Possible Future Worlds: Essays by Carnegie Council's Ethics Fellows for the Future

August 17, 2015

Ethics Fellows for the Future (EFFs) are student mentees of Carnegie Council Global Ethics Fellows. The purpose of the program is to build the next generation of thinking on ethical issues in international affairs and to facilitate cooperation and dialogue between students from different regions of the world. This booklet is the result of a six-month online course the EFFs took, based on Carnegie Council Fellow Thong Nguyen's e-book, Of All Possible Future Worlds: Global Trends, Values, and Ethics. Read their collected essays in magazine form or download the PDF at the bottom of the page.

The Future of Dignity in a Diverse, Decentered, and Digital Age

In 1914, Andrew Carnegie established the Church Peace Union—now Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs—in the hope of averting states from what was considered then to be the worst possible future: World War I. In the short-term, he and the institution failed. Yet when one looks at the world today compared to the long-term of the last 100 years, we can see remarkable progress in the state of humanity, based on the sole metric of eliminating war. Interstate war has been on a downward trend since World War II. We are in that possible world that he dreamed of. However, that Carnegie ideal of a world without war continues to remain beyond our grasp, not only because intrastate war is on the rise but also because modern conflicts of complexity, contradiction, and complication can still lead us to a much worse state of affairs. The Council must continue to play some part as an educational institution that promotes the work of many individuals who dare to deduce and dream what is possible. And we should do so in a manner that anticipates a future that is diverse, decentered, and digital.

This is why the Council launched its Global Ethics Network, composed of ethically minded citizens, students, professors, policy practitioners, theorists, and philosophers.1 One of the core groups are the Ethics Fellows for the Future (EFFs), a selection of undergraduate and graduate students from around the world studying in a range of fields from philosophy, social science, history, psychology, religious studies, international affairs, and public policy. They are the students of Carnegie Council's network of Global Ethics Fellows, who are professors hailing from reputable universities. The Council challenged this next generation of scholars, policymakers, and practitioners to think deeply about the values that should guide international relations for the next twenty years.2

For six months, the EFFs, men and women of diverse backgrounds based in England, China, Japan, Singapore, Argentina, Brazil, Ghana, South Africa, Canada, and the United States, used the Global Ethics Network digital platform to take an online course based on my e-book, which was in part inspired by the Council's search for a global ethic raised in its journal Ethics & International Affairs.3 The objectives of the course are as follows:

  1. Systematically think about the future of the world.
  2. Assess the global trends of the next 15 to 20 years as predicted by citizens, academics, and think tanks in civil society; states; and international organizations as told in the reports by the United States, the EU, Russia, and NATO.
  3. Categorize possible worlds that might emerge from these trends and compare different worlds conceived by major theorists and philosophers.
  4. Establish what values might be used as metrics to evaluate possible worlds.
  5. Mitigate and understand how selection biases (traditional, methodological, and temporal) shape predictions about and reactions to possible worlds.
  6. Frame worlds according to the formal logic of possible worlds semantics and evaluate what future values will be possible, impossible, and necessary.
  7. Compare how cosmopolitan, liberal democratic, and Rawlsian ethics might help us understand and achieve the best of all possible worlds

The course then asked each student to imagine their own future world and make policy recommendations to tackle specific global challenges.

Each EFF proposed their own ethical visions of the future, tackling topics ranging from global governance, sovereignty, the post-2015 development agenda, women, peace, and security, surveillance, Sha'ria law, intellectual property, and the good life. The students presented their proposals during the Council’s Global Ethics Conference in New York City in October 2014. After the meeting, the EFFs reviewed and commented on each other's drafts before submitting their final essays, which make up this booklet.

Andrew Carnegie argued that moral dialogue is critical for achieving a more peaceful planet. A sincere form of this dialogue is not something that can be made in many other places. Not in governments. Not in international institutions. Not in newspapers or journals. But it is an effort that should be appreciated in all places and respected by all peoples because it is ultimately an effort that aims to push the frontiers of human dignity forward. The purpose of the course and following essays is the continuation of this dialogue that started 100 years ago—not perfection of argument, not clairvoyance in prediction, and not a grade. The Council is an institution that facilitates the thinking and daring of individuals to debate and imagine a world beyond the present. And for the next 100 years, such efforts by Carnegie Council as an institution and the Ethics Fellows for the Future and other individuals like them—whether they choose to give themselves to the gods, their government, or the good that only they know—will continue to drive forward the debates that will lead us to a future of more dignity in a diverse, decentered, and digital age.

Thong Nguyen, Carnegie Council Fellow
August 2015


1 Visit www.globalethicsnetwork.org.
2 View Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, "Ethics Fellows for the Future: Where is the World Heading?," May 15, 2015, available at www.youtube.com/watch?v=0PZevn8Upm4.
3 Thong Nguyen, Of All Possible Future Worlds: Global Trends, Values, and Ethics (New York, 2013), available at www.possiblefutureworlds.com.

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