Publicado em 31 de março de 2006
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New challenges… new responsibilities

(This section highlights a few paragraphs of the introduction to the Charter of Human Responsibilities)

At present, international life is underpinned by two pillars: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which focuses mainly on individuals but also on communities, their dignity and the defence of their rights, and the Charter of the United Nations, which focuses on States, peace between them and development. These two pillars have been a framework for undeniable progress in the organisation of international relations. However, the last fifty years have seen radical global changes. Humankind now confronts new challenges. It is clear that these two initial pillars are no longer enough to come to grips with current and future change.

Never before have human beings had such far-reaching impacts on one another’s social, political, economic and cultural lives. Never before have they possessed so much knowledge, and so much power to change their environment.

Yet, widening economic gaps within and between nations, the concentration of economic and political power in ever-fewer hands, threats to cultural diversity, and over-exploitation of natural resources, are creating unrest and conflicts world-wide and giving rise to deep concerns about the future of our planet : we are at a crossroads in human history.

Unfortunately, the social institutions which should enable these new challenges to be met are working less and less well. The pervasive power of international markets is undermining the traditional role of states. Scientific institutions, pursuing their narrow specialist interests, are increasingly pulling back from analysing and confronting the global issues which challenge humanity. International economic institutions have failed to turn the rising tide of inequality. Business has often pursued its profit goals at the expense of social and environmental concerns. Religious institutions have not adequately fulfilled their role to provide responses to the new challenges faced by our societies.

In this context, every one of us must take up his or her responsibilities at both the individual and the collective level. Of course, responsibilities are proportionate to the possibilities open to each of us. The more freedom, access to information, knowledge, wealth and power someone has, the more capacity that person has for exercising responsibilities, and the greater that person’s duty to account for his or her actions. But every human being has the capacity to assume responsibilities; even those who feel powerless can still link up with others to forge a collective strength.

Hans JONAS [1] has clearly explained that in pre-modern times ethics was predominantly concerned with the human being and geared towards a common present: “Love your neighbour as yourself”, here and now. Nature was supposed to take care of itself and the future was supposed to be always better thanks to human progress and the discoveries of the sciences. XXIst century ethics has to extend its concerns. It has to design modes of conduct which not only nurture humankind, but nature as well. It has to set norms which are geared not only to the present but to the future as well. And our newly gained freedoms must be guided by the principle of precaution. Awareness is needed not only of the possible negative effects of our actions in the short run, but even more in the longer run.

[1] Hans JONAS : Das Prinzip Verantwortung (The Principle of Responsibility), Frankfurt-s-Main, Suhrkamp, 1979


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