A pivotal concept, the backbone of the ethics of the twenty-first century

The Universal Declaration of Human Responsibilities project stipulates:

“The scope and irreversibility of the interdependences that have been generated among human beings, among societies, and between humankind and the biosphere constitute a radically new situation in the history of humankind, which has changed it irrevocably into a community of destiny.”

An ethics of the state of crisis, an ethics of responsibility can hence only be planetary. When humankind’s very future is at stake, the ethics of responsability gives rise to an obligation to human existence: “man must be” and lead a life worthy of being called human.

This “planetary” ethics is described in a very beautiful and colorful way by Albert Einstein:

“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but the striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security.”

Albert Einstein, N.Y. Post, November 28, 1972

Ethics works at three levels:

  • the personal level, or how the values in which we believe and our conceptions on the issue of responsibility influence our daily practices and choices;

  • collective ethics, which defines the moral or legal standards of a socio-professional sphere or a profession (expressed as the codes of ethics and “Charters of responsibility” of various groups and circles, such as scientists, journalists, inhabitants, soldiers, and so on);

  • and the level of national and international regulations, which translates into mandatory standards based on ethical principles (legal standards at national levels and the international level).

It is at the latter level that the Universal Declaration of Human Responsibilities project stands, which aspires to constitute a basis for international law and the third pillar of the international community alongside the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

How is the concept of responsibility instilled in contemporary thought and how does it translate into concrete action projects?

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