President (Royal Irish Academy), President (University College Cork), Registrar (Waterford Institute of Technology), Members of the Academy,
Tá áthas orm bheith anseo i bhur measc tráthnóna chun an tIonad seo a sheoladh.
I am delighted to be here with you all this afternoon to launch the Centre for the Study of the Moral Foundations of Economy and Society, a joint academic and intellectual venture between University College Cork (UCC) and Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT).
Today’s launch represents in its own way the culmination of a long process that began at a round-table discussion in Áras an Uachtaráin in November 2013, when the idea of creating a structured academic programme dedicated to studying the moral underpinnings of economic and social life was first mentioned. That suggestion was one of the substantive contributions to the second consultation with the public on some of the major themes I had identified in my Inaugural Address in November 2011. The first consultation has been on “Being Young and Irish”, and the second consultation was on the theme of the nature and significance of ethics in our lives in the contemporary Ireland.
The meeting at Áras an Uachtaráin at which this idea of a Centre for the Study of Moral Foundations was first raised was one to which I had invited the representatives of all of Ireland’s third level institutions, as well as the Royal Irish Academy, to make their contribution to a national discussion on the values and principles by which we might live together ethically as a society. That meeting was at the very earliest stages of the President of Ireland’s Ethics Initiative – and it is thus especially fitting that one of the final public events of that Initiative will be the launch today of this Centre, a Centre which I regard as a key legacy outcome of the Initiative.
I am very pleased that this project has come to fruition, and I would like to avail of today’s occasion to commend the vision – and ethical commitment – of all those who have worked with such scholarly dedication and courage to achieve what we can celebrate today. May I thank, in particular, Dr Kieran Keohane, Professor Arpad Szakolczai and Professor Colin Sumner, who run the Centre at UCC, and their colleagues from WIT, Dr Tom Boland, Dr John O’Brien and Dr Ray Griffin.
I am confident that the intellectual work produced by this Centre will contribute in an important way, over the years to come, in tackling the deep injuries inflicted upon our moral imaginations by the extraordinary ascendancy in recent decades of what is an extraordinarily narrow version of economics that has, through abstraction and in an ideological manner, had the effect of severing the ties between economics and its ethical and philosophical sources – except, perhaps, for those ties deriving from some of the extremes within the utilitarian tradition.
The move from the institutionalised certainty of school into the increasingly uncertain world of work has become a problematic one for many young people in Bauman’s world of liquid modernity. This is heightened for those working-class kids who are largely denied the traditional routes into adulthood of preceding generations. It is even more acute in a post-industrial northern English town struggling to reinvent itself in the face of over three decades of industrial decay. Like almost all young adults in their late teens and early twenties, Danny, at 19, remained living with his parents in their home on a former council estate. The estate had been constructed on the fringes of the town in the 1950s in order to provide new housing for those dwelling in cramped and bomb-damaged conditions in the inner city. It also provided employment for the wartime heroes who returned from the battlefield to the austere Britain of the late 1940's and '50s.
Once the square was the vital organ of the City, its very essence and core for the harmony and interaction between citizens. However, in the modern city, the square has been taken over by the consumerist influence of the market, transforming its core into a place no longer dedicated to the exchange of ideas and ideals, but of consumer goods. Shops, entertainments, transports work tirelessly - bright, active, welcoming and un-resting - offering citizens and visitors the uninterrupted fulfilment of wishes and desires, with an overwhelming assault of surprises, shocks, sales, offers, emotions. Thus metropolitan reality, more progressive than ever, was morphed into a cold, hyper-individualistic, profoundly blasé attitude, where all social interactions and relationships are reduced to simple monetary exchanges. Urban spaces turn into simple areas of passage, resulting in a deep de-individuation and alienation from the surrounding privatized and highly-monitored environment, one that is filled with prohibitory signs and regulations, to which no-one relates to nor feels respect, and one that, without continuous monitoring, turns inevitably to decay and deterioration. Nonetheless there are alternatives: contexts where the energy and dynamism of the citizens is not wasted in consumption but creates instead an environment of interaction, frequency of the square, participative congregation, and an active, natural monitoring and care of common environmental spaces, beyond the commonplace of bivouac and degradation. One of these alternatives is represented by the practice of Parkour.