All human societies show a concern for the value of human life; in all, self-preservation is generally accepted as a proper motive for action, and in none is the killing of other human beings permitted without some fairly definite justification. All human societies regard the procreation of a new human life as in itself a good thing unless there are special circumstances. No human society fails to restrict sexual activity; in all societies there is some prohibition of incest, some opposition to boundless promiscuity and to rape, some favour for stability and permanence in sexual relations. All human societies display a concern for truth, through education of the young in matters not only practical (e.g. avoidance of dangers) but also speculative or theoretical (e.g. religion). Human beings, who can survive infancy only by nurture, live in or on the margins of some society which invariably extends beyond the nuclear family, and all societies display a favour for the values of cooperation, of common over individual good, of obligation between individuals, and of justice within groups. All know friendship. All have some conception of meum and tuum, title or property, and of reciprocity. All value play, serious and formalized, or relaxed and recreational. All treat the bodies of dead members of the group in some traditional and ritual fashion different from their procedures for rubbish disposal. All display a concern for powers or principles which are to be respected as suprahuman; in one form or another, religion is universal.
The following abridges and summarizes Finnis’s explanation of the seven basic values:
A first basic value, corresponding to the drive for self-preservation, is the value of life. Signifies here every aspect of the vitality which puts a human being in good shape for self-determination: bodily (including cerebral) health, freedom from injury.
Curiosity is the name for the desire we have when, just for the sake of knowing, we want to find out about something. E.g. What happened on the night of the murder? How does this clock work? What did she mean by that? It would be good to find out. Knowledge is a good thing to have (and not merely for its utility). In explaining, to oneself and others, what one is up to, one finds oneself able and ready to refer to finding out, knowledge, truth as sufficient explanations of the point of one’s activity, project or commitment. Ignorance and muddle are to be avoided, simply as such.
Some clarifications: to see knowledge as a basic form of good doesn’t mean that every true proposition is equally worth investigating, or that the truth about various things would be equally valuable for every person, nor that it necessarily has priority for the reader or writer at this moment, or that it is the only form of good or the supreme form of good; yet still, it is an intrinsic good—i.e. desirable for its own sake.
Inclined to be overlooked by certain sorts of moralists, play is a large and irreducible element in human culture. Each one of us can see the point of engaging in performances which have no point beyond the performance itself, enjoyed for its own sake.
4. Aesthetic experience
Many forms of play, such as dance or song or football, are the matrix or occasion of aesthetic experience. But beauty is not an indispensable element of play. Moreover, beautiful form can be found and enjoyed in nature. Aesthetic experience, unlike play, need not involve an action of one’s own; what is sought after and valued for its own sake may simply be the beautiful form “outside” one, and the “inner” experience of appreciation of its beauty.
5. Sociability (friendship). In its weakest form, this is realized by a minimum of peace and harmony amongst men, and which ranges through the forms of human community to its strongest form in the flowering of full friendship. Friendship involves acting for the sake of one’s friend’s purposes, one’s friends well-being. To be in a relationship of friendship with at least one other person is a fundamental form of good, is it not?
6. Practical reasonableness
It is a basic good to be able to bring one’s own intelligence to bear effectively (in practical reasoning that issues in action) on the problems of choosing one’s actions and life-style and shaping one’s own character. This value is complex, involving freedom and reason, integrity and authenticity.
Relationship of individual to cosmos; sense of a higher order, making human freedom subordinate to something which makes that human freedom, human intelligence, and human mastery possible.
Besides these seven values, there are countless objectives and forms of good. Courage, generosity, moderation, gentleness are not themselves basic values, but are ways (not means, but modes) of pursuing the basic values. There are many inclinations and urges that do not correspond to or support any basic value: for example, the inclination to take more than one’s share, or the urge to gratuitous cruelty. But these urges, whatever their relative power, do not stand to something self-evidently good as the urge to self-preservation stands to the self-evident good of human life.
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Notes the entry on Finnis at Wikipedia: Stephen Buckle sees “Finnis’s requirement that practical reason requires ‘respect for every basic value in every act’ as intended both to rule out consequentialism in ethics and also to support the moral viewpoint of the Catholic Church on a range of contentious issues.” Be that as it may, do not these seven basic values afford a basis for reaffirming our common humanity? Why is it significant to be able to do that?