There was a time in the past when human values were called the “Natural Law.” These so-called laws were thought to be natural in the sense that I have shown previously. At least the “natural” part of the idea of “natural law” has not changed. At the same time, though, human values were once called laws, and this was in the sense that they were understood to be unavoidable for truly human life to exist. Indeed, from the beginning of history, the Natural Laws were considered laws as imperative and as “real” as the laws of gravity and the laws of motion.
Even as the scientific method (and thus every speck of what many consider to be “real”) was itself created by reason, so it is said that these “Natural Laws” are apprehended (discovered, recognized, understood) by “Practical Reason.” Practical Reason means simply considering what is sensible, reasonable or blatantly obvious as the case may be to any thinking person who is both sane (not insane) and honest (not inclined to lie based on having some hidden agenda).
Of course, the truth is these days there are contrarians in this world. These are people who, whenever they come across anything that so much as implies a universal application, they insist on arguing against it. It has nothing to do with whether they believe their own arguments or not. It is simply a knee-jerk reaction. Anything that might be universally applied or that hint of “absolute truth” is automatically argued against. Some call the contrarian position a form of insanity. But to some, the only universal and “absolute truth” is there is no universal or “absolute truth.” Chew on that. For the rest who are not insane contrarians, please read on…
Thomas Jefferson called human values “Truths,” and he insisted that they were “Self-evident, and (that) among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” “All men,” he said, meaning all people at all times and in all places understand these things. Of course, Jefferson’s short list was not meant to be an exhaustive list of all human values. It was simply a couple of “for examples.”
I, for one, wish he had taken a couple of pages to list many, many more “self-evident truths,” but I understand that in his time and place he felt no need to state more than a couple of examples. In his day, Jefferson might have wondered about King George (who was considered something of a madman), but he felt sure, as did the Founding Fathers in general, that most, reasonable, common people were not determined to make themselves as stupid as possible in order to live a meaningless life. Thus, a couple of examples of human values was all that Jefferson felt he needed for an honorable and sane person to say, “Oh, yeah. I know what you mean.”
Sadly, the terms “Natural Law” and “Practical Reason” have come under a great deal of bad press in our day. Such press is found in many textbooks current in our schools – even private schools, colleges and universities. The whole notion of values is often ridiculed by media people, journalists and entertainers, and maligned by many who equate the ideas of Natural Law and Practical Reason with religion. I could add many others to the list of detractors, those who argue against the whole idea of Natural Law, from pseudo-scientists to the politically correct; but all I really need to say is you would have to be living in a cave if this particular “truth” of the current derision of values was not self-evident.
I believe that much of the bad press is untrue, based on a misunderstanding of what Natural Law and Practical Reason actually are, and the rest is so badly distorted it might as well be untrue; yet because the terms bring certain negative thoughts in some people’s minds, for my purposes here, I suppose I will have to avoid using those terms.
Instead, when speaking of the natural law, I will most often use the term I have already used and speak of human values directly; and when speaking of the way we understand those values and how they give meaning, purpose and direction to our lives, instead of referring to Practical Reason, I will use what is perhaps the older term, “Common Sense.”
I am not trying to twist the language (or reality) by inventing words as some scholars and philosophers do. I am not trying to prove some obscure point in order to gain scholarly credit and attention. Some scholars might even call me the worst sort of hack, but I don’t care. The issue of human values and human life deserve to be talked about in a way that everyone can understand and appropriate what matters; and in this I suppose I am speaking to the millions of people who presently believe what is wrong with this country (and parts of the world if not the whole world in general) is the decided lack of just plain common sense.
I agree that this is a problem, and because of that I will go one step further. I am writing this for my children and grandchildren as well as this generation, because the way I see our culture dealing with the whole concept of human values. People today subject any appeal to any value to ridicule. There are so many fervent but wrong-headed accusation (like one is trying to “impose” values on others. The idea is honestly silly, sort of like saying one is trying to impose brains on others). But it is important that someone speak out because I believe most people have no idea how dangerous a future without values, a meaningless, mindless, life of mere opinion will be.
I believe we are digging a great hole in our minds and souls by the way we are attempting to reject the whole idea of universal, human values, suggesting, as many presently suggest, that values are really no more than matters of opinion, and you can take them or leave them as you will. So I am writing for my children, because the hole we are creating in their souls, if you wish to use the term, is precisely the kind of hole that may become humanity’s grave.