Global Ethics: Four Ethical Responsibilities of Every Individual & Every Institution


In yesterday’s blog I wrote about Hans Kung‘s catholic vision of an ethical world. In his book “What I Believe” he summarizes the major principles of the Declaration toward a Global Ethics under four guiding commitments: They are the following:

1. Commitment to a culture of non-violence and a respect for all life: respect life. According to an age-old directive: ‘Do not kill’ – do not torture, torment, violate.

2. Commitment to a culture of solidarity and a just economic order: act justly and fairly. According to an age-old directive: ‘Do not steal’ –do not exploit, bribe, corrupt.

3. Commitment to a culture of tolerance and a life of truthfulness: speak and act truthfully. According to an age-old directive: ‘Do not lie’ — do not deceive, forge, manipulate.

4. Commitment to a culture of equal rights and partnership between men and women: respect and love one another. According to an age-old directive: ‘do not abuse sexuality’ — do not cheat, humiliate, dishonor.

Kung points out that the “Declaration toward a Global Ethic” of the World Religions recurs with identical content but in UN language in the proposal by the InterAction Council of former heads of state and governments under the presidency of the former Chancellor Helmut Schmidt for a 1997 Universal Declaration of Human Responsibilities (see on the Internet).

Without broadly conceived ethical principles and commitments to guide our individual and collective lives, we find ourselves adrift on a sea of moral and social chaos, and a world ruled by violence, exploitation, deception and humiliation. While we  each fall short of the ideal of moral perfection in the course of our lives, and our institutions fail to live up to their potential as well, it is still imperative that we do all that we can to make virtue rather than vice, love rather than hate, justice rather than exploitation, truthfulness rather than falsehood, and mutual respect rather than dishonor the guiding orientation of our lives.

Hans Kung is challenging us to commitment ourselves not only to living ethical lives on the personal level but also to extending our ethical commitment to all the institutions of our society. Moreover, he is challenging us to embrace the idea of global citizenship, an idea perhaps whose time has finally come. How we can effectively put such a commitment into practical action will be one of the greatest challenges we face in the global age where the problems of one society are increasingly becoming the problems of all societies.

One way to approach global ethics is within the context of mutual values. In the “page” on “Mutual Values” at the top of this website I’ve outlined what it might mean to constructively connect various clusters of reciprocal and mutual values within the Religious, Spiritual, Humanistic and Secular Quadrants of our pluralist society and global commonwealth. Once we realize that we live in a religious, spiritual, humanistic and secular society with a diversity of value orientations, the challenge is to connect those values to each other in a way that is not lethal and alienating but constructive and cooperative, even while living across our real differences.


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