As a first step, the nature of today's Western society, its organization and its individuals, is analysed in terms of belief, values and practical behaviour. Moral values and ethics do not seem to be dependent on metaphysical principles any more (1). Moral principles as symptoms of something that rises above culture and tradition seems to be something objective. But till now it has not been possible to prove that such supracultural principles have eternal validity (2). The only thing you could suggest was that, if there is a set of "universal" principles, these will manifest themselves in different ways in different places and at different times, depending on culture and tradition.
As an example, one could define the virtues defined by Aristotle as supracultural values (3). His basic presumption was that every art and inquiry, every action and choice was thought to aim at some "good". This "good" was meant as "good in itself''. This "good" was connected with happiness. It was an activity of the soul in conformity with excellence, the best form of excellence. Moral excellence means that we must have knowledge and choices, and any action must proceed from a firm and unchangeable state. The best state is the intermediate between excess and deficit. It is a position equidistant from each of two extremes. Moral excellence is the consequence of a choice, determined by reason: the reason of a man of practical wisdom. Virtue was a mean between two vices. But one should accept that every culture explains and applies these virtues in its own way. We don't even know exactly how they were understood at the time and place of their conception.
A second important example of a philosopher who tried to formulate these "eternal values'' was Kant. His construction of ethical principles is elegant and merely metaphysical in nature. He states that all moral concepts have their seat and origin in reason fully "a priori". They cannot be abstracted from any empirical knowledge. His main "universal principle", that "I should always act in such a way that my behaviour could be a universal law of nature", is disputable (4). An interesting point is that Kant claimed that we are not only bound by this law but can consider ourselves as authors of this law at the same time. Thus introducing the concept of autonomy. The concept of people being free human beings, free to think and free to act in matters of morality, but following the will as a law in itself in such a way that the "maxims" of your choice are also present as a universal law. The strong metaphysical aspects of this theory undermine its acceptance by today's society. But applications can still be recognized in many legislations, in the declaration of human rights (5) and in publications about ethics.
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