"Remember that right is still right, even if nobody is doing it.

Wrong is still
Wrong even if everybody is
doing it"

(Al Gore)







Greek philosophy

Socrates was one of the first Greek philosophers to encourage both scholars and the common citizen to turn their attention from the outside world to the condition of man. In this view, knowledge having a bearing on human life was placed highest, all other knowledge being secondary. Self-knowledge was considered necessary for success and inherently an essential good. A self-aware person will act completely within their capabilities to their pinnacle, while an ignorant person will flounder and encounter difficulty.

To Socrates, a person must become aware of every fact (and its context) relevant to his existence, if he wishes to attain self-knowledge. He posited that people will naturally do what is good, if they know what is right. Evil or bad actions, are the result of ignorance. If a criminal were truly aware of the mental and spiritual consequences of his actions, he would neither commit nor even consider committing them. Any person who knows what is truly right will automatically do it, according to Socrates. While he correlated knowledge with virtue, he similarly equated virtue with happiness. The truly wise man will know what is right, do what is good and therefore be happy.

Aristotle posited an ethical system that may be termed "self-realizationism". In Aristotle's view, when a person acts in accordance with his nature and realizes his full potential, he will do good and be content. At birth, a baby is not a person, but a potential person. In order to become a "real" person, the child's inherent potential must be realized. Unhappiness and frustration are caused by the unrealized potential of a person, leading to failed goals and a poor life. Aristotle said, "Nature does nothing in vain." Therefore, it is imperative for persons to act in accordance with their nature and develop their latent talents, in order to be content and complete. Happiness was held to be the ultimate goal. All other things, such as civic life or wealth, are merely means to the end. Self-realization, the awareness of one's nature and the development of one's talents, is the surest path to happiness.

Aristotle asserted that man had three natures: vegetable (physical), animal (emotional) and rational (mental). Physical nature can be assuaged through exercise and care, emotional nature through indulgence of instinct and urges, and mental through human reason and developed potential. Rational development was considered the most important, as essential to philosophical self-awareness and as uniquely human. Moderation was encouraged, with the extremes seen as degraded and immoral. For example, courage is the moderate virtue between the extremes of cowardice and recklessness. Man should not simply live, but live well with conduct governed by moderate virtue. This is regarded as difficult, as virtue denotes doing the right thing, to the right person, at the right time, to the proper extent, in the correct fashion, for the right reason. However, Aristotle's method of observing the present state of things and drawing social conclusions from them, led him to propose a rigid hierarchy of human beings, in which Greek aristocrats were at the top, and women and slaves were akin to 'domestic animals'.


Ethics is one of the individual virtues that can be grouped into one of four categories of values:

According to Aristotle, virtue is defined as a balance point between a deficiency and an excess of a trait. The point of greatest virtue lies not in the exact middle, but at a golden mean sometimes closer to one extreme than the other. It requires common-sense smarts to find this golden mean. In Aristotle's sense, it is excellence at being human, a skill which helps a person survive, thrive, form meaningful relationships and find happiness. Ethics is the major branch of philosophy, encompassing right conduct and good life. It is significantly broader than the common conception of analyzing right and wrong. A central aspect of ethics is "the good life", the life worth living or life that is simply satisfying, which is held by many philosophers to be more important than moral conduct.

Today, it seems imperative that the fissures encouraged by collective identities be off-set with ethical standards of respectful engagement with others. What the global community seems to lack is an ethics of comity which would encourage mutual respect and collaboration. We live in a world which is complex and multitudinous in spirit and action but it does not need to be chaotic or confused. The practices of comity permit complexity without it becoming destructive and provide a spontaneous order in which differences can be symbiotic.

The Wittenberg Centre for Global Ethics works to resolve societal conflicts by applying an approach to ethics developed by several generations of academics. Core interest is in communicating ethical principles which individuals, corporations and other organisations can apply in everyday situations. In the following, the most important premises of our approach to ethics will be explicated.

Ethics is about using one’s freedom responsibly. It is about the question as to how people who are faced with a decision can act in a way which is beneficial for societal cooperation. Be it in a work situation, as a citizen or in a family unit, every individual is constantly faced with decisions which have moral implications. These situations are often also defined by countless empirical restrictions and by competing ideas about values and interests, which certainly cannot always be harmonized. This leads to conflict. Ethics has the task of providing points of orientation and instruments for the analysis, resolution and/or management of these conflicts. The degree to which we are able to accept responsibility for our actions today determines which freedoms are available to us in the future.

Social Order

In modern society, conflicts are generally resolved by our societal order. Thereby, it is necessary to distinguish between two levels:

The formal rules of the game (laws, standards, contracts etc.) which determine which freedoms are granted and define the incentives which make desirable actions more attractive and punish undesirable actions,

The informal understanding of the game (ideals, values and convictions), which determine the discussion regarding which freedoms can be enjoyed within the social order and how new conflicts which emerge can best be resolved. Both levels of social order are integral for maintaining freedom. Prevailing ideas about values, in combination with the applicable formal rules define the expectations which people develop, where there is potential for cooperation or conflict and the latter will be experiences and dealt with. This applies equally to international cooperative ventures, national communities and specific organisations. Both levels of social order are being put under pressure. As a result of the increasing pace of development and the respective disruptions and growing uncertainty, prevailing rule systems are losing their power. (Digital) innovations, short-term crises and ad-hoc developments lead to conflicts, which often cannot be resolved using traditional means of analysis, standards and processes. In addition, the diverse traditions and ideals are coming into competition with one another. As a result, initiating and conducting a dialogue about potential means of conflict resolution is becoming increasingly difficult.


Under these conditions, a solid ethical foundation becomes all the more important. When social order, i.e. the prevailing rules and understanding of the game, no longer gives sufficient orientation, other impulses and points of orientation become necessary. Being a responsible leader means showing initiative and identifying conflicts (creating room for reflection), actively contributing to solutions (having an impact) and communicating their acceptance (offering good arguments) in order to maintain the freedoms which are available to us. Our approach to ethics, which combines philosophical insights with economic logic, provides well-founded and practically applicable instruments for each of these three functions.

In 2007 NEXUS Institute enlarged her activities by organising masterclasses and a seminar. The seminar was held in October 2007 in the Venice International University University, situated on San Servolo, an island in the Venetian Lagoon.

Treated was the real meaning of compassion in moral, artistic and social respect. On one side askings and questions were at the centre. On the other side five intellectuals, thinkers of universal stature, spoke about the theme in depth on the basis of examples:

  • Ilias (chapter 24),
  • portraitures (piéta's) of the body of Jesus on Maria's lap,
  • the "durch Mitleid wissend"-motive in Wagner's opera Parsifal and
  • compassion concerning cancer and aids.
George Klein and Ingrid Rowland George Steiner and Nexus director Rob Riemen
Courage, wisdom and moderation

The four classical Western virtues are:

  • prudence (wisdom, good sense)
  • justice (righteousness, honesty)
  • temperance (self-control, moderation)
  • courage (strength, tenacity, firmness)
Daniel Barenboim
Being a pianist and a conductor he excels in the most universal language: music. Barenboim displayed his talents as a pianist during numerous concert tours. Nowadays he is considered one of the greatest conductors of our time.


His books and lectures show his unshakable faith in the humanistic message that irridiates from art in general, and music in particular. In his Nexus Lecture he continued his lifelong search for the meaning of music by trying to answer the question: what is the true imperative of beauty?

Music is a powerful art, that people can unite. But how is it possible that monsters as Hitler and Stalin could be moved by music? Daniel Barenboim raised the question during the Nexus lectureThe Ethics of Aesthetics’,

The two dictators were not able to connect aesthetics with ethic. Music can bring together people, however, when conscience is quiet, also music is powerless. But for Barenboim there is no doubt that art without ethic cannot exist (fragments from Brabants daily paper by M. van Eck).

Friday 7 September
Michael Sandel
at University of
Tilburg, organized
Nexus Institute
Michael Sandel (1953) is a contemporary political philosopher. He is the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor of Government at Harvard University and was educated at Balliol as a Rhodes Scholar, studying under Charles Taylor, after graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Brandeis University in 1975
Sandel subscribes to the theory of communitarianism (although he is uncomfortable with the label), and in this vein he is perhaps best known for his critique of John Rawl's A Theory of Justice. Rawls' argument depends on the assumption of the veil of ignorance, which allows us to become "unencumbered selves."

Sandel's view is that we are by nature encumbered to an extent that makes it impossible even in the hypothetical to have such a veil. Some examples of such ties are the ties we make with our families, which we do not make by conscious choice but are born with them already attached. Because they are not consciously applied, these ties are impossible to separate from someone. Sandel believes that only a less-restrictive, looser version of the veil of ignorance can be possible. Rawls's argument, however, depends on the fact that the veil is restrictive enough that we make decisions without knowing who will be affected by these decisions, which of course is impossible if we are already attached to people in the world.


St Benedict, main patron saint of Europe
THE RULE OF ST. BENEDICT (written as a guide for individual, autonomous communities)

"Listen, O my son, to the precepts of thy master, and incline the ear of thy heart, and cheerfully receive and faithfully execute the admonitions of thy loving Father, that by the toil of obedience thou mayest return to Him from whom by the sloth of disobedience thou hast gone away."

(Cloisters were adopted from Copts by Benedictus)

"... an epitome of Christianity, a learned and mysterious abridgement of all the doctrines of the Gospel, all the institutions of the Fathers, and all the counsels of perfection."