The lead up to June 30th, is critically important for organisations, like The Ethics Centre, that depend on tax-deductible donations in order to make ends meet. Every organisation has a compelling claim to make for why their cause is deserving of support.

Some have ‘natural constituencies’ defined by the specific nature of the issue to be addressed. For example, medical research institutes will focus on those touched by the various diseases they work to treat and to cure. Other charities have a clear focus on solving one clearly defined problem, like homelessness, and can point to the specific impact that every dollar of charitable giving can have.

And then there are organisations like The Ethics Centre – where the work ranges across the whole span of human affairs with an impact that may take decades, if ever, to register. Consider this … How do you capture the significance of the countless bad things that did not happen as a direct result of good ethics leading to good decision making?

Yet, ours is a story that needs to be told – again and again. It’s not just a matter of ‘rattling the tin’ in the hope of securing a few more donations. Please believe me when I say we need them – as never before. However, there is also real and growing sense in which the need for ‘ethics’ is growing greater with each passing day.

Poverty, inequality and disadvantage are not ‘natural’ aspects of the human condition. Nor is it inevitable that the earth should be ravaged by our species. Rather, the root cause of social and environmental degradation lies in the character and quality of human choice – the most powerful force on this planet. Knowing this to be so, philosophers have spent millennia working to understand the underlying structure of human choice and how it might be harnessed for good rather than ill. Ethics is the branch of practical philosophy that addresses this question.

Australia stands on the cusp of a brilliant future. It has everything any society could need: vast natural resources, abundant clean energy and an unrivalled repository of wisdom held in trust by the world’s oldest continuous culture supplemented by a richly diverse people drawn from every corner of the planet.

As such, Australia could become the most prosperous and just society the world has ever known. However, whether or not this future can be grasped depends not on our natural resources, our financial capital or our technical nous. The ultimate determinant lies in the public’s willingness to trust those who will lead the process of translating the vision into reality.

Thus, we see the effects of ethical failure not only in its most obvious symptoms. Its corrosive effects can also be seen in the loss of public trust in nearly all of our major public and private institutions. This loss of trust has come at precisely the time when it is most needed – when we should be able to rely on those institutions to help guide society as it navigates a landscape of increasing complexity.

Australia lacks a peak organisation with a mandate to address the major ethical questions of our age. Significant legal questions can be referred to the Australian Law Reform Commission. The Productivity Commission performs a similar function in relation to questions of economic significance. No such body exists to consider ethical questions – such as are encountered on a daily basis. For example: should we deploy lethal autonomous weapons systems? What are the implications of embracing modern manufacturing techniques that will make many existing jobs redundant? Should we be moving to tax consumption and/or the means of production rather than labour so as to preserve the capacity to offer a social ‘safety net’? Is access to a ‘home’ (as opposed to ‘shelter’) a basic human right? And so on …

The Ethics Centre has spent 35 years building the foundations upon which to build a world-first, national Ethics Institute. But, as of today, that still remains a dream. Meanwhile, we have the work of the moment. It includes offering our Ethi-call service, the world’s only free national helpline for people with ethical issues. Its greatest impact is when it helps to prevent the kind of ‘moral injury’ that does so much harm to mental health. And then there are events like the Festival of Dangerous Ideas (FODI) one of the few places left where reasonable people can gather together and engage in the civilising art of ‘principled disagreement’. These are just some of the things we do in order to help bring ethics to the centre of everyday life.

I come back to one central point. If you’d like to address causes over symptoms then please consider supporting ethics. It’s simple: better ethics make for a better world. Even a few dollars can help that to be as true in reality as it is in principle.


With your support, The Ethics Centre can continue to be the leading, independent advocate for bringing ethics to the centre of everyday life in Australia. Click here to make a tax deductible donation today. 

copy license