What are the universal values of morality & justice?

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

  1. Kawphy

    Kawphy Jedi Master star 4

    Aug 17, 1999
    Something common to most ethical systems is the valuation of autonomy (in the cases of individuals) and sovereignty (in the case of nation-states/governments). A serious problem for any moral system that asserts the moral goodness of autonomy/sovereignty is the issue of 'Paternalism.'

    Paternalism is basically any time you override another person's autonomous will. When you make your child eat his vegetables, you're being paternalistic. When the state commits a person (who has committed no crime) to a mental hospital, they're invoking paternalism. When a woman pulls the plug on her brain-dead husband, she's invoking paternalism. It is worth mentioning the distinction between actively opposing the expressed will of a person (like making a child eat his vegetables when he clearly does not wish to), and making a decision on a person's behalf without consulting them (like pulling the plug on a patient who has no living will).

    Paternalism is particularly problematic in medicine, so it should come as no surprise that the AMA had a panel of ethicists work out guidelines for medical professionals. The panel claimed to adopt a Rule Utilitarian (consequentialist) approach to the problem. Here's what they came up with (and this is not authoritative or decreed by god; it's fallible humans doing the best they can given a genuine dilemma):

    To invoke paternalism, the AMA asks that medical professionals ensure the following 3 criteria are met -
    1) It must be done to avoid great harm; not to achieve a 'greater good.' For example, you couldn't invoke paternalism to force someone to accept a bionic arm (even if the arm would confer upon the person a significant advantage), but you can invoke paternalism to prevent someone from dying or enduring great suffering.
    2) The person you are imposing your will upon must be 'irreversibly ignorant.' Which is to say, 'Rational Persuasion' must be impossible on principle. Perhaps the patient is not yet at the age of reason, or their mental functioning is encumbered. If rational persuasion is possible in principle, it is preferable to pursue that rather than invoking paternalism. Rational Persuasion, it should be mentioned, is the only strategy for influencing another person's behavior which is generally regarded as NOT violating the person's autonomy.
    3) It must be reasonable to assume that, at a hypothetical later time (when the person's mental faculties are restored), that the person would ratify your decision.

    If they cannot construct a strong argument that all three criteria are satisfied, medical professionals are required (by law, I believe) to abide by the wishes of their patients.

    Now, the AMA guidelines have value beyond medical care. You can say that these three criteria are met when you compel your 8-year-old to finish his peas. You can try to make an analogy between individuals and states to justify a pre-emptive strike against a tyrannical regime (whose sovereignty you reject). For example, you could claim that when a government does not serve the will and well-being of its people, that is the equivalent to the nation (as a whole) being 'irreversibly ignorant' (because rational dialog cannot take root). This parallels Bush's justification for Iraq - though I think his fails - and can be worked to apply to the situation in Libya. The idea of being 'greeted as liberators' ultimately aims to show that criteria (3) is satisfied.

    I also think this can be used to evaluate when it is appropriate to fail to satisfy an
  2. Ghost

    Ghost Chosen One star 7

    Oct 13, 2003

    [blockquote]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?[/blockquote]

    I agree, but aren't the basics of how we interfere positively, in "active morality," basically to uphold those values in my opening post? To protect others' well-being, to protect others' possessions, and to uphold the truth? To interfere positively by feeding the hungry and clothing the naked, isn't that basically respect for their physical well-being?

    [blockquote]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).[/blockquote]

    I agree that insulting someone or damaging their reputation could be a part of Psychological Well-Being, and if it's lies then it's also covered under a Respect for the Truth.

    [blockquote]How about privacy, to invade someone's privacy is also considered immoral.[/blockquote]

    I already have privacy on my list in the opening post, under "liberal well-being," which is basically a person's state of freedom.

    [blockquote]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.[/blockquote]

    It can be indecent and repulsive, but I don't really see it as harmful or sinful, unless you want to count it as psychological harm :p

    [blockquote]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.[/blockquote]

    The way I'm approaching this is like a thought experiment, forget about murderers and lying for the greater good and all that. Imagine a society where these values are always upheld (everyone respects life and property and truth, there is no murder because everyone respects physical well-being, etc.). So, imagine a world where the list of universal values of morality & justice that this thread comes up with cannot be broken... so what should those values be? I think approaching it that way, like a thought experiment where these values can never be broken by anyone, can help determine what are and what are not truly universal values.

    Also, you could put these values in a hierarchy, like saying respect for life takes precedence over respect for property when they are in conflict, and that both take precedence over respect for truth when they are in conflict, or maybe you could argue that that physical well-being takes precedence over liberal well-being, etc.

    [blockquote]While I read you comment of "can we come up with a complete list?" with 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.[/blockquote]

    So what do you think those rights and responsibilities should be? You see the answer I have right now, which could be reframed into rights and responsibilities:
    ...that we
  3. Ghost

    Ghost Chosen One star 7

    Oct 13, 2003
    So, to restate my original topic, while incorporating everybody's comments and my answers to them:

    [blockquote]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.

    Some say 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 anyone up with a complete list? Our instinctual sense of empathy, what we do not want done to ourselves and others we care about, a thought experiment where you imagine what laws would be needed if every person had unlimited power, what universally-observed values would create a paradise, the Golden Rule found in many major religions, Kant?s Categorical Imperative, Rawls? Veil of Ignorance? these are all good guidelines, getting us to ask the right questions, but what are the answers? What is a complete list of values that we all should be able to agree on? Basically, a modern, secular version of the Ten Commandments.
    To start us off, my opinion... I see our universal sense of morality and justice being 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, insulting, damaging another?s reputation, intentionally putting someone in a coma, intentionally putting someone through severe emotional distress
    * 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)

    Respect for Truth
    * Honesty... against lying, deception, perjury, slander/libel/defamation, fraud, forgery, impersonation, identity theft, false pride, manipulating others through illusions
    * Promise... against violation of contracts/trusts/wills/vows/oaths, not staying true to your word

    Also, in this imperfect world, you could put these values in a hierarchy. Like saying respect for life takes precedence over respect for property when they are in conflict, and that both take precedence over respect for truth when they are in conflict, or maybe you could argue that that physical well-being takes precedence over liberal well-being, etc.

    But that really does feel like a complete list to me. ?Three Pillars of Respect? that govern our universal standards of morality. Groups of people may nitpick on some parts, like communists and some hunter-gatherer societies on ownership and the respect for property for one example, but this does seem like it includes all values of morality and justice.

    Some may criticize that the list focuses only on ?passive morality,? that it focuses on not interfering with others in a negative way instead of interfering with others in a positive way. But that?s not true. Aren?t the basics of ?active morality? upholding these values too? For example, isn?t feeding the hungry, interfering positively in others? lives, just another way of respecting and caring for a person?s physical well-being? The same can probably apply for most other universally-recognized moral responsibilities. We should all respect everyone's right
  4. Ghost

    Ghost Chosen One star 7

    Oct 13, 2003
    Does anyone want to comment on this topic?

    And I'd say a summary of the post above would be that the most basic universal values are: Consent (particularly when dealing with (1) People, especially their well-being, and (2) Property, on it not being taken/trespassed/altered/damaged) and Truth.
  5. Jarren_Lee-Saber

    Jarren_Lee-Saber Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Apr 16, 2008
    With that removed from the equation, morality is entirely subjective and defined only by the opinions of a group powerful enough to enforce it. If you then revert to the lasw of the natural world, the only true law is natural selection aka survival of the fittest aka Jack London's "Law of Club & Fang", putting most of societies most dearly held "morals" in adverence to science.

    Because of the results of my previous statement, this is the only morality that I can mentally accept.
  6. Jabbadabbado

    Jabbadabbado Manager Emeritus star 7 VIP - Former Mod/RSA

    Mar 19, 1999
    This is partly wrong and based on an outdated and incomplete notion of what "survival of the fittest" means. Morality, or some fundamental aspects of it, may be an evolved trait that promotes inclusive fitness among animals, particularly social mammals, particularly primates. Non human primates exhibit complex social behavior, observations of which provide evidence of empathy and an ability to engage in helping behavior that is not immediately reciprocated.

    Do unto others as you would have them do unto you is not some novel revelation offered up by some ghost/Jesus/God pantheon; it is hard-wired into our brains as the result of our primate evolution.
  7. Jarren_Lee-Saber

    Jarren_Lee-Saber Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Apr 16, 2008
    Yes, but that behavior is limited to their small social group, if that. It is part of survival that they have grouped together like that. They are incredibly hostile towards outside groups, and even towards the lesser members of their own groups. The social behavior of intelligent mammals and non-human primates is hardwired into the natural selection process. Changing it from the fittest being to the fittest group. This cannot encompass an entire species, or that species will become riddled with weak members that will bring down the strength of the species. This is why almost every carnivorous and omnivourus species also preys on its own kind and are cannibalistic.
  8. keynote23

    keynote23 Jedi Master star 1

    Jul 26, 2006
    There is only one value absolutely everyone in the world shares:

    I want the power to control everything I currently value.
    If someone in the room is constrained by laws, then someone in the room doesn't have unlimited power.

    A person of ultimate power could only be willing to subject himself to those laws.
    Voluntary assent means a willingness to submit your wishes to an authority outside your own.

    If we thus equate "paradise" with an existence free from the effects caused by a conflict of two or more entities then:
    1) in a situation where the entities have significant power, then paradise can only be achieved when all parities are subject to a single governing authority.
    2) in a situation where the entities have unlimited power, this would only happen if all parties are that authority as all parties have unlimited power yet are not in conflict. All parties therefore must agree.

    And the above would somehow have to create total, perpetual happiness. (No more make-up sex for you!)

    Perhaps you should be more concrete in your definition of "paradise". In your current question, the term is too abstract.

    For that matter, perhaps striving for an abstract like paradise is a futile endeavour in and of itself considering that it defies universal definition when asked to specify it by almost any set of value judgements which people will always disagree on.

    Perhaps you should consider a lower bar than paradise. One that is realistic given the materials (ahem) people you have to work with.

    In fact, that might actually be the better though exercise altogether before you start tackling what "universal values" would be present in such a place.

    Determine the goal first and the means later.
  9. Bib Fartuna

    Bib Fartuna Jedi Knight star 4

    Nov 4, 2012
    I believe that the common universal values of morality and justice stem from one human emotion; love.
  10. Bib Fartuna

    Bib Fartuna Jedi Knight star 4

    Nov 4, 2012
  11. Jarren_Lee-Saber

    Jarren_Lee-Saber Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Apr 16, 2008
    Poorly. Since he himself incarcerated Japanese-Americans without trial.
    SithLordDarthRichie likes this.
  12. Bib Fartuna

    Bib Fartuna Jedi Knight star 4

    Nov 4, 2012
    His actions during WWII, are not related to the four freedoms at all. You need to remove your feelings towards the individual, from his speech.
  13. Jabbadabbado

    Jabbadabbado Manager Emeritus star 7 VIP - Former Mod/RSA

    Mar 19, 1999
    One of my heroes Frans de Waal was on NPR with Bob Edwards today talking about the biological and evolutionary basis for empathy. Listening to him talk is even more mesmerizing than reading his books. He's eloquent and straightforward and unsentimental.

    Bonobo chimps really got it going on. It makes me feel humans might be better off as a species if females were the dominant gender and were in control of the social order. There would be more sex. better dispute resolution, and a ton of mutual grooming.

    For me the implications of de Waal's research is that secular humanism is not some arbitrary and meaningless moral stance in a godless universe - it's the natural consequence of our primate evolution.
  14. Heavy Isotope

    Heavy Isotope Jedi Knight star 4

    Oct 10, 2013
    This may be a little backtracking to the first post but I found a good vid about natural rights and I think it can be relative to universal morality and justice. The vid is quite dramatic and mostly related to US politics, but the main point of the video, I think, relates to universal morality.

    Definitely worth the watch.