Values are those concepts and ideas (ideals) that are natural and sensible. They are what all people at all time have considered worthy. They stand at the core of our being and play out in everything we do: in our relationships with others, our relationship with the world, and even come into play when we are home alone. Human values are the unavoidable essence of who and what we are as people; and as they provide standards for all behavior by giving direction and purpose to our lives, so they also provide meaning at the other end – after we are done. They are the only means by which we “evaluate” our lives, relationships, experiments, experiences and the only things that provide results in a way that give us meaning in life.
When the atom was split, there was the recognition that here was a tremendous source of energy, and in that, splitting the atom became a scientific “fact.”. That is all good and well, but that “fact” by itself is meaningless, purposeless and pointless. A person can live their whole life without ever knowing that “fact” as our rock and tree minded friends might put it. Billions lived before that discovery and it does not seem to me that their lives were any more or less rich in not knowing.
Facts mean nothing in and of themselves, like two plus two equaling four, we are tempted to say, “so what?” The so what, of course is in what are you going to do with that fact? It seems a split atom can function as a bomb which can be used to threaten the whole world, annihilate cities and obliterate people, or it can be used to create power to empower those same cities and the people living there and give life to all of the technical wonders of our day. How does one decide which way to go? The answer to that question is human values as dictated and ordered by common sense. There is no other option. I repeat: THERE IS NO OTHER OPTION.
Sadly, to use that term “sadly” again, as early as 1945 the Oppenheimer group was already beginning to slide into the degenerative thinking which is the death knell of civilization. The report says they just wanted to accomplish the feat and left for others to decide what to do with it. It sounds to me suspiciously like the defense used by the guards at Auschwitz when they claimed they were not responsible for the atrocities at the death camp, they were just doing their job.
All I can say is the next time the physicists split an atom – or whatever that future equivalent might be – we all better hope that they are sensible men and women whose sense of values is rightly ordered. Imagine what the world might be like today if Hitler or Stalin had gotten there first.
Human values are essentially human, by which I mean that honestly we are not human without reference to values. They provide direction and purpose to guide us through life, they are the standards for behavior – even when we fail to follow those standards perfectly – and they give meaning after the event – even if I don’t exactly understand why my dad had to die.
Human values are neither matter nor energy (not rocks or trees) and so they are not properly the subject for scientific investigation. (We may apply the scientific method to the study of such things but we will never be able to “prove” their reality the way some people insist. They can’t be dissected in the lab). Even so, human values are endemic to where it appears that intelligent, human life cannot exist without them and in that sense they are precisely what lifts us out of mere nature (matter and energy, rocks and trees) and makes us human.
By common sense, we human beings are uniquely designed to recognize, understand and choose to live by all that is right, good and true. In that sense, human values must in some way be objectively real, not merely subjectively true – at least every sensible person acts as if they are objective. Indeed, to reject the validity (objective reality) of human values is nonsensical (unreasonable) and to try to live without them is, I believe, to court insanity.