First Session : Economics and Spirituality: Ethics, Trust and Loyalty in the Marketplace

Speaker: Warwick Fox

General Ethics, the Theory of Responsive Cohesion, and a New Economic Paradigm

In a forthcoming book entitled A Theory of General Ethics: Human Relationships, Nature, and the Built Environment I have attempted to define a field of inquiry that I refer to as "General Ethics" and to offer the first example of a truly General Ethics. What I mean by this is that I have attempted to develop a single, integrated approach to ethics that encompasses the realms of inter-human ethics, the ethics of the natural environment, and the ethics of the built environment. As I will explain in my talk, this approach - which could be described as the first example of an ethical "Theory of Everything" - represents a much broader approach to ethics than those than have been developed previously. In this talk I want to outline an aspect of this approach (although hardly the whole approach, given the time available!) that is of particular relevance to the integration of ethical and economic perspectives.

Specifically, I want to present the view that the best examples of their kind in every domain of interest - from psychology to politics, from conversations to theories, from management to economics - exemplify the quality of responsive cohesion, that is, they hold together by virtue of the mutual responsiveness of the elements that constitute them. Indeed, I will suggest that the relational quality of responsive cohesion represents the most fundamental value there is. From this insight it is a short step to the elaboration of a "theory of contexts." This theory of contexts provides us with a compelling reason to evaluate our economic arrangements in terms the extent to which they are responsively cohesive with our wider biophysical context - in short, the Earth - rather than the extent to which our wider biophysical context can be made responsive to our economic arrangements. (Note of reassurance!: If this language sounds rather technical and formal, I will be endeavouring to explain these ideas in straightforward language in a spoken - rather than read - presentation at the conference.)

Further reading:

Warwick Fox, A Theory of General Ethics: Human Relationships, Nature, and the Built Environment (Cambridge, Mass: The MIT Press, forthcoming October 2006).