Table Speech

A New Ethics, “Eco-Ethica”

January 28, 2004

Mr. Tomonobu Imamichi
Chairman of the International Philosophy Center
Professor Emeritus of Tokyo University

Mr. Tomonobu Imamichi, Chairman of the International Philosophy Center and Professor Emeritus of Tokyo University spoke at the meeting of January 28 on a new ethics, “Eco-Ethica”; Looking back at the 103 years since the beginning of the 20th Century. We cannot be but amazed at the remarkable progress made in scientific technology. Secondly, human rights have been firmly established. With this in mind, we are also aware that more persons were killed in war in the 20th Century than the total of all the centuries preceding. Therefore, the past 103 years was one of mass killing, one of self-disruption and self-contradiction.
People are attracted by Picasso’s paintings. In his pictures the face has two eyes, two noses and two mouths. In 1949, an author named Gheorghiu wrote the novel “The 25th Hour” in which he states that as a Jewish victim of a Nazi concentration camp, “I understood Picasso – he was painting ourselves”.
I am sure that many of you share this feeling of disruption from your experiences during the wartime years.
How does this schizophrenic condition appear? We need the wisdom to unify one’s existence, to unify one’s thinking and actions, and such wisdom can be called a philosophy.
Philosophia is a study created by Socrates, and he defined it as a study of caring for the soul. What does this mean? Let us consider caring for the body, which we can do because we have some medical knowledge. But there are few who have cared for the soul. We do reflect on one’s actions, or on our relations with others but that is not caring for the soul.
Plato and Confucius both agree that it is not sufficient just to live, and it is important that we live well. There is a term “cardinal truth” which means the basic truths in which righteousness and courage are included. The fundamental definition for righteousness or justice is to share material property fairly, and for courage it is not running away from battle, but to speak out on one’s beliefs. One cannot care for one’s soul without knowing of these basic definitions. This does not mean that we should be reminded of our traditional ethical codes.
The World is changing, and we are no longer fighting with nature to create cities in her midst. We are living in a world of mechanical technology. We must have an ethics of using this mechanical technology, but I do not believe one has taken shape.
As a human, we must relate to the humans, but in the world of machines, such relations do not exist. As we rely on machines more and more, we have ignored the importance of our relations to others.
There is a frightening story about when a child was asked which was more important, a friend or a pet, the child replied it was the pet. In such cases, we must reconsider our moral education.
For instance when you are at home, you receive a phone call which turns out to be a saleman plying his trade. On hanging up, the phone rings again. This is a violation of the time you own for yourself.
Thus we need a new code of ethics for the 21st Century. It must be one which will not be negated by the state. We are taught not to kill, but in war, the more you kill, the more famous you become.
We cannot deny the existence of the state yet, religion and multi-national corporations operate beyond borders. Therefore we need a code of ethics for all humankind. The term “Eco” signifies the wide space of human life, as ultimately we will require a code of ethics for the world of stars, where the law of gravity will no longer apply.
There is a virtue named responsibility, which word was coined in the 1780’s. It was born from the citizenry who responded to each other to maintain a discipline among themselves.
The word was adopted by philosophy in the 20th Century. If we are truly conscious, we may be able to give birth to a new virtue, and I look forward to this with hope and a sense of responsibility.