In what would appear to be an unprecedented step the President will seek to advance discussion on themes raised by him in speeches delivered at Dublin City University (DCU) last September and at the Sorbonne, Paris, last February and will culminate in a conference at Áras an Uachtaráin in autumn 2014.
A full programme for the initiative will be announced by the President early in the new year.
However discussions have taken place with the heads of some third-level institutions and universities and there has been a first working group meeting of their representatives.
In the DCU speech, titled “Toward an Ethical Economy”, Mr Higgins said he strongly believed a new approach, not focused on the markets and their values, was needed when looking at how society should be measured. So much of the work of “maintaining and enhancing human livelihoods takes place outside the market”, he said.
Protocols, procedures and codes of conduct were derived from an understanding of the basis of ethics, he said, and suggested philosophy be taught in schools, as it “could facilitate the fostering of an ethical consciousness in our fellow citizens”.
At the Sorbonne he called for a broader concept of European society as one bound not by economics but by culture, morality and history. “Our existence, we must remind ourselves, is as social beings, not as commodified consumers without a history, incapable of envisioning an alternative future.”
Europe, he said, needed a discourse based on the recognition that “our global problems, in an ever more interdependent world, are neither amenable to any type of previously tested and failed technocratic response, nor are our challenges merely economic. They are social, political and cultural.”
Some third-level institutions are combining subjects to offer a degree in ethics, others are initiating a series of lectures. Some are setting up forms of engagement on ethical themes with people in their cities and hinterlands.
The initiative will initially involve third-level institutions but the intention is to spread it to wider society. Themes expected to be prominent during the year include the future of Europe, issues of interest to young people, the meaning of global dependency.
Other themes expected to feature include issues of ethics in human rights, within economic systems, in relations between countries, and how these apply in the new technological conditions.