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Americans should look to the nation’s increasing diversity as a path to solutions for the common good, said former Virginia Governor Tim Kaine at the University of Richmond’s Donchian Symposium Sept. 20.

Kaine, a distinguished lecturer at Richmond Law and at the Jepson School of Leadership Studies, and chairman of the Democratic National Committee, was the keynote speaker at the conclusion of a day of events that featured prominent executives in business, leadership, law, and academics exploring evolving perspectives on ethics.

Kaine’s address, “Pluralism and Moral Inquiry: How to Find the Common Good in an Increasingly Diverse Society,” was rooted in the tough issues he has faced throughout his two decades in public service, and in historical precedent found in the Bill of Rights. Whether one believes that there’s no such thing as the common good, or that one’s own views are the right answer and dismiss the competing views that often come from diverse populations, at the end, Kaine said, “We have to make decisions for the nation and move the nation forward.”

Three contemporary controversies--the extensive debate about the construction of a mosque in Lower Manhattan; issues dealing with immigration and possible revisions to the Fourteenth Amendment; and the status of same-sex relationships-spotlight the diversity of the American population and the clashing views of right and wrong, Kaine said.                                 

In the last 30 years, the number of people who speak a language other than English at home has grown 140 percent, while the population has grown 35 percent. There’s been a rise in the proportion of Americans who identify themselves as Hispanic, Asian American, and African American, and an increasing diversification of religious preference. 

So what common standard can we appeal to, and what umpire can we trust, Kaine asks.

Then, how do we know when we’ve found the common good? Much as did America’s Founding Fathers, “We have faith that debate illuminates principle and defeats error,” he said.

Kaine pointed out that public debate has brought a sea change in attitude about same-sex relationship equality. In 1996, 68 percent of poll respondents opposed same-sex marriage. In 2010, 50 percent were opposed. But 66 percent supported civil unions, compared with 49 percent in 2003.

“I would argue,” Kaine said, “that the discussion has proceeded precisely in accord with how Jefferson, Madison and others believed truth can be found in a very diverse society.”

The Evolving Perspectives on Ethics Symposium is a collaborative effort of the Jepson School of Leadership Studies, the Robins School of Business, and the University of Richmond School of Law at the University of Richmond in Richmond, Va. The symposium is made possible by a grant from the Richard Davoud Donchian Foundation, dedicated to "building the framework for intelligent, ethical and compassionate leadership."

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