HUMAN VALUES AS COMMON IDEALS AND PRACTICAL RULES OF BEHAVIOUR
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I accept that there are widespread (if not universally held and revered) 'common human values', which must include truth, peace-seeking, altruism, and not least also justice and human rights. To believe these to be immutable 'divine' values, given to mankind by some uncreated Creator God is a contradiction. Such values are generated by humans, and - in my view - they arise naturally due to our various natural human faculties, such as reason, insight, sympathy, and empathy...
1) The Common Acceptance of Human Values
2) In what may human values consist?
3) Distinguishing and defining values
4) Human values defined in practice
5)Values and Anti-values
6) Values, character development and psychic health
The modern tendency is to avoid firm and definitive statements of values, often in the imagined interests of maintaining a reputation for scientific objectivity or of cultural and social tolerance. This widely prevalent misconception assumes that the spirit of truth and liberality somehow binds us to remain passive observers and never to intervene in the free-for-all of moral conflict by asserting positive values.
The long-bemoaned loss of central values through the disruptions of traditional religious society and the consequent value relativism in all fields, from science and the humanities to religion, from morals to the arts, as world cultures come into contact and clash with one another has tended to obscure the existence of common denominator values that have always existed and been practiced to various extents in great world cultures.
The values according to or against which we act are the unavoidable and essential element of all important decisions in the human arena. Values are the link that tie together personal perceptions and judgements, motives and actions. The same applies in understanding social and political life. A make-or-break idea is that values or precepts - and their various practical consequences in life - are at least as fundamental to understanding man and society as are the much-vaunted physical necessities. They are also essential in improving man and society too.
Values are more important and primary than facts in forming and understanding all kinds of human purpose. Values, rather than observable facts, are keys to understanding the reality behind the scene outwardly presented by human behaviour. Motives and purposes are value determinations. The best-attested of 'facts' can alter colour when explained by an interpreter. They appear in deeper perspective when looked upon as the result of meaningful, intentional 'acts' (provided the acts were voluntary). An action that seemed good at first can be seen as bad from a proper appreciation of motives, or unfortunate when the practical consequences are known.
Whether any values exist that are universally held in esteem and have objective validity as an essential part of the human make-up is today often either doubted outright or regarded as an unverified hypothesis. Whether such a true ethic is somehow commonly inherent to humanity or not, has been the subject of centuries of debate. Methods based on natural science cannot decide the issue, precisely because values are not facts. Opponents to the idea assert that such values that exist are simply the result of sensible adjustments to circumstances or pragmatic behaviour for ensuring survival, reducing conflict, maximising security or even pleasure and so on. Hence, morals in modern societies today are in practice often made dependent on the perceived interests of either the individual, the group or the nation, and are thus 'relativistic', that is, without any definite or fixed value basis. Or they are simply denied, as in out-and-out moralism on the lines of 'every man for himself' and the idea of a free-for-all with an ethical carte blanche.
The idea that there are 'human values' is becoming widespread, but few people can actually explain just what these may be. A general disillusionment about the disunity of humanity amid the great cultural clashes of the 20th Century seems to have hindered realisation of a common human value system coming to expression through the fundamental strivings of humanity in much of history. Research into this hardly occurs, even though we are in a process of increasing world integration and the global interaction of value systems.
Common human values, to be essentially human and common, must be demonstrably derivable from universally-held precepts, however differently the values are articulated in different situations in varying cultures, societies and religions. There should be no question of human values representing any mere ideology or philosophical speculation, for the implicated values and norms should be testable both by reason and, where relevant and possible, by empirical and historical research, not excluding experimental 'trial and error method' in action research.
The great predominance of violence, war, hate and crime in most societies and eras of history may seem to refute the universality of human values. However, the values do go back to the earliest recorded human societies and religions and have somehow persisted throughout all the eras and all cultures. In this sense they are universal, added to which is the evolutionary nature of the human being and civilisation, whereby the assertion of these values becomes eventually more and more secure... and now on an interactive global scale through international laws and practices.
The essential goodness of human nature is ultimately something for us to reach out to together, through discovering, experiencing and further developing it personally. Progress in this direction invokes many kinds of feedback from others in one's personal sphere of experience, which strengthen the conviction that, despite all, values are a human heritage, while anti-values are but the result of ignorance as to our this heritage and shortcomings in so far discovering and pursuing our true destiny, whether individually or collectively. The values that have been at the essence of the so-called 'perennial philosophy' represent or are closely involved with human values. The five human values are 'universal' in that, though values are not always held in the sense of being followed, they are everywhere generally held in esteem... hence are universally held as being values. In distinction to these are a range of attitudes and aims which have traditionally been considered as going against common human values... being deleterious to the common good of society and/or humanity as such. These I refer to as anti-values or counter 'values (rather than the self-contradictory term 'negative values'. Each counter-value is identifiable as the contrary to some widely-accepted value and is usually definable as such. Thus, for example, if we recognise the value of truthfulness, frankness, openness the counter-values would be lying, conniving and deception.
IN WHAT MAY 'HUMAN VALUES' CONSIST?
DISTINGUISHING AND DEFINING 'HUMAN' VALUES
Justice is expressed in all forms of human interest in and care for living nature, obviously including humans, while it clearly also remains an ideal to be striven for in the interests of peace of mind and love. Towards others it is positively realisable in such ways as through protection, circumspection, understanding of real needs and sympathy etc. and thus in all forms of social activity that protect and forward the personal integrity of persons. Thus, human rights are duties we have towards our fellow men to avoid harming them physically, emotionally or otherwise. Forgiveness Many people consider forgiveness of one's enemies or wrongdoers as of high moral value, something which is 'truly human'. It was most famously preached by Jesus as one of the two basic Christian commandment.
'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you' is not adequate as an absolute moral imperative. Taken literally, it requires what you should do according to who you are and what you want, NOT as to what others want.
A fully moral law cannot instead require that one should do unto other what they want you to do, as this raises many issues and complications. Oscar Wilde said "Don't do unto others as you would they should do unto you, because they may not like it." This means, don't make yourself the measure of what the good is, but take account of others, their needs, individuality - in which they may be very different from yourself. Immanuel Kant tried to 'decant' the clear essence of that commandment. It was not easy. To do so he the 'do unto others' theme further logically until it is firmly based on comprehensive reason. The result is his famous 'categorical imperative'... which, simplified, say that the principle you act on should have universal validity. In other words, a good act is one done in good will, which means that you try to do what you think everyone would see as right (i.e. on a principle which would apply in every like instance). In modern terms, this means we should not accept religious faith in any commandments or scriptural commandments as the basis of one's actions, not unless the commandment is such that you can honestly say it expresses a universally valid human value. It is this reasoning, not faith which must be the test of goodness of one's intentions.
What is a universally-valid human value, however, can be most difficult to determine in respect of any given situation. Not all would agree that one must forgive wrongdoers regardless of what they did, whether they admit guilt and show remorse or whether they would do the same again if they could. For most people, forgiveness may have to wait upon the remorse of the guilty party, and far from all would see it as right to forgive certain crimes even so. This shows how human values cannot be fixed or unchanging 'universal' commandments, for in every case of a value being applied (or ignored) in practice, many situation-specific circumstances are unavoidably involved in moral decisions.
HUMAN VALUES APPLIED IN PRACTICE
Sub-values represent more specific forms of the five values and can be organised in their inter- relations beneath one or more of the main values. Truth, for example, summarises many sub-values such as 'factual accuracy', 'honesty', 'personal disinterest', 'reasonability' (under which we might again subsume rational judgement, logical self-evidence, consistency etc.). Some sub-values derive from one or more of the five values; eg. 'fairness' and 'justice' relate both to truth and non-violence, while 'enthusiasm' may relate both to love and right action.
While the chief human values are universally found in some form or another, world culture also presents a hugely variegated spectrum of less universal notions of goodness, truth and beauty. Some may be meaningful only when the peculiarities of the society, era and people are understood, making them less than universal as values. Meanwhile, others result from unquestioned traditions based on a mixture of truth and distorted ideas. The possibilities are legion and the variety is obviously of a thousands blossoms, quite apart from the many weeds too. In this changing world, there will doubtless always be valid debate as to the exact formulation of values, so the matter is left open to further discussion and research. Therefore, the list of sub-values given below is obviously not held to be definitive or complete. However, is gives one guideline for seeing how commonly-recognised ideas of goodness are related, how a hierarchy of values is derivable from one or more of five key values. The number of values involved is arbitrary, for there are many different possible forms of expression or terms of varying connotation that can cover the field more or less adequately. There can never be any final or 'absolute set' of human values, for this depends on cultural forms and the different features of various languages:-
GENERAL VALUES AND ASSOCIATED VALUES BY KEYWORDS
RESPECT OF RIGHTS
The above table is a mere guide to indicate a selection of the many human values that pertain, using general and imprecise keywords. It is definitely not an exhaustive list nor are the general values necessarily separate principles or fixed set of values.
VALUES VS. ANTI-VALUES
Truth, love, peace of mind, responsibility and justice are all somehow intrinsically human aims and ideals. Though some actually argue that lies, hate or violence are acceptable or necessary under certain extreme circumstances, it is only the deranged mind that refuses to accept it would be better had these been avoidable. The same applies to all human values. Doing bad and hate may be understandable, but good acts and love are preferable by far to the great majority of people.
All 'bad' tendencies are therefore here strictly regarded as 'anti-values' or 'non-values', not as the expression of divergent or alternative values. The kind of so-called 'liberalism' that in principle makes values dependent upon nothing else but subjective, personal choice or belief is rejected here as self-defeating and self-contradictory. Values cannot be without distinguishing between good and bad, for that is what values are about. The assertion that there are universal 'human values' implies what is truly good is the good of all. This is shown clearly in that no human society has lasted long if it has set up as ideals any of the opposites of the human values (i.e falsehood, wrongdoing, hate, peacelessness violence).
By seeing values as more fundamental in human development than observable facts, scientific psychological thinking is as if turned 'inside-out' so that its preoccupations with external facts is replaced by development of the inner qualities. The causal materialism that dominates orthodox psychological 'realism' today regards values merely as externalised results of evolutionary, historical and social causal processes. Much social thought has been effectively misdirected by Marx to regard values as mere ideology, a product or result of social processes like class struggle. Yet values had always previously been seen as a driving force in human affairs. What is needed is a view that combines the best of realism/materialism and idealism, where the former is always kept under the critical eye and inspiration of idealism.
If people lack higher ideals in their daily lives, this does not prove that such ideals are figments of the imagination... for lack of imagination and ignorance of one's true nature can be the reason. The human values are inherently felt and understood by us, making their presence known through conscience and the rationally-discriminating intelligence (buddhi). The relative clarity of individual conscience is itself also caused by karma and thereafter it is influenced by the will. Only by heeding the dictates of conscience and by seeking to become more aware of them can these karmic limitations eventually be overcome. This indicates the crucial role which human values have in our development as human beings.
All values - as opposed to anti-values - are expressions of the illumination human beings can develop and realise. They are part and parcel of our human identity, that towards which societies and people strive and/or evolve. Without values, there is no psyche. The values we follow in life in the world - and our potentiality for realising them - are not self-evident and are only developed through experience and gradual self-realisation. They are relatively obscured by our physical embodiment and the environmental demands and possibilities each individual. That is, the degree of realisation of 'positive' values in thought and action depend on the nature of the accumulated tendencies of each person interacting with others... in particular and differing social and cultural environments.
The process of evaluation begins in life with simple, concrete experiences and instances. It is almost a platitude of psychology that these can be vital for the growth of a harmonious personality. As the mind develops and learns a great variety of generalisations about human behaviour, human values have to be understood in much wider contexts and in respect of the whole spectrum of challenges that face us in daily life. This has given rise to a great range of social norms and codes of behaviour.
A code of behaviour is a set of practical rules or maxims valid for certain persons and circumstances. There are professional codes, institutional codes, local regulations, national laws etc. Such codes rely for their eventual 'rightness' on more general values but are not themselves universal as human values are. This is because they do not have the certainty of truth and permanence. As pointed out earlier, laws and codes are subject to change along with altering societies and conditions. Human values, however, are always inherent to the human psyche.
The chief thesis here concerning human values in psychological growth is that optimal psychic balance and the closely-associated qualities of equanimity, autonomy and non-dependency are attained and established firmly only as a result of the long-term integration of values in personal behaviour. This is to say that their presence or absence in life provides the key to psychic stability or health.