Today the Handbook explores the theme of Stoic philanthropy. To complement this, Professor Mark Pavliha of the University of Ljubljana, Slovenia, has written a thought-provoking piece on the Stoic ideal of the ‘community of humankind’, comparing the Stoic ideal with the purpose of the Global Ethic foundation, which posits the ‘the vision of a global transformation of ethical awareness: whether at a worldwide, national or local level, men and women are dependent on shared basic ethical values, criteria and attitudes for peaceful coexistence.’
Stoicism and Global Ethic for a Better Life
Professor Marko Pavliha, Slovenia
Let me start with the three hypotheses which are indeed statements of facts, at least for those who can see and listen with their hearts.
Firstly, that humankind plays dangerously with its existence in many irresponsible ways, including the abyss between rich and poor, destruction of the environment and climate, lack of renewable energy, physical and psychological diseases, demographic explosion, wars, terrorism and other violence, discrimination, racism, corpocracy, patocracy, partitocracy and so forth.
Secondly, that in order to survive we must reach a higher level of consciousness; the process depends primarily on each individual, the healthy family and continuous holistic, ethical upbringing and education. There is a frightening and at the same time promising quote attributed to André Malraux: “The 21st Century will be spiritual, or it will not be.”
Thirdly, that it is also the politics in all spheres, from the cities and municipalities to regions, countries and international community, which is responsible for “the politics of well-being”. Antagonism between left and right political groups ought to be overcome by civic society with independent, non-party parliamentary members, ministers and other functionaries which will establish a connecting “triple”, moving the political pendulum from egoistic parties towards the people. Politicians should serve the people and not vice versa, or according to Carne Ross, we need “the leaderless revolution” with ordinary people taking power and changing politics. A political renaissance and enlightenment shall lead to a modern, third millennium legislation and policies as the basis for humanized educational programs in kindergartens, primary and secondary schools and universities. Upbringing is much more than mere lecturing on countless pieces of information, it is about academic excellence, moral integrity and kindness.
So how can we improve our minds and hearts?
I agree enthusiastically with Jules Evans that philosophy can serve as a powerful therapy ”for life and other dangerous situations”. According to the Socratic tradition, humans can know and change themselves, we can create new habits of thinking, feeling and acting. If we follow philosophy as a way of life, we can enjoy more flourishing lives, however, there is no single philosophical panacea to cure all illnesses of homo sapiens. So whom to follow, Socrates, Epictetus, Musonius Rufus, Seneca, Epicurus, Heraclitus, Pythagoras, Pyrrho, Diogenes, Plato, Plutarch or Aristotle? Each of them contributed something essential to the eternal, expanding cosmic wisdom which is available to everyone, “love actually is all around”, thus every person should explore it and find her own best recipe.
p style=”text-align: justify;”>I have found the compound and symbiosis of all human spiritual efforts in the project of Global Ethic (Weltethos) which was founded by Hans Küng, and has spread around the world significantly in the last two decades. The 1993 Chicago Declaration of the Parliament of the World’s Religions Toward a Global Ethic draws from the fact that the world is in agony, experiencing a fundamental crisis in global economy, ecology and politics. The lack of a grand vision, the tangle of unresolved problems, political paralysis, mediocre political leadership with little insight or foresight, and in general too little sense for the commonwealth are seen everywhere. Our planet cannot be changed for the better unless the consciousness of individuals is transformed first. Global ethic is not a global ideology or a single unified religion over all existing religions, and certainly not the domination of one religion. It is rather a fundamental consensus on binding values, irrevocable standards and personal attitudes for everyone. Without such a crucial agreement on ethics, virtues and values, sooner or later every community will be threatened by chaos or dictatorship, and individuals will despair. The signatories of the Declaration pledge to increase their awareness by disciplining the minds by meditation, prayer or by positive thinking, committing themselves to Global Ethic, to understanding one another, and to socially beneficial, peace-fostering, and nature-friendly ways of life, inviting all people, whether religious or not, to do the same. The key demand is that every human being must be treated humanely. We must commit ourselves to a culture of non-violence and respect for life, solidarity and just economic order, as well as to the Golden Rule, tolerance and the life of truthfulness and equal rights and partnership between men and women.
The moral compass of global ethic is in essence similar to Dalai Lama’s secular ethics ”beyond religion”, the ethics “for a whole world”, emphasizing our common humanity, the quest for happiness and compassion as the foundation of well-being. We need to educate the heart through training the mind, we ought to cultivate key inner values, such as patience, forbearance, contentment, self-discipline, generosity, charitable giving and philanthropy, joy in giving. Last but not least, Jonathan Haidt has also proved the moral roots of both western and eastern societies, entailing care, fairness, liberty, loyalty, authority and sanctity.
In light of Stoic Week, it is important to cherish one of the crucial characteristics of Stoicism as perfectly summarized by our friend Jules, namely the Stoicism was not just meant to be a feel-good therapy, it was an ethics, with a specific definition of the good life or its aim: living in accordance with virtue which is sufficient for happiness. The Stoics believed “if you found the good life not in externals like wealth or power but in doing the right thing, then you’d always be happy, because doing the right thing is always in your power and never subject to the whims of fortune.” Furthermore, they pioneered the theory of cosmopolitanism, arguing that we have ethical obligations not only to our friends and family, but to wider community and even to the community of humanity.
To conclude with eternal Plato and Cicero, we are not born just for ourselves, but also for others. So let us practice global, secular ethic(s) every day, let the de facto ethical path be the goal in order to become happier and better human beings on the next, higher level of evolution. In the beginning was the Word – now there is the urgent need for Action.
P.S. I have just returned from the First International Meeting of the Global Ethic Foundation which took place in Tübingen, Germany, on 14th and 15th November, 2013. It was a very fulfilling experience so I encourage you to start initiatives and movements on global ethic in your respective countries. To find out more, please refer to http://www.weltethos.org.
More about Marko Pavliha:
Marko Pavliha is Professor of Law at the University of Ljubljana, Slovenia. He is one of the founders of Global Ethic Slovenia (http://www.svetovnietos.si).