The Holy See
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Paris (France)
Friday, 8 October 2004


Mr President, the Holy See thanks you for your address.

If UNESCO intends to encourage the universality and effectiveness of ethical norms as stipulated in the document on economic ethics, drafted in light of the Fribourg discussions in November 2003, it must dare to engage in a more fundamental reflection on the universal requirement of respect for the human being. For the weak point in the multiplication of the morals-according-to-sector that we are currently developing is that they reduce moral problems to purely ethical and technical issues and ignore the universality of the norms proposed.

In itself a fundamental philosophical ethic should lead us to identifying what is effectively humanizing for all humanity. However, this implies that we consent to restore the role of philosophy in our ethical programmes.

Philosophy, a mediator

The first reason for introducing philosophical reflection into ethics is that philosophy, as a discourse on reality and meaning, acts as a mediator in the dialogue that can be initiated between science and ethics. Have we given sufficient thought to the fact that for mutual understanding to exist between two areas of heterogeneous reflection, such as science and ethics, there must be an intermediate context that can serve as an area for shared references?

Since it studies how the overall structure of reality can be understood, discovers how experience is pieced together and how the general area of meaning is established, philosophy is just such an intermediate area between science and ethics. It provides both with concepts and models for an understanding of the world.

Truth cannot be relativized

The second reason for introducing philosophical reflection is to be able to discuss the validity of the norm and its universality.

Philosophy allows us to get a clear idea of what is at risk in the question of the validity of the models and theories used by science and ethics. It helps both to recognize better how their respective projects tackle the problem of the truth. Even if it results from an acquisition of historical awareness, the hallmark of the truth about the human being cannot be relativized.

The crisis of ethical norms must be sought in the past, in philosophical and anthropological presuppositions that are rarely explained in debates on applied ethics.

If the realm of ethics is not to become positivistic, it cannot do without a basis for reflection, an access to meaning and truth, which is what philosophy is all about.

The key concept of "meaning'

The third reason for introducing philosophy into ethics is that the reflection of wisdom on the whole area of experience should help structure ethics in the cultural and religious heritage of the different human communities. The concept of meaning, invaluable for declaring the validity of ethical conduct, is of strategic importance in philosophy, in the analysis of human life.

Meaning determines this horizon on the basis of which language, action, thought, desire and affectivity become comprehensible. Consequently philosophy can contribute to specifying the respective contributions to the life of meaning that the sciences and the various forms of religious belief represent.

Hence, it is of critical importance to reformulate the philosophical question of the concrete formation of an "us" of humanity, so that it can guarantee respect for each person.

Thank you, Mr President.

*L'Osservatore Romano. Weekly Edition in English n.45 p.10.