Who Are We? Universal Ethics and Economic Triage
UNESCO took the happy step a few years ago of organizing philosophic forums around questions which are elementary on the surface, but which always give rise to passionate debates between philosophers and historians, and, more generally, between exact scientists and humanists. One such question is "who are we?"
The second of these philosophic forums was hosted by UNESCO in Paris from the 27th to the 30th of March in 1996. The question at issue was the status of moral universalism at the end of the 20th century. We inherited this great idea from the era of enlightenment, but it is now threatened by economic globalization, disintegration of the public domain, the loss of collective referents and fiercely competitive individualism. The combination puts at risk the universal human values on which our societies are founded.
Richard Rorty, a distinguished professor of philosophy at the University of Virginia, was charged with launching the debate. He did so in a particularly provocative manner by showing how the globalized economy amounts to a triage, selecting the privileged who enjoy universal rights from the poor who, by the logic of the economic mechanism, are relegated to the margins of a system which proclaims universal values while becoming more and more unequal. His text, which should obviously be read in its North American context, is published in this issue.