Global Ethics


Course Description

E15 Global Ethics, 3 CE hours, $21

Description: Global ethics has to do with ethical issues affecting the world. When thinking about global ethics, we are concerned with actions taken by citizens and political leaders of nations, and with international laws.

Objectives: At the end of this course, you will describe 1. international law, 2. human rights, 3. foreign assistance and 4. national forgiveness.

Who benefits from this course?: People who want to understand global ethics and help others to do so.  Nurses (RNs, LVNs), counselors (MFCCs), and social workers (LCSWs) seeking California state-approved continuing education (CEP 1130 and PCE 39).  Employees looking for training. Educators, managers, and others wanting to learn.  College students who are taking this as one of the modules of their ethics course.

Course Exam

Study this website for 3 hours for an approved  3-hours Continuing Education Certificate (0.3 CEUs).  Click here for the self-correcting test & online payment, and 2) receive your certificate immediately online. All are online, nothing by post-mail.


“What is usually the right thing to do?” Consider the following four national opinions.

“We cannot afford that much foreign aid.”…………………….”The more we give, the more we get”

“Nations should forgive nations”……………………………………. “We can never forgive the Nazis”

To deal with global ethics, you need to find the answers to these questions:

  1. What is Global Ethics?
    1.1  Definition
    1.2  International Laws
  2. How Can Human Rights Be Protected?
    2.1  Definition of Human Rights
    2.2  Sources of Human Rights Violations
    2.3  Ways of Protecting Humans Rights
  3. Should Wealthy Nations Provide Foreign Assistance to Poorer Nations?
  4. When Should Nations Forgive?



1.  What Is Global Ethics?

1.1  Definition

Global ethics has to do with ethical issues affecting the world. When thinking about global ethics, we are concerned with actions taken by citizens and political leaders of nations, and with international laws.

1.2  International Laws

International laws set forth kinds of conduct by nations that are ethical and unethical.

There are numerous international laws.  Some particularly important ones include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948)-, and the United Nations Charter (1945)-  What is specified by these, and/or other, international laws include:

A) Human rights are to be protected;
B) Aggression by a nation is prohibited;
C) The targeting of weapons against civilians or hospitals during war is prohibited;
D) Genocide (i.e., the intentional elimination of a race) is prohibited.

ERIC_NO: ED398149, Religion and World Order: Proceedings of the Symposium on Religion and Global Governance (Washington, DC, February 4, 1994). Mische, Patricia, Ed., 1994

ABSTRACT: This proceedings focuses on religion and global governance, and addresses what kind of new world order will be present in the 21st century. Members of seven different religious traditions spoke from their perspectives on the contribution of religion to the development of ethical and humane systems of global governance, with special relevance to human rights, peace and conflict resolution, economic well-being, ecological sustainability and cultural integrity. The panelists interacted among themselves and with the audience on how the world’s religions can contribute their traditions, memories, faith, and spirituality in a positive way to shape future global structures of mind and global political entities. In particular, they discussed: (1) proposed elements of a shared global ethic; (2) the requirements for a truly global civic society; (3) policies, systems, and instruments to support a global society; and (4) multi-religious strategies for advancing effective world systems.

ERIC_NO: ED396995, Information Packet for Religion and World Order Program Project Global 2000.  1994

ABSTRACT: This packet describes an initiative of the Religion Council of Project Global 2000, forming a global partnership of secular and religious non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and United Nations (UN) agencies that link their expertise and networks for more just, sustainable, and peaceful world systems. The program brings together scholars, educators, and community groups from the world’s major religious and spiritual traditions to participate in public discourse and action on issues of global ethics and in the shaping of policies and systems commensurate to the global-scale challenges of today’s interdependent world. The objectives include: (1) create a process for religious and spiritual communities to reflect upon the contributions their traditions, scriptures, and networks can make to a shared global ethicand to the creation of systems of global governance; (2) produce reflection-action documents that will spell out the above contributions and formulate proposals for world order policy and systems change; and (3) link human and institutional resources with those of other religions, secular NGOs, and UN agencies in collaborative research, education, publications, leadership, and networking for a more just, peaceful, participatory, and environmentally sustainable world order. Sections of the document are as follows: (1) “Executive Summary”; (2) “History,” which offers a chronology of the work of Global Education Associates (GEA); (3) “Rationale and Context” (Patricia and Gerald Mische); (4) “The Religion and World Order Program–Overview”; (5) “Guideline Questions.


2.  How Can Human Rights Be Protected?

2.1  Definition of Human Rights

Human rights are rights to which every person is entitled because she or he is human.  And in order for us to live in an ethical world, human rights need to be protected.  Human rights may also be grouped as follows:

A) The human right to be free from government violation of the integrity of the person.  This means the right not to be tortured; the right not to suffer cruel, or inhumane punishment; the right not to suffer arbitrary
arrest or imprisonment; and the right to have a fair public trial.

B) The human right to the fulfillment of basic needs.  These needs may include food, shelter, healthcare, and education.

C)  The human right to enjoy civil and political liberties.  These include freedom of thought, of religion, or assembly; freedom of speech; freedom of the press; and freedom to move within and outside one’s own
country; and freedom to partake in government.

2.2  Sources of Human Rights Abuses

Human rights violations frequently occur all over the world. To protect human rights, we have to combat the sources of human rights violations.  And there are at least two main sources:

A) Selfishness.  More specifically, people care about themselves and do not care if other people’s human rights are abused.  For example, many large multi-national corporations, such as Nike, exploit workers’ human
rights in order to make a larger profit.

B) Not enough knowledge.  More specifically, people don’t know that human rights abuses are occurring, and/or how they can help combat such abuses.

2.3  Ways of Protecting Human Rights

A) Obey international laws.
B) Support organizations that protect human rights.  An example of one of the largest such organizations is Amnesty International-
C) Act against governments of nations that violate human rights.  And in order to act against governments that violate human rights, governments can do as follows:
i) Do not sell military weaponry to nations whose governments violate human rights.
ii) Conduct economic sanctions against the country.  This means not selling goods to the nation.
iii) Conduct a humanitarian intervention.  This means use armed forces to try to get members of another nation to protect human rights.

Each of these options just described above can be controversial, though.

Assigned Thought Question 1:

Consider the following case:

Kosovo- In 1999, the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization), which was led by the United     States, conducted a military intervention against Serbia. This intervention took the form of a 78-day bombing campaign.  The NATO claimed that this intervention was necessary in order to protect ethnic Albanians living in Kosovo, which was a province in Serbia.  And it was done because the Serbian leader, Slobodan Milosevic, was leading
his military into committing awful human rights violations against ethnic Albanians living in Kosovo.  For example,  Milosevic oversaw his troops conduct mass murders against ethnic Albanians, and commit rapes of ethnic Albanian women.  Also, he ordered his military to drive out all ethnic Albanians from Kosovo.  He did this because he believed that only Serbs should be allowed to live in Kosovo.

Was it ethical for the NATO to take this action?


3.  Should Wealthy Nations Provide Foreign Assistance To Poorer Nations?

Assigned Thought Question 2:

Suppose that you were on board a ship that was sailing in the Atlantic ocean.  Then suppose that the ship sunk.  And suppose that land was nowhere in sight.  Also, suppose that you, along with six other passengers, were able to get on a lifeboat.  This lifeboat had enough food and water to supply seven passengers for one week.  Now, suppose that there were five other passengers who were floating nearby on life preservers, and wanted to
get on your lifeboat.

Question: Would you let them on your lifeboat?

Now, this thought question should help you see that when people have limited resources, which was the case with those on the lifeboat, it can be more difficult for people to decide whether to help others.  This is because it means that those people who help may have less.

Thinking about this lifeboat example, consider the following question: Do wealthy nations have an obligation to provide economic assistance to poorer nations?

  • Position 1: Nations are only obligated to care for their own citizens, and that is what they should do.
  • Position 2: It is a good act of charity for wealthy nations to assist economically poorer countries, but there is no obligation to do so.
  • Position 3: Wealthy nations are obligated to take care of the poorer nations.

If we are to live in an ethical world then I then I think that Position 3 needs to be taken. There is also an important difference between this question and the one posed by the lifeboat example.  In our world, the wealthy nations could survive with less, while in the lifeboat example, if more passengers were allowed on board, then it is not certain that this would help everyone.


4.  When Should Nations Forgive?

Another important issue in global ethics concerns when political leaders and nations who did evil actions should be forgiven by other nations.  The following thought question deals with whether German Nazis should be forgiven in some way for what they did during World War II.

Assigned Thought Question 3:

In 1985, President Ronald Reagan decided to lay a wreath at a German military cemetery at Bitburg.  But at this particular cemetery, 49 graves of Nazis were among the 2,000 graves.  Reagan went there as a gesture for
German-American reconciliation after having fought against each other in World War II and Reagan went there to commemorate Jews who died in concentration camps.  Reagan’s decision created much controversy, though,
because it was seen as a symbolic act of forgiveness of the Nazis; and the German Nazi’s killed 6 million Jews in World War II.

Question: Should Reagan have altered his plans?


Mark Amstutz, International Ethics (Lanham: T Rowman and Littlefield, 1999).

Ethics Library

Explore your concerns in ethics at three of the following sites:

Ethics Resources


Study this website for 3 hours for an approved  3-hours Continuing Education Certificate (0.3 CEUs).  Click here for the self-correcting test & online payment, and 2) receive your certificate immediately online. All are online, nothing by post-mail.


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