MM 2001: Editorial

December 21, 2000

The Times Higher Education Supplement last year celebrated the millennium with a magazine reviewing 1,000 years of intellectual history. This year, which for purists is the true millennium, we look forward and ask: by what values should we live?

The speed with which computing technology and scientific discovery are giving us unprecedented power to control the world in which we live and the people we are, allows little time to adjust moral parameters to new conditions.

On all sides, ethical issues top the agenda. We are asked to decide how we will make use of new techniques. We have to choose leaders who will regulate the use of these techniques.

As the third millennium begins, Christian religions remain powerful moral authorities, but other religions and other arbiters contest the role of providing moral certainty. There are both many authorities and none.

Millennial angst has not reached the apocalyptic hysteria of 1,000 years ago, but there is nonetheless a despondency. In a world of instant communications, where giant corporations range beyond the controlling power of states, can we ever agree what is right and wrong, what is a matter for public regulation and what should be left to private conscience? Is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights a sufficient basis on which to build a new moral dispensation or does its neglect of the non-human inhabitants of the planet leave out too much? Is there some semi-sacred concept of Nature that offers a moral touchstone and, if so, who speaks for the Earth? Can the flawed agencies of the United Nations ever provide a robust enough foundation for a system of global governance?

This second THES Millennium Magazine concentrates on the ethical issues raised by the information revolution. In her introduction, Fay Weldon calls for a new Grand Universal Morality by which we might all be guided in this teeming, warming world with its huge disparities of wealth and diverse cultures.

The THES has asked writers to flag up issues of burning concern in areas where big changes are expected to challenge settled assumptions. These issues fall at the joins between science and humanities, technology and social sciences. They offer the academy an opportunity to take centre stage, not to propound a new morality or act as any kind of authority itself, but to discuss issues crucial to us all. In this debate, unlike the intellectual debates of past millennia, women must have an equal voice - as they do in this magazine. Such debate is bound to dissolve the hegemony of the West that has so dominated the past 1,000 years. The hope is that we can make the world a better place. The fear is that we shall fail.

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