Moral climate

THE basis of Professor Hugh McLachlan's moral principles are not revealed in his bleak and nihilistic article (Opinion, 23 December). But one can agree with the idea, gleaned from 20th-century philosophy, that there is no traditional logical connection between what is the case and what one ought to do about it.

Fortunately, we are not reduced to formal logic in deciding our moral duties, and our ethical principles probably have their origin in the human imagination, which enables us to appreciate what it must be like to be in another person's shoes, or even an animal's position, and to treat the "other" as we would wish to be treated ourselves.

"Love thy neighbour as thyself" is the ancient teaching, reiterated by Jesus, and it is the basis of moral sensibility. If we fail to have that sensibility, society has many sanctions to encourage that sense or even to punish us for our lack of sympathy with others.

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The duty of governments is not essentially different. There is no logical connection between the fact of drought, famine, flooded islands and tornados and the duty to take action, but the moral sensibility of politicians and others induces them to take action to prevent and alleviate these causes of suffering if they can.

Prof McLachlan's scepticism about global temperature rises as a result of human activity is now inappropriate and irresponsible. Most of the originally sceptical scientists have reviewed their data in the light of new evidence and have confirmed that human-induced climate change presents dangerous and challenging prospects in this century and beyond. Our duty now is for urgent action.


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