Reflection on Values in the Present Context

Vija Sīle, Vents Sīlis

This article focuses on the concept of values in context of current social and political transformations. It considers European Union as a value-based society with such core values as human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and human rights, including the rights of minorities. At the same time it insists on liberal pluralism of values (Isaiah Berlin) that allow different worldviews to coexist by constant discourse and re-negotiation. Society creates and develops values through all the means of socialization available to it.

The nature of human values is explained. Autonomy is a prerequisite for values to be both a means and an objective for ensuring an independent existence. Values can be categorized either as terminal and instrumental or as intrinsic and extrinsic. They serve not only as a collective ideal for social advancement, but also as a tool for individual self-realization (Joseph Raz). As individual development proceeds, the concept of values gradually becomes more complex, as for the child who faces social situations in which there are several mutually competing values. Conflict most often arises between those values that are related to the interests of the individual and those that are not. Civic responsibility can be a platform for the realization of pluralistic interests. Since values are embodied in social forms, a significant change in social conditions will not be achieved by radical political actions.

The article ends with a reflection on multiculturalism and tolerance. Cultural affiliation is not  individual’s choice but a “given standard” - the relativist ideology of multiple cultures is now being embedded into this non-relativist context, cultivating not only psychological discrepancies, but also ideological conflict. It can be argued that Latvia is also a country with two major communities, rather than a national state. The confrontation line that once was on the state borders, now  extends throughout the state. Disharmonious relationship between the individual and the society creates mutual mistrust and the inability to agree on common values.

There is also a quantitative aspect to the practice of values: the more people practice certain values, the wider the social environment in which these values are established as a norm. To transform the European values from verbal declarations into daily social practices, freedom of choice is required. This can be realized only by  autonomous individuals whose level of well-being  induces others to act on behalf of the common good.