global trends, values, and ethics

Essays by Carnegie Council's Ethics Fellows for the Future 2015

Download Possible Future Worlds: Essays by Carnegie Council's Ethics Fellows for the Future 2015 (New York: Carnegie Council, 2015) or read it online at www.carnegiecouncil.org.

Questions about the good life, character, values, and ethics are not new. They are as old as philosophy itself. In Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle discusses balancing a plurality of values as a mean between extremes and the pursuit of a good life through the cultivation of character through good habit from an early age: “It makes no small difference, then, whether we form habits of one kind or of another from our very youth; it makes a very great difference, or rather all the difference.” This quote underpins all of academia and the spirit of education today. Through the institutions such as schools, we can cultivate individuals of high character. However, schools are not the only institution that can drive ethical discussions forward.

In 1914, Andrew Carnegie established Carnegie Council in the hope to avert states from what was considered then to be the worst possible future: World War I. In the short-term, he and the institution ultimately failed then and in the last years of his life. Yet when one looks at the world today compared to the long term of the last 100 years, we can see remarkable progress in the state of humanity based on the sole metric of eliminating war. Interstate war has been on a downward trend since World War II. We are in that possible world that he dreamed of. However, that Carnegie ideal of a world without war continues to rest beyond our grasp not only because intrastate war is on the rise but also because modern conflicts of complexity, contradiction, and complication can still lead us to a much worse state of affairs. The Council must continue to play some part as an educational institution that promotes the work of many individuals who dare to deduce and dream what is possible. And we should do so in a manner that anticipates a future that is diverse, decentered and digital.

This is why the Council launched its Global Ethics Network, composed of ethically minded citizens, students, professors, policy practitioners, theorists, and philosophers. One of the core groups are the Ethics Fellows for the Future, a selection of undergraduate and graduate students from around the world studying in a range of fields from philosophy, social science, history, psychology, religious studies, international affairs, and public policy. They are the students of Carnegie Council's network of Global Ethics Fellows who are professors hailing from reputable universities. The Council challenged this next generation of scholars, policymakers, and practitioners to think deeply about the values that should guide international relations for the next twenty years. For six months, the Future Fellows, men and women of diverse backgrounds, in England, China, Japan, Singapore, Argentina, Brazil, Ghana, South Africa, Canada, and the US used the Global Ethics Network digital platform to take an online course based on Of All Possible Future Worlds, which was in part inspired by the Council’s search for a global ethic raised in its journal Ethics & International Affairs. The course asked each student to imagine their own future world and make policy recommendations to tackle specific global challenges. Each fellow proposed their own ethical visions of the future, tackling topics ranging from global governance, sovereignty, the post-2015 development agenda, women, peace, and security, surveillance, Sha’ria law, intellectual property, and the good life. The fellows presented their proposals during the Global Ethics Conference in New York City in October 2014. After the meeting, the fellows reviewed and commented on each other’s drafts before submitting their final chapters in this book. The following are brief summaries of the ideas of the ethical futures they imagined.

In “The Future of Track II Diplomacy: The Case of Northern Ireland,” University of Southern California international relations undergraduate Amanda Schmitt focuses on the increasing trend of ethno-political conflicts, and she suggests that Track II diplomacy should take on increasing relevance. Technology and the interconnectedness present future opportunities for humanizing all sides of future conflicts and for civil society to be more involved in peace processes.

Bjorn Friborg, a University of Copenhagen history graduate student, focuses on how innovation may be compromised through the development of old laws not suited for a digital future in “Why is Copyright a Problem?” He argues against the utilitarian premise of copyright laws, which presumed that creativity was based on economic incentive. Digitizing dignity might require us to question notions of ownership, liberty, property, creation and the very notion of copyright.

Daniel Spisak, a Duke University graduate student in religious studies, looks at the challenges of ideology and the future of the Muslim faith in “Ethics of Shari’a Reform.” Today, the faith and the world’s perception thereof is challenged by narrow interpretations of terrorist organizations such as ISIS and Boko Haram. He traces the history of such atomistic and holistic approaches of the religion, and suggests that the universals and particular edicts can be reconciled with an appeal to dignity and values such as liberty, justice, peace, and pluralism.

Erin Willahan is a recent graduate of the University of Oregon, having earned bachelors degrees in humanities and international studies at the University of Oregon. In “Moving the Needle: The Implications of Operation Odyssey Dawn in the Evolution of the Responsibility to Protect,” she looks to a norm that might help us avoid the worst of all possible worlds. She conjures memories of the failures, mass killings, and genocides in Kosovo, Rwanda, Somalia, and Bosnia, traces the normative, institutional, and legal development of the responsibility to protect, and chronicles the actualization of the norm in the case of intervention in Libya.

Gabriel Guarino Sant’Anna Lima de Almeida, an undergraduate student studying law at Fluminense Federal University in Rio de Janeiro, calls for us to respect others different from us and focuses on the threat to the future of diversity in “Culture Matters: Constructing Real Dialogues Through Local Context.” He highlights the danger of cultural hegemony through unchecked globalization and the need for voice from the non-Western world in South America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. Globalization must incorporate local context, and global policies must take an inclusive approach that constructs dialogue from a stance of hearing.

Honami Iizuka, a recent graduate from International Christian University in Tokyo, Japan with a bachelor’s in international relations, focuses on the individual, the successes and failures of the Millennium Development Goals, and the way that we should frame the future Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in “Human Security Framework for the Post 2015 Agenda.” She balances the choice of two ethical frameworks for the future of development: traditional consequentialists approaches that focus on numbers and indicators versus non-consequentialist considerations that places processes that place human dignity at the center. She favors the latter approach and challenges traditional notions of security, which place too much of an emphasis on war and violence. New notions of human security for the SDGs should also include considerations of economics, food, health, environment, personal, community, and politics. In the end, a human security framework focused on individuals as the unit of analysis, will lead to an engagement in processes that have buy-in from the local populations that ultimately must realize their own capacities through their own empowerment.

In “Of War and Peace: An Ethical Inquiry,” Josh Tupler, a Dartmouth College undergraduate student in Hanover, New Hampshire, reconsiders the concepts of war and peace. He suggests that both notions are intertwined, and that peace should not simply be defined as the absence of war. Rather, peace is de facto defined through the culture, values, and practices to the victors of war. Historical stretches of global peace such as Pax Romana, Pax Britannica, and Pax Americana have not been without cultural subjugation, government suppression, violence, terrorism, or even genocide. War is a means of promoting one’s vision of the world over others. And in order for us to live in a future that considers peace beyond the absence of war, we must understand war as a technological, cultural, and evolutionary concept and then reconcile both Western and non-Western visions of peace.

Justin Hosman, a law school graduate from the S.J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah, ponders how a digital future might endanger our dignity in “Dangerous Exchange: Liberty for Surveillance.” In a diverse world, values of liberty and security must be balanced. He narrows in on the concept of negative liberty, i.e., freedom from the coercive interference of others on how we choose to live our lives, and then illustrates how surveillance will increasingly become a means for governments and even other individuals to achieve security. The problem with surveillance is that it impinges on our liberty to choose. The fear or concern of being watched makes us change our behavior—consciously or unconsciously. Unless proper thought and regulation of surveillance is codified in the coming years, our capacities to live to our full potential might be limited insidiously through censorship.

In “Our Future World: International Law from the International to the Global,” Lynette Sieger, a Ph.D. candidate in Global Affairs at Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey, focuses on the decentralization of power away from states to individuals. International law must adapt to future challenges of globalization and transborder human, social, and environmental issues. She sketches out the underpinnings of current international law, which has embedded states as the primary actors and liberalism as the main driver. However, normative and practical challenges of democratic deficiencies, systematic social and economic injustice, and the limitations of borders will increasingly affect the legitimacy, effectiveness, and relevance of international law. While states will remain actors, the law should shift more to the considerations of and by individuals who deserve to act within a sphere of participatory global governance.

Marcos Kotlik, a lawyer and master’s candidate in international relations from the University of Buenos Aires, foresees a future that is diverse, decentered, and digital in “Building on Individual Empowerment: The Opportunities of Democratic Deliberation Within Global Policy Networks.” He sees the potential for networked institutions to be instrumental in amplifying individual empowerment throughout the globe. Part of the reason he sees this potential is that we can point to a case where such networks have succeeded in making the global agenda more democratic and defined by individuals. The most promising institutions for most individuals to participate within may be non-governmental organizations. When they were invited to participate in at the UN, they had decisive roles in drafting the final text of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons against Enforced Disappearance.

Mi-lan Chen, a graduate student in international studies at the National Chengchi University in Taipei, Taiwan, draws attention to climate change as a necessary challenge that must be faced in a decentered order in “Toward All Possible Future Worlds: Implications from Climate Change and Global Environment Governance.” She lays out the current international legal meetings, conventions, and agreements, noting governance gaps in dealing with climate change, global warming, and resource scarcity. These shortcomings come if full light when one considers the threats to liberty, justice, peace, and pluralism in terms of limited access to and potential conflicts over water, food, and energy. Alternative forms of decentralized transnational and institutional governance structures, with a particular focus on institutional interlinkages may lead to a future climate and environment more supportive of dignity for all.

In “Well-Being, Science, and Ethics: Science and the Search for a Global Ethic,” Sebastian Porsdam Mann, a PhD candidate in neuroethics at the University of Cambridge, focuses on the future of the individual and the level of the neuron. He surveys advancements in science in measuring well-being or what classical philosophers have called the good life. Although there is little consensus on what constitutes well-being, we can make some assumptions and we can use modern technology to help us identify the measurements and neural correlates to well-being and, in a broader context, the correlates to our capacities. Utilitarianism, which has historically focused on calculating costs and benefits or pains and pleasures, may serve an a potential global ethic when informed by such correlates as measured by positive psychology questionnaires, neuroimaging through functional magnetic resonance imaging, and the study of evolutionary psychology. Ultimately, he recommends that policymakers focus on individual well-being or similar goals aiming toward a gross national or global happiness rather than plans focused on structural or institutional economic or political impacts.

Tony Gregg, a lieutenant in the US Coast Guard and graduate student in ethics, peace and global affairs at American University in Washington DC, writes about an aspect of the future that will affect all peoples: climate change and the environment in “Values and Technology: Future Environmental Game-Changers” He suggests that our values, technology, and the digital have and will continue to shape our environmental landscape. He argues that humans cannot conquer the challenges of climate change with our scientific or technological advancement alone. Men and women cannot be conceived in isolation from nature. Technology can help us connect with one another to form a new ethic that he calls “naturalism in extension,” which values the relationship between community and nature. This appreciation of our connectivity not only to others but also to the our impact on land, air, and sea will help us envision ways to responsibly steward the earth through holistic policy.

In “How Can Asia Contribute to Future Global Ethics?,” Dr. Seiko Mimaki, an assistant professor at Kansai Gaidai University in Kyoto, Japan, writes about the next Asian century, reconciliation, and the potential of a new Pan-Asian identity. She highlights the regional Asian paradox of deep economic dependencies and deep political tension and suspicions. Classic international relations theories of realism and liberalism are insufficient when one considers values, hence constructivist approaches may prove fruitful. Looking toward Western values and regionalization efforts, such as the evolution of the European Union, presents opportunities for learning. However, Western values may also pose questions: are Eastern and Western values compatible, different, or even existent? One path toward dignity in this diverse and decentered context may be through an emphasis on dialogue among Asians themselves and with the rest of the world.

Lee Zhu’ai Siân, a recent graduate from the National University of Singapore with a bachelor’s in social sciences, questions the limits of decentralization from states to individuals in “A Qualifying Legal Cosmopolitanism.” In first sketching out theoretical tensions between cosmopolitanism and political realism, she attempts to reconcile our obligations to the universal and our attachments to the particular. Qualified legal cosmopolitanism is a global ethic that balances the reality of our in-group affiliations and attachments but also holds that we may still have moral obligations beyond the borders of our states. This framework (1) takes the principle of sovereignty as persistent, particularly because the state wields enforcement powers that no other alternative center of power can rival, (2) should be taken more as a perspective of the world we should take rather than one of holistic policy, and (3) the law has limits and cannot be expected to carry the full weight of our moral obligations. While institutions, particularly those of the state, will continue to play a significant role, a qualified legal cosmopolitan ethic does not find a future that sees the work of individuals as incompatible with moral progress.

Oumie Sissokho, a graduate student in international studies at the National Chengchi University in Taipei, Taiwan, looks at the future of gender in “World Security Through Women’s Equality: The Ethic of Gender Equality for Peace.” In the next twenty years, we have a choice in dealing with gender as one individual difference with either discrimination or a respect of diversity. She notes that women in most countries across the world do not enjoy the same level of dignity enjoyed by men. Women do not hold political office or attain employment proportionate to their share of the global population. Similar unequal rates can be found in data on poverty and health. Women’s lives are cut short by high maternal mortality rates due to limited access to health services and their livelihoods are compromised by infringements on their sexual and reproductive rights by practices such as female genital mutilation. Their lives and livelihoods are insecure, unrecognized, and vulnerable, preventing half of the world from reaching their full potential. Despite these challenges, we live in a hopeful time where the political movement for gender equality is at its height in history across international institutions, states, and communities. She suggests that our policies should focus on the interplay between institutions and individuals through investing in women’s and girl’s education, liberalizing economies that will incorporate women, and opening up political systems that are accessible and accountable to the dignity of the other half of the world.


Andrew Carnegie argued that moral dialogue is critical for achieving a more peaceful planet. A sincere form of this dialogue is not something that can be made in many other places. Not in governments. Not in international institutions. Not in newspapers or journals. But it is an effort that should be appreciated in all places and respected by all peoples because it is ultimately an effort that aims to push the frontiers of human dignity forward. The purpose of the course and following chapters is the continuation of this dialogue that started 100 years ago—not perfection of argument, not clairvoyance in prediction, and not a grade. The Council is an institution that facilitates the thinking and daring of individuals to debate and imagine a world beyond the present. And for the next 100 years, such efforts by Carnegie Council as an institution and the Ethics Fellows for the Future and other individuals like them—whether they choose to give themselves to the gods, their government, or the good that only they know—will continue to drive forward the debates that will lead us to a future of more dignity in a diverse, decentered, and digital age.

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Dignity in a Diverse, Decentered, and Digital Age

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Copyright © 2014 by Thong Nguyen

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Of All Possible Future Worlds: Global Trends, Values, and Ethics by Thong Nguyen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.