What are the universal values of morality & justice?

Discussion in 'Archive: The Senate Floor' started by Ghost, Apr 20, 2011.

  1. Ghost Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Oct 13, 2003
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    What are the universal values of morality & justice?

    Cultural relativism exists, customs and habits in one culture may be considered alien or vulgar by another culture.

    But does moral relativism exists? I would say no.

    This might be similar to the thread I made earlier about "what are rights," where the absence of proof of God means that abstract values are ultimately determined by humans... but I would argue that there are universal values of what is moral and just among us humans, even if it's still evolving.

    What are these values? Can we come up with a complete list?








    To start us off, my opinion... I see that our universal sense of morality and justice are based around our respect for the following:


    Respect for Life
    *Physical well-being... against murder, physical harm/assault/abuse/harassment, physical torture, degradation or disrespect of dead bodies
    *Psychological well-being... against brainwashing, psychological harm/assault/abuse/harassment/distress, psychological torture, intentionally putting someone in a coma
    *Sexual well-being... against rape, and other forms of sexual harm/assault/abuse/harassment/violation
    *Liberal well-being ("liberal" for lack of a better adjective)... against kidnapping/imprisonment/abduction/trafficking, slavery/servitude/coercion, discrimination, violation of privacy

    Respect for Property
    *Ownership... against theft/robbery/burglary, trespassing
    *Preservation... against vandalism/arson/damage/destruction (including not only private property, but also common property like the natural environment)
    *Promise... against violation of contracts/trusts/wills/vows/oaths

    Respect for Truth
    *Honesty... against lying, deception, perjury, slander/libel/defamation, fraud, forgery, impersonation, identity theft




    That really does feel like a complete list to me.

    Maybe the list would expand if our science and technology give us more power, and sci-fi issues like transhumanism, time travel, resurrection, etc. became actual possibilities, but (except for possibly transhumanism) we are far, far away from dealing with issues like that (if they're possible at all).

    Does that seem like a complete list of our universal values? Are they all based on respect for life, property, and truth? Anything you disagree with?/>
  2. DorkmanScott Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Mar 26, 2001
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    In my view, the one and only universally-held value is "I want the most pleasure and the least pain -- in a long term cost-benefit sense -- for myself and others like me." All the other ones you specified are case-specific examples of the overarching value. There's a reason some variation of the Golden Rule crops up in pretty much every codified moral/justice system. An honest, even if subconscious, answer to the question "How would I feel if someone did this to me?" is the foundation of moral behavior.

    The question then becomes how far each individual is willing/able to stretch the definition of "others like me."
  3. Jedi Merkurian Episode VII Thread-Reaper

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    Agreed. I've asserted that most of our problems stem from what I refer to as "other-ization." That is to say that acting against the well-being of any given group begins with listing (real or imagined) reasons why "they" are different from "us."
  4. Raven Administrator Emeritus

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    Oct 5, 1998
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    I don't really think that the Golden Rule is particularly universal. When it comes down two it there's at least three different versions of it. I'm not talking about different ways of saying the same thing, I'm talking about entirely different underlying meanings.

    I. One should treat others like one would like others to treat oneself.
    II. One should not treat others in ways that one would not like to be treated.
    III. One can do as one wishes, so long as no one else is harmed.

    The first I look at as being essentially what Liberals are for things like health care and Conservatives are for values. It's saying "if I became sick, I'd want to be helped, regardless of my own personal ability to pay for the help." Or Conseratives saying that they want to prevent gay marriage, presumably to help prevent others from suffering under a further burden of sin. Obviously, not all help is necessarily wanted.

    The second leads to the opposite problems. "If I get sick and don't have insurance, it's my one damn fault, and I don't expect anyone else to help me. And I shouldn't have to help people who don't bother with insurance." Alternatively, it leads to moral relativism, "Sure, women have no rights there, but you have to respect their culture." It also doesn't eliminate the problems of the first. By way of example, "If I smoked pot, I'd want someone to do whatever it took to get me off pot, even if I couldn't appreciate what they were doing for me at the time."

    The third form is arguably a form of the second, but I think that it implies a personal view of what is considered harm. Again, by way of example as the person smoking pot doesn't feel harmed by it, they'd continue to smoke. The person drinking could could continued to drink, even if you might consider it sinful, but if they drive drunk and hit someone then they've broken the rule and deserve punishment.

    Most religions take a stance combining the first and second variants. Some, like the Wicca and Satanists, essentialy follow the third version. Generally speaking, I think that Liberals tend to follow the first in large part, Conservatives have a tendency to follow the second, Libertarians generally tend towards the third.

    There's obviously some overlap between the views, but I think that the three versions are sufficently different to imply subtly different world views. And of course, no one adheres purely to a single version of the rule.

    Jarren_Lee-Saber likes this.
  5. Gonk Jedi Grand Master

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    Jul 8, 1998
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    Lord, and this doesn't even get into the people who share Liberal and Conservative values but don't partake in the same behavior.

    Someone who believes gay marriage is wrong may as a Libertarian stringently believe it's wrong to legislate against it. And someone who believes pot should be legalized may themselves never have tried it and don't want to be around those who do try it.

    Truly, we are a varied species.
    Jarren_Lee-Saber likes this.
  6. Jedi Merkurian Episode VII Thread-Reaper

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    Of course, that's what you get when you try to ascribe moral philosophies to polticial ideologies [face_whistling]
  7. Gonk Jedi Grand Master

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    Jul 8, 1998
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    The ghost of Frank Zappa is loving you right now, my friend.
  8. wannasee Force Ghost

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    Jan 24, 2007
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    "What's good for me" is the only universal value. Hence, the world.
  9. anakinfansince1983 Chosen One

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    Mar 4, 2011
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    I would argue that "what's good for me, as long as it doesn't harm others" is a universal value. And I say that because it seems that even people who do not abide by it--people who are willing to harm other people in order to get what they want--still generally know that doing so is wrong.

    Or maybe the idea that "I have the right to do what makes me happy, and I have the right to be free from harm by other people"? If everyone holds this value, it follows logically that "do not harm others" would be a universal value as well.
  10. Kimball_Kinnison Force Ghost

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    Oct 28, 2001
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    Sorry, that doesn't logically follow.

    Just because I have the right to be free from harm by other people doesn't mean that you also have that right. You can only draw that conclusion if you start by assuming that everyone has the same rights, so if I have a right then you must also have the same right. Historically speaking, that's not a very safe assumption.

    Kimball Kinnison
  11. anakinfansince1983 Chosen One

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    Mar 4, 2011
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    Are you saying that it doesn't logically follow because I didn't add "don't harm other people" in?

    I'm not sure how my right to be free from harm would impede on your right to be free from harm. Unless you are harming me and I harm you back in order to protect myself.
  12. Raven Administrator Emeritus

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    Oct 5, 1998
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    Sure, but what constitutes "harm" is going to differ from place to place. Go to Saudi Arabia. Say that a woman was walking around looking like this:

    [image=http://www.worldofstock.com/slides/PAD8077.jpg]

    Here in North America, no one would particularly care for the most part. Depending on her particular faith, she might even be fine to walk into a religious service or a wedding reception or a wake looking like that. In Saudi Arabia, she'd be harming herself (through shameful sinning) and others (by luring them into temptation). In Saudi Arabia, her lewd dress would be actively causing harm to her and everyone around her simply by being worn in public, and when she's forced to stop her dastardly deeds the men who stop her wouldn't feel that they were doing wrong, they'd know that they were putting things to right.
  13. wannasee Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jan 24, 2007
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    If not harming others were a universal value, how do you explain war, exploitation, lying, crime, politics, etc.?
  14. SuperWatto Manager Emeritus

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    Sep 19, 2000
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    Anybody else go through the hassle of typing out that link to the picture Raven was trying to post?
  15. anakinfansince1983 Chosen One

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    Mar 4, 2011
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    Selfishness and greed. Which are human traits, we all have them to some extent, but Ayn Rand's "greed is good" and Qui-Gon Jinn's "greed can be a powerful ally" aside, would you say that most people know that our natural tendencies to be selfish and greedy should not be allowed to run rampant?

    I am putting values as traits to strive for, even if they are traits that nobody is going to exhibit 100 percent of the time.
  16. wannasee Force Ghost

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    Jan 24, 2007
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    Non-violence is an ideal, not a value, and it is far from a universal one.
  17. LostOnHoth Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Feb 15, 2000
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    I think the closest we can get to 'universal' values of morality and justice are the values set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

    http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/index.shtml

    PREAMBLE TO THE UDHR
    Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,

    Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,

    Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law,

    Whereas it is essential to promote the development of friendly relations between nations,

    Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,

    Whereas Member States have pledged themselves to achieve, in co-operation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms,

    Whereas a common understanding of these rights and freedoms is of the greatest importance for the full realization of this pledge,


    Values and ideals are aspirational in nature. The only truly universal value and ideal is social order. Human beings are social creatures and need social order in order to thrive. How that social order is achieved is the foundation for our differences and our conflict.

    The UDHR is really just a plea for nations to acknowledge our common humanity. Atrocities such as those perpetrated in WWII, Bosnia, Palestine etc are examples where a society is indoctrinated to view 'the Other' as something less than human.
  18. Kawphy Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Aug 17, 1999
    star 4
    1) One CANNOT bridge the is/ought gap. This fact undermines all attempts at 'objective' morality.

    For example, consider the following argument:
    Premise 1: Smoking causes an increased risk of cancer
    Conclusion: I ought not smoke

    This argument is invalid. Why? Well, for the same reason any argument is invalid - because it's possible for the conclusion to be false even if we assume the premises to be true. But there's a quick shorthand to know that - an 'ought' is derived when there are no 'oughts' in the premises. That can't happen in a valid argument, as the 'ought' in the conclusion must be inferred from somewhere.

    To make the argument valid, we could add an additional premise:
    Premise 2: I ought to behave in such a way as to minimize my risk of cancer.

    That makes the argument valid, but now we have an 'ought' as a premise. If we wish to evaluate the argument for soundness, we have to evaluate the premises. When we look to justify premise 2, we hit an infinite regress. How? Well, the following argument...
    Premise 1: Cancer causes premature death
    Conclusion: I ought to behave in such a way as to minimize my risk of cancer

    ... is invalid for the very same reason our first argument is invalid. We're deriving an 'ought' from an 'is.' We need to insert another premise - for example,
    Premise 2: I ought to behave in such a way as to prolong my life

    And the problem once again resets.

    Now, if we have some axiomatic ought, some rock-solid objectively true 'Categorical Imperative', we can derive an ethical system from that. But what 'ought' statement could possibly be so fundamental? I mean, even if God Himself ordered you to, say, not eat the meat of cloven-hooved animals... in an entirely unambiguous way so there's doubt that He exists, that He is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good, that He created the universe, and that He has commanded us not to eat cloven-hooved animals...

    Does that make it an axiomatic ought that can be accepted as true without justification? Well, no. See, all of those statements are 'is' statements. 'God IS.' 'It IS true that God has stated that you should not eat cloven-hooved animals.' And so on. None of those are 'ought' statements, so none of those facts 'justify' the ought statement. Even if you toss in the premises 'if you do not eat cloven hooved animals, you will go to heaven' and 'if you do eat cloven hooved animals, you will go to hell', you STILL can't derive an objective 'ought', as those premises too are 'is' statements.

    And you could replace the cloven-hooved animals commandment with any other moral statement ('be kind to people', 'don't murder', 'don't steal', 'don't rape', etc), and the commandment from God would still be insufficient to justify the ought as axiomatic and objectively true.

    And (despite Sam Harris' best efforts), Science is powerless to solve this problem too. Science is the best means of determining truth (lower-case t). Really, it's a method for evaluating propositions, and assigning tentative confidence levels to propositions, which are adjusted over time as logical relations are discovered between propositions and new empirical evidence is gathered. And it's the ONLY method that provides prediction at better-than-chance*. But all science provides us is 'is' statements. Propositions - the thing that the scientific method analyzes - are all 'is' statements. You can't perform some measurement and discover an objective, axiomatic ought. Science can't reveal any categorical imperatives.

    So we can't get categorical imperatives from science, nor from revelation. At this point, it would be worth your while to look over Kant's argument for 'The Categorical Imperative', and see if he manages to get around me. I am committed to the idea that his efforts fail.

    But do we really need a Categorical Imperative to derive morality? Does a lack of categorical imperatives really mean that everything is permissible and that arguing ethics is no different than arguing about how many an
  19. Kimball_Kinnison Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Oct 28, 2001
    star 6
    No, what I am saying is that you are assuming that everyone has the same rights. Historically speaking, that assumption doesn't hold up (see also: Slavery, history of - and I don't just mean slavery in the US). In fact, it's a rather modern concept that any rights are universal.

    That would indicate that it isn't a universal value that everyone has the same rights, which destroys one of your basic assumptions and makes any conclusions you derive from that assumption suspect.

    Kimball Kinnison
  20. Rogue_Ten Chosen One

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    Aug 18, 2002
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    I'd just like to point out how incredibly naive, ethnocentric, and ahistorical it is to think "property" is a universal concept, let alone "property rights".
  21. Ghost Chosen One

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    Oct 13, 2003
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    Maybe I'm just an optimist, but I think most people today would feel that all humans are "others like me," and many of us even extend that empathy to non-humans like dogs and whales and even trees.

    But what I'm asking is, what is that list of values, what do we think we all should be protected from? And my answer to that is my list in the first post. Do you think it's missing anything, or anything that shouldn't be there?

    If you're referring to my opinion of the list of universal values of morality & justice in the first post, did you read what I wrote above my list?

    I understand how different cultures have different conceptions of property, especially the hunter-gatherer societies, but in today's modern and globalized world the values of "you shouldn't take what someone else owns" and "you shouldn't damage what someone else owns" are very close to universal. Even if you're a Christian monk or a Buddhist monk or an American hippy, who swears off all possessions, most still know it's wrong to take or damage what others view as belonging to them, at least without some kind of legal process.

    And I welcome you and others to criticize my list, but simply saying "how incredibly naive" doesn't really help you.

    So, what do you think is the definition of harm?

    For me, as I said above, people tend to universally value their physical/psychological/sexual/"liberal" well-being, as well as the preservation of their possessions and their continued ownership of those possessions, and to value promises/vows/oaths/contracts as well as the truth. That seems way too short of a list, like I must be missing a lot, but I can't really think of anything else. Does that seem to be complete to you too?

    So, where do most cultures overlap on what "harm" is? Different cultures probably have different expanded versions of what harm is, but I think most cultures agree on the fundamentals, like "murder is wrong." Creating a complete list of that is what I was trying to
  22. wannasee Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jan 24, 2007
    star 4
    I am confused as to what the topic of this thread is.

    Is it "what are the universal values of homo sapiens?", or is it "what are the dominant values of our modern western society"?

    Because if it's the former, my answer was totally right. And if it's the latter, whatever.
  23. Ghost Chosen One

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    Oct 13, 2003
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    It is basically: what do you not want done to you or those you care about? The universal values have probably always been true for humanity, but we have a much better understanding of it and empathy towards others now. I'm not talking about any specific culture or society.
  24. Jedi Merkurian Episode VII Thread-Reaper

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    It gets back to the "other-ization" that I was referring to earlier. The behavior is still morally wrong, but people tend to rationalize their behavior by saying "it's OK to do ___, because 'they' are not one of 'us.'"
  25. aPPmaSTer Force Ghost

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    Dec 23, 2004
    star 3
    I'm liking this thread :D Darth-Ghost, great idea and you've made a pretty good list but I have a few things to add to it... that said, reading through Kawphy's post, I fear my contribution isn't gonna sound nearly as intelligent... but what the heck.

    Let me begin by making a small distinction... your list seems to encompass what I call "passive morality", in other words not interfering in other people's lives in a negative way. But what about interfering positively, or "active morality"? Strong protecting the weak, many protecting the few, etc. in many cases to NOT act while you have the power to do so, and it poses no risk to you or others, to help someone who is either asking for your help or obviously needs it but is unable to do ask, would be considered immoral, would it not?

    Another point, with regards to the point of psychological wellbeing, I would add insulting, because to insult or degrade someone, especially when they're not present, thus damaging their REPUTATION (another point to add), is regarded as immoral. Some would say cursing or swearing in general is considered immoral (and forbidden on TFN as far as I know).

    How about privacy, to invade someone's privacy is also considered immoral.

    Also, some feel that taking your clothes off in public is immoral, but then you have all the religious differences of "how much clothes" taken off crosses the line of immorality.

    The problem with defining what is moral and what isn't is that all cases have their own conditions and exceptions. To murder someone is immoral, but to kill a convicted murderer or someone trying to kill you is considered moral by some. To lie is considered immoral, but to lie for the greater good is also considered moral by some. For a lot of these points, your intention for breaking the rule deems them either moral or immoral.

    While I read you comment of "can we come up with a complete list?" with anxiety...to me the more logical way of looking at things is that everyone and everything has certain rights, and as human beings we have certain responsibilities. Thus to take the right of another or to not do your responsibility would be "immoral". It's as simple as that IMO.

    But therein lies the problem. Who decides what each person's rights and responsibilities are??

    Nevertheless, I look forward to adding more items to your list :)