The Need for a Universal Declaration of Human Values

Abe Solomon

All traditional ideological/religious systems are, at present, in acute conflict, if not in collapse. We need a system of agreed values that rises above all these wrangles and can be agreed as a moral blueprint for mankind. . . . An International Declaration of Human Values should be prepared by the United Nations as a necessary partner to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

—Dr. James Hemming, at the Golden Jubilee Conference of the Progressive League, London. Reported in The Freethinker, London, May 1983.

Man’s specific tool for adaptation and survival is, in my view, the evolution of values. That which works in helping us survive becomes a “value.” Values gradually are integrated into complex adaptations we call value systems. Value systems develop momentum of their own and then enhance or impair our ability to adapt to new conditions.

—Roderic Gorney, in The Human Agenda

The adoption of the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948, was an historic event. It was the successful culmination of the efforts of H. G. Wells in the 1940s for the diffusion worldwide of a declaration of “The Rights of Man” for the world citizen. The “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” is the most important and far-reaching of all U.N. declarations and a source of inspiration for national and international efforts to promote and to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The basic philosophy and concept of humankind on which the Declaration is based is stated succinctly in Article 1 of the Declaration, which reads: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

Unfortunately, the human rights that this Declaration spells out are largely violated by governments and people all over the world. There are, no doubt, many and complex reasons—social, political, eco-nomic—for this state of affairs. But the failure to uphold and implement these human rights is mainly because the basic human values on which these rights are founded have not been clarified and universally accepted and internalized by the people. Besides, in many countries, the traditional values, social relationships, and modes of thinking, which are a part of the ethos of these countries, are in conflict with the values that form the basis of the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” In these countries there is a need for social and cultural change, which is the task of the humanist movements in those countries to bring about.

It is evident that the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” is founded on secular humanist values. It is only when a majority of the people all over the world intellectually and emotionally accept these values that the human rights mentioned in the Declaration can become a reality. It is, therefore, necessary to have a Declaration stating the basic human values on which the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” is founded.

The development of human moral and ethical values is the criterion of social and cultural progress. It is only when a majority of the people in the world become committed intellectually and emotionally to the basic human values of freedom truth, reason, and compassion that we can hope for a free and peaceful world.

The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) is the most appropriate organization to issue a “Universal Declaration of Human Values” as a humanistic moral and ethical blueprint for men and women everywhere to aspire to. This could be the first step toward persuading the United Nations to issue a similar Declaration as a parallel to the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” and included in the International Bill of Human Rights. This will ensure a wider acceptance of human rights and strengthen the efforts to bring about a free, just, and peaceful world.

The aims of the international humanist movement as well as the national humanist movements and organizations may be broadly divided into two basic tasks: (1) The promotion and spread of modern scientific knowledge, which could be the foundation for a rational humanistic world-view; and (2) The promotion of secular human values, which should form the basis of social, political, and cultural relationships and behavior leading to the establishment of a just and humane social order.

The promotion of the second task stated above would be greatly facilitated, especially in developing countries, by the existence of a universally accepted statement of human values as a norm for achievement by the people. For historical reasons, the problems and challenges faced by the humanist movements in the industrialized countries of the West in regard to religious and social beliefs and practices are different from those that confront humanist movements and organizations in developing countries. But in regard to the promotion of secular humanistic values the problems are quite similar and can be the grounds for international humanist solidarity and cooperation between East and West.

 


Draft for a Universal Declaration of Human Values

Preamble

Whereas, the realization in practice of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights depends on the intellectual and emotional acceptance by the people of the universal human values on which these rights are founded,

Whereas, disregard and contempt for human values have resulted in barbarous acts that have outraged the conscience of humanity,

Whereas, it is essential to promote the development and acceptance of basic human values by the peoples of all nations to usher in a world order based on freedom, truth, reason, and compassion,

Whereas, the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirmed their faith in the dignity and worth of the human person and have determined to promote social and cultural progress in peace and harmony, and

Whereas, the common understanding and acceptance of these universal human values is of the greatest importance for the realization of this pledge, Now therefore

The International Humanist and Ethical Union proclaims this Universal Declaration of Human Values as a common ideal of attainment for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every section of society, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these values and make all efforts national and international to secure their universal and effective recognition among the peoples of the world.

Article 1— Source of Values Dignity of the human person as an autonomous agent endowed with reason is the ultimate source of all values.

Article 2 — Reason Reason is an essential human faculty in promoting the progress of humankind enabling human beings to have a worldview that motivates their thoughts and actions. Cultivation of rational thinking is, therefore, an intrinsic human value.

Article 3 — Critical Intelligence The essential nature of human beings is to question, examine, and understand. It is necessary to subject all beliefs to the scrutiny of reason and critical intelligence, in order to eliminate error. An unexamined belief is not worth having.

Article 4 — Truth The aim of all rational thought is the discovery of truth. Truth consists of beliefs about reality resulting from rational thinking and experience. Quest for truth is, therefore, a supreme human value.

Article 5 — Tolerance Tolerance of differing ideas and viewpoints is essential for the discovery of truth. Absence of tolerance leads to denial of freedom and the suppression of creativity. Tolerance is, therefore, a basic human value.

Article 6 — Creativity All social progress is the result of human creativity. Rooted in the individuality of a human being, creativity can flourish only in an atmosphere of freedom.

Article 7 — Freedom Respect for the dignity of the human person demands that the freedom of every human being ought to be ensured in all spheres of life, consistent with the freedom of all.

Article 8 — Equality Respect for the human person implies that all human beings shall be treated as equal in dignity and rights irrespective of race, nationality, belief or non-belief, color, gender, age, or sexual orientation.

Article 9 — Justice The principle of justice which dictates equal consideration for the well-being of every individual shall inform all social institutions and relations between individuals.

Article 10 — Humankind and Nature Man being a part of nature necessitates his living in harmony with it. Concern for all life and the quality of the environment ought to guide all human activities.

Article 11 — Universal Culture It should be the aim of all human endeavor to evolve a universal culture based on freedom, truth, reason, and compassion.

Abe Solomon

Abe Solomon is active in the rationalist and humanist movement in India. He has been the president of the Indian Secular Society since 1982.


All traditional ideological/religious systems are, at present, in acute conflict, if not in collapse. We need a system of agreed values that rises above all these wrangles and can be agreed as a moral blueprint for mankind. . . . An International Declaration of Human Values should be prepared by the United Nations as a …

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