Time for an Ethics Forum in Ireland?
For those of us who lived in Ireland in the 1970s and 1980s, we will remember that debates about ethics tended to focus on a somewhat narrow range of topics, mainly to do with human sexuality and reproduction, with pregnancy issues and with the institution of marriage. It was the age of the referendums in which these issues were raised, and the debates around them tended to be a battleground between those who were committed to a traditional view of what were described as ‘social’ issues (which really were not much connected with anything social) and those who wanted to modernise society. On the whole the traditionalists tended to win the debates, but in ways that increasingly suggested that the victories would be temporary.
In the current decade, ethical issues have become much more varied in the context of public debate. It’s a very long time since I have heard any public comment about either contraception or divorce, and I doubt that a serious debate on either could still be initiated, or at least one in which there was any doubt about where the majority stood. The ‘right to life’ issues are still there, including abortion and (reflecting scientific discovery) embryonic stem cell research; but alongside these we have become much more interested also in broader ethical issues around war and peace, world hunger, political and business integrity and the eradication of poverty. Ethics has grown up.
But while our focus on ethics has matured, our capacity to process ethical debates has not. However interesting they may be, the ‘letters to the editor’ pages of the main newspapers are not a substitute for a proper forum on ethics. Given the scale of the issues we have to deal with, and the importance of having a shared outlook on the key moral issues that affect society, it would seem sensible to look at the idea of a more structured national forum on ethics. We have to come to grips with what happened in our past: not just abuse, but also war and violence, exploitation, discrimination, and so forth. But we also need to have a greater capacity to move confidently into the future, at ease with what we are doing and how we are doing it. It is time for us to be innovative as we pursue a path to a successful but also ethical society.Explore posts in the same categories: ethics, politics, society