Posted: October 27th, 2022

Globalization and Its Ethical Implications

Prepare: Prior to beginning work on this discussion forum, review the following Week 1 and Week 2 required resources that focus on globalization, ethics, and moral reasoning. This will assist you in examining your own development of ethical and moral responsibilities as they relate to your Final Paper and its topic.

Read these articles from Week 1:

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  • From Globalism to Globalization: The Politics of Resistance
  • Globalization, Globalism, and Cosmopolitanism as an Educational Ideal
  • Transnationalism and Anti-globalism

Read these articles from Week 2:

  • Introduction to Global Issues
  • A Global Ethics for a Globalized World
  • Virtue Ethics and Modern Society
  • Classical Stoicism and the Birth of a Global Ethics: Cosmopolitan Duties in a World of Local Loyalties

Reflect: The change of our world from a local economy to a national economy to a global, international economy means that increasingly diverse populations will have to work together to achieve common goals. However, as the economy becomes increasingly global, local economies and people may suffer economic disadvantage or may find themselves marginalized from the rest of the world. Globalization creates ethical dilemmas for which we will need to find solutions.

Write: For this discussion, address the following prompts:

  • Explain the implications of globalization.
  • Identify at least two ethical issues that go along with the global societal topic you have chosen for your final essay.
  • Explain how globalization contributes to or affects these ethical dilemmas.
  • Propose solutions to these ethical dilemmas that are feasible financially, socially, and culturally.

Your initial post should be at least 250 words in length, which should include a thorough response to each prompt. You are required to provide in-text citations of applicable required reading materials and/or any other outside sources you use to support your claims. Provide full reference entries of all sources cited at the end of your response. Please use correct APA format when writing in-text citations (see

In-Text Citation Helper (Links to an external site.)

) and references (see

Formatting Your References List (Links to an external site.)

).

1

1

Introduction to
Global Issues

VINAY BHARGAVA

More than at any other time in history, the future of humankind isbeing shaped by issues that are beyond any one nation’s ability
to solve

.

Climate change, avian flu, financial instability, terrorism, waves of
migrants and refugees, water scarcities, disappearing fisheries, stark and
seemingly intractable poverty—all of these are examples of global issues whose
solution requires cooperation among nations. Each issue seems at first to be
little connected to the next; the problems appear to come in all shapes and
from all directions. But if one reflects a moment on these examples, some
common features soon become apparent:

■ Each issue affects a large number of people on different sides of
national boundaries.

■ Each issue is one of significant concern, directly or indirectly, to all or
most of the countries of the world, often as evidenced by a major
United Nations (UN) declaration or the holding of a global conference
on the issue.

■ Each issue has implications that require a global regulatory approach;
no one government has the power or the authority to impose a solu-
tion, and market forces alone will not solve the problem.

These commonalities amount almost to a definition of global issue, and
awareness of them will help throughout this book in identifying other such
issues besides those named above. First, however, a few other definitions and
distinctions will further clarify just what we mean by global issues.

I would like to thank Cinnamon Dornsife, Michael Treadway, Jean-François Rischard, and Asli
Gurkan for their advice and comments on earlier versions of this chapter.

Bhargava, V. K. (Ed.). (2006). Global issues for global citizens : An introduction to key development challenges. ProQuest Ebook
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Some Definitions
Global issues, globalization, and global public goods are related but differing
concepts. Globalization generally refers to the increasing integration of
economies around the world, particularly through trade, production chains
(where parts for a final good, such as an automobile, are produced in one
country and assembled in another), and financial flows. The term increasingly
also refers to the movement of people and of information (including not only
financial and other raw data but ideas, fashions, and culture as well) across
international borders. Globalization can be understood as a driving force
affecting many global issues, from migration to fair trade to debt relief.

The concept of global public goods is a more recent one, and indeed its
dimensions and implications are still being worked out by researchers and
policy analysts. The International Task Force on Global Public Goods has
defined international public goods (a term that includes both global and
regional public goods) as goods and services that “address issues that: (i) are
deemed to be important to the international community, to both developed
and developing countries; (ii) typically cannot, or will not, be adequately
addressed by individual countries or entities acting alone; and, in such cases
(iii) are best addressed collectively on a multilateral basis.”1 By this definition,
most but not all of the global issues addressed in this book involve the creation
of—or the failure to create—global public goods. We will return to the topic
of global public goods later in the chapter.

What Global Issues Do We Face Today?
Global issues are present in all areas of our lives as citizens of the world. They
affect our economies, our environment, our capabilities as humans, and our
processes for making decisions regarding cooperation at the global level
(which this book will call global governance). These issues often turn out to be
interconnected, although they may not seem so at first. For example, energy
consumption drives climate change, which in turn threatens (a) marine fish-
eries through changes in ocean temperature and chemistry and (b) other food
resources through changes in rainfall patterns. For purposes of this book, we
group global issues into the five thematic areas shown in table 1.1. Of course,
there are also other possible categorizations and other approaches to global
issues.2

Not all of the issues listed in table 1.1 are discussed in this book. Rather,
we have tried to cover the most important ones in each of the categories in
table 1.1 where the World Bank has expertise. Global issues in the area of

Global Issues for Global Citizens2

Bhargava, V. K. (Ed.). (2006). Global issues for global citizens : An introduction to key development challenges. ProQuest Ebook
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peace and security are also very important but are beyond the expertise and
mandate of the World Bank. The book therefore has four parts, covering the
global economy, global human development, the global environment and
natural resources, and global governance. Each part has several chapters, each
of which covers one of the global issues listed in table 1.1.

Each chapter begins by defining the issue and identifying what makes it
global in scope. The chapter then explores the key underlying forces that
shape the issue, the consequences of addressing or not addressing it, and pos-
sible solutions, controversies, and international actions already under way or
proposed. Each chapter ends with a brief review of the World Bank’s own
perspectives on the issue and its role in seeking solutions. What follows is a
brief introduction to the four thematic areas and the global issues discussed
within each.

The Global Economy
National and regional economies around the world are becoming increasingly
integrated with each other through trade in goods and services, transfer of
technology, and production chains. The interconnectedness of financial mar-
kets is also expanding rapidly. Such integration offers greater opportunity for

Introduction to Global Issues 3

TABLE 1.1 A List of Global Issues by Thematic Area

Thematic area Global issues

Global economy International trade,* financial stability,* poverty and inequality,*
foreign aid,* debt relief,* international migration,* food security,*
intellectual property rights

Global Human Universal education,* communicable diseases,* humanitarian
development emergencies, hunger and malnutrition,* refugees

Global environment Climate change,* deforestation,* access to safe water,*
and natural loss of biodiversity, land degradation, sustainable energy,*
resources depletion of fisheries*

Peace and security Arms proliferation, armed conflict, terrorism, removal of land
mines, drug trafficking and other crime, disarmament, genocide

Global governance International law, multilateral treaties, conflict prevention,* reform
of the United Nations system,* reform of international financial
institutions,* transnational corruption,* global compacts,* human
rights

Note: Asterisks indicate that a chapter on this global issue is included in this book.

Bhargava, V. K. (Ed.). (2006). Global issues for global citizens : An introduction to key development challenges. ProQuest Ebook
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people to tap into more and larger markets around the world, and so increase
both their incomes and their ability to enjoy all that the world economy has
to offer.

At the same time, however, economic integration poses serious inherent
risks: in a globalized world economy, an adverse event such as a financial
crisis in one part of the world can easily spread to other parts, just as a con-
tagious disease spreads from person to person. An example of such conta-
gion was the East Asian financial crisis of 1997–98, in which a financial and
currency crisis in Thailand quickly triggered similar upheavals in the Repub-
lic of Korea, Indonesia, and elsewhere, prompting international intervention
to avert a global crisis. (See chapter 3 for more about the East Asian and other
financial crises.) Another example involves the globalization of trade and
labor markets: concerns about the fairness of recent international trade
agreements and about the effects of freer trade on jobs and working condi-
tions led to violent protests at the World Trade Organization meeting in Seat-
tle in 1999; these protests helped change the dynamic of the latest round of
international trade negotiations. (See chapter 7 for a discussion of these
ongoing negotiations.) There are also concerns that the world economy is
growing in an unbalanced way, with rising inequalities in incomes and
opportunities.

Part One of the book is devoted to those global issues that fall under the
heading of the global economy. Of the many issues that could be addressed,
the book considers the following: poverty and inequality, financial stability,
aid, debt, migration, trade, and food security.

Poverty and Inequality

Substantial progress has been made in recent decades in reducing poverty—
the proportion of people living in extreme poverty worldwide has halved
since 1980. Yet poverty remains deep and widespread: more than a billion
people still subsist on less than one dollar a day, and income per capita in
the world’s high-income countries, on average, is 65 times that in the low-
income countries.

Income is not the only measure of poverty, nor is it the only one for which
the recent numbers are grim. Over three-quarters of a billion of the world’s
people, many of them children, are malnourished. Whereas the rich countries
have an average of 3.7 physicians per 1,000 population, the low-income coun-
tries have just 0.4 per 1,000. Maternal mortality in childbirth in many
low-income African countries is more than 100 times higher than in the high-
income countries of Europe. Vast numbers of people also struggle to survive
in squalid, depressing living conditions, where they lack both opportunity to

Global Issues for Global Citizens4

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better their lives and the social recognition and voice to demand such oppor-
tunity. These, too, are real and important aspects of poverty.

Accompanying widespread poverty is widespread inequality, again as mea-
sured both by income and by other yardsticks. Measured in absolute terms,
the income gap between rich and poor countries has widened over the past
several decades. The economic divide within countries is likewise large.

In an increasingly interdependent world, the high prevalence and stubborn
persistence of poverty and inequality in developing countries—the subject of
chapter 2 of this volume—have implications for all countries. Deep depriva-
tion weakens the capacity of states to combat terrorism, organized crime,
armed conflict, and the spread of disease, and these in turn can have severe
economic, environmental, and security consequences for neighboring states
and the global community. Poverty and inequality and their associated out-
comes can no longer be contained within national boundaries. This makes
them a global problem of huge proportions, and it means that alleviating
poverty and reducing inequality are critical to maintaining and strengthen-
ing regional and global stability. That is why the UN has made reducing world
poverty a top priority—it is a target under the first of the Millennium Devel-
opment Goals (MDGs) adopted at the UN Millennium Summit—and that is
why the World Bank takes as its fundamental mission to build a world free of
poverty.3

Financial Stability

The emergence of a global, market-based financial economy has brought
considerable benefits to those middle-income countries at the forefront of
economicreformandliberalization—theso-calledemergingmarketeconomies.
Thanks largely to the opening of the financial sector in these countries, investors
in other countries can now better diversify their investment choices across
domestic and international assets, increasing their expected rate of return. Busi-
nesses within these countries, meanwhile, are better able to finance promising
ideas and fund their expansion plans. As a result, financial resources worldwide
are investedmoreefficiently,boostingeconomicgrowthandlivingstandardson
both sides of these transactions.

But, as chapter 3 argues, the globalization of financial markets has proved
to be a double-edged sword. Even in those countries where liberalization
has been a tonic for economic growth, it has also raised the real risk of
financial crisis. The most controversial aspect of financial liberaliza-
tion involves the liberalization of portfolio flows, especially short-term bor-
rowing. The dangers were brought into sharp focus during the East Asian
financial crisis of the late 1990s, mentioned above. The failure of financial

Introduction to Global Issues 5

Bhargava, V. K. (Ed.). (2006). Global issues for global citizens : An introduction to key development challenges. ProQuest Ebook
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systems in that episode imposed high economic and social costs, such as
rampant unemployment, increased migration, social conflict, and social
instability—and not only in the countries directly affected. In the wake of
this and other crises, an urgent debate has been launched over reform of the
international financial architecture to reduce the chances of further finan-
cial instability.

Aid for Development

Foreign aid has been one of the foundations of international cooperation for
many decades. A large part of such aid is intended to promote development
in low- and middle-income countries: almost every country in the world has
benefited from aid at some time in its development history. Aid comes from
both government sources (in which case it is called official development assis-
tance) and private sources. Among government sources are the bilateral aid
programs of national governments, such as the U.S. Agency for International
Development, and international financial institutions, such as the Interna-
tional Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Private sources include a grow-
ing number of charitable and other nongovernmental organizations, among
others. Besides directly financing a vast range of development activities, aid
also comes in the form of debt relief for the world’s heavily indebted countries.

Aid for development plays, and is expected to continue to play, a vital role
in addressing many of the global issues discussed in this book. Meanwhile the
growth of global programs and funds and the emergence of new bilateral and
private donors are increasing the channels by which aid is delivered. With this
expansion in the volume and sources of aid, more and better coordination
among donors will be essential if aid is to be delivered effectively. Chapter 4
discusses the basic concepts of international assistance, the forces shaping aid
for development, the various criticisms levied against existing aid programs,
international responses to increase the volume and the effectiveness of aid
flows, and the prospects for increasing worldwide aid and for better moni-
toring of its use and impact.

Debt Relief and Debt Sustainability

For the world’s poorest countries, foreign aid and the ability to take on foreign
debt present a valuable opportunity to invest in their own development. But
foreign borrowing poses great disadvantages as well as great advantages. On the
one hand, when the proceeds of public borrowing are invested wisely, directed
at the right policies and programs, they can indeed promote more rapid devel-
opment. On the other hand, too much borrowing, or any borrowing that is not
undertaken prudently, can act as a drag on the economy, as precious funds

Global Issues for Global Citizens6

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must then be devoted to debt service rather than to serving the country’s
development needs. As chapter 5 explains, debt that is rising rapidly relative to
a country’s output or exports can threaten that country’s very future.

This threat became increasingly and painfully evident in the case of a num-
ber of low-income countries in the 1980s and 1990s. Their plight sparked an
international advocacy campaign, popularly know as the Jubilee movement,
to forgive the debts of the poorest countries with huge debt burdens. This
campaign led in turn to the launch of the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries
(HIPC) Initiative in 1996, to address the excessive debt burdens of the world’s
poorest nations. Since then, 38 of these countries—32 of them in Sub-
Saharan Africa—have qualified or potentially qualify for HIPC assistance, and
of these, 18 are now receiving irrevocable debt relief and 10 are receiving
interim relief. The rest have been beset by persistent social difficulties that
make debt relief infeasible for now. However, at their summit in Gleneagles,
Scotland, in 2005, the leaders of the Group of Eight major industrial nations
pledged to eventually write off 100 percent of the debt of the poorest African
countries. In line with this proposal, officially known as the Multilateral Debt
Relief Initiative, efforts are under way to provide $37 billion in debt relief to
countries that are at the HIPC completion stage.

International Migration

Increasing flows of people across national borders are both a contributor to and
a consequence of a more interconnected world. About 180 million people
worldwide already live outside their country of birth, and pressure for interna-
tional migration will continue, driven by differences in demographics and real
incomes between countries. Research shows that although the largest economic
gains from immigration accrue to the immigrants themselves, the international
migration of labor can also benefit both the countries receiving immigrants and
the countries sending them, and that on balance it boosts world income and
reduces poverty. In the receiving countries, migrants can fill labor shortages in
certain industries. In the sending countries, they can help ease unemployment
and other social pressures while increasing financial inflows, in the form of
remittances from the migrants to their families back home. Remittances also
help level out the distribution of income both within and across countries.
Worldwide remittances have doubled in the past decade, reaching $216 billion
in 2004, according to official statistics, of which $151 billion is estimated to have
gone to developing countries. Actual remittances are most likely higher,
because remittances through informal channels fail to be counted.

Migration is not without its costs, however. For the migrants themselves,
the journey itself and the search for fair employment and humane treatment

Introduction to Global Issues 7

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in the host country can be arduous and risky. The host country government
may bear added costs to assimilate the migrants, and wages for some native
workers may fall. The home country may suffer a loss of valuable skilled
workers. The sum of these and other costs depends, of course, on the num-
ber of migrants, and so the major issues surrounding international migration
today, which chapter 6 examines, are how to help countries adapt to large-
scale migration and how to improve its global development impact. Equitable
migration is also ultimately linked to other broader issues such as poverty
reduction and human rights, making it a global concern.

International Trade

In an ever more integrated world economy, international trade matters more
than ever before. As chapter 7 argues, a robust and equitable trading system
is central to the fight against global poverty, because it drives economic
growth and provides jobs in developing countries where they are sorely
needed. Measured by the volume of goods and services traded, world trade
continues to grow, and just since 2000, the exports of developing countries as
a group have increased their share of world markets by more than a fifth, from
19 percent to 23 percent. Yet growth in trade in many low-income countries
has long been held back by protectionist policies in the more developed
countries. Many rich countries offer subsidies to politically favored domestic
industries such as sugar, textiles, apparel, and steel. These subsidies are a
serious barrier to low-income countries’ exports.

The Doha Development Round of multilateral trade talks, now under way
under the auspices of the World Trade Organization (WTO), is the first such
round to place developing country interests at the center of the negotiations.
Although progress on the Doha round stalled following the collapse of the
September 2003 WTO Ministerial Conference in Cancún, Mexico, WTO
members have committed themselves to make progress as the talks proceed.
Delivering on the promise of lowering tariffs as well as nontariff barriers in
both developed and developing countries could stimulate worldwide increases
in income that would lift an estimated 144 million people out of poverty.

Food Security

In a world of growing prosperity and agricultural abundance, about 800 mil-
lion people still do not get enough to eat. Eliminating hunger is thus one of
the most fundamental challenges facing humanity. The challenge is a complex
one—so much so that this book devotes two chapters to unraveling its
multiple dimensions. As chapter 8 explains, the task of reducing hunger—
another one of the targets under the first of the MDGs—is shaped by

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interlinked issues of food availability, access to food, food security, and food
distribution. Food availability refers to the supply of food, whether at the
global, regional, national, or local level, without regard to the ability of
individuals to acquire it. Sources of supply may include production within the
household, domestic commercial food production, food stocks accumulated
in earlier periods, commercially purchased imports, and food aid. There are
presently no signs of a food availability problem at the global level. In fact,
global food production has more than kept pace with growing world popula-
tion in recent decades, increasing in per capita terms by 0.9 percent annually
and even faster in such populous developing countries as China and India.

In most circumstances, the main cause of food insecurity is not lack of
availability but lack of access at the household level: because of weak
purchasing power and insufficient household agricultural production—both
characteristics associated with poverty—millions of people cannot obtain
enough of the food that is available locally to meet their dietary needs. And
even access to sufficient food at the household level does not guarantee that
all individuals will have an adequate food intake. That depends upon the
distribution of food among household members, methods of food prepara-
tion, dietary preferences, and mother-child feeding habits—issues taken up
further in chapter 11.

Global Human Development
Part Two of the book covers three global issues related to the development
and preservation of human capability: communicable diseases, education, and
malnutrition. The Human Development Reports team of the UN Develop-
ment Programme has defined the task of human development as “creating an
environment in which people can develop their full potential and lead
productive, creative lives in accord with their needs and interests.”4 Build-
ing human capabilities through education, health services, and access to
resources and knowledge is fundamental to human development. Most of the
actions needed lie within the domain of national governments, but broad-
based human development also has significant externalities, or spillover
effects, that make it a global issue. Education, good health, and good nutrition
are all vital not only for the earning capacity and general well-being of
individuals but also for the prosperity of national economies and, in a
globalizing world, for the global economy. Controlling the global spread of
diseases is determined in part by the effectiveness of national public health
programs, but also by the degree of international cooperation in containing
outbreaks, and the weakest link in the chain determines the risk for all. The
importance of education, health, and nutrition both for individuals and for

Introduction to Global Issues 9

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human society at all levels explains why several of the MDGs focus on these
human development issues.

Communicable Diseases

HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria are just a few of the infectious diseases
that continue to plague humankind, especially in the developing world.
Meanwhile new threats such as avian flu and severe acute respiratory
syndrome (SARS) continue to emerge. With essential vaccines and immu-
nizations still underprovided in many developing countries, communicable
diseases are an international public health issue that has caught the attention
of the global public and its leaders. There is increasing global awareness that
communicable diseases do not respect national borders and that how these
diseases are dealt with in developing countries has consequences both for
global public health and for the global economy.

As chapter 9 reports, this view is well grounded in years of research, which
has produced some important breakthroughs but also reported some
dismaying findings: 40 million people worldwide are now infected with HIV,
and those infected experience a decline in life expectancy of 6 to 7 years on
average; communicable diseases represent 7 of the top 10 causes of child
mortality in developing countries, even though 90 percent of these deaths are
avoidable. Improvements in global public health not only promise relief from
human suffering on a vast scale but also have important economic benefits,
as reductions in mortality, reduced incidence of disease, improved nutrition
leading to improved intellectual capacity, and other gains feed through to a
larger, more productive, and more capable world labor force.

Education

In today’s global economy, education has become more vital than ever before
in determining whether people, their local communities, and their countries
achieve their potential and prosper. The world economy is undergoing
changes that make it much more difficult for individuals in any country to
thrive without the skills and tools that a quality education provides. This is
particularly important for the poor, who rely on their skills and labor as their
way out of poverty.

As chapter 10 explains, these changes present new challenges and oppor-
tunities for educators and educational systems, and the stakes are tremen-
dously high. The choices that countries make today about education could
lead to sharply divergent outcomes in the decades ahead. Countries that
respond astutely should experience extraordinary educational progress, with

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major social and economic benefits, including catch-up gains for the poor
and marginalized. Countries that fail to recognize the challenge and respond
to it risk stagnating or even slipping backward, widening social and economic
gaps and sowing the seeds of unrest.

Malnutrition

As chapter 11 reminds us, malnutrition remains the world’s most serious
health problem and the single biggest contributor to child mortality. Nearly
one-third of all children in the developing world are either underweight or
stunted, and more than 30 percent of the developing world’s population suffer
from micronutrient deficiencies. Without investments to reduce malnutrition,
many countries will fail to achieve the MDGs, and other major international
efforts in health may be derailed. In Sub-Saharan Africa, malnutrition rates are
increasing, and in South Asia, which has the highest prevalence of undernu-
trition of any region, the situation is improving only slowly.

There is now unequivocal evidence that workable solutions to the malnu-
trition problem are available. An example is the strikingly low cost at which
micronutrients could be provided to those in need of them: one estimate is that
all of Africa’s micronutrient needs could be met for a mere $235 million a year.
Indeed, interventions such as these have been shown to be excellent economic
investments. The May 2004 Copenhagen Consensus of eminent economists,
which included a number of Nobel laureates, concluded that, among a lengthy
list of interventions proposed to meet the world’s myriad development chal-
lenges, nutrition interventions pay some of the highest returns.

Global Environment and Natural Resources
Part Three of the book focuses on issues related to conserving and more equi-
tably sharing the planet’s environmental and natural resources in ways that
meet present needs without undermining future uses. This is the essence of
environmental sustainability—a concept reflected in yet another of the
MDGs. Resources such as a stable world climate, energy, clean and fresh
water, fisheries, and forests are all part of the global commons, and all are
already under stress. Those stresses will only become more intense as world
population and incomes increase, and as today’s developing countries follow
consumption paths taken decades earlier by the developed countries. Yet
addressing the challenges of sustainable resource use is hampered by a sober-
ing reality: many of the world’s resources are global public goods, which
means (as discussed below) that individuals and individual nations acting
only in their self-interest will fail to take fully into account the implications of
their consumption for the well-being of other people and other countries. In

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the absence of foresightful and globally coordinated policies, exploitation of
these resources can easily become a race to grab whatever one can grab before
nothing is left. The chapters in this part of the book discuss these issues of how
to manage shared global resources and use them in a sustainable fashion.

Climate Change

Virtually all climate scientists now agree that climate change is occurring and
is due largely to human activity, and that further change is inevitable. Recent
studies indicate that human activity over the past 100 years has triggered a
historically unprecedented rise in global surface temperatures and ocean levels,
with a worrisome acceleration particularly over the past two decades. The con-
sequences will affect billions of people, particularly in poor countries and in
subtropical regions, through decreases in agricultural productivity, increased
incidence of flooding and of severe weather events, an expanded range of
waterborne diseases, loss of biodiversity, and a number of other effects. Beyond
this, if the global climate is pushed far out of balance, it may become launched
on an irreversible course toward catastrophe, with worldwide repercussions.

Thus, as chapter 12 argues, there is an urgent need to develop an effective
response to climate change. That response will necessarily be twofold,
requiring, on the one hand, internationally coordinated efforts to prevent still
further climate change, and on the other, cost-effective adaptations to a world
in which a changing climate is certain to affect the livelihoods of all, and
especially the poor.

Energy

The world economy of 2035 will be three to four times its present size, thanks
largely to rising incomes in developing countries. Even if dramatic improve-
ments in energy efficiency are achieved, this vastly expanded activity will
consume much more energy than the world uses today. Pressures to supply
enough fossil fuel, biomass, and electricity to meet world demand will there-
fore only get worse. As chapter 13 explains, world economic activity must
become radically less carbon intensive, to avoid not only environmental dis-
aster through climate change but also health disasters on an epic scale, as cities
in the developing world choke under a fog of pollution. A shift to renewable
energy and low- or no-carbon fuels is essential, as are the development and
adoption of energy-efficient technologies.

Water

During the past century, while world population has tripled, the use of fresh
water for human consumption, agriculture, and other activities has increased

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sixfold. Some rivers that formerly reached the sea no longer do so—all of the
water is diverted to human use before it reaches the river’s mouth. Half the
world’s wetlands have disappeared in the same period, and today 20 percent
of freshwater species are endangered or extinct. Many important aquifers are
being depleted, and water tables in many parts of the world are dropping at
an alarming rate. Worse still, world water use is projected to increase by about
50 percent in the next 30 years. It is estimated that, by 2025, 4 billion people—
half the world’s population at that time—will live under conditions of severe
water stress, with conditions particularly severe in Africa, the Middle East,
and South Asia. Currently, an estimated 1.1 billion people lack access to safe
water, 2.6 billion are without adequate sanitation, and more than 4 billion do
not have their wastewater treated to any degree. These numbers are likely to
only grow worse in the coming decades.

This potentially bleak outlook makes water supply a critical issue and one
that cuts across national and regional economies and many productive
sectors. Many observers predict that disputes over scarce water resources will
fuel an increase in armed conflicts. The issue has fortunately caught the atten-
tion of policy makers and, as discussed in chapter 14, efforts are under way at
both the national and the international level to address water scarcity issues.

Fisheries

The continuing depletion of the world’s marine fisheries is a global issue of
increasing concern. Fish is an important food for billions of people and pro-
vides a livelihood for an estimated 200 million worldwide. Fishers follow
migrating schools of fish from sheltered bays and estuaries to the open ocean
and from one sea to another, harvesting a global resource that benefits all but
is managed by none. Small-scale fishers from Senegal and Ghana fish in the
waters of many other countries in West Africa and in the Gulf of Guinea;
European and Asian industrial tuna fleets operate throughout the Atlantic,
Indian, and Pacific Oceans. Nations, too, act much like individual fishers,
each seeking its own individual benefit from the common resource. In the
past half century, the growth of human populations and economies, the
spread of new technologies such as fishing nets made from synthetic materi-
als, and the motorization of fishing fleets has contributed to the decline of
many fisheries, jeopardizing ecological and economic sustainability for
coastal communities around the world.

Chapter 15 depicts the situation of the world’s fisheries today as a classic
“tragedy of the commons.” Without effective international regulation, fisheries
accessible to more than one country, including those on the high seas,
are declining as each vessel tries to take as much as it can of what remains. Yet

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efforts to provide such regulation have been beset with problems. Many existing
international instruments designed to regulate high-seas and transboundary
fishing are weak. The existing Law of the Sea Convention and its subsidiary
instruments have important gaps, and effective enforcement of measures for
responsible high-seas fishing has proved elusive. The World Bank and other
organizations have started a major global initiative under a global partnership
program called PROFISH to focus attention on the actions needed.

Forests

The world’s forests cover about 25 to 30 percent of its land surface, or between
3.3 billion and 3.9 billion hectares, depending on the definitions used. It is esti-
mated that during the 1990s the world suffered a net loss of 95 million hectares
of forests—an area larger than República Bolivariana de Venezuela—with most
of the losses occurring in the tropics. These losses matter because forests pro-
vide a complex array of vital ecological, social, and economic goods and services.

From an ecological point of view, forests are the repository of the great
bulk of terrestrial biodiversity. In some countries in the Asia-Pacific region,
forest destruction is responsible for global biodiversity losses on the order of
2 to 5 percent per decade, resulting in inestimable harm to ecosystem stabil-
ity and human well-being. Forests also contain large amounts of sequestered
carbon, and their destruction or degradation (especially by burning) is
thought to contribute between 10 and 30 percent of all carbon dioxide gas
emissions into the atmosphere. Deforestation is thus a major factor in global
warming. In addition, mismanagement of woodlands in humid tropical and
subtropical countries contributes significantly to soil losses equivalent to
10 percent of agricultural output in those countries each year. From an eco-
nomic and social point of view, about 60 million people (mainly indigenous
and tribal groups) are almost wholly dependent on forests, and another
350 million people who live within or adjacent to dense forests depend on
them heavily for subsistence and income. In developing countries, about
1.2 billion people (including more than 400 million in Africa) rely on open
woodlands or agroforestry systems that help to sustain agricultural pro-
ductivity and generate income. Some 1 billion people worldwide depend on
medicines derived from forest plants or rely on common-property forest
resources for meeting essential fuel wood, grazing, and other needs.

As chapter 16 argues, conservation and production must coexist if the full
potential of forests for poverty reduction and protection of the global envi-
ronment is to be realized. Much of the world’s forest area will inevitably be
used for productive purposes. But large areas must be preserved intact for
their ecological and cultural value.

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Global Governance
The need for a global governance system comprising international institutions,
agreements, and regulations has long been recognized. After World War I, the
League of Nations was created as the first attempt at such a global system.
However, the League proved ineffective, and after World War II a new inter-
national system was designed,5 with the UN, the World Bank, the International
Monetary Fund (IMF), and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade
(succeeded in the 1990s by the WTO) as its cornerstones. This system remains
in place today as the primary means for addressing the global issues agenda.

However, the inherited system suffers from many problems such as lack of
perceived legitimacy, lack of resources, lack of effective enforcement mecha-
nisms, and lack of representativeness. As global issues and challenges have
intensified, demands for reform to make these global governance mecha-
nisms more effective have grown ever more urgent, and many proposals have
been offered in response. Some progress has also been made in the adoption
of global compacts, in which countries agree to work together toward global
development goals and to prevent and resolve violent conflicts. Part Four of
the book discusses two key issues in global governance (conflict prevention
and international actions to curb corruption), the two principal groups of
global governance institutions (the UN system and the international finan-
cial institutions), and the main global compacts and the processes that led to
them.

Conflict and Development

Some 1.1 billion people are either affected currently by violent conflict or at
extremely high risk of being affected in the foreseeable future. The majority
of violent conflicts today are intrastate, or civil, rather than interstate, or
between nations, and the prevalence of both kinds of conflict is declining.
Most of the world’s conflicts now occur in low-income countries, particularly
in Africa.

With globalization, however, the persistence of conflict anywhere has
ripple effects that range far and wide. Neighboring countries, in particular,
suffer reduced income and increased incidence of disease, and often they must
absorb large numbers of refugees fleeing the conflict. Civil conflicts frequently
result in large territories lying outside the control of any recognized govern-
ment, which may then become epicenters of crime and disease. In the post-
September 11 world, these areas are also often linked to terrorism, making
them a truly global concern. These concerns have prompted world leaders to
initiate new measures under the auspices of the UN, including a new Peace-
building Commission. This and other measures are discussed in chapter 17.

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Corruption

Chapter 18 addresses what former World Bank President James Wolfensohn
called the “cancer of corruption”—the abuse of public institutions for private
gain. Recent studies have shown conclusively what has long been widely
assumed, namely, that corruption is detrimental to both the economic and
the political well-being of countries. Corruption creates distortions and inef-
ficiencies in public administration and in private economic activity, and it
increases inequality: it unfairly benefits the few with access to the powerful,
while especially harming the poorest. In 2004 the World Bank estimated that,
worldwide, more than $1 trillion, or the equivalent of 3 percent of gross world
product, is paid in bribes each year. This form of corruption takes place at
both the national and the international level. The victims are usually people
in developing countries, whose precious foreign aid and investment are
siphoned off from badly needed development projects and into the pockets
of corrupt government officials, their family members or cronies, or corrupt
brokers or middlemen. Recent years have seen a major step forward to
address transnational corruption and its effects, with the launch of the UN
Convention Against Corruption.

The United Nations System

Effective management of global issues requires effective international cooper-
ation, and the UN is the principal body within which such cooperation takes
place. The Charter of the UN sets out the basic principles of international rela-
tions and entails obligations on all its member states. According to the Char-
ter, the UN has four purposes: to maintain international peace and security, to
develop friendly relations among nations, to cooperate in solving international
problems and in promoting respect for human rights, and to serve as a center
for harmonizing the actions of sovereign nations. The UN itself consists of six
principal organs: the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic
and Social Council, the Trusteeship Council, the International Court of
Justice, and the Secretariat. The extended UN family, however, is much larger,
encompassing various agencies, funds, programs, and other bodies, such as the
UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the UN Development Programme. In
addition to these are the specialized agencies, such as the World Health Orga-
nization, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund, which are
administered autonomously but are considered part of the UN system.

The UN today faces many challenges to its effectiveness and is undertak-
ing a variety of reforms in response. The success or failure of these reforms
will have significant implications for the global issues discussed in this book.
The organization also suffers from an unfortunate rift between developed and

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developing countries, which will make movement on reform extremely diffi-
cult going forward. Chapter 19 reviews the numerous efforts over the years of
the UN Secretariat, the other UN bodies, the member states, and their advis-
ers to reform the system so as to improve coordination among the various
bodies and so better serve the UN mission.

International Financial Institutions

Addressing global issues requires international cooperation in the economic
as well as the political sphere. Whereas the latter is primarily the domain of
the UN system, as described just above, the mobilization of economic and
financial cooperation, including transfers of resources, to address global
issues falls mainly within the purview of the international financial institu-
tions (IFIs). IFIs are institutions that provide financial support and profes-
sional advice for economic and social development activities in developing
countries, or that promote international economic cooperation and
stability—or both. They include the IMF, the World Bank, and the four
regional development banks: the African Development Bank, the Asian
Development Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, and the Euro-
pean Bank for Reconstruction and Development. (The World Bank and the
regional development banks are also called multilateral development banks.)
As with the UN, there are many proposals on the table for reform of the IFIs,
to enable them to play a more effective role in the global issues agenda.
Chapter 20 provides an overview of the IFIs, the role they play in addressing
global issues, and the main proposals to improve their effectiveness.

Global Compacts

At the start of the 21st century, world leaders laid out, in remarkable unison,
a series of global compacts for a sustainable world, including most promi-
nently the Millennium Development Goals. The most recent global summits
have sought to evaluate progress toward the MDGs and to advocate the
creation of institutional mechanisms to deal with the global development
challenges ahead. Global compacts have great potential to prevent the
world from growing further out of balance. However, progress so far has been
slow, and there are real concerns that the targets will not be achieved by the
established deadlines.

Chapter 21 discusses the global initiatives of recent decades that triggered
the consolidation of a global development agenda through global compacts.
It highlights the issues and controversies that have influenced these efforts to
make a better world for all. Besides the MDGs, the key meetings and compacts
covered include

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■ The WTO ministerial conference in Doha, Qatar, in 2001
■ The International Conference on Financing and Development in

Monterey, Mexico, in 2002
■ The World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg,

South Africa, also in 2002
■ The UN World Summit of 2005.

What Are the Forces Shaping Today’s Global Issues?
The global issues identified in the previous section are not static but rather
dynamic, and their evolution in the coming years will be shaped by many
factors. The forces driving these issues, the consequences thereof, and the
appropriate solutions vary from issue to issue, but certain broad forces are
common to many of them. These include demographics, growth of the global
economy, technology and innovation, global interdependencies, and global
advocacy.

Demographics
After doubling from 3 billion in 1960 to 6 billion in 2000, the world’s popu-
lation is expected to increase to 8 billion by 2030. It should then stabilize in
the 21st century at 9 billion to 10 billion, which would be 20 to 30 percent
fewer than forecast in the 1960s and 1970s. Most of this growth will occur in
developing countries; population in the developed countries as a group will
actually decline. Meanwhile the dependency ratio—the number of nonwork-
ing people supported by the average worker—will decline in the developing
countries, boosting their ability to save and so to raise productivity. This in
turn will increase their capacity to finance on their own the investments
needed to meet basic human needs, maintain and improve public health,
educate the next generation, and create job opportunities.

However, given that some 2.5 billion to 3 billion people in developing coun-
tries (about half the current world population) now live on less than two dol-
lars a day, the ability of these countries to take care of all their people is at
present extremely limited and will remain so for some time to come. Unless
the richer nations help them through increased aid and trade, growing social
discontent and outright conflict in developing countries will fester and even-
tually spill across their boundaries. The developed world cannot simply build
a wall and turn its back on what is happening in the developing countries.
Demographics will combine with the other forces to find their way through
such barriers, whether made of bricks and mortar or of institutionalized indif-
ference.

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Economic Growth
Even if we assume, conservatively, real global economic growth of 3 percent
a year, the global economy will grow from $35 trillion in 2005 to $75 trillion
in 2030 (both figures are at 2001 market exchange rates and prices).6 This vast
expansion of output will have major consequences for both production and
consumption, particularly of food, water, and energy, and will make today’s
environmental stresses still more acute. Within this expanding global econ-
omy, the developing countries as a group are projected to grow at 5 percent a
year in real terms, while industrial country growth is projected to be just
2.5 percent a year. In this scenario, the share of the developing world in gross
world product climbs substantially from just over a fifth to a third, with a
major share going to China.

Although the share of the developing countries in world income rises sig-
nificantly in this scenario, and absolute poverty in the world declines, the gap
in income per capita between the rich and the poor countries nonetheless
widens. Without deliberate intervention, persisting inequality both within
and across countries will retard global development.7

Scientific and Technological Innovation
Future breakthroughs in science and technology have the potential to dramat-
ically improve the health and productivity of the world’s poor, mitigate climate
change and environmental degradation, and feed a larger world population in
a sustainable manner. Whether they actually will do so depends in large mea-
sure on collective decisions about the funding, implementation, and dissemi-
nation of technological innovation. Some technologies may also make global
issues harder to grapple with. For example, the safe long-term disposal of
nuclear waste is becoming a global issue, and some emerging technologies
(such as genetic engineering) are beginning to pose legal and ethical dilemmas.

Increasing Interconnectedness and Interdependence
The ever-greater interconnectedness of people around the world—the very
spirit of globalization—can be seen in the growth of international migra-
tion, tourism, and education, and in increased traffic on telephone
exchanges, satellite television and radio, and of course the Internet. Unfor-
tunately, that same interconnectedness also manifests itself in an increase
in diseases that spread across borders, in international terrorism, in threats
to the global environment, and in myriad other ways. The growing interde-
pendence of people and communities worldwide can be seen in terms of
expanded economic integration through trade and capital flows; in growing

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public security concerns related to drug trafficking, transnational crime,
terrorism, and human rights; and in concerns about the overuse of world
resources and the preservation of the environment. These two forces—
interconnectedness and interdependence—are themselves interrelated and
mutually reinforcing: growing interconnectedness increases awareness of
our interdependence, and vice versa. Both are powerful drivers of increased
concern about global issues and demand for effective action. The fact that
different nations, communities, and individuals experience the benefits and
costs of this increasing globalization differently generates controversies; it
also complicates, and sometimes undermines, the effective and timely res-
olution of global issues.

Global Advocacy
The continuing revolution in communications technologies and networks,
cited just above, is enabling the global flow of information to all corners of
the world instantaneously. People in today’s world know much more, and in
real time, about what is going on elsewhere in the world than their grandpar-
ents or even their parents could have imagined. We are all becoming more
and more aware of the differences between the world’s haves and its have-
nots, the interconnections between local human activity and global ecology,
and the increased vulnerability of all of us everywhere to diseases, crises, and
conflicts arising anywhere. Some nations are throwing the doors open to these
new communications technologies, while others are trying, usually in vain, to
control their spread.

The flow of information through these new communications technologies
is neither one-way nor top-down. Rather, the new technologies are empow-
ering people everywhere to express their views to a global audience (for exam-
ple, through blogs) and enabling them to connect with like-minded persons
to promote social (or in some cases antisocial) activities and advocate for their
causes. This phenomenon has serious implications for the manner in which
global issues are addressed and for the maintenance of peace and security
across borders. Growth in instant worldwide communications is generating
a parallel growth in public advocacy and activism, elevating formerly local or
regional issues to global status, while mobilizing public opinion and demand
for action on a global scale. For many of the global issues discussed in this
book, instant communications and advocacy are already playing a crucial role
in global policy making; examples include the debt relief movement, the
climate change movement, the campaign to make poverty history, and the
international drive for new vaccines.

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Why Care About Global Issues?
It may be only a fortunate coincidence that the new communications tech-
nologies that have made such global grassroots interaction possible are the
same technologies that have shown us the uses to which such interaction can
and should be put—and that it is urgent to do so. Thanks in part to these
technologies and the information they impart, we know not only that migra-
tion is an issue in Guatemala, and sea-level rise an issue in Maldives, and debt
relief an issue in Uganda. Rather, our instantaneous technology allows us to
consider these disparate issues simultaneously, side by side, and to under-
stand that they are all issues of great importance whose impact is felt
everywhere—that they are indeed global issues.

And that means they are our issues. Because these issues are global, the con-
sequences of action, inaction, or inadequate action on these issues will, by def-
inition, be felt globally—not just somewhere on the other side of the world,
but here, where we live. If that is not sufficient reason to care about these
issues, and to use our newfound interconnectedness to join with others and
do something about them, then what in the world is?

But what do we really know about those consequences just alluded to? One
thing we can say is that although they will vary from global issue to global
issue, there is also significant interaction between issues and consequences.
The consequences of inaction can be grouped into economic, social, security,
health, and environmental effects:

■ Economic consequences. If the world and its leaders fail to address such
global economic issues as fairness in international trade, greater equal-
ity of income and opportunity, financial stability, sustainable debt, and
corruption, the growth and stability of the global economy could be
undermined and overall prosperity reduced. These consequences—
weaker growth and greater inequality—would grow, feeding frustra-
tion and social stress. The insistence of the antiglobalization movement
on turning back the clock would grow stronger, for example, and its
protests more disruptive.

■ Social consequences. As populations grow, as communities around the
world become more and more interconnected, and as global flows of
information accelerate and expand their bandwidth, more and more of
the world’s people will know more and more about what is going on
outside their local communities and national borders. Those suffering
from inequality and deprivation will become increasingly aware of the

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better lives that others elsewhere lead. The slowing growth of world
population and the rise in developing countries’ share of world income
provide a great opportunity to address crucial human development
issues such as health and education, social issues such as inclusiveness
and social cohesiveness, and governance issues such as institutional
accountability. Failure to address these issues adequately could have
serious implications for civil peace and harmony in societies all around
the world.

■ Security consequences. The widening gap between rich and poor,
together with intensifying competition for increasingly scarce natural
resources, both nationally and internationally, will fuel conflict and
extremism, which will inevitably spill across national borders. Lagging
development could also lead to the failure of states, some of which
would likely become havens for terrorists or drug cartels. The damage
would soon spread to other states, developing and developed, that
remain otherwise intact.

■ Health consequences. Failure to address malnutrition and the spread
of preventable and communicable diseases would perpetuate and
indeed increase human suffering and mortality wherever these
scourges strike. The unchecked spread of disease would also have
economic consequences, through reduced productivity and an
increased disease burden, and these, too, would spread beyond
national borders.

■ Environmental consequences. Today’s patterns of production and con-
sumption cannot simply be scaled up to a world with $75 trillion or
$100 trillion in annual gross product. Something will have to give, and
that something is likely to be our shared environment. If today’s devel-
oping countries replicate the consumption patterns of today’s rich
countries, great damage to the global environment, and to the planet’s
ability to sustain life and growth, is in store. The technologies needed
to change these consumption patterns and develop alternatives are
among the most valuable of global public goods, yet their development
is now largely neglected. If present trends in the deterioration of biodi-
versity continue, the world of tomorrow will be biologically much
poorer than that of today, even if the many poor communities depen-
dent on fragile ecosystems can be moved to alternative locations and
livelihoods. The financing needed to compensate these communities,
so as to preserve biodiversity for the benefit not only of the countries
involved but of the world, is huge—well beyond the means of those
countries alone.

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How Are Today’s Global Issues Being Addressed?
It is clear that how today’s global issues are addressed, or not addressed, will
have a profound impact on the shape of the future world in which we all
will live. Yet, as noted above, there is no global government to address these
global issues, set global public policies and priorities, collect taxes on a world-
wide basis, and allocate resources accordingly. Thus progress on most of these
issues depends on a deliberate—and deliberative—process of building
international consensus for collective action. This consensus can be expressed
in many forms, for example:

■ International agreements signed by both industrial and developing
countries. Programs based on international agreements enjoy strong
legitimacy, thanks to their formal authorization, especially when there
is strong participation of developing countries in their design and
implementation, and when there are equitable governance agreements.
Examples include the MDGs and the 1987 Montreal Protocol on the
control of ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons.

■ International law. The International Law Commission of the United
Nations prepares drafts on various aspects of international law, which
can then be incorporated into conventions and submitted for ratifica-
tion by the member states. Once a nation has ratified a convention, it is
legally bound thereto. Thus the ratification constitutes consensus.
Some of these conventions form the basis of law governing relations
among states, such as conventions on diplomatic relations and the
Geneva Conventions.

■ Declarations signed by participants at international conferences. These
declarations represent a less explicit and less binding form of interna-
tional consensus than formal conventions or treaties and are largely
oriented toward advocacy.

■ Actions of the G-8, G-20, G-77, and other such groupings. The declarations
of these intergovernmental groups are similar to international confer-
ences in that they advocate and mobilize their members to take action,
whether it is on doubling aid for Africa, debt relief, or any of a number
of other issues. Of course, these statements signify consensus only
among their members, not a global consensus. The economic and politi-
cal power of the group (greatest for the G-8, less for the others) largely
determines its potential to engage in effective problem solving on global
issues. Their choice of issues on which to focus may in turn be driven by
the advocacy efforts of civil society and other organizations.

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■ Civil society campaigns and associations. In some instances, global
action is driven by civil society campaigns such as the Jubilee move-
ment, the Live Aid concerts, the Global Call to Action Against
Poverty, and the Make Poverty History campaign. Some well-known
annual global forums such as the World Economic Forum and the
World Social Forum also frequently focus on global issues and can
profoundly influence the debate.

■ Global partnerships. Often partnerships to address global issues are
established by groups of donors, including governments, private sector
and civil society organizations, and international organizations. Some
recent examples in the health field are the Global Alliance for Vaccina-
tion and Immunization; Roll Back Malaria; the Global Fund to Fight
AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria; and the Partnership for Maternal,
Newborn, and Child Health. Many of these partnerships promote
ownership among developing countries by focusing on issues of rele-
vance to them and by demonstrating that they can have an impact.

■ Global governance institutions. Nations of the world have set up many
international organizations with mandates to work on a wide array
of global issues in the economic, social, cultural, education, health,
and other fields. Among these multilateral organizations are the UN
and its agencies, the IMF, the WTO, the World Bank and the regional
development banks, and the International Labour Organization. All
of these are involved in managing global issues as mandated by their
governance bodies, which consist of representatives of the member
nations.

What Makes Global Issues So Difficult to Address?
Dissatisfaction with the current structures for addressing global issues is wide-
spread. Many people feel that some of the most important global issues are
not being addressed adequately, and they worry that the current generation
may leave the planet in worse shape than when it was inherited. The public
goods nature of many global issues, which was touched upon earlier in this
introduction, is a key reason why action commensurate with the challenge
can be slow to emerge.

Public goods are defined by two characteristics: the benefits they produce
can be enjoyed without paying for them (nonexcludability), and consumption
of the good by one person does not detract from its consumption by another
(nonrivalrousness). An often-cited example of a public good is a lighthouse—
but perhaps a more timely example would be a global positioning satellite

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(GPS). The signal from such a satellite can be captured by anyone with a GPS
receiver (which must normally be paid for, but the signal itself need not), and
so it is nonexcludable; the number of people who can access the signal simul-
taneously is effectively limitless, and so it is nonrivalrous as well. Most types
of knowledge and know-how are also public goods, after any patent or copy-
right restrictions on their use have expired. Global commons are goods or
resources that are usually of natural origin, such as wilderness forests or ocean
fisheries. They share the characteristics of public goods to a certain extent: they
are largely nonexcludable, and they are nonrivalrous to the extent that their
use does not exceed their capacity to regenerate themselves. When usage
passes a certain point, the resource will be degraded or even destroyed.

Markets, whether national or international, typically fail to provide public
goods: since it is impossible to make the user pay for them, there is no incen-
tive for businesses to produce them. Nor are markets by themselves able to
address the problem of managing global commons. At the national level, gov-
ernments step in to provide many public goods, paying for them through
taxes and other revenues. However, in the case of global public goods, no
global tax or other mechanism exists to finance their production and supply.
Countries looking only to their own narrow self-interest will be unlikely to
agree on which global public goods should be provided, or on how to share
the burden of financing them. At the same time, there is overproduction of
global public “bads,” such as communicable diseases, drug smuggling, cli-
mate change, and human rights abuses.

Global public goods have nonetheless been provided, some more successfully
than others. Global Monitoring Report 2003 (World Bank and IMF 2003) cites
the following examples, starting with the most successful: aviation safety, postal
systems, the Internet, the eradication of smallpox, advances in agricultural
research, and protection of the ozone layer.8 Examples where success has so far
proved elusive include the prevention of climate change and the sustainable use
of fisheries. Institutional arrangements such as UN peacekeeping programs,
global funds such as the Global Environment Facility, and research groups such
as the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research have emerged
and are very active in addressing global issues. These, too, are public goods, and
their modest successes thus far are welcome and need to be expanded.

What the World Bank Is Doing About Global Issues
Over the past few years the World Bank has put significant resources into activ-
ities related to global issues, including the creation of global public goods. One
important vehicle for such activities is the MDGs, which the Bank vigorously

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supports along with its country members, the UN system, and numerous other
organizations. The Bank is increasingly being called upon to take a lead role in
addressing global issues because of its global membership and reach, its power
to convene technical and financial expertise, its ability to mobilize resources,
and its multisectoral experience and institutional knowledge. As the only
global institution among the multilateral development banks, the World Bank
has increased its support for global programs rapidly in recent years. The Bank
is now participating in some 70 different programs involving the following
global issues (some of which are covered in this book), among others:

■ Biodiversity
■ Climate change
■ Coastal and marine management
■ Conflict prevention and postconflict reconstruction
■ Corruption
■ Debt relief
■ Disaster management
■ Energy
■ Environment
■ Financial sector
■ Fisheries and aquaculture
■ Forests and forestry
■ Health, nutrition, and population
■ HIV/AIDS
■ Hunger
■ Land resources management
■ Malaria
■ Natural resources management
■ Poverty reduction
■ Protection of the ozone layer (the Montreal Protocol)
■ Renewable and rural energy
■ Safe motherhood
■ Sustainable development
■ Tuberculosis
■ Water resources management
■ Water supply and sanitation.

The Bank’s support for global programs—as distinct from the single-
country projects and programs that make up the bulk of its work—began
three decades ago, with the establishment of the Consultative Group on

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International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). The Bank serves as both con-
vener and donor to CGIAR, as well as a lender to developing countries for
complementary activities. CGIAR, which brings together leading agricultural
research institutes from around the world, has had some notable successes in
creating global public goods such as the high-yielding varieties of crops that
were the backbone of the Green Revolution. A major expansion of the Bank’s
work on global issues began in the late 1990s, when the Bank increased its ori-
entation toward global partnerships and associated program support activi-
ties. This change in policy reflected the Bank’s recognition of the rapid pace
of globalization and the sharply increased attention to global issues within the
development community. In September 2000, the Development Committee
of the Bank and the IMF endorsed the Bank’s priorities in supporting global
public goods; those priorities focus on five areas: public health, protection of
the global commons, financial stability, trade, and knowledge.

Finally, in addition to its own programs, the World Bank is active in many
global partnership programs that address global issues. Through its participa-
tion in these programs, the Bank plays an important role in collective action on
a variety of global issues. Besides CGIAR, examples include the Global Fund to
Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria; the Global Environment Facility; and
the Consultative Group to Assist the Poorest. The Bank looks forward to con-
tinuing and strengthening these partnerships while continuing to pursue its
own initiatives on global issues—alongside its traditional country-based pro-
jects, many of which also contribute to building a healthier global community.

Notes
1. The International Task Force on Global Public Goods (http://www.gpgtaskforce.org) was created

through an agreement between France and Sweden signed in April 2003. The Task Force’s man-
date is to assess and prioritize international public goods, both global and regional, and make rec-
ommendations to policy makers and other stakeholders on how to improve and expand their
provision.

2. See, for example, Lomborg (2004), Rischard (2002), and the Web site Facing the Future
(http://www.facingthefuture.org). An alternative list of global issues can be found at
http://www.un.org/issues.

3. The full list of MDGs appears in chapter 21 of this book; for more on the MDGs go to
http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals.

4. The team consists of leading scholars, development practitioners, and experts from around the
world and is supported by the Human Development Report Office of the UN Development
Programme. For more details go to http://hdr.undp.org/hd.

5. For a comprehensive discussion of the evolution of the international system and its strengths and
weaknesses, see chapter 2 of Dervis and Ozer (2005).

6. This section draws on Wolfensohn and Bourguignon (2004).
7. See World Bank (2006a).
8. World Bank and International Monetary Fund (2003, chapter 12).

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Selected Readings and Cited References
Dervis, Kemal, and Ceren Ozer. 2005. A Better Globalization: Legitimacy, Governance,

and Reform. Washington, DC: Center for Global Development.
Diamond, Jared. 2005. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. New York:

Penguin Group. (See especially chapters 14 and 16.)
Lomborg, Bjorn, ed. 2004. Global Crises, Global Solutions. Cambridge, United

Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.
Rischard, Jean-François. 2002. High Noon: Twenty Global Problems, Twenty Years to

Solve Them. New York: Basic Books.
Sachs, Jeffrey D. 2005. The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time. New

York: Penguin Press. (See especially chapter 1.)
Stiglitz, Joseph E. 2003. Globalization and Its Discontents. New York: Norton. (See

especially chapter 2.)
Wolfensohn, James, and François Bourguignon. 2004. “Development and Poverty

Reduction: Looking Back, Looking Ahead.” Paper prepared for the October 2004
Annual Meetings of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, World
Bank, Washington, DC. (See especially Parts 1 and 2.)

World Bank. 2003. World Development Report 2003: Sustainable Development in a
Dynamic World. New York: Oxford University Press. (See especially the Overview.)

. 2006a. World Development Report 2006: Equity and Development.
Washington, DC.

. 2006b. The Road to 2050: Sustainable Development for the 21st Century.
Washington, DC.

World Bank and International Monetary Fund. 2003. Global Monitoring Report 2003.
Washington, DC.

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[63]

A Global Ethics for a

Globalized World

Anis Ahmad

Abstract

[Islamic ethics recognizes the role of intuitions, reason, customs and traditions, so
long as all these draw their legitimacy from the

Divine principles.

First and
foremost is the principle of coherence and unity

in life.

The second foundational
ethical principle is the practice of justice or equity, fairness, moderation, beauty
and balance in life. Then come respect, protection and promotion of life. The role
of reason and rational judgment in human decision-making is also important.
Protection of linage and dignity of genealogy, too, has relevance to people of the
entire world. These divinely inspired ethical

principles of Islam – transcending

finitude of human mind and experience – are not local, regional or national on
their origin. Their universality makes them globally

applicable, absolute and

pertinent in changed circumstances and environment. They are human friendly
and offer appreciable solutions to human problem in this age of globalization. –
Eds.]

A phobia generally stands for an obsession or an intense fear of

an object or a situation, like dog phobia, school phobia, blushing

phobia. Phobias are associated with almost any psychiatric condition

but are most often related with anxiety or obsessional states leading to

queer compulsive behavior.1 Islamophobia, a pegurative terminology,

used more frequently in post 9/11 era, refers to a reactionary

understanding of Islam and Muslims as dogmatic, fundamentalist, less

civilized, anti-rational, backward, destructive and terrorist. Islam is

perceived through the prism of news and media as a faith which

prescribes all those things which conflict and negate the western value

system and pose a threat to the western civilization and rationality.2

This conceptual and psychological problem of the western statesmen,

media experts, think tanks and researchers is not recent. Islam and

Muslims have been for centuries regarded rivals, enemies and

opponents of the west. For the past two centuries, at the least, a

political, intellectual and cultural encounter, between the west and the

Muslim world, has taken place. In this encounter the west was has been

on an offensive and the Muslim world took mostly a defensive

approach. With the rise capitalist economy, secular political system and

liberal intellectual tradition in the west, the western imperialism

penetrated its political, economic and cultural colonialism deep in the

Muslim world. One symbol of it was that the official and commercial

language of the colonizer replaced the native languages. Consequently

in some Muslim lands (Algerian, Tunis, Morroco) French because

Prof. Dr. Anis Ahmad is a meritorious Professor and Vice Chancellor, Riphah

International University, Islamabad. He is also Editor of Quarterly Journal Maghrab
awr Islam (West & Islam), published by Institute of Policy Studies, Islamabad.
1 Ley, “Phobia,” 7.
2 Said, Covering Islam, 7.

Policy Perspectives

64

practically their first language and Arabic become secondary; In the

Pakistan sub-continent, Sudan, Malaysia, South Africa and Nigeria

whenever the British colonialism ruled, English because official

language. Similarly Italian and Dutch languages were popularized

among in Libya and Indonesia. Adoption of a foreign language had its

socio-cultural implication on the Muslim people. At the same time their

relationship of the colonizer and the colonized also persuaded the

colonizer to understand the mind of the colonized and take necessary

measures to keep the colonizer subjugated. In order to understand and

control the colonized, imperialists tried to learn about the native

languages and cultures. This persuaded the British, French, Italian and

Dutch, to create centers for study of the Orient with focuses on study of

language and culture of the natives. They also trained a generation of

native scholars who subscribed to the western mind-set, research

methodology and its basic assumptions.

All known civilizations have their distinct concepts of good and

bad. Even those considered as “uncivilized” and heathens believe in

certain norms and values.

They generally respect their elders and love

children, they value honesty and disapprove cheating. Traditionally,

local customs and traditions, after continuous practice, evolve into

norms and laws. These norms and laws define for them what is good or

bad behavior. When ethical behavior is considered an obligation and

duty, it is called deontological ethics. Furthermore while determining

right or wrong, one may take up an objective or subjective approach.

Those who think good and right can be known like natural objects, or

that right and wrong can be empirically verified are called ethical

naturalists. While those who think right or wrong are a matter of

emotions, or attitude of a group, are termed emotivists. Those who

hold to non-cognitivism and think that attitudes of a group determine

ethicality or non-ethicality of a judgment are called ethical relativists.

The word ethics [ethickos in Greek, from ethos meaning custom

or usage] as a technical term also refers to morals and character.

Moralis was used by Cicero, who considered it the equivalent of the

ethikos of Aristotle with both referring to practical activity3. Ethical

behavior in general means good conduct, acting with a sense of right

and wrong, good and bad, and virtue and evil. Philosophers classify

ethics in various categories, for example Normative ethics deals with

“building systems designed to provide guidance in making decisions

concerning good and evil, right and wrong…”4.

With these preliminary observations on the meaning of the

term, we may look briefly on the axiological and teleological aspects of

ethical behavior. The axiological or value aspect subsumes that ethical

behavior is to be considered good. The latter simply means that the

3 Reese, Dictionary of Philosophy, 156.
4 Ibid, 156.

A Global Ethics for a Globalized World

65

ultimate objective and purpose of an action should be achievement of

good. In either case western and eastern ethical thought consider social

consensus, at a given time, as the source of legitimacy of an ethical

act. Though certain ethical values apparently carry universality e.g.

truth, the question, what is truth as such, whether truth is practiced for

the sake of truth, or to avoid a personal harm, or for the collective

benefit of a society, can be approached from different perspectives.

In Western thought Bishop Joseph Butler (1692-1752 C.E.) held

that a person‟s conscience, when neither polluted nor subverted or

deranged intuitively, makes ethical judgments. Immanuel Kant (1724-

1804 C.E.) is known for his taking law as the basis of ethics; therefore

here ethical behavior, for him, is a matter of a categorical imperative.

Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832 C.E.) considered the greatest good of the

greatest number of the people as the goal of ethics. Herbert Spencer

(1820-1903 C.E.) evolved the concept of evolutionary utilitarianism.

Edward A. Westermarck (1862-1939 C.E.) pleaded the view of ethical

relativism thus considering ethical systems as a reflection of social

conditions. While William of Ockham (1290-1349 C.E.) regarded ethics

as having religious origin in the will of God where the Divine command

declares what is right or wrong.

Except for a handful of religious thinkers and philosophers,

those in the East or the West

consider intuition, collective

good or social conditions

responsible for considering an

act good and ethical or bad

and immoral. Nevertheless

certain concepts such as

justice, beneficence and non-

malfeasance are commonly

agreed as basic ethical

principles in the West. Islamic

ethics on the contrary draws

its legitimacy from Divine
revelation or Wah}ī. The Qur‟ān and the Prophetic Sunnah provide

universal ethical principles with specific instructions on what is good,
therefore permissible and allowed (h}alāl), what is desirable (mubāh})

and what is bad and impermissible (h}arām) as well as what is disliked

(makrūh).

These two comprehensive terms, h}alal and h}aram cover all

possible areas of human activity wherein one exercises ethical

judgment, and thus acts morally or immorally. Ethical boundaries
(h}udūd) are drawn to indicate areas to be avoided. A vast area of

mubāh} also exists where under general universal Divine principles,

Maqās}id al-Sharī‘ah or objectives of the Divine law, individual and

collective rational, logical and syllogistic reasoning (ijtihād) leads to

judgments and positions on emerging bio-medical and ethical

issues.

All known civilizations have their

distinct concepts of good and bad.

Even those considered as

“uncivilized” also believe in

certain norms and values.

Policy Perspectives

66

The basic difference between the Eastern and Western ethical

philosophy, and the Islamic ethical paradigm can be illustrated with the

help of a simple diagram.

Evolution of Ethical Values in the East
and the West

Ethical Norms

and values

Social Habits

and Behavior

Local Customs

and Traditions

Sociologist, anthropologists and historians of culture trace origin of

ethical values of a people in their physical environment. With the

change in space and time, values and norms are also expected to

change. The norms and values of a pre-industrial society and a post-

modernist society are not expected to be similar. Social, economic and

political evolution is supposed to cause basic changes in the value

system of a people who go through this process. Values and norms,

therefore, are considered relative to socio-economic change. Truth,

beauty and justice are, therefore not absolute but subject to

environmental change and evolution. Man is supposed to adjust his

behavior and conduct accordingly.

Islamic ethics recognizes the role of intuitions, reason, customs

and traditions, so long as all these draw their legitimacy from the

A Global Ethics for a Globalized World

67

Divine principles of Sharī‘ah. No customs or traditions contrary to the

principles of Sharī‘ah can serve as the basis of social, economic,

political, legal and cultural policies and practices. Social development

and progress is subservient to Sharī‘ah. Divine legislation (Sharī‘ah, in

the strict sense of the word) is neither a product of social evolution nor

particular to a place, people, society or historical context. Its principles

are operational in all seasons and in a variety of human conditions.

Islamic ethics is founded on divine principles of sharī‘ah (the
maqās}id) which can be summarized as follows: First and foremost is

the principle of coherence and unity in life (tawh}īd). It simply means

that human behavior has to be coherent, unified and not contradictory

and incoherent. If it is ethical to respect human life, the same principle

should be observed when a person deals with his friends or adversaries.

Justice, truth and thankfulness should not be selective. If a person

declares that Allah is the Ultimate Authority in the universe, then His

directions and orders should be followed not only in the month of

Ramadan and in the masjid or within the boundaries of the Ka‘bah, but

even when a person is in the farthest corner of the world one should

observe Allah‟s directions in one‟s personal life, in economic activities,

social transactions, as well as in political decision making. Unity in life
or tawh}īd in practice, therefore, is a value and norm not particular to a

place, time or people.

If a comparison is made with Confucianism for example, one

finds that in Confucianism (founded by Confucius: 551-479 B.C.E.),

there is great emphasis on the noble person (chuntzu). The noble

person is expected to observe

certain values like humanity,

benevolence and compassion

(jen); righteousness (yi), filial

piety (xiao) and acting

according to “rules of

propriety” in the most

appropriate manner, or

observing ritual and ceremony

(li).

Jin or human

heartedness and yi or

righteousness together build a person of high moral quality5.

Righteousness and human heartedness in Confucianism are not for the

sake of any utilitarian end. Righteousness has to be for the sake of

righteousness. This reminds us of the Kantian categorical imperative, or

following ethics as a legal obligation. Confucianism does not accept

ethical relativism. In other words, ethical behavior and a righteous

person stand for “principled morality”.

5 Yu-Lan, The Spirit of Chinese Philosophy, 10-12.

Islamic ethics recognizes the role

of intuition, reason, customs and

traditions, so long as all these

draw their legitimacy from the

Divine principles.

Policy Perspectives

68

The Confucian term li is often translated as “ritual” or

“sacrifice”. The fact of the matter is that it stands for more than doing a

ritual in the prescribed manner. Confucius, in response to one of his

students, is reported to have said: “in funerals and ceremonies of

mourning, it is better that the mourners feel true grief, than that they

be meticulously correct in every ceremonial detail.”6 Ethics in practice

appears a major concern of Confucianism. It also indicates that ethical

consciousness and a desire for ethical and moral conduct and behavior

is a universal phenomenon.

Thus according to the Islamic worldview, ethical and moral
behavior (taqwa, ‘amal-s}āleh), observing what is essentially good

(ma‘rūf) and virtue (birr) is an obligation. Reasoned ethical judgment is

the basis of man‟s relation with his Creator as well as the basis of

serving and interacting with His Creation .Every human action is to be

based on ma‘rūf and taqwa, which are the measurable manifestations

of tawhid or unity in life. Man is neither an economic entity nor a social

animal, but an ethical being. Allah informed the angels before the

creation of the first human couple that He was going to create His

khalīfah, vicegerent or deputy, on earth. Allah did not say a “social

animal” or an “economic man” or a “shadow of god/monarch” or one

“obsessed with libido” was going to be created. khalīfah conceptually

means a person who acts ethically and responsibly. Therefore Man in

the light of the Qur‟ān is essentially an ethical being.

This realization of the unity in life, is the first condition for being

a believer in Islam and this principle has global application. Hence not

only for a Muslim but also equally for a Buddhist, Confucian, a

Christian, or a Hindu it is important to liberate oneself from

contradictions in conduct and

behavior. Specifically for a

Muslim observance of one and

the same ethical standards is

a pre-requisite for Īmān or

faith. An authentic Prophetic
h}adīth states:

“It is reported on the

authority of Anas b. Malik that

the Prophet (May peace and

blessings be upon him)

observed: one amongst you

believes (truly) till one likes

for his brother or for his neighbor that which he loves for himself.” 7

The Qur‟ān in several places underscores unity in action or unity

in behavior and profession as the key to ethical and moral conduct.

6 Creel, Chinese Thought from Confucius to Mao Tse-tung, 33.
7 Saheeh Muslim. Book 1. Hadīth no. 72.

The principle of coherence and

unity in life is the first and

foremost. It simply means that

human behavior has to be

coherent, unified and not

contradictory and incoherent.

A Global Ethics for a Globalized World

69

“O Believers! Why do you say something which you

do not do? It is very hateful in the sight of Allah that

you say something which you do not do.” 8

Unity in life as the first core teaching of Islam also happens to

be the basis of what have been called objectives of the Sharī‘ah
(maqās}id al-Sharī‘ah). Since unity in life means elimination of dual

standards of ethics and morality and development of a holistic

personality, its applicability and relevance is not particular to be

Muslims. Needless to say the objective of sharī‘ah are essentially

objectives of humanity as such truly global. The Qur‟an invites the

whole of humanity to critically

examine human conduct and

behavior, and through the
application of tawh}īd, create

harmony, balance, coherence

and unity in human conduct and

social policy. This principle was

not a tribal, Arabian or Makkan

practice. It was revealed to the

Prophet that the Rabb or

Naurisher of the whole of

human community is Allah

alone, therefore He alone to be

taken as Transcendent creator

and sustainer of the whole universe and mankind. The Qur‟anic

terminology Allah is not an evolved form of ilah but proper and personal

name of Transcendent creator of mankind. Islamic law similarly was not

a matter of Arabian customs traditions assigned normativeness by

Islam. Islam cause to Islamize the Arabs and non-Arabs. It never

wanted to Arabize the non-Arabic speaking world community.

The second foundational ethical principle, and an important

objective of the Sharī‘ah is the practice of „adl (justice) or equity,

fairness, moderation, beauty and balance in life. ‘Adl (justice) is one of

the major attributes of Allah, for He is Most Just, Fair and

Compassionate to His creation. At the same time, it is the principle

operating in the cosmos, in the world of vegetation, in the animal

world, sea world as well as in humanity at large. The Qur‟ān refers to

the constitution of man regarding this principle:

“O man! What had lured you away from your

Gracious Rabb, Who created you, fashioned you,

proportioned you.”9

8 As-Saff:61:2-3.
9 Al-Infitaar: 82:6-7.

Second foundational ethical

principle, is the practice of

justice or equity, fairness,

moderation, beauty and balance

in life.

Policy Perspectives

70

In Islam ethical conduct and virtuous behavior (taqwa) is

directly linked with ‘adl:

“O Believers! Be steadfast for the sake of Allah, and

bear true witness, and let not the enmity of a people

incite you to do injustice; do justice; that is nearer to

piety….”10

‘Adl is a comprehensive term. It also includes the meaning of

excelling and transcending in ethical and moral conduct:

“Allah commands doing justice, doing good to others,

and giving to near relatives, and He forbids

indecency, wickedness, and rebellion: He admonishes

you so that you may take heed.”11

Though generally taken to mean legal right of a person, „adl has

much wider implications. At a personal level it means doing justice to

one‟s own self by being moderate and balanced in behavior. Therefore

if a person over sleeps or does not sleep at all, starves in order to

increase spirituality or to lose weight, or on the contrary, overeats and
keeps on gaining weight, in both cases, he commits z}ulm or injustice

to his own self. „Adl is to be realized at the level of family. The h}adīth

of the Prophet specifies that one‟s body has a right on person similarly

his wife has a right on a person.

One who is kind, loving, caring and

compassionate toward family is

regarded by the Prophet a true

Muslim. „Adl has to be the basis of

society.

A human society may

survive despite less food but no

society can survive without „adl or

fairness and

justice.

„Adl in

economic matters means an

economic order with oppressions,

monopoly and unfair distribution of

wealth. It also demands political

freedom and right to association, difference of opinions, criticism and

right to elect most suitable person for public position. If a political

system does not provide freedom of speech, respect for difference of

opinion and practice of human rights it cannot be called a just political

order. The capitalist world order, because of its oppressive nature
cannot be called an „adil order. It remains a z}alim order so long it does

not provide the due share of the laborer.

10 Al-Ma’idah: 5:8.
11 An-Nah}l: 16:90.

A human society may

survive despite less food

but no society can survive

without fairness and

justice.

A Global Ethics for a Globalized World

71

‘Adl in a medical context means professional excellence in one‟s

area of competence and specialization, for the simple reason that ‘adl

means doing a thing at its best. It implies devoting full attention to the

patient in order to fully understand the problem and coming up with the

best possible remedy. It also means prescribing a quality medicine with

least financial burden on the patient, and avoiding unnecessary

financial burden on a patient by prescribing irrelevant laboratory tests

or high cost medicine when a less costly medicine can do the same.

Thus if in one single area proper attention is not paid, it is deviation

from the path of ‘adl.

The third vital global ethical principle and one of the objective of

the Sharī‘ah is respect, protection and promotion of life. It too has

wider and vital implications for the whole of mankind. This principle is

drawn directly from the Qur‟ānic injunction that saving one human life

is like saving the whole of mankind, and destroying one single life,

unjustly, is like killing the whole of mankind.12 This Qur‟ānic injunction

makes it obligatory on every believing Muslim to avoid harming life or

killing, except when it is in return for committing manslaughter or

causing lawlessness in society.13

Since the word used in the Qur‟ān is nafs which means, self,

soul, individual human being, it is not particular to the Muslims or

people of a particular faith, creed or ethnicity. No individual or group of

human beings can be killed, or their life harmed without an ethical,

objective and legal justification. It also means that life when even in its

developmental stage is equally honorable and valuable. A fetus hence

has the same sanctity as a full-grown human being. Therefore any

things that can harm the fetus is also to be avoided in order to ensure

quality of life is not marginalized. For example if a female during

pregnancy uses alcoholic beverages, or drugs or even smokes,

medically all these are going to harm the fetus, and thus effect the

quality of life in future of a child yet to harm.

Not only this, but the principle has further serious implications

even for environmental policies. It is also directly relevant to the

manufacturing and production of pharmaceuticals. If the quality of

pharmaceuticals is not controlled, their use is bound to harm life.

This principle is also related to public policy on population. It

does not allow state to interfere in the bedroom of a person and impose

an embargo on childbirth, or allow abortion. These are only a few

serious ethical issue directly related to the principle of value of life.

12 “That whoever kills a person, except as a punishment for murder or mischief in the
land, it will be written in his book of deeds as if he had killed all the human beings,
and whoever will save a life shall be regarded as if he gave life to all the human
beings…” Al-Ma’idah:5:32.
13 Ibid.

Policy Perspectives

72

Obviously these are universal applications of this principle and not

confined to the followers of Islam.

The fourth major ethical principle relates to the role of reason

and rational judgment in human decision-making. The fact that human

beings should have reasoned judgments, and rise above emotional

behavior, blind desires and drives is a major concern of the Sharī‘ah.

Consequently Islam does not permit suspension of freedom of

judgment. An obvious example is, if a person gets addicted to drugs or

hooked to intoxicants, their use influences his personal and social

relations, freedom of will, as

well as personal integrity. In

Islam independence of reason

and rational judgment is a pre-

condition for all legal

transactions. The Qur‟ān

considers the use of intoxicants
immoral (fah}āsh). It is not only

sinful but also legally prohibited.

Modern medical research also

confirms the harmful effects of

drugs and intoxicants on the

mental health of people

irrespective of their race, color

or religion. However Islam‟s concern for reasoned and rational behavior

in personal and social life is not peculiar to Muslims. It‟s universal

values have global relevance to the conduct and behavior of all human

beings at a global level.

The fifth principle, protection of linage and dignity of genealogy,

too, has relevance to people of the entire world, irrespective of their

religion, race, color or language. It makes protection of genetic identity

and protection of lineage an ethical and legal obligation. The Islamic

social and legal system considers free mixing of sexes and pre-marital

conjugal relations immoral as well as unlawful. This has serious

implications for health sciences, social policy and legal system. This

global ethical principle deters a person from commercialization of the

human gene and also from the mixing of genes (such as in the case of

a surrogacy). This principle helps in preserving high standard of

morality in human society. It also discourages anonymity of the gene

and helps in preserving tradition of genetic tree.

This limit review of the objectives of Islamic shari‘ah indicates

that every principle has global relevance to ethical and moral conduct of

persons in a civilized society. The purpose of this brief resume of

universal and foundational Islamic ethical and moral principles, has

been first to dispel the impression that Islamic ethics is particular to the

Muslims; second to understand the objectives and origin of these

values in the Divine guidance and third, to find out how viable they are

in the contemporary world.

Islamic ethical principles

clearly differentiate between a

reasoned and rational judgment

and a judgment based on the

so-called blind drives.

A Global Ethics for a Globalized World

73

The principles and the objectives of the Sharī‘ah, as mentioned

above, are practically the objectives of humanity. Many of the

biological, emotional or intellectual and social needs of man have been

interpreted in western social sciences as blind drives, instincts and

animal desires; Islamic ethical principles clearly differentiate between a

reasoned and rational judgment and a judgment based on the so-called

blind drives. For instance, some human actions may have apparent

similarity but they may be poles apart. A person may take a loan from

a bank on a mutually agreed interest rate to establish an industry.

Another person may also borrow money from a bank on the Islamic

ethical principles of profit sharing, and with no interest at all. Both

appear industrial loans yet essentially one supports the capitalistic

exploitative system, while the other encourages commercial and

industrial growth without indulging in interest or usury, totally

prohibited by Islam.

Legitimacy of Ethical Values

Before concluding, it may also be appropriate to add a few words on

the legitimacy of Islamic ethical principles. It may be asked, “do these

principles draw their legitimacy from their customary practice, or draw

their power and authority from somewhere else?

Ethical behavior in all walks of life is a major concern of Islam.

However it does not leave ethical judgment to the personal like or

dislike, or to the greatest good of the largest number of people, though

one of the maxims of the Sharī‘ah directly refers to public good or

maslaha ‘amah. The origin and legitimacy of values in the Islamic world
view resides in Divine revelation (wah}ī). Revelation or kalaam/speech

of Allah should not be confused with inspiration or intuition, which is a
subjective phenomenon. Revelation, wah}ī or kalaam of Allah is

knowledge which comes from beyond and therefore, it is not subjective

but objective. Being the spoken word of Allah, makes it transcend the

finitude of space and time. Though revealed in the Arabic language, it

addresses the whole of humanity (an-Naas). It uses Arabic language

only incidentally, for clarity in communication. The purpose of

revelation in Arabic was to Islamize the Arabs and not to arabize those

who enter in to the fold of Islam.

Islamic values by their very nature are universal and globally

applicable. None of the ethical norms have their roots in local or

Arabian customs and traditions. These are not particularistic, temporal

values that normally change with the passage of time. These are

universal values having their roots in the Divine, universalistic

revelation. The principle of ‘adl discussed above, is not particular to a

race, color, groups or a specific region, or period of history. Respect

and promotion of life is also a universal value. Similarly honesty,

fairness, truth are neither Eastern nor Western, these are universally

recognized applied values.

Policy Perspectives

74

The purpose of these universal Islamic values is to help human

beings develop a responsible vision of life. It is a gross underestimation

to consider life a sport, a moment of

pleasure. Life has meaning, an

ethics by which it has to be lived,

fashioned and organized.

The Islamic world view, as pointed out earlier looks on human

life holistically. It advocates integration and cohesion in life, and avoids
compartmentalization and fragmentation. Tawh}īd or unity in life is

created when one single standard is observed in private and public life

and all human actions are motivated only by one single concern i.e how

to gain Allah‟s pleasure by observing an ethical and responsible life.

Islamic ethics can be summarized in only two points. First and

foremost, is observance of the rights of the Creator; living an ethical

life with full awareness of accountability on the day of Judgment as well

as in this world. Secondly, to fulfill obligations towards other human

beings not for any reward, recognition or compensation, but simply

because it pleases Allah. Serving humanity for the sake of humanity

may be a good cause but what makes serving humanity an ‘ibadah or

worship is serving Allah‟s servants for His sake, and not for any worldly

recognition by winning an excellent reward.

Islamic ethics in practice helps in binding the balanced,

responsible, receptive and proactive personality of a professional. The

primary Islamic ethical values briefly discussed above allow anyone

who follows these in their letter and spirit to reflect as a global citizen,

who transcends above discriminations of color, race, language or

religion. The Qur‟ān invites the entire humanity to adopt the path of

ethical living and practice, in order to make society peaceful, orderly

and responsive to needs of

the community. The Muslim

community is defined in the

Qur‟ān as the community of

ethically motivated persons

(khayra-ummah) or the

community of the middle
path (ummatan-wast}ān)

that does not go out of

balance and proportion and

implements good or ma‘ruf.

Ethically responsible

behavior means a behavior that follows universal ethical norms and

laws and resists all immediate temptations. The strength of character

simply means strict observance of principles a person claims to

subscribe to. Thus Islamic professional ethics guides a professional in

all situations where an ethical judgment is to be made, in medical

treatment as well as in business transactions, and administrative

issues.

It is a gross underestimation to

consider life a sport, a moment of

pleasure. Life has meaning, an

ethics by which it has to be lived,

fashioned and organized.

A Global Ethics for a Globalized World

75

Islamic ethics in practice encompasses not only formally known

social work but practically every action a human takes in society.

Islamic professional or work ethics is not confined to customer

satisfaction. A believer has to act ethically in personal as well as social,

financial, political and cultural matters. Change in space and time does

not lead to any change in ethical and moral standards and behavior.

Quality assurance as an ethical obligation is one of the major concerns

of the Qur‟ān. The general

principles of quality

assurance are mentioned at

several places in a variety

of context.

“Weigh with even

scales, and do not

cheat your fellow

men of what is

rightfully theirs…”14

It is further

elaborated when the Qur‟ān directs, that while delivering goods or

products one should not observe dual standards:

“Woe to those who defraud, who when, they take by

measure from men, take the full measure, but when

they give by measure or by weight to others, they

give less than due.”15

A medical practitioner for example, when he gets his

compensation in terms of consultation fee, it is his or her ethical

obligation to advice a patient with full responsibility, care and sense of

accountability to Allah. The same applies to a teacher, who must deliver

knowledge with full honesty, responsibility and fairness without hiding

the truth, or manipulation of facts. It equally applies to students and

researchers who do their utmost in seeking knowledge and truth, and

produce knowledge while avoiding plagiarism and other unfair means in

research.

14 Ash-Shū’ara:26:182-183.
15 Al-Mut}affifīn:83:1-3.

Islamic ethics in practice

encompasses not only formally

known social work but practically

every action a human takes in

society.

Policy Perspectives

76

The divinely inspired ethical principles transcend finitude of

humans mind and

experience. These are not

local, regional or national

on their origin, they are

not for a people with a

specific denomination

either. Their universality

makes them globally

applicable, absolute and

applicable in changed

circumstances and

environment. They are

human friendly but not a

result of human intellectual

intervention and offer

appreciable solutions to

human problem in this age

of globalization.

Wamā tawfīqī illa, bi Allah, wa Allahu A’lamu bi als}awāb.

The divinely inspired ethical

principles of Islam – transcending

finitude of human mind and

experience – are not local, regional

or national in their origin. Their

universality makes them globally

applicable, absolute and pertinent in

changed circumstances.

A Global Ethics for a Globalized World

77

References:

Creel, H.G. Chinese Thought from Confucius to Mao Tse-tung. Chicago:

University of Chicago Press, 1953.

Ley, P. “Phobia.” in Encyclopedia of Psychology. edited by H.J. Eysenck,

et al, Vol III. New York, The Seabury Press, 1972.

Reese, William. Dictionary of Philosophy and Religion Eastern and

Western Thought. New Jersey: Huamanties Press, 1980.

Said, Edward W. Covering Islam, How Media and the Experts Determine

How We See the Rest of the World. New York: Panthoos Book,

1981.

Yu-Lan, Fung. The Spirit of Chinese Philosophy. Boston: Beacon Press,

1947.

Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without
permission.

Virtue Ethics and Modern Society–A Response to the Thesis of the Modern
Predicament of Virtue Ethics

Author(s): Qun GONG and Lin ZHANG

Source: Frontiers of Philosophy in China , June 2010, Vol. 5, No. 2 (June 2010), pp. 255-
265

Published by: Brill

Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/27823328

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https://www.jstor.org/stable/27823328

Front. Philos. China 2010, 5(2): 255-265
DOI 10.1007/sl 1466-010-0014-5

RESEARCH ARTICLE

GONG Qun

Virtue Ethics and Modern Society^-A Response to
the Thesis of the Modern Predicament of Virtue
Ethics

? Higher Education Press and Springer-Verlag 2010

Abstract The revival of modern Western virtue ethics presents the question of
whether or not virtue ethics is appropriate for modern society. Ethicists believe
that virtue ethics came from traditional society, to which it conforms so well. The
appearance of the market economy and a utilitarian spirit, together with society’s
diversification, is a sign that modern society has arrived. This also indicates a
transformation in the moral spirit. But modern society has not made virtues less
important, and even as modern life has become more diversified, rule-following
ethics have taken on even greater importance. Modern ethical life is still the
ethical life of individuals whose self-identity contains the identity of moral spirit,
and virtues have a very important influence on the self-identical moral characters.

Furthermore, modern society, which is centered around utilitarianism, makes it
apparent that rules themselves are far from being adequate and virtues are
important. Virtues are a moral resource for modern people to resist modern evils.

Keywords virtue, ethics, modern society

1

In the history of ethics, both Confucian ethic thoughts in the Chinese tradition
and ancient Greek ethic thoughts with Aristotle as the representative are virtue
ethics. In modern times, utilitarianism, represented by Bentham and Mill, and
deontology, represented by Kant, have come into being in the West, and over a
considerable amount of time, the tradition of virtue ethics has been in decline. In

Translated by ZHANG Lin from Zhexue Dongtai ^ $]& (Trends of Philosophy), 2009, (5):
40-45_
GONG Qun (El)
School of Philosophy, Renmin University of China, Beijing 100872, China
E-mail: gongq@ruc.edu.cn

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256 GONG Qun

the 1950s, in an epoch-making article “Modem Ethical Philosophy, ” G. E. M.
Anscombe, a British ethicist, challenged utilitarianism and deontology from the
perspective of Aristotelian virtue ethics. This was regarded as a sign of the
revival of virtue ethics. Afterwards, notably in the 1980s, many ethicists
developed virtue ethics from theoretical as well as historical aspects, igniting its
momentous resurrection. Nonetheless, people have cast a suspicious eye on the
resurrection, that is to say, they doubt whether or not theorists could revive the
virtue ethics that has already degenerated. They believe that the transformation of
virtue ethics to utilitarianism and the normative ethics of deontology indicates
that virtue ethics are not appropriate for modern society, and it faces the dilemma
of modern society’s changing social structure.

It is not a new view that virtue ethics face a dilemma in modern society. This
Wew comes from Maclntyre. I will hereby discuss his theory and compare it to

levant arguments by Chinese scholars. Unlike other ethicists, Maclntyre is not
only an ethical theorist but also an expert in the history of ethics. Analyzing the
social history of virtues, Maclntyre proposes that we are in an after virtue age.
The title of the book, After Virtue, according to the author’s explanation, has
meanings on two levels: First, modern society is in an after virtue age, ancient,
traditional Aristotelian virtues or traditional virtues represented by Aristotle,
inevitably disappeared; second, this title indicates the search for the history of
virtues. That is to say, the author must search for virtues in a society that has lost
traditional virtues.

According to Maclntyre, virtue ethics was born in traditional society, which
does not share a similar social structure with modern society. Traditional society
is one characterized by hierarchy and status, wherein everyone has their status
and mission. For instance, a noble is as he is at birth, and the same holds true to a

chieftain, a king, a shepherd, etc. As a result, the established status of a person
determines his duty, responsibility, and mission, which then shapes his character
and virtue. At the same time, in traditional society, an individual not only spends
his entire life engaging in one type of work, but so, too, are successive
generations. These are the social conditions which are used to evaluate a person.
The appearance of modern society dissolved these conditions, as a result of
which the certainty of self disappeared. Maclntyre maintains, “the democratized
self which has no necessary social content and no necessary social identity can
then be anything, can assume any role or take any point of view, because it is in
and for self nothing…the self is no more than ‘a peg’ on which the clothes of the
role are hung” (Maclntyre 1984, p. 32).
Maclntyre points out that in traditional society, people identified themselves

by their membership in different social groups. One can be a member of a family,
someone’s brother, a member of a village, and the like. He stresses that these are
by no means tentative characteristics, nor do they require removing “the

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Virtue Ethics and Modern Society 257

discovering of authentic self,” but “part of my substance, defining partially at
least and sometimes wholly my obligation and my duties” (Ibid.). Modern
society is a contract society identified by contracts, or a society of equality
whence people have status of freedom. Meanwhile, social members are not born
with fixed careers; rather, their professions vary at any given time. Consequently,

in such a modern society, the normative demands from their profession rather
than those on individual virtue become the focus of ethical studies. It is in this

sense that duty or responsibility becomes the key concept of modern ethics.
Therefore, to resurrect virtue ethics, i.e., expanding the mode of normative
ethics1 appropriate for traditional society to modern society will encounter
difficulties or become out-dated.

Virtue ethics focuses on what kind of person one may become or one should

become, putting the subject rather than his acts at the center of its theory. Modern
normative ethics, on the other hand, mainly concerns acts, namely, what acts are

good. While utilitarianism stresses the moral value of actions from their
consequences, deontology evaluates the value of actions based on the principles
or rules they should follow. According to ethicists like Maclntyre, traditional
virtue ethics cares about human character and virtue is not unrelated to
determinate status and circumstances in traditional society. At the same time, the
traditional self is a concept that integrates birth, life, and death on the whole, and

in human life it is the search for good in the whole of life wherein virtue plays a

key role. In modern society, individual life is no longer considered as part of a
whole, as in traditional society. On the contrary, it has been taken apart and self
has degenerated into separate fields with different fragments exerting different
demands on character. Virtue through life has lost its living space. Such a
degeneration of the holistic self in modern society has rendered the concept of
Aristotelian virtue in inactive.

Maclntyre also recalls the process in which traditional Western virtue theories
represented by Aristotle declined. Since modern times, along with the
establishment of the relationship between capitalism and the market economy,
utility has become central to modern society. The market economy seeks the

1 “Normative ethics” was put forward by meta-ethicists in the tradition of analytic philosophy.
Ethicists or ethic theorists, before the appearance of meta-ethics who, when studying or
writing about ethics, circled around the making of value judgments in morality and advocated
some moral values. According to them, this was the ethical study or work on a practical level.

Meta-ethicists, on the other hand, carry out their investigation on a philosophical level
concerned only with the analysis of ethical concepts and judgments, with the logical analysis
of ethical sentences without involving value judgments. In other words, the concept of
normative ethics is used to differentiate between meta-ethics and the work of previous ethicists.
It is in this sense that virtue ethics, utilitarianism, and ethics of deontology are placed in the
category of normative ethics. This article makes use of the concept of “normative ethics” in
this sense.

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258 GONG Qun

biggest profits, hence the pursuit of utility or material profits, and financial
profits are of overwhelming significance. In market economies, all relationships,
even old and tender familial relationships, have been inscribed with money. It is
in such a social setting that utilitarianism has become rampant, squeezing virtue
out from the center to the periphery. Maclntyre points out that the concept of
“utility” was born in contemporary times. Profound changes in contemporary
productive relationships and the appearance of the commodity and market
economies made it possible for the pursuit of utility to dominate. When people
treat utility as a supreme principle for action and the canon for judgment between

good and evil, virtue degenerates into whether or not it can has utility. Franklin’s
view of virtue is a paragon.

Modern deontology is represented by Kant. It is a normative deontology with
formal universality, concerned with form, not content. It is Maclntyre’s belief
that this kind of deontology is indicative of the decline of virtue. To understand
“What you should do” merely as formal categorical imperatives, we must
consider moral rules or norms in previous social structures which, however, have
disappeared along with changes in modern society. The original moral setting
does not exist anymore, but the virtuous imperatives have survived, which,
consequently, seem empty.2

2

When virtue and virtue ethics only have significance in traditional society, efforts

by ethicists to resurrect virtue ethics in modern society are simply a theoretical
game without any practical meaning. When it is only the empty wish of ethicists,
theorists are engaged in a battle like Don Quixote’s windmill. As a matter of fact,

even Maclntyre himself holds a pessimistic attitude toward the resurrection of
virtue ethics in modern society, contesting that it can only be realized in
communities like the cleric educational center set up by Benedict. A
communitarianist as he is, Maclntyre is also a virtue ethicist who, as a result, is
thought to be advocating a kind of virtue ethics relevant to ancient communities
which will surely fail. Does such failure however reveal the general trouble

2 In effect, it is a misunderstanding by thinkers including Hegel that Kantian ethics includes
only formal categorical imperatives. Kantian ethics involves not only formal categorical
imperatives, but also substantial categorical imperatives, that are human beings are not only
means but ends. When people take two categorical imperatives apart and concentrate only on
the former, it is natural to find it empty. What must be seen is that the categorical imperative
that takes human beings to be ends does not appear as the result of the disappearance of social
construction, wherein ancient virtue was born. On the contrary, it is the embodiment of social
construction in modern society. Therefore, we cannot completely attribute Kant’s categorical
imperatives to the disappearance of the ancient environment.

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Virtue Ethics and Modern Society 259

plaguing virtue ethics, or simply indicate the modern trouble that ancient virtue
ethics is suffering?

The degeneration of ancient communities and the rise of normative ethics as
utilitarianism and deontology can be taken as the most important alteration in
social and ethical thought in the process of the transformation from the
traditional society to the modern one. Along with the degeneration of ancient
communities and the coming force of modern society, the characteristics of self
have changed significantly, that is the fragmentation of the modern self. Such a
transition makes Maclntyre think that the basis for virtue ethics has vanished.

Hence, the first question is whether or not people still retain virtues if traditional
communities or the system of status and hierarchy no longer exists. It is our
contention that traditional communities are no longer around does not mean
people lack virtues. Since virtues are related to a certain social community or
social culture, on which it depends to exist and survive, as long as people still
live in a certain social structure, virtues will, whether in a traditional community

or not, be the link for maintaining interpersonal relationships. In other words,
since virtues are socially and culturally relative, modern society should, like its
ancient counterpart, have corresponding virtue ethics appropriate for the modern
social structure. The assertion that only ancient society (in the eyes of some
communitarians, the idea of community has another significance, that is, society)

has corresponding virtues does not conform to general logical reasoning.
A more important question concerning whether or not virtue ethics agrees with

modern society is about the modern self, viz., the fragmentation of self. We must
accept the fact that the characteristics of the modern self have changed. Have
such changes nevertheless deprived self of its identity? Or, does the fragmented
self still contain self-identity? Even so, is there an internal relationship between
identity and virtue? Without this internal relationship, we cannot reveal the

meaning and value that traditional virtue has for the self. To put it in other words,

when the modern self is really ghostlike and without ethical value, virtues loses
the ontological precondition for its existence in modern society.

It should be noted that Maclntyre’s fragmented self refers to division in social
life. The most important division that occurs for the individual from modern life

is the separation of the public sphere from that of the private. In traditional
society, due to the relatively narrow social sphere, inconvenient transportation,
and underdeveloped forms of communication, people in a geographical
community lived in a society consisting of acquaintances, in which there was
virtually no private space. Even in the city-states of ancient Greece, people lived
among acquaintances as such. Industrialization and urbanization in modern
society has changed people’s living state and life space. What has appeared along
with urbanization is a society of strangers. The biggest difference between
strangers and acquaintances lies in the fact that as far as a stranger is concerned,

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260 GONG Qun

he has no right to interfere in anything of mine. In this way, the modem city and

modem industry have allowed strangers to emerge. Meanwhile, all the fields
related to the public have developed, e.g. different professional groups and their
life. Public spheres such as political activities, space for public opinion,
networking, and public spaces etc., developed, wherein everyone must follow
relevant social norms or moral standards. Such a separation of spheres has
highlighted differences in social circumstances between modem virtue and its
ancient counterpart, and make the professional morals in the professional sphere
and the public morals in the public sphere as contrasted with the private morals
in the private sphere emerge. Nonetheless, even though this has led to differences
between ancient people and modem people on moral life, it does not mean that
virtues have dissolved because of the division that has occurred in modem life

and only universal ethical principles are permitted. As far as modem individuals
are concerned, whether in the public life or private one, virtues are required. In
modem society’s market economy, due to the fragmentation of interpersonal
interests, the possibility of conflict is far greater than that within a family or even
a clan, and hence the virtue of righteousness is of greater importance than in
ancient society. In other words, we need, all the more, righteous people, those
with lofty ideas who hold good and justice in society higher than anything else.

In the same vein, in different professional fields, duty and responsibility or
rule-following ethics are found in the center. Be that as it may, as far as an
individual is concerned, when he does not change these duties and mies into his
internal demands, but treats them as the external demands of professional duties,
there is no virtue whatsoever. The difference between virtues and external mies
lies in that the former is the manifestation of an individual’s character whereas

the latter is no more than an instrument to reach a goal. Such is the case wherein

both professional moral demands and professional techniques are needed to
fulfill a professional task for which the former two are means. But, for an
individual, can we regard duty and responsibility as necessary means for him to
fulfill a duty? If so, people would not be able to follow the bondage of these
duties and responsibilities or mies where profits from professional life can be
made without their stipulation; instead, they may seek these interests through
more convenient and lucrative means. Such means however would damage
people’s professional lives, negatively affecting or even mining their careers. The
Sanlu Hj? (a trade mark in China) powdered-milk case is one such instance for
people to ponder. Virtue means to treat duty and responsibility as internal
requirements, making them key factors in one’s moral character so that one
cannot help doing so, and it is not a means to profit from external interests. In
this sense, any modem profession, as such, cannot be without virtue. Additionally,
unlike those virtues (e.g., courage, generosity, etc.) conceived of by Aristotle
from the perspective of individual life, virtues in modem society have a closer

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Virtue Ethics and Modern Society 261

bearing on duty and are more diverse. This is to say that professions appeal to
professional virtues. As a result, it is not in a general sense that virtue ethics has
suffered in modern society. The so-called trouble is only meaningful in the sense
of traditional virtues. People should not believe that Aristotelian virtue ethics
hold no significance for modern life (this is an issue deserving of more detailed
discussion, which cannot be done here).

What is more, the separation of spheres in modern society refers to neither the
fragmentation of the self’s personality nor the degeneration of the identity of the
self. Seen from the segmentation of the external life, the modern self seems to
have degenerated. The individual has no self, his essence is not defined by
himself, and the self becomes a hanger for a role. The case, seemingly, is not so
however when we see from the point of view of the individual mental and
psychic identities such as mental identity, moral identity, and identity of tendency

to act. As is demonstrated by developmental psychology, the identity of an
individual’s mental self comes from one’s childhood experience, and throughout
the development of the behavioral subject, his ability to speak and act takes form
and develops, building some consistency. Self qua subject keeps its own identity
during separation from and interaction with other objects. As Harbermas puts it,
self may keep his identity when interconnecting with others and, in all the games

relevant to roles, express that kind of relationship akin to others yet absolutely
different hence ambivalent. What’s more, as such a person?he incorporates the
inner interaction into some unquestioned complex mood of life history?he

makes himself appear (Harbermas 1989, p. 113). We do not mean to say, of
course, that a person will never change his mentality or moral tendency to act etc.,
but we mean that there will be changes, and there is consistency which, as it were,

enables us to recognize from mental and moral identity as well as physical
identity the same person from several years ago, decades ago, or even earlier.
The mentality and moral tendency to act is an important facet of one’s identity.
We cannot deny that a person, from his youth into middle age and to old age, has
personal identity. Indeed, most people have relatively steady personalities, albeit
some have alternating personalities. Nevertheless, even this alternation does not
come from large everyday changes and, even if it were a great change, is the
result of gradual and quantitative changes, or a significant change occurs after
some juncture has been reached. In other words, it is the change, in lieu of the
fragmentation, of personality.

The main aspect of mental identity is individual moral identity, the root of
which is virtue or the moral character of a person. Character is the moral life of a
person, a layer above his natural one. As is pointed out by Aristotle, virtue is
cultivated from a person’s habit to act or gradually formed in his life experiences,
and consequently, becomes a person’s second life. Mencius contends that there is
a slight difference between human and animals, and it is moral character. Human

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262 GONG Qun

essence is not one’s nature, but his social attributes, of which morality is the most
essential. To put it in another way, human identity in moral character embodies
our particularity as human beings. Nonetheless, while this particularity leads to
generic identification between others and us, it differentiates us from others
qua a moral self. As Harbermas puts it, in self identity, some paradoxical
relationship is revealed: As a common one, and self is the same as all the
others; as an individual however, he is by no means identical with any other
individual (Ibid., pp. 93-94). Because of different psychological processes and
life experiences, an individual’s moral characteristics which are formed by his
long-term habits may differ. As far as the self is concerned, self identity

maintains consistent individual tendencies to act so that we can expect
consistency from an individual due to his life experiences. In other words,
when someone acts a certain way under some circumstance, it stands to reason
that he would still do the same under similar circumstances. Take, for example,
a brave man. It is more than that his life experiences have demonstrated his
bravery. We can also expect his behavior to be the same in the future. This is
to say that a righteous man would behave righteously, a brave man bravely, a
moderate man moderately, a benevolent man kindly, and so on. Aristotle
repeatedly mentions what a brave man would do and what a righteous man
would do, referring to virtuous agents in the sense of self-identity. When a
person is not worthy of expectation with regard to virtue, it means that people
do not know how to communicate, cooperate, or co-exist with him. Individual
self-identity is related to the maintenance of interpersonal relationships and the
plan and expectations of human life.3

Will a man of virtue disappear as the result of the fragmentation of life in
modern society? Whether in ancient society or modern society, there is always
the virtuous self or the self lacking of virtue, and this will not change as

modern living conditions vary. Self-identity and moral identity are cultivated
from mental experiences and moral tendencies to act. Both in ancient times and
in modern times, individuals exist and develop in communication with the
external social circumstances and others. Based on this, if the fragmentation of
modern life leads to the fragmentation of self, it only means that there is no
standard for individuating individual self in society. In effect, none can be
found to have been totally lost his moral self in any society. Self-identity is a
unique psychological, moral and spiritual basis of individuals qua individuals.
In self-identity, moral identity or the identity of moral character is of much

Of course, we by no means deny that Aristotelian virtue ethics includes the idea that slaves
are not men, but this also does not conform to Aristotle’s view that treating virtue as coming
from the inner construction of humanity and human praxis. Pointing to this, we do not deny
that virtue ethics discuss virtue in a general sense of humanity.

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Virtue Ethics and Modern Society 263

importance.

3

The second important issue presented by Maclntyre is: Modern society is utility
centered whereas traditional society is virtue centered. Virtue has been
marginalized in modern society. According to Maclntyre, we are now in an after
virtue “dark age.” What this view holds is not that there is no virtue in modern
society, but that virtue is no longer important in modern society. In Aristotelian
ethics, happiness centers around virtue; in utilitarianist ethics, on the other hand,

happiness takes utility as its core or treats the utilitarian consequence of action as
the standard for judgment. Maclntyre is correct in this sense when judging the
place of virtue in modern society. Others also contend, on the basis of
rule-following ethics represented by deontology, that modern society puts rules
in the center and hence virtue at the periphery of moral life. The following two
views deserve our notice: The first is judging the marginalization of virtue as a
fact; the second is taking it as value identification. It is Maclntyre’s position to
make a judgment on the fact, ignoring value identification. His opinion with
respect to the circumstances of virtue in modern society fails to lead him to the
conclusion that virtue is not important in modern society. Just the opposite, he
argues that we need to seek virtue because we have lost ancient Aristotelian
virtue. As has been stated before, the pun, i.e., “after virtue” used by Maclntyre
which contains the dual meaning of after virtue and searching for virtue
demonstrates this. Where, nevertheless, should we cultivate or find virtue?
Maybe the too much element of ancient Aristotelian complex in Maclntyre has
inscribed in him the idea that authentic virtue can by no means be cultivated in
modern society. A considerable number of modern Western ethicists however do
not agree with him. For instance, Max L. Stackhouse, the famous ethicist once
told me, even though we do not have Aristotelian ancient virtue, we still have
virtue!

Of course, adherents to the ethical doctrine based on rules who affirm virtues

from value considerations do not deny that virtue is needed in modern society.
They simply believe that virtue is less important. What cannot be denied is that
there is a great difference between ancient or traditional social life and modern
one regarding the significance of virtue. The development of modern material
civilization and the abundance of material life have changed the appearance of

material life in traditional society. The upsurge in material wealth is the origin as
well as product of the utilitarian pursuit. The conversion of human spiritual value
has greatly improved the living conditions of modern man and should be
commended for this. Nonetheless, the loss of the central status of virtues has also

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264 GONG Qun

brought about problems such as the alienation and money-orientation of
interpersonal relationships, damage brought to human beings camouflaged by the

neutrality of technological value, the massacre of Jews in World War II, to name
just a few. On this issue, I agree with Maclntyre’s words, namely that history has
its merits and faults, so we should not stop thinking about what we have lost

when celebrating what has been given to us by progress. Needless to say,
historical changes have led to a great change in status of virtue in human life, but
we cannot claim that virtue has become less important because it has no place in
modern society. It is just the opposite. The evils that have happened in modern
society are unprecedented and unanticipated for our ancestors, demonstrating
how necessary virtue is for modern society. Maybe utilitarian pursuit in modern
society has produced many morally indifferent individuals or even evil ones, and
has greatly degraded moral standards in modern society. It does not mean
however that we no longer need virtue or virtue is no longer appropriate for
modern society. If this is the plight, we should admit that it is the plight of
modern man in lieu of virtue.

Virtues are necessarily important to the continuing existence of mankind and
to the continuing development of human civilization. Can we say that it is
enough for modern society to merely have rules? Is it worthy of our concern that

virtue is in the periphery? Undoubtedly, virtues in modern society are very
different from that in ancient society. We thus cannot return to the age of
Confucius or Aristotle. Being unable to renew the exact Confucian or Aristotelian
virtue notwithstanding, we cannot claim that it is dispensable. The emergence of
professional life, urban life and technological life has considerably changed the
human environment, further reinforcing the need for rules. Rules nevertheless
cannot replace virtues in people’s social and moral lives. Rather than a kind of
elusive mental state, virtue is the inner character of a moral self. What is more,

utilitarian pursuit in modern society has changed the direction of human pursuit
for value and people’s attitude toward material interests. The change of the
human environment and values has led to changes in virtue and its enrichment. In
addition, modern life centered on utility presents a greater demand for the
practice of modern virtue. Modern man is confronted with stronger temptations
from greed and selfish desires than his ancestors, and a society of strangers has
enlarged the possibility of committing evil. The virtual cyber world has presented
far greater demand for human virtue than the shendu (self-discipline)
stressed in traditional Chinese society. On this account, we hold that virtue,
especially modern virtue, is needed in modern society; rules alone are not
enough.

The last problem is: There are ethics, to wit. utilitarian ethics and ethics of
deontology, that fit in with modern life, do we still need virtue ethics? The point
is, can utilitarianism and deontology alone respond to the need for virtues? We do

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Virtue Ethics and Modern Society 265

not think so. Issues pertaining to virtue should not be categorized into that of
consequence of acts or rules of acts. Utilitarian ethics interprets the moral
significance of utilitarian consequence from that of acts, and deontology stresses
the moral significance of rules to acts from the significance of rules.
Nevertheless, they fail to answer modern society’s moral demands. Virtue ethics
reaffirms the importance of virtue from the significance of individual virtue,
which is precisely what the aforementioned two theories lack. Seen from the
perspective of ethics, morality is concerned with voluntary acts. It appeals to the
voluntariness, autonomy and self-consciousness of the subject, so that it focuses
on individual character and virtue rather than external rules. Acts originate from
the subject or the actor, which indicates that it is insufficient to do ethical studies

merely from the significance of acts. Virtue ethics embodies this particularity of
virtue by taking individual virtue as the focus. Hence, on the whole, albeit the
declination of traditional virtues has its origin in the transformation of social
structure and social history, this is, as a matter of fact, a serious theoretical
deviation to ignore virtue ethics due to the development of utilitarianism and
deontology. As a matter of course, an in-depth study of virtue ethics is needed to
answer this question. Only in this way can the particular value of virtue ethics be
made evident, which I will examine in another article.

References

Maclntyre, A. (1984). After Virtue. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press
Harbermas, J. (1989). Communication and the Evolution of Society (in Chinese, Zhang Boshu

tr.). Chongqing: Chongqing Chubanshe

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  • Contents
  • p. [255]
    p. 256
    p. 257
    p. 258
    p. 259
    p. 260
    p. 261
    p. 262
    p. 263
    p. 264
    p. 265

  • Issue Table of Contents
  • Frontiers of Philosophy in China, Vol. 5, No. 2 (June 2010) pp. 155-311
    Front Matter
    Mencius’ Refutation of Yang Zhu and Mozi and the Theoretical Implication of Confucian Benevolence and Love [pp. 155-178]
    On Pleasure: A Reflection on Happiness from the Confucian and Daoist Perspectives [pp. 179-195]
    The Advantages, Shortcomings, and Existential Issues of Zhuangzi’s Use of Images [pp. 196-211]
    Political Thought in Early Confucianism [pp. 212-236]
    The Renaissance of Traditional Chinese Learning [pp. 237-254]
    þÿ�þ�ÿ���V���i���r���t���u���e��� ���E���t���h���i���c���s��� ���a���n���d��� ���M���o���d���e���r���n��� ���S���o���c���i���e���t���y���…���A��� ���R���e���s���p���o���n���s���e��� ���t���o��� ���t���h���e��� ���T���h���e���s���i���s��� ���o���f��� ���t���h���e��� ���M���o���d���e���r���n��� ���P���r���e���d���i���c���a���m���e���n���t��� ���o���f��� ���V���i���r���t���u���e��� ���E���t���h���i���c���s��� ���[���p���p���.��� ���2���5���5���-���2���6���5���]
    Kant’s Virtue Theory [pp. 266-279]
    Laws, Causality and the Intentional Explanation of Action [pp. 280-293]
    Toward Model-Theoretic Modal Logics [pp. 294-311]
    Back Matter

14 Social Alternatives Vol. 34 No. 1, 2015

Classical Stoicism and the Birth of a Global
Ethics: Cosmopolitan Duties in a

World of Local Loyalties
Lisa hiLL

Do I have responsibilities to strangers and, if so, why? Is a global ethics possible in the absence
of supra-national institutions? The responses of the classical Stoics to these questions directly
influenced modern conceptions of global citizenship and contemporary understandings of our
duties to others. This paper explores the Stoic rationale for a cosmopolitan ethic that makes
significant moral demands on its practitioners. It also uniquely addresses the objection that a
global ethics is impractical in the absence of supra-national institutions and law.

themed artiCLe

What do we owe to strangers and why? Is a global ethics possible in the face of national boundaries?
What should we do when bad governments order us to
mistreat strangers or the weak? These were just some
of the questions to which the ancient Stoics applied
themselves. Their answers, which emphasised the
equal worth and inherent dignity of every human being,
were to reverberate throughout the Western political
tradition and directly influence modern conceptions of
global citizenship. Yet, how the Stoics arrived at their
cosmopolitanism is often imperfectly understood, hence
the first part of the discussion. Objections that their ideas
were too utopian to be practically useful also reflect
misunderstandings about Stoicism, hence the second
part of the paper.

I begin by exploring the Stoic rationale for the cosmopolis,
the world state, after which I address the objection that
a global ethics is impractical in the absence of supra-
national institutions and law. Well aware that local
loyalties and the jealousy of sovereign states towards
their own jurisdictional authority would represent
significant obstacles to the practice of a global ethic, the
Stoics insisted that the cosmopolis could still be brought
into existence by those who unilaterally obeyed the laws
of ‘reason’ even within the confines of national borders
and in the face of hostile local institutions.

Background

Inspired by the teaching of Socrates and Diogenes of
Sinope (Diogenes the Cynic), Stoicism was founded
at Athens by Zeno of Citium in around 300 BCE and
was influential throughout the Greco-Roman world
until around 200 CE.1 Its teachings were transmitted
to later generations largely through the surviving Latin
writings of Cicero, Seneca, Epictetus, C. Musonius

Rufus and Marcus Aurelius, as well as the Greek
author Diogenes Laertius via his Lives and Opinions of
Eminent Philosophers. The Stoics not only influenced
later generations; they were extremely influential in their
own time. From the outset, Stoicism was a distinctive
voice in intellectual life, from the Early Stoa in the fourth
and third centuries BCE, the Middle Stoa in the second
and first centuries BCE, to Late Stoicism in the first
and second centuries CE (and beyond) when Stoicism,
having spread to Rome and captivated many important
public figures, was at the height of its influence.

Stoic Cosmopolitanism and Global Ethics

The idea that we should condition ourselves to regard
everyone as being of equal value and concern is at
the heart of Stoic cosmopolitanism. The Stoics were
not alone in promoting this ideal: the Cynics were also
cosmopolitan. But it was the Stoics – the dominant
and most influential of the Hellenistic schools – who
systematised and popularised the concept of the
oikoumene, or world state, the human world as a
single, integrated city of natural siblings. Impartiality,
universalism and egalitarianism were at the heart of
this idea.

The Stoic challenge to particularism was extremely
subversive for a time when racism, classism, sexism
and the systematic mistreatment of non-citizens was
a matter of course. It was hardly thought controversial,
for example, that Aristotle (1943: IV. 775a. 5-15) should
declare that ‘in human beings the male is much better
in its nature than the female’ and that ‘we should look
upon the female state as being … a deformity’. Similarly,
ethnic prejudice was the norm rather than the exception
in antiquity. The complacent xenophobia and racism
of Demosthenes’s 341 BCE diatribe against Philip of

Social Alternatives Vol. 34 No 1, 2015 15

Macedon would not have raised a single eyebrow in his
Greek audience:

[H]e is not only no Greek, nor related to the
Greeks, but not even a barbarian from any place
that can be named with honour, but a pestilent
knave from Macedonia, whence it was never yet
possible to buy a decent slave (Demosthenes,
1926: 31).

Reversing these kinds of attitudes (and the behaviour
attendant on them) was the self-appointed task of the
Stoic philosophers.

The Cosmopolitan Ideal, Social Distance and Care
for Strangers

The first step towards promoting a universalistic ethic
entailed changing our whole way of thinking about
social distance. The Stoics were well aware that most
people tend to imagine their primary, secondary and
tertiary duties to others as ranked geographically:
distance regulates the intensity of obligation and people
will normally give priority to themselves, intimates,
conspecifics, and compatriots (in roughly that order),
before strangers, foreigners and members of out-
groups. This view is what is commonly referred to as ‘the
common-sense priority thesis’ or the ‘common-sense’
view of global concerns. Hierocles, the second century
Stoic philosopher, introduces the image of concentric
circles to illustrate how we generally conceive of our
obligations to others:

Each one of us is … entirely encompassed by
many circles, some smaller, others larger, the
latter enclosing the former on the basis of their
different and unequal dispositions relative to each
other. The first and closest circle is the one which
a person has drawn as though around a centre,
his own mind. This circle encloses the body and
anything taken for the sake of the body … Next,
the second one further removed from the centre
but enclosing the first circle; this contains parents,
siblings, wife, and children. The third one has in it
uncles and aunts, grandparents, nephews, nieces,
and cousins. The next circle includes the other
relatives, and this is followed by the circle of local
residents, then the circle of fellow-tribesmen, next
that of fellow citizens, and then in the same way
the circle of people from neighboring towns, and
the circle of fellow-countrymen. The outermost
and largest circle, which encompasses all the
rest, is that of the whole human race (fragment
reproduced in Long and Sedley 1987: 1349).

But the Stoics wanted to radically change this way of
thinking and feeling about others. As Hierocles suggests,
we must first become aware of our own prejudices in

order to repudiate them and thereafter substitute them
with superior cosmopolitan mental habits:

Once all these [circles] have been surveyed, it
is the task of a well tempered man, in his proper
treatment of each group, to draw the circles
together somehow toward the centre, and to keep
zealously transferring those from the enclosing
circles into the enclosed ones (Hierocles fragment
in Long and Sedley 1987: 1/349).

Humanity must embark on a morally demanding
developmental journey that begins (quite naturally) with a
variable quality of attachment towards others, proceeding
to a state of invariable quality of attachment towards
the world at large. The Stoics did not aim to invert the
priority thesis (which would mean that the intensity of our
feelings would increase the further out we went); rather,
they strove for a sameness of feeling for all, regardless
of social distance. Impartiality was their ideal. To be self-
regarding and partial to intimates was not only contrary
to natural law; it was a sign of moral immaturity.

Why Do I Owe Strangers (and the Less Fortunate)
Anything?

What led the Stoics to this ambitious mission? The
answer originates in Stoic theology, which was devised
as a philosophy of defence in a troubled world and
a rival to the religion of the Olympian pantheon. The
Stoic emotional ideal was a combination of spiritual
calm (ataraxia) and resignation (apatheia) that were
to be cultivated in order to achieve happiness/human
flourishing (eudaimonia). The point of religion was to
bring order and tranquillity; something the official Greek
religion of the Olympian gods was quite obviously
incapable of achieving. This religion, with its capricious,
sex-crazed, ill-tempered and unpredictable gods who
meddled in human affairs from the heights of Mount
Olympus hardly inspired calm, let alone compassion.
Neither did its unending demands for propitiation and
sacrifice promote resignation. So the Stoics devised
a less disconcerting religion that spoke of an orderly
universe with no divine intervention whatsoever and
brought the gods not only closer to us, but into us;
no longer distant, terrifying others but, quite literally,
kindly insiders. ‘Reason’, the ‘mind-fire spirit’ existed as
intelligent matter, residing benignly in all life and impelling
it unconsciously and teleologically towards order and
rightness. Humans are not separate from God (or Gods)
but a part of ‘Him’: ‘the universe [is] one living being,
having one substance and one soul’ (Marcus Aurelius
1916: IV.40).

Because the Gods have given each human a particle of
God-like intellect (‘reason’), we have a natural kinship
both with God and with each other (Marcus Aurelius
1916: 12.26). As related parts of the same entity, and

16 Social Alternatives Vol. 34 No. 1, 2015

equally sharing in ‘reason’, we are natural equals on
earth with equal sagacious potential. According to
Cicero, everyone has the spark of reason and ‘there is no
difference in kind between man and man [it] is certainly
common to us all’ (Cicero 1988: I. 30). Seneca says that
the light of educated reason ‘shines for all’ regardless
of social location, which is, after all, merely a matter of
luck and social conditioning. As he quite sensibly points
out, ‘Socrates was no aristocrat. Cleanthes worked at
a well and served as a hired man watering a garden.
Philosophy did not find Plato already a nobleman; it made
him one’ (Seneca 2002: Ep. 44.3). Exclusive pedigrees
‘do not make the nobleman’; only ‘the soul … renders us
noble’ (Seneca 2002: Ep. 44.5). Everyone has the same
capacity for wisdom and virtue and everyone is equally
desirous of these things (Seneca 2002: Ep. 44.6).

True freedom comes from knowledge, from learning to
distinguish ‘between good and bad things’ (Seneca 2002:
Ep. 44.6). Being knowledgeable and therefore ‘good’ is
not just for ‘professional philosophers’. People do not
need to ‘wrap [themselves] up in a worn cloak … nor
grow long hair nor deviate from the ordinary practices
of the average man’ in order to enter the cosmopolis;
rather, admission is open to anyone who insists on using
their own right judgement, in simply ‘thinking out what
is man’s duty and meditating upon it’ (Musonius 1905:
Discourse 16). This is the route to both the moral and the
happy life: when we learn to live according to the natural
law of Zeus, and therefore our natural tendencies, we
are enabled to achieve inner tranquillity (Chrysippus in
Diogenes 1958: ‘Zeno’, VII. 88).2

Duties, Harm and Aid

The Stoics insisted that one of the things that allow
us to live virtuously in accordance with nature is the
correct performance of duties (Sorabji 1993: 134-157).
The virtuous agent is beneficent and just: justice is the
cardinal social virtue (‘the crowning glory of the virtues’)
and beneficence is closely ‘akin’ to it (Chrysippus cited
in Cicero 1990: I. 20). We should always strive to refrain
from harming others since the universal law forbids
it (Cicero 1990: 1. 149.153; Marcus Aurelius 1916:
9.1; Seneca 2002: Ep. 95.51-3). Indeed, ‘according to
[Nature’s] ruling, it is more wretched to commit than to
suffer injury’ (Seneca 2002: Ep. 95.52-3).

But the negative virtue of refraining from harm is not
enough: virtue must also be positive. It is natural for
human beings to aid others (Cicero 1961: III. 62). We
are duty-bound to meet the needs of our divine siblings
(Marcus Aurelius 1916: 11.4) and it is ‘Nature’s will
that we enter into a general interchange of acts of
kindness, by giving and receiving’ (Cicero 1990: I. 20).
The morally mature person knows that she must ‘live for
[her] neighbour’ as she lives for herself (Seneca 2002:
Ep. 48.3).

We have duties of justice, fairness and mutual aid to one
another and the needs of others imply a duty to meet
them: ‘Through [Nature’s] orders, let our hands be ready
for all that needs to be helped’ (Seneca 2002: Ep. 95.52-
3). Moral failure is epitomised by an ‘incapacity to extend
help’ (Epictetus 1989: Fragment 7, 4: 447). It is not only
neutral strangers who are entitled to our assistance, but
also our supposed enemies. Contrary to the ‘common
notion’ that ‘the despicable man is recognised by his
inability to harm his enemies … actually he is much more
easily recognised by his inability to help them’ (Musonius
1905: Fragment XLI). Clearly, the moral demands of the
cosmopolitan ethic are extremely high, requiring that we
treat impartially even the feared and hated. The need for
a high level of moral maturity is one of the reasons why
the Stoics placed so much emphasis on the desirability
of emotional self-control.

Universal Versus Positive, Local Law

The extirpation of passionate attachment and the
moderation of intense loyalties to conspecifics are basic
preconditions for a global ethics. Impartiality is the key
to Stoic egalitarianism: the wise person knows that the
laws governing her behaviour are the same for everyone
regardless of ethnicity, class, blood ties (Clark 1987:
65, 70), and gender (Hill 2001). Judgements about the
welfare of others are always unbiased: ‘persons’ are of
equal value and ends in themselves regardless of their
social location or proximity to us. Reason is common
and so too is law; hence ‘the whole race of mankind’
are ‘fellow-members of the world state’ (Marcus Aurelius
1916: 4.4; see also Epictetus 1989: I.9. 1-3; Cicero 1988:
I.23-31).

Cicero (1961: III.63) says that ‘the mere fact’ of our
‘common humanity’ not only inclines us, but also
‘requires’ that we feel ‘akin’ to one another. The
siblinghood of all rational creatures overrides any local
or emotional attachments because the ‘wise man’
knows that ‘every place is his country’ (Seneca 1970:
II, IX.7; see also Epictetus 1989: IV, 155-165). In order
to ‘guar[d]’ our own welfare we will subject ourselves
to God’s laws, ‘not the laws of Masurius and Cassius’.
When family members rule over others we ‘demolis[h] the
whole structure of civil society’ while putting compatriots
before ‘foreigners’ destroys ‘the universal brotherhood
of mankind’. If we refuse to recognise that foreigners
have the same ‘rights’3 as compatriots we utterly destroy
all ‘kindness, generosity, goodness and justice’ (Cicero
1990: 3. 27-8).

The rational agent will put the laws of Zeus before those
of ‘men’ whenever a conflict between them arises, even
when this imperils the wellbeing of the agent concerned,
as it so often did in the case of Stoic disciples. For
example, when in 60 CE Nero sent Rubellius into exile
to Asia Minor, Musonius went with him in a gesture of
solidarity, thereby casting suspicion on himself in the

Social Alternatives Vol. 34 No 1, 2015 17

eyes of the lethally dangerous Nero. Upon the death
of Rubellius, Musonius returned to Rome, where his
Stoic proselytising drew the further ire of Nero who
subsequently banished him to the remote island of
Gyaros. After Nero’s reign ended, Musonius returned
to Rome but was banished yet again by Vespasian on
account of his political activism.

Musonius thus practised what he preached. He taught
that it is virtuous to exercise nonviolent disobedience
in cases where an authority orders us to violate the
universal law. It is right to disobey an unlawful command
from any superior, be it father, magistrate, or master
because our allegiance – first and always – is to Zeus
and to ‘his’ commandment to do right. In fact, an act
is only disobedient when one has refused ‘to carry out
good and honourable and useful orders’ (Musonius 1905:
Discourse 16). Where the laws of God conflict with the
laws of ‘men’, natural law trumps positive law (Cicero
1988: II.11). As Epictetus (1989: 3.4-7) says: ‘if the good
is something different from the noble and the just, then
father and brother and country and all relationships
simply disappear’. All the Stoics agree on this point
and they directly influenced Kant’s views on the same
subject, namely, that the universal law ‘condemns any
violation that, should it be general, would undermine
human fellowship’ (Nussbaum 2000: 12).

Realist Objections

It is often suggested that cosmopolitanism in general –
and the idea of the world state in particular – is hard to
take seriously because it is practically impossible due
to the persistence of sovereign states and the localised
loyalties that accompany them. On this view, Stoic
cosmopolitanism necessarily involves the commitment
to a world state capable of enacting and enforcing
Stoic principles. However, the cosmopolis is not, strictly
speaking, a legal or constitutional entity (although, of
course, it can be): rather, it is, first and foremost, an
imaginary city, a state of mind, open to anyone capable
of recognising the inherent sanctity of others and who
evinces the Stoic virtues of sympatheia (social solidarity),
philanthropia or humanitas (benevolence), and clementia
(compassion). We become cosmopolites when we work
hard to look beyond surface appearances (Seneca 2002:
Ep. 44.6) and live in obedience to the laws of reason
and of nature, rather than the variable laws of a single
locality. These are the qualities that secure a person’s
membership of the cosmopolis and which also conjure
it into reality.

We are all capable of being cosmopolites. As Musonius
says, the mind is ‘free from all compulsion’ and is ‘in
its own power’; no one can ‘prevent you from using it
nor from thinking … nor from liking the good’ nor from
‘choosing’ the latter, for ‘in the very act of doing this’, you
become a cosmopolite (1905: Discourse 16). Sovereign
states and the citizens within them do not need formal,

supranational structures and legal frameworks to operate
as world citizens; they only need to begin acting as
though the world were a single city which, although
composed predominantly of strangers, is nevertheless
and inescapably one family of natural siblings. Everyone
can and should be a cosmopolite, even if this means
challenging the institutional authority of those who rule.

The fact that the cosmopolis is an imagined community
(albeit constituted by real moral agents committing real
acts of ‘reason’) does not mean that its laws are not more
secure once they have been enshrined in positive law. In
fact, the Stoics preferred to see the laws of Zeus codified
(Bauman 2000: 70, 80). The Roman Stoics, in particular,
sought to bring the cosmopolis into practical existence
through the exercise of power. This is why many threw
themselves into the Sturm und Drang of politics. The true
sage spurns the life of solitary contemplation to devote
him/herself to civic life. There is a fundamental human
desire to ‘safeguard and protect’ our fellow human beings
and because it is natural to ‘desire to benefit as many
people as [one] can’ (Cicero 1961: III.65); it follows that
‘the Wise Man’ will ‘engage in politics and government’
(Cicero 1961: III.68; Diogenes 1958: ‘Zeno’ VII. 21).
Many Stoics sought to influence politics either directly or
indirectly. The Stoic philosopher-king, Marcus Aurelius,
was the most powerful person on earth during his reign
(Noyen 1955), while the Gracchi brothers pushed for
many Stoic-inspired reforms such as admission of all
Italians to citizenship. Those without formal power sought
to influence those who did hold it: Panaetius advised
Scipio Aemilianus, Seneca advised Nero while Blossius
of Cumae advised Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus (see
Hill 2005).

But in the absence of formal institutionalisation the laws
of the cosmos are still held to be real; we remain bound
by them because, as Cicero points out, ‘true law’ is
not ‘any enactment of peoples’ [statute] but something
eternal which rules the whole universe by its wisdom
in command and prohibition’. After all, ‘there was no
written law against rape at Rome in the reign of Lucius
Tarquinius’ yet ‘we cannot say on that account that
Sextus Tarquinius did not break that eternal Law by
violating Lucretia’. The eternal law ‘urging men to right
conduct and diverting them from wrongdoing … did not
first become Law when it was written down, but when it
first came into existence’, which occurred ‘simultaneously
with the divine mind’ (1988: II. 11).

Even if they never managed to constitutionally entrench
the cosmopolis, the Stoics believe it is realised the
moment an agent internalises its moral precepts and
begins to act upon them unilaterally. On this view,
technically, the world state can be brought into existence
by the actions of a single right-thinking person. Therefore
it is unclear that a global ethics is meaningless without
a world state and without political anchoring practices,
and positive laws to guarantee them. At its inception, the

18 Social Alternatives Vol. 34 No. 1, 2015

Stoic cosmopolis was conceived as a moral mindset: no
Stoic ever advocated a legally constituted world-state.
One enters the cosmopolis in and with one’s mind, a
mind that is disciplined to absolute impartiality, capable of
seeing past social conventions and intent on universally
extending benevolence and compassion.

Concluding Remarks

For the Stoics, we are siblings with a common ancestry
who share equally in a capacity for reason. Accordingly,
we are all entitled to full recognition. The global state,
the cosmopolis, is brought into being by this recognition:
it is a function of the capacity to be impartial and to
appreciate that there is an inescapable duty to aid
anyone in need, regardless of their social location or
social proximity. The Stoics knew that this was a hard
task requiring not only a high degree of emotional
control and moral maturity but also a willingness to resist
social convention and local practice. Their injunctions
to reasonable behaviour were made in full knowledge
of the fact that the desired anchoring practices would
most likely be absent; nevertheless, they expected their
disciples to adhere to them, not only in the absence of
such practices but even in the face of hostile anchoring
practices, whether in the form of laws or norms.

References
Aristotle 1943 Generation of Animals, trans. A.L. Peck,

Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.
Bauman, R. 2000 Human Rights in Ancient Rome,

Routledge, London and New York.
Brown, E. 2006 ‘The Stoic invention of cosmopolitan

politics’, Proceedings of the Conference Cosmopolitan
Politics: On the history and future of a controversial
ideal, Frankfurt am Main, December, http://www.artsci.
wustl.edu/~eabrown/pdfs/Invention (accessed
03/08/2013).

Cicero 1961 De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum, trans. H.
Rackham, William Heinemann Ltd, London.

Cicero, Marcus Tullius 1988 De Republica; De Legibus,
trans. C.W. Keyes, William Heinemann Ltd, London.

Cicero, Marcus Tullius 1990 De Officiis, trans. W. Miller,
Harvard University Press, London.

Clark, S. 1987 ‘The City of the Wise’, Apeiron, XX,1:
63-80.

Demosthenes 1926 ‘Philippic III’, in Demosthenes, trans.
C. A. Vince and J. H. Vince, Harvard University Press,
Cambridge, MA.

Diogenes, L. 1958 Lives of Eminent Philosophers, trans.
R.D. Hicks, William Heinemann Ltd, London.

Epictetus 1989 The Discourses as Reported by Arrian,
the Manual and Fragments, in two vols, trans. W.A.
Oldfather, Harvard University Press, London.

Hill, L. 2001 ‘The first wave of feminism: were the Stoics
feminists?’ History of Political Thought, 22, 1: 12-40.

Hill, L. 2005 ‘Classical Stoicism and a difference of
opinion?’ in T. Battin (ed.) A Passion for Politics:
Essays in Honour of Graham Maddox, Pearson
Education Australia, Frenchs Forest, NSW.

Long, A. and Sedley, D. 1987 The Hellenistic Philosophers,
in two vols, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Marcus Aurelius 1916 The Meditations, trans. C.R.
Haines, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.

Musonius R. 1905 Musonius Rufus, Reliquiae, O. Hense
(ed.), Teubner, Chicago.

Noyen, P. 1955 ‘Marcus Aurelius: the greatest practitioner
of Stoicism’, Antiquité Classique, 24: 372-383.

Nussbaum, M. 2000 Ethics and Political Philosophy,
Transaction Publications, New Brunswick.

Seneca, Lucius Annaues 1970 ‘Ad Helvium’, in Seneca,
Moral Essays, trans. J.W. Basore, William Heinemann
Ltd, London.

Seneca, Lucius Annaeus 2002 Epistles, in three vols,
intro. R. M. Gummere, Harvard University Press,
Cambridge, MA.

Sorabji, R. 1993 Animal Minds and Human Morals,
Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY.

Author
Lisa Hill PhD is Professor of Politics at the University of
Adelaide. Before that she was an Australian Research
Council Fellow and a Fellow in Political Science at the
Research School of Social Sciences, Australian National
University. Her interests are in political theory, history of
political thought and electoral ethics. She is co-author
of: An Intellectual History of Political Corruption, and
Compulsory Voting: For and Against. She has published
her work in Political Studies, Federal Law Review,
The British Journal of Political Science and Journal of
Theoretical Politics.

End Notes
1. Although the school wasn’t officially closed until 529 CE.
2. Happiness is synonymous with wisdom and virtue in Stoicism.
3. Habendam, or what is held or is due to one.

Every Breath

It’s interesting to consider that

every breath I take

has already been breathed

been part of another breath.

Perhaps that dog over there,

smelly and hairy, licking its own arse.

lynne White,
GWynedd, WaleS

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