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Human Values Project (Explanations)

Significance: Significance and intent

Human Values Project

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1. Intent

(a) Identify a wide range of concepts which may be termed human values as a preliminary to determining their relationship to one another, to entries in other sections of this publications, but specially to world problems which their recognition makes evident.

(b) Provide sufficient contextual material on each value to give an understanding of the associated conceptual domain.

(c) Provide a context for values which are cited in essentially different and frequently non-interacting sectors of society, without excluding those values not normally recognized in public debate.

(d) Clarify any distinction between a value, an attribute, a quality, a need, and a human right.

(e) Identify the specific world problems which become evident in the light of recognition of the importance of a particular value as a preliminary, firstly, to obtaining some understanding of the degree of mismatch between the network of recognized values and the network of world problems and, secondly, to predicting the emergence of value-related problems.

(f) Identify relationships between the values included and entries in other sections of this publication as a preliminary to predicting the emergence of new values.

(g) Explore ways of moving beyond the traditional presentation of sets of values as simple checklists that continue to demonstrate their inadequacy in a complex society. Provide a sense of the coherence of systems of values as checks and balances whose integrity is vital to individual and collective psychic integration.

2. Significance

(a) Appeals to values: The debate on social policy at the local, national or world level makes many references to concepts such as equality, justice and liberty. These are abstract concepts of great ambiguity and imprecision. In part their power and value is due to this, since each generation is then obliged to redefine the content to be associated with such terms. But values and norms are currently terms of unusable vagueness, not because they cannot be usefully defined, but because they have not yet been sufficiently analyzed (Vickers, 1973). Although some go as far as to hold that value judgements in general, and moral judgments in particular, do not state any facts and may hence be said to be descriptively meaningless (Stevenson, 1973).

(b) Recognition of importance of value change: The vagueness attached to the notion of values in the formulation of social policy has led to a multiplicity of definitions and a vigorous ongoing debate. There is widespread recognition that the rate of value change is increasing to a point at which it is no longer possible to predict with any accuracy the values of the next generation. Major shifts in the value system of a society become apparent within the span of a single lifetime or within even shorter periods, shattering the presumed identity between one generation and the next. This acceleration of change is considered by some to be one of the most dramatic developments in the entire cultural history of the human race. In attempting to formulate social policy for the future, values must however be fed into the decision- making process. The utility of any such policy depends therefore on an understanding of the complex and shifting architecture of values that regulates human behaviour. What are values, how do they relate to one another, and how do they change? How do they relate to the problems with which society is confronted? Knowledge of these matters remains primitive relative to the needs of the time.

(c) Recognition of deceptive uniformity of terminology: Despite this ignorance, there is an increasing uniformity of terminology relating to values which may be noticed in international meetings for which it undoubtedly facilitates formal communication and apparent agreement. This should not, according to René Maheu (pastDirector-General of UNESCO) lead to any belief that such agreements are solidly grounded. The diverse, even contradictory, interpretations, motivations and utilizations, are an indication of fundamental divisions concerning values (René Maheu, 1968)

(d) Institutionalization of values: There is also concern that the institutionalization of values leads inevitably to physical pollution, social polarization and physiological impotence: three dimensions in a process of global degradation and modernized misery. Most of the research now going on about the future may then be considered as advocating further increases in the institutionalization of values, when conditions are required which would permit precisely the contrary to happen and ensure the continual emergence of values which cannot be substantially controlled by technocrats (Baier, 1969).

(e) Necessity for re-examination of value systems: At the same time, throughout the whole developed and developing world, there is a widespread feeling that the systems of value by which man has guided his actions in the last few generations, require re-examination and almost certainly should be altered in many important respects. Hardly any of the older ethical assumptions remain unquestioned. The basis for this is partly a moral revulsion against some of the old value systems, which are thought to be unworthy in various ways; but the need to change the ethical bases on which society is organized and people act is highlighted by the practical demands of world problems. A solution to the problem of population may only be found under the guidance of a new attitude to the sanctity of life; and the issues of urbanisation, transport, increased leisure, safeguarding of the environment, and so on, which at first sight may appear to be simple material questions, turn out on deeper inspection to involve motivations and aspirations and the value systems on which these are based (Waddington, 1974)

(f) Desperate search for common values: Under the heading "A Desperate Cause?", a UNESCO-sponsored Club of Rome report (UNESCO, 1987) notes: "There has been an endless succession throughout history of speeches, discussions and writings on ethical values and education -- but have they had any significant impact? Given such an avalanche of words, one may rightly wonder why all the values and principles thus enumerated, voted upon and proclaimed have so little effect on the behaviour of people and nations and why there exists such a gulf between words and real life." Noting the negative and cynical reactions to double standards, the report continues "Beyond such reactions, however, there exists a deeper search, which is often difficult to discern because it has few means of self-expression. In societies threatened with breaking up, human beings, rootless and pulled in all directions, are searching for common values and compatible visions of the future."

(g) Values implicit in problem perception: In the final analysis, no problem can be recognized, or adequately formulated, unless the values involved, and the apparent threat to them, are stated. These values and their imperilment constitute the terms of the problem itself. The values that have been the thread of classic social analysis are freedom and reason. In any formulation of problems, it must be made clear what values are really threatened in the troubles and issues involved, who accepts them as values, and by whom or by what they are threatened (C Wright Mills, 1959).

Many world problems can be specifically associated with the values which they threaten or violate in some way. Some values can be more closely associated with entities in other sections of this Encyclopedia, and only indirectly with specific world problems.

(h) Family values: During the 1990s politicians in a number of countries have endorsed the importance of a "return to family values" as offering the key to resolving the principal challenges of modern society. How this is to be achieved in practice in an increasingly cynical society remains to be articulated.

Spherical tensional integrity (or 'tensegrity') structure. Composed of non-touching struts which, through their resistance to compression within a continuous network of cords in tension, collectively form a coherent structure in three dimensions.

Such as structure indicated new possibilities of thinking about the relationship between polar opposites and the coherent structures they form if they are appropriately balanced.


From Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential


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