Sophie Prize Ceremony June 5th 2007

Speech by Jostein Gaarder

The 10 year Sophie Prize Anniversary June 5 2007

 An important bedrock of all ethics has been "the golden rule" or the principle of resiprocity: you should do to others as you would be done to yourself. And we have learned to extend our ethical horizon. The principle of reciprocity must of course be of significance across political borders and across south and north.

 But the "golden rule" can not anymore have only a horizontal dimension – a "we" and "the others". As we are about to leave the ethic of the stone age behind us it must be clear for more and more of us that the principle of resiprocity also has a vertical or diachronic dimension: you should do to your next generation as you would have wished the former generation to have done to you.

 It is that simple. Human beings don't live simultaneously. The whole mankind doesn't exist at the same time. Some humans have lived before us, some live now, and some will live after us. But also people who are living after us are our fellow human beings. We shall do to them as we would have wished that they would have done to us if they were the ones who lived on this planet before us.

 The code is that simple. We are consequently not allowed to pass on a planet Earth that is less worth than the one we inhabited ourselves. Less fish in the seas. Less fresh water. Less food. Less rainforest. Less mountain landscape. Less plant and animal species. Less glaciers and ski tracks … Less beauty! Less wonder! Less splendour and delight!

 A milestone in the political history of the 20th century was the foundation of the UN and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The question that faces us at the start of a new millennium is how long we can go on talking about rights without simultaneously focusing on the individual's obligations. Maybe we need a new universal declaration. Perhaps the time is ripe for a Universal Declaration of Human Obligations.

 Radhakrishnan, the former President of India said: You must love your neighbour as yourself because you are your neighbour. The belief that your neighbour is anything other than you is merely an illusion. And we might possibly add: isn't it also an illusion that makes us believe that life on this planet is something different from ourselves?

 But we don't need to travel to India to encounter this more profound sense of identity. We simply need to restore the old farming ethic. It was an unwritten rule that the farmer would hand on his land in a better state and in better heart than he had inherited it. When the old farmer was on his deathbed it was, of course, a time of melancholy and sadness. But it would have been a greater and more irreparable tragedy if the farm itself had burnt down.

 Human beings are largely social creatures. We are in addition pretty self-centred and vain. But we can't continue only to relate to each other. We also belong to the earth we live on. That, too, is a significant part of our identity. If the human kind were a temporary species we would nevertheless be responsible for the state of the living planet we are leaving behind.

 To a large extent we modern human beings have been shaped by our cultural history, by the actual civilisation that has nurtured us. We say that we have a cultural heritage. But we have also been formed by the biological history of the planet. We also pass on a genetic inheritance. We are primates. We are vertebrates.

 It took some billion years to create us. It actually takes billions of years to create a human being. But will we survive the third millennium?

Human beings are possibly the only living creatures in the entire universe with a universal consciousness. And so it is not only a global responsibility to preserve the living environment of this planet. It's a cosmic responsibility.

                                                                                              Jostein Gaarder