The Nature of Human Values

Kenneth Rice

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Abraham Maslow proposed a hierarchy of needs in his 1943 paper ‘A Theory of Human Motivation’: physiological, safety, social, esteem, and self- actualizing. He maintained “…the appearance of one need usually rest on the prior satisfaction of another. ” (Maslow, 1943, p. 370). The premise is that the higher needs in the hierarchy only come into focus once the lower needs are satisfied. A crucial starting-point for an examination of the origin of human values is the nature of man. Just as there are certain common non-moral universals, such as the need for food, warmth, shelter, security – similarly there are moral universals – that is, moral principles accepted wherever and whenever men seek to codify socially acceptable behavior, or even when they don’t, since such principles can be implicit in social practice without being overtly verbalized. Moral universals are not always in an obvious sense biologically based. However, these moral rules are related, more or less intimately, to the biological interests of those who adopt them.

Understanding the Self

Life is a journey where the mind is the driver, the body is the vehicle, and the soul is the passenger. All are connected and one can’t complete the journey without the others. While it’s a fact that our physical condition impacts our emotional and mental state, it’s also true that the way we think, act, and feel impact our physical condition. If a person isn’t mentally fit, for example, the effects of additional stress snowball until their physical and emotional fitness are compromised as well. Guilt, sadness, anger, sorrow, frustration, pain and anguish can produce illness and mental degradation. Our body, emotions, mind, and soul form the whole person. It is only by dealing with each part of the whole, that we can have complete health. Our situation does not control how we think or feel but rather the way we think determines our situation. (Psalm 38:3; Proverbs 13:12, 14:30, and 17:22).

Moral Obligations

The denial of cognitive significance to feelings, according to Scheler, rest on the view that feelings are internal occurrences, lacking intentional structure. “In order to understand this idea, we must consider his distinction between the ‘feeling of something’ and mere ‘feeling states’. ” (Joas, 2000, p. 92). Scheler’s values are disclosed in feelings and his notion of a non-formal ethics of value makes no mention of the determining role of the ‘will’ in morality. Our moral self is divided into moral being and our moral thinking. Secular accounts would threaten to truncate the moral self by denying its transcendence or reducing it into that which determines it. Weaver (2002) suggested “ethics requires, on the one hand, that we generate normative accounts of the moral life which are adequate to and build off of an interpretation of our moral situation and of our selves as moral agents, and, on the other hand, that such interpretive and normative enterprises must serve and be tested by practical needs and meta-ethical demands. ” (p. 84). This concept indicates a Christian thinking about our place in the world and the commandment to ‘Love’.

Values are implicitly related to a degree of behavioral freedom which goes beyond a conditioned response; values act as a guide on the basis of internally chosen options. Thus, they imply the conscious prioritizing of different behavioral alternatives which are perceived to be possible. When someone says of an act that it is a “moral obligation, " he refers to a belief that the act is one prescribed by his set of values. If moral obligation is a duty which one owes, and which he ought to perform, but which he is not bound to fulfill then we would be in error to align values with the notion of duty or moral obligation.

Moral obligations are founded on a natural right and driven by value judgments. Scheler opposes this idea duty with his interpretation that “Goodwill and good-doing can spring from motives other than those of love. ” (Joas, 2000, p. 86). If a moral philosophy is formulated entirely in terms of ends and means, it is utilitarian or pragmatic. It is an ethics without duties or moral obligation. Joas continues “goodwill and good-doing have only as much moral value as there is love in them. ” (Joas, 2000, p. 87). As early as the synoptic account, the coming of Jesus, his life and his activity, is understood as service (Luke, 22:27), coming to a climax in the surrender of death (Mark, 10:45).

Identifying the Moral Self

Charles Taylor’s contribution to the origin of values lies in his linkage between a sense of identity and one's notion of what is ‘good. ’ Taylor describes how morals become separated from moral sources as procedural reason and an interpretive view of nature gained influence over substantive reason and moral sources. Our view of what is valuable is described by a set of moral beliefs and philosophies, but Taylor shows the concealment of moral sources that such views inevitably undergo. He sees possibilities of steadying modern moral commitments not only in traditional theistic sources but also in those modern sources of constituted goods.

Joas (2000) continues to identify the linkages provided by Taylor: “Interpretation and experience are neither independent of one another, nor or they reducible to one another. ” (p. 163). In other words, Taylor discredits approaches to defining the self without reference to moral goods that orient one's sense of place and purpose in the world. This revolves around the way in which we think of ourselves as people who have a sense of what is important to us, of what we most care about, and of what is valuable.

Genesis of ‘Christian’ Values

In the Pauline letters, the apostle identifies the connection between faith and ‘imitating’ the apostle, who in turn ‘imitates’ Christ. This is particularly obvious in 1 Thessalonians 4:1, “…just as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God; for you know what commandments we gave you through the Lord Jesus. ” This approach towards life is not the result of Paul’s imagination; it comes from the Lord Jesus Christ. Christians cheerfully accept this instruction because it supports our way of life.

From the Ten Commandments to the Beatitudes, the bible identifies values that are not solely restricted to Christian but should embody a way of living for Christian Leaders. “The commandments, ‘Do not commit adultery, ’ ‘Do not murder, ’ ‘Do not steal, ’ ‘Do not covet, ’ and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. ’ Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. ” (Romans 13:9-10).

Williams (2003) suggested “…ethics is living free of stated rules and having the courage and conviction that allows one to improvise…Christian ethics has to do with having confidence to know what to do even when the situation seems to have no allegorical meaning or fixed reference point. ” (p. 239-240). The concept of morals manifested from human rationality is oppressive, not supportive. People may not agree with all the laws of man but they accept the laws of the whole because it contributes to good order. This reluctant compliance creates a burden that without this reference point would not exist. Christian Leaders, on the other hand, have been freed of these burdens.


Holy Bible. (1997). King James Version. Grand Raids, MI: Zondervan Publishing.

Joas, Hans. (2000). The Genesis of Values. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago.

Maslow, Abraham H. (1943) A Theory of Human Motivation. Psychological Review, Vol. 50, July 1943, 370-396. Retrieved Electronically January 18, 2006.

http://psychclassics. yorku. ca/Maslow/motivation.htm

Weaver, Darlene Fozard. (2002). Self Love and Christian Ethics. West Nyack, NY: Cambridge University Press. Retrieved September 3, 2006, from http://site.

Williams, Oliver F. (2003). Business, Religion, and Spirituality. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press.

Lieutenant Ken Rice is an Active Duty Naval Officer stationed in Norfolk VA. He is currently assigned to Commander, Naval Surface Force's Warfare Requirments Directorate as the FORCEnet Requirements Officer. Lieutenant Rice is responsible for the program analasys and budget oversight for Information Technology Transformation for the Surface Fleet. He is currently enrolled at Regent University working towards a Doctorate in Strategic Leadership.


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