to be what one is, and the diversity of humankind and of
the biosphere as wealth and common property.
A united world has the same double meaning. Solidarity has both a technical
and moral content: a technical content in the sense of the solidarity of a
building: the recognition of being part of a whole, in which the relations
with others determine the solidity of the whole. It has a moral content in
the sense that solidarity is not charity given to the poor but rather the
awareness that what affects others, positively or negatively, affects oneself.
Thus a charter for a responsible, plural and united world is one element
contributing to a transition from the present state of a globalized society
to an awareness of a world community information.
Why a charter? Necessity, purpose, requirements
A gradual growth of collective awareness and a diversity of initiatives
The idea of the need for a "third pillar" in international life, in addition
to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (which emphasizes the dignity
of individuals and their rights) and to the Charter of the United Nations
(with its emphasis on peace and development), is neither specific to the
alliance nor new. The need for a third pillar emerged with the beginning of
an awareness of environmental problems. It was during the follow-up to the
first world conference on the environment at Stockholm in 1972 that the
initial discussion took place of the idea of a third pillar, an earth
charter. At the time the interest focused mainly on the relations between
humankind and the biosphere. This idea was taken up again at the Earth
Summit in Rio in 1992. The organizers hoped that the summit would be an
opportunity for the states to reach agreement on an earth charter of this
kind. Their hopes were dashed.
The need for a third pillar is also based on three other considerations:
the profound transformation of the state of the world, to which I shall
return; the essentially Western nature of the first two pillars; and the
necessity of balancing talk about rights by talk about responsibilities.
A need linked with the changes in the state of the world over the past
fifty years These changes have had a considerable effect on the nature of
the problems involved, the scale of the problems, the role of the actors
and the importance of dialogue between different civilizations.
The first two pillars of international life, especially the United Nations
charter, were drawn up in an intellectual and philosophical context which
Kimon Valaskakis, the former Canadian ambassador to the UNO, described as
the "Westphalian order". He meant by this a system of thought resulting
from the treaty of Westphalia which put an end to the thirty years war in
the 17th century. This Westphalian order sets the sovereignty of the state
above all else, confines the nation and its economy to a specific territory,
and makes relations between states the sole foundation for international
relations. But, on all these levels, the changes which the world has
undergone in the past fifty years have been considerable.
a) The sovereignty of the nation-state has lost much of its meaning. While
it was still the main political actor and enjoyed a quasi-monopoly in
defining and managing the public good, its legitimacy unquestioned, the
nation-state has been the primary aim and the first beneficiary of the
many struggles for independence. But today, each of its traditional
characteristics is subject to major questioning: the main attributes of its
sovereignty have disappeared, bureaucratic methods are criticized,
corruption has spread and is often notorious in the highest spheres of
politics and government, and other actors, both public and private, are
competing with it for the management of the public good.
b) The nation-states are no longer the only, nor even the dominant, actors
controlling the world. Actors who \do not belong to the traditional
political scene now occupy the front of the international stage. On the one
hand there are the multinational enterprises and, on the other, the
multinational non-governmental organizations. Both are active on a world
scale and intervene in realms which traditionally belonged to the public
sector, such as the management of natural resources or even diplomacy and
security. Both have equipped themselves with means for observation and
expertise on an international scale, often more sophisticated, and more
credible in the eyes of the population, than those of the states and the
international institutions. Since they are more mobile than the public
systems, have a good command of international information systems and
establish joint interests with the media, companies and NGOs have become
actors capable of laying down the conditions for debate and of defining the
norms. Because of their impact and the nature of their activities,
multinational companies and NGOs influence the nature and management of
public assets. This produces a cleavage between the actors and what they
handle. The old contrast between public actor and public good, on the one
hand, and private actor and private property on the other no longer applies.
The responsibility of the players should now relate not only to their nature
but also to their influence. A private actor whose influence extends into
the public realm can no longer claim his or her "private" status in order
to avoid duties of a public nature.
Finally, the multinational enterprises and NGOs, the new players who dominate
international life, have their own system for evaluation and sanction -
shareholders and paid employees in the case of the companies, members and
financial supporters for the NGOs. This situation, which is alien to the
classical workings of diplomacy, implies that new control mechanisms must
c) The nature of real power has changed. In an increasingly complex world,
the power of expertise, and of proposing solutions and courses of action,
often gains the upper hand over the decision- making power itself which
belonged traditionally to politics. And this power, which comes from having
expertise and being in a position to propose courses of action, is
concentrated more and more in, if not monopolized by, professional bodies and
techno-structures: within international institutions, states, companies, and
even in the NGOs. Such professional bodies are indeed the masters of the
technical language for the debate, of evaluating the risks and proclaiming
the norms. Their own interests may even be opposed to the actors themselves,
as can be seen in the case of civil nuclear power. The conflict of interests
is all the stronger when careers cause the members of these professional
bodies to circulate from one type of structure to another. These players are
hard to identify because they are not tied to a particular institution, but
they too have become decisive.
d) The nature of the problems has changed. Unequal access to natural
resources and technologies has become more severe from year to year. The
development myth, conceived just after the second world war as a strategy for
the poor countries to catch up with the leaders among the developed countries,
has collapsed. The consumption of natural resources now far exceeds the
renewal capacities of the biosphere. The inability of the rich countries at
the Earth Summit in 1992 to set out the problem of resource-- sharing clearly
is a heavy burden on the future of international relations.
e) The life of society and the economy can no longer be identified with a
territory or with factors of physical production. Just after the second world
war, the economy, although it was already based on sophisticated scientific
and technical systems, was predominantly an economy for processing and
circulating goods. Since then the information revolution has taken place,
spread throughout the living world by the progress of genetics and molecular
biology. This information revolution is also a revolution of knowledge, with
an increasing number of persons in the world having access to global
knowledge and information - whether diversified or not. But the rules for
sharing information and knowledge are diametrically opposed to the rules for
sharing matter, because the former multiply as they are shared, whereas the
latter divides when shared.
f) The impact of science and technology has grown considerably, to the extent
that one can claim, as has the mathematician Nicolas Bouleau, that the
essence of the risks we face today is the product not of nature but of the
interaction between technological systems. This has produced a profound
change in the perception of risks and of innovation.
All these changes have outdated the great implicit or explicit social
contracts which came into existence just after the second world war. We may
look at three examples: science, universities and development.
The social contract related to science was forged symbolically in the
dialogue between the American President Franklin Roosevelt and the president
of the association of American engineers, Vanevar Bush, towards the end of
the second world war. Their dialogue quite clearly sets out the terms of the
contract: lasting peace will depend on social cohesion; the latter will
depend on growth which will depend on technical innovation which will depend
for its part on basic research, on the condition that this is free and
supported by the public authorities.
The social contract related to the universities is of the same kind. This
can be seen very clearly, for example, in the founding document of the
International Association of Universities (IAU) which underlines that
research must be freely supported whatever its consequences may be. The
autonomy of research workers and teachers is the final guarantee for their
social utility, and this also justifies public support.
Finally development, the central concept just after the war, is based on the
guarantee that the poor countries will catch up with the rich countries by
respecting the principles of modern life in the West.
All these contracts are subject to major questioning today. The extent of
the impact of science and technology calls for reflection on their links
with democracy and on the principle of caution; the gap between rich and
poor societies and the negative consequences of the present forms of
development demand a profound revision of the conceptions of modernity and of
the relation between material development (the accumulation of possessions)
and human development (the full development of human beings).
A necessity linked to the establishment of legitimate world governance
In the course of the past fifty years there have been numerous bloody
conflicts, and international relations have been punctuated by crises.
Nevertheless the two pillars of international life, the Universal Declaration
of Human Rights and the charter of the United Nations, have provided a
framework of reference and made possible an undeniable progress in organizing
international relations. In particular, quite considerable intellectual and
legal work has been done, on the basis of the human rights declaration, with
the introduction of second- and third-generation rights and with, for
example, the recent establishment of the International Criminal Court.
Numerous intergovernmental or world treaties have been drawn up and ratified
within most realms of international life. Nevertheless, one cannot fail to
be struck by the growing gap between the extent of worldwide interdependence
and the relative weakness of the regulatory mechanisms which have been
established. These mechanisms are caught between the numerous agencies of the
United Nations, and give rise to many contradictions between the policies
adopted so that, in practice, first place is given to free trade. Progress
in organizing international life is now handicapped by the absence of common
foundations and by the lack of real negotiations on what is at stake
globally, what are the agendas and priorities. This means that many
countries, and especially those among the developing countries, do not see
any real legitimacy in the workings of the international community; they
find no real equity there, enjoy only a second-rate status and hence give
only lip-service to membership within it.
One of the first urgent tasks is to re-establish the legitimacy of world
regulations, a legitimacy extending beyond mere legality, and this is only
possible by jointly defining the functions to be fulfilled by the
international community, taking account of the sensitivities of the
different civilizations involved, the conditions necessary for it to work,
and the way in which the agenda and forms of negotiation should be drawn up.
All of this presupposes a common ethical foundation which goes beyond the
legal frame-work of a constitution.
The requirements of a charter for a responsible, plural and united world
The requirements for the content of a charter stem from these points, and
comprise the following four elements.
a) The charter must address the major challenges to humankind in the next
century. It must not be a document of the moment, limited to a particular
field of human activity such as the environment, for example. In the Platform
for a Responsible and United World (drawn up in December 1993), we
identified a threefold crisis of new dimensions described as a "crisis in
relations and interaction": between societies, between people and between
human beings and their environment. The charter must provide a framework for
getting to grips with this threefold crisis. The platform also points out how
the powerful tools humankind has developed - science, technology and the
market - tend to impose their own laws. The charter must offer solid ground
for gaining control of them.
b) The earth charter must serve as a firm basis for gradually building up a
legal, political, institutional and social system, creating new rules for
our societies. It must enshrine general principles which can gradually be
applied more specifically to the whole range of persons involved -
individuals, governments, companies, and so on and spheres of human activity.
c) The earth charter is a charter of humankind's rights and
responsibilities in view of the challenges of the 21 st century. The
Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations Charter dealt
mainly with the rights of individuals and of peoples. In our time, the
impact of human activity on the family of humankind and on the biosphere
demands that the focus also be on the duties and responsibilities of
individuals, governments and humankind as a whole, taking account of human
beings, future generations, other living things, and the planet.
d) The earth charter must enshrine universal principles. Is universal
applicability a practical possibility? Is it even theoretically conceivable?
The question cannot be avoided. The universality of human rights is a very
vexed issue. The quest for universal truths and fundamental principles common
to all people often permeates the dialogue between civilizations, between
philosophical and religious traditions: as human beings living on the same
planet, do we not share a universal human truth?
Without underestimating the importance of this quest, which has inspired the
alliance's draft of a charter, we recognize that we are faced today with a
practical imperative. The world population keeps on growing; what we do has
a decisive impact on the functioning of the biosphere. If we are not to be
doomed to perish, we must agree on a set of principles for the joint
management of the only planet we have. Formulating universal principles is
now more than just a key philosophical and anthropological exercise; a
statement of common principles of management has become a paramount necessity,
even if we are not sure what we have in common.
A charter related to a philosophy of globalization "mondialization"
The fundamental question today concerns the very nature of the civilization
which is now emerging. A real division is coming to light between two quite
different views of globalization and of the humanization of world structures.
The dividing line runs both upstream and downstream from the political
debate in the traditional sense; it is more profound: it is a parting of the
ways set before us and challenging every individual, every society, every
nation and the emerging world community as a whole.
At the root of this parting of the ways is the definition of globalization
itself. In the press, in speeches and debates, one can observe a revealing
vagueness in the use of terms; in French mondialisation and globalisation
are used interchangeably. In English and American "globalization" covers a
wide diversity of phenomena: internet technology, trade and its
liberalization, the universal spread of American culture, the greenhouse
effect, and so on. But despite the confusion in terminology, it is becoming
clear that we are dealing with two radically different matters: the process
of humankind discovering its inter-relatedness with all other life forms and
the planet itself, which I term (following the French) mondialisation; and
globalization, an essentially economic process through which mechanisms of
free trade are becoming ever more pervasive and dominant on a global scale.
"Mondialization" is the reality and awareness that humankind shares a
common destiny which is both inseparable and profoundly diverse. The
awareness of being together in the same boat - a boat with finite limits,
a boat full of people and fragile, a biosphere in which all the parts are
linked - where the urgent issue is the need to move on from having a sense
of common humanity to constructing a real world community.
As for economic globalization, it is a belief, propagated mainly by the
rich countries, according to which the common progress of humanity is
automatically guaranteed by free trade; by converting everything into
marketable goods and by the progress of science and technology.
The worldwide inter-relationships pointed to by mondialization are
unavoidable, a source of crisis but also a fantastic opportunity for human
progress; they are forced upon us and require us to make immense changes in
our ways of thinking and our institutions. Globalization, as any economic
or political doctrine, must be judged by its effects, and subjected to a
critical debate about its conceptual and cultural bases and practices, not
only by official bodies with a direct interest in its development but also
by the nations and social groups which experience its practical effects,
both negative and positive.
The dividing line runs between those who consider that "mondialization" and
globalization are different aspects of one and the same reality, where
"mondialization" reflects its irreversible nature and globalization its
mechanisms and motive forces; and those who think that the terms point to
two different realities which are certainly related, but also profoundly
different: the internet is both a tool for the globalization of trade and a
tool for building awareness of a common destiny.
This difference gives rise to two radically different views of how we might
"humanize world structures". In the first it is merely a matter of
completing globalization by correcting its imperfections, namely poverty
and damage to the environment. In the second it is a question of building
up a worldwide human community capable of taking charge of its own destiny
and of directing critically the necessary changes in the conceptual
foundations of globalization.
In a sense, for the first view it is almost possible to do without either
values or governance, limiting oneself to a belief in "truths" (scientific
truths, or the principle of the free market raised to the level of a natural
law) and to procedures enabling these values to triumph. Our view, on the
contrary, is that common ethical principles, and organizing the regulations
guiding the world order, are all the more necessary. This conviction forces
us to challenge the theories and concepts behind all attempts to harmonize
"mondialization" and globalization.
How can such a charter be drawn up? Who must approve it?
At this point I can only retrace the procedure we have followed since the
early 1990s, firstly in formulating the Platform for a Responsible and
United World and then within the work of the Alliance for a Responsible,
Plural and United World which developed from the platform, and was devoted
to the emergence of a new system of values. From the beginning the drafting
of the charter has been based on the double need for unity (establishing
common foundations) and for diversity (starting from radically different
cultural, linguistic, economic, political and ecological contexts). This
has required spiral movement, a gradual attempt to compile elements of
The first cycle of this "repetitive" approach began at the beginning of the
1990s, increasing the number of intercultural dialogues and leading up to
the "seven common values" for the 21st century stated in the Platform for
a Responsible and United World.
Starting in 1995, we engaged in the second cycle through a series of "human
forums". This process, led by Andre Levesque, started from the concrete,
everyday realities experienced in different societies, then identified the
common principles among them. This gave birth to the first draft of the
Earth Charter (as it was then called) in 1997 and 1998.
Our initial objective is to create a gradual process of consensus on the
charter within the Alliance. Then we envisage the charter being examined
and approved by governments and the United Nations' general assembly. This
approach would be in line with the spirit of the Alliance, and would
correspond to a third stage in the process of building up a universal civil
The first stage in this second cycle was one of opposition, with
"non-governmental" being defined in contrast and opposition to
"governmental". The second stage could be described as one of critical
accompaniment. It was typical of the 1990s: a civil society, increasingly
well-organized on the international level, participated critically in the
various international conferences, playing a growing role in voicing
proposals and priorities, but remaining tied to the international agenda.
This third stage, now beginning, presupposes a quite different goal.
Following others is not enough; we must take initiatives to set the agenda
itself. Resistance is not enough; we must define the changes to be
introduced, and suggest what their prospects might be. Campaigns directed
to specific targets are not enough; we must build alliances among the NGOs
to deal with problems of extreme complexity. And in all this it is not
enough to affirm the unity of the world; we must take account of the
different dimensions of its diversity.
The structure of our present proposal for a charter
To understand the third cycle of our process it is helpful to be aware of
the latest version of the charter for a responsible, plural and united world.
(Proposed wording at the end of stage one - March 1999)
The earth is our one and only, irreplaceable home. Humankind, in all its
diversity, belongs to the living world and is part of its evolution. Their
fates are intertwined. We have inherited this earth from our forebears, and
acknowledge our personal and collective responsibilities towards the human
species, the living world and future generations.
Wielding power and knowledge, humankind is wreaking irreversible changes on
its environment. If, through lack of foresight, greed, selfishness,
thoughtlessness, pride, ignorance or indifference, we shirk our
responsibilities and duties of fellowship with others and the earth, we are
fated to self-destruction.
The scope and pace of change through which humankind has lived in the past
century, rapid population growth, offences against the diversity of cultures
and people, the steady depletion of its resources and their unequal
distribution between people, inequalities between and within societies, mean
that there is an urgent need for a new pact between human beings to seal
their partnership in ensuring the survival and development of humankind and
preservation of the planet.
This pact, intended to promote harmonious relations between people,
societies, humankind and the planet, is rooted in our traditions and wisdom.
It is based on five core principles:
1. There must be a balance of unity and diversity at all levels to preserve
the abundance of humankind and the integrity of the planet;
2. The basis of relations and peace is acceptance of difference;
3. The exercise of freedom depends on the acceptance of constraints to
preserve the common good;
4. Material betterment must serve human development;
5. Change is not an aim in itself, but a means of serving human development
and preserving the planet.
The third cycle of our process started in 1999 with a stage focusing on
diversities and testing the benefits of the approach. We use the expression
diversities rather than diversity; the Alliance has been taking account
simultaneously of "geo-cultural" diversity (different contexts),
"collective" diversity (different communities and players), and "thematic"
diversity (different spheres of human activity). The charter has to be
tested in these three dimensions in the context of a two-way process:
starting with a region of the world, community or issue to identify the
principles involved, and starting with the draft charter and applying its
principles to a context, community or issue.
These principles must guide the conduct of people, governments and the
These were the dynamics behind the collective efforts to draft an earth
charter in Africa and Asia, with the plan for "codes of conduct" for higher
education, scientific activity and public authorities and applying the
principles of the charter to world governance, water management, and other
matters. The hope is that these efforts will spread, accelerate and be
systematized in the course of the year 2000 and will lead up to a new phase
of synthesis at the end of the year.
This approach which emphasizes ethics in relationships must also be linked
to the crisis of "one-dimensional" human beings. The relentlessness with
which our forms of reflection and power reduce human beings to only one of
their dimensions can lead us only to dead ends, as is clearly shown by homo
economicus. We are not merely beings inspired by "economic reason", which
causes us to see only our material interests and to view progress only in
terms of the unlimited accumulation of possessions. We have long been
familiar with the perverse nature of one-sided development measures
expressed only in terms of gross national product, that is purely and simply
in increasing an interchange measured in monetary terms. Human beings are,
fortunately, much more complex; they are moved by passions, they cultivate
impulses and are motivated by egoism. But even in so-called "materialistic"
societies the quest for the love, esteem and admiration of others are much
more powerful and universal forces than the quest for material wealth -
which is really seen only a means of winning this love, esteem and admiration.
The same could be said of homo scientificus, who is supposed to conceive
of progress only as an unconditional accumulation of scientific knowledge
in which innovation as such is good, irrespective of its effects. The
challenge to the economy is the relation between being and having; the
challenge to science is the relation between innovation and caution. In
both cases it is not a matter of opposing the two aspects, but seeking new
balances between them. In the economic field this requires us to recognize
that development has not worked as intended, has not made the dream come
true that the poor would catch up with the rich - on the contrary, it has
increasingly tended to serve a minority. This points to the need for
economic solidarity. Similarly the links between economic development and
the conservation of natural resources require us to deal differently, in
our forms of production, consumption and trade, with the finite resources
of the planet and with the infinite resources which make up human creativity.
Similarities and differences between the charter for a responsible,
plural and united world and other like-minded initiatives
As I stated at the beginning, the work of the Alliance in drafting a
charter is part of a vast movement of growing awareness. Naturally our
objective in this common enterprise was not to be original. That would be
inconsistent with our aim of arriving at common principles. I myself was a
member of the commission for drafting the earth charter, led by Maurice
Strong on behalf of the Earth Council and Mikhail Gorbachev for Green Cross
International. In this context I did all I could to bring these two
approaches together so that they could at least be mutually enriched.
Nevertheless, we must admit that the approach of the present charter
differs quite considerably from the other initiatives in both process and
structure. At this point in the process I would like to identify four
specific features of the charter.
The first is that drafting the charter within the Alliance is only one part
of a much broader process of preparing for the changes which are necessary
for the century which has just begun. I believe it is essential to add the
ethical approach to the broader whole. Indeed ethics is not an end in
itself; it has effects on all human activities. This is a well known factor
in the teaching of ethics on the professional level: the addition of
specific teaching on ethics leads nowhere unless each discipline includes
ethical reflection in its own field. By examining the practical questions
arising in each particular context and activity, one can best identify the
ethical dilemmas which are the basis for ethics themselves. It is always
risky, of course, to start from abstract reflection of the moral
philosophers rather than starting with the concrete dilemmas in people's
lives. For example, in September 1999 we organized an inter-religious
encounter in Geneva which brought together representatives of ten different
religious traditions (Taoists and Confucians, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims,
various Christian confessions, Jews, Baha'i) to reflect together on the
content of a charter. But we did not proceed by questioning the participants
about the ethical principles each tradition might wish to emphasize. We
started, rather, from the concrete responsibility of religions in the
contemporary world, asking which ethical principles applied to the
religions themselves as they shoulder this responsibility.
The second specific characteristic of our charter is that it explicitly
affirms the need to separate the declaration of general principles from
their various applications, and stresses the importance of linking the two.
For this reason the attempt to apply the charter concretely to the realms of
science, higher education, business, religions and public authorities is
being undertaken at the same time as the effort to spell out general
principles. The main criterion for evaluating the charter and its fruits
is: does it, in fact, cause divisions when it is applied to the main fields
of human activity?
The third specific feature (although this one is less evident than the
others) is that it continues to affirm the need for such a charter to be
taken into account on the level of the United Nations. We know this will
take time, and that is why it is essential for the charter not to be
limited to specific contexts. We believe it should play a role parallel to
the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and be able progressively to
influence not only legal and constitutional decisions and processes, but
also the broader realms of conscience and practice within the various
fields of human endeavours.
The fourth feature characteristic of our charter - as I have already
underlined - is that it specially emphasizes the relations between values
rather than the values themselves.
In conclusion, I am convinced that the charter for a responsible, plural
and united world can play a decisive role as humankind shapes its next
centuries on this planet.
* Pierre Calame is founder member of the charter for a responsible, plural
and united world and director general of the Charles Leopold Mayer
Foundation for the progress of humanity. This is the edited text of a
presentation to the colloquium on human coexistence and sustainable
development in the third millennium, Montreal, 23-27 July 2000.
©Copyright 2000, World Council of Churches
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