Rebirth of Reason


Values are Not Universal
by Craig Haynie

They want to universalize values. That’s what the other side wants. When they say things like, "We want the greatest good for the greatest number," or (not so much anymore), "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need," they are trying to establish a rule by which they can universalize valuesa rule to which they can point and say, “Look! This is how we can establish true value.” 
But that’s a factual error. 
Politics is derived from ethics. A political opinion is an ethical opinion. Politics tries to answer the question, “How should we treat other people?” Should we give them food stamps? Should we prevent them from contracting for less than the minimum wage? Should we tax them? Should we build a national health care system? These are all ethical questions—a subset of the entire domain of ethical questions. Hence we must establish an ethical framework before we can form our political opinions.

And ethics is derived from value. How do we know right and wrong? How can we establish which things we ‘should’ do, and which things we ‘should not’ do? How should we treat other people? These are all questions applicable to our ethical framework—questions that our moral code can answer for us—questions which demand a reference to our values. For, how can we know ‘right’ from ‘wrong’ if we have no values? Without a reference to value, there are no answers to these questions. Without a reference to value, there simply is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong.’  
So we need to establish values to build an ethical framework, to establish our political opinions. And there are no universal values. Any reference to a universal value is simply an arbitrary assertion. The things that you value in your life are different from the things that I value in mine. A value requires a ‘valuer.’ A value presupposes the question “value to whom?” and “value for what?” It has no meaning without the valuer. So an attempt to establish a universal code of values is an attempt to separate value from the valuer. It divorces the idea from any meaning it can have. Your values are yours. My values are mine. The things that you value are made valuable by your choices for your life. My values are valuable for me, in my life. I value my family more than yours. You value your family more than mine. Our values are personal.
This leads us to the idea of individual rights. For the only way that we can live and work together, when each of us has independently derived values, is to respect each other as equals, and respect that each of us has the same right to act in his own unique best interest, pursuing his own values, independently of others. I have a right to Life: to live my life the best way that I can, to pursue my values. I have a right to Liberty: to act according to my best interest without interference from others. I have a right to Property, which is a right to action, to pursue my values for my own reward. By establishing and respecting individual rights, we can pursue our independent values. We can seek our own dreams, and build our own lives to be the best they can be. 
So it comes back to value. Any attempt to universalize value precludes any possibility of real value, because such attempts separate value from the valuer. All values are personal. And that's a fact.
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