On top of the metaphysical beliefs (inductivism, non-solipsism, non-just-nowism) I talked about in the previous post, I also have a couple of values that do not break down to simpler or more basic premises. I separate these from the metaphysical beliefs in acknowledgment of the irreducible is/ought divide identified by Hume. However, I include the values because they ground much of my worldview as a humanist. After all, humanism isn’t just about beliefs – it’s about moral and aesthetic values too.
Value 1: People matter.
The wishes and well-being of other people have value. This is the basis of all worthwhile social constraints. It’s a cultural universal.
Of course, cultural attitudes about which people matter have changed greatly through human history. Moral progress is often due to the extension of this rule beyond one’s own family or tribe, to all humans. Many historical and contemporary conflicts come down to disagreements over who counts as people. Consider the debate over slavery – largely resolved in most of the world: does this or that group of humans merit being treated with the same respect as I get, or not? Or the abortion debate, which in the eyes of the “pro-life” crowd is about treating the conceptus as a person from early in the pregnancy, and in the eyes of the eyes of the “pro-choice” crowd is about giving the mother the same sort of bodily autonomy given to every other breathing person. (Oh, do I have strong feelings on the topic! But this is not the time to air them.)
I have no more basic reason that I use to support my assertion that people matter. It cannot be logically derived from anything else I believe. This first value encompasses three main assertions:
- Each person’s autonomy and personal choices should be respected.
- Each person’s well-being and health should be protected.
- The existence of many unique, autonomous people is desirable.
The definition of “person” also requires some definition – a non-trivial exercise that I am putting off for another post.
Value 2: Truth matters.
It is better to know the truth than (for example) to simply believe whatever we want to believe.
I think this value is held my just about everyone. Consider the cross-cultural consensus against lying, for example.
Of course, just because truth is important doesn’t mean that it’s never okay to lie. The value of human well-being can, sometimes, trump this one. The classic example is about hiding refugees when representatives of some oppressive power structure (such as the Nazis) come calling, but life is full of more benign practical instances where it seems better to lie than to hurt someone.
I think we should be rather conservative in granting such exceptions: It is easy to over-estimate the harm that would be done by telling the truth, and so excuse ourselves from difficult decisions. But sometimes, the best path does involve concealing or otherwise distorting the unvarnished truth.
So, this second value covers:
- Beliefs should correspond to external reality.
- Beliefs with more correspondence to external reality are better than those with less correspondence to external reality.
I’m glossing over the details of what it means for a belief to be “true”. I have in mind a rather simple correspondence definition: beliefs should correspond to external reality.