Ethics in Decision Making

Papers from an Interfaith Dialogue, “Global Ethics in Decision Making”

Held in Vienna, Austria from 26-27 March 2014

Organizing Chairman:  Franz Vranitzky

Interfaith Dialogue Co-chairs: Malcolm Fraser and Yasuo Fukuda

Edited by Jeremy Rosen

The InterAction Council, from its foundation, was designed to deal with longer-term issues, which are often passed over by present governments. In its early discussions, the Council identified perceived differences among religions as a cause of unrest, even of hatred and loss of life. The Council therefore determined at the outset to ask itself what could it do to try and overcome the differences, to try and establish understanding.

Leading political figures in the Council believed that there was a common ethic running through the world’s major religions and philosophies. The group wanted to test that, to see whether that common ethic could be defined, set down on paper and be accepted by the world’s major faiths. The Council convened its first interfaith dialogue in 1987. Over the next ten years, there were many deliberations within the group as well as with leaders from all faiths, and the group became convinced that a common ethic could be found, could be written down and could be accepted.

The Council has long believed that the common ethics running through the world’s major religions provides the best long-term basis for peace, and for a more just and humane world. The group, of course, knew that the global ethic was no substitute for the Torah, the Gospel, the Quran, the Bhagavadgita, the Discourses of the Buddha or the Teachings of Confucius. A global ethic provides minimum basic consensus relating to binding values, irrevocable standards and moral attitudes that can be affirmed by all religions despite their differences. It can also be supported by non-believers, as one can and should have ethics without being religiously based.

The common ethic is based on the two principles vital for every individual, social and political entity; (1) Every human being must be treated humanely and (2) Do unto others as you want others to do unto you. The Council identified four irrevocable commitments on which all religions agree. They are (1) a commitment to non-violence and respect for life, (2) a commitment to solidarity and a just economic order, (3) a commitment to tolerance and a life of truthfulness (4) a commitment to equal rights and partnership between men and women. 

These led in 1997 to the Draft Universal Declaration of Human Responsibilities, which defined that common ethic. (While many accepted that common ethic worldwide, there were others who opposed it, not because of its substance but because they felt it might compete with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.) The Council believes that the acceptance of the concept of human responsibilities would enhance the common acceptance of human rights.

The global situation has become more complex as we move through this 21st century. In the beginning of the 20th century, the world’s population consisted of 1.6 billion human beings; at the end of the 20th century we have reached 6 billion – and today we stand at more than 7 billion. This quadrupling of humankind within only one century has never occurred in human history. During the 20th century the majority of human beings was living in villages and in huts; by the middle of the 21st century, the majority will have to live in cities and in high-rise buildings. 

But all human beings are always living by means of natural resources. Humankind may thereby be endangering nature. The unprecedented magnitudes and frequencies of natural disasters in the 21st century may be its manifestation. One most important reason is the globalization of sciences, of technology and particularly of economic activities. The 19th century did not have aircraft; it did not have rockets and nuclear weapons; it did not have computers and online networks. All these new phenomena and problems emerging from them have to be faced by the current generations.

A common commitment to the urgent problems of the world is more essential than ever. The Council has enhanced its belief that acceptance of a common ethic would do much to advance peace and harmony among the world’s people. But a sense of ethics seems to be absent from the policy-making of major governments. How to re-establish the importance of ethical behavior, in all fields of endeavor, is perhaps the most important question in front of us.