Secular values and the ethical guidance derived from them are associated with a branch of moral philosophy based on human faculties such as logic, empathy, reason, altruism, or moral intuition, and hence are defensible as universally significant to all humanity. Secular values are distinct from relative values and any forms of ethical framing that are limited to particular local cultures, communities, and beliefs, or those values that are based on supernatural claims or religious beliefs.
While “ethics” is often interpreted in just its legal sense (e.g. compliance with government or company regulations, standards, and codes), the work of the Center is primarily focused on a much wider normative (values-based) discourse, and on secular ethical discernment within international relief and development.
The Center respects the meaning, weight, and significance that many people associate with certain religious values, local cultural values, and pluralism, but we also recognize the need to seek a universal normative basis for international relief and development applications. Through finding a defensible basis for universal relevance (such as in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights), in most cases such secular values can be persuasively argued to take precedence in decision-making and action.
The exercise of freedom is mediated by values, but the values in turn are influenced by public discussions and social interactions, which are themselves influenced by participatory freedoms. Each of these connections deserves careful scrutiny.
Amartya Sen, Indian philosopher and economist, Thomas W. Lamont University Professor, and Professor of Economics and Philosophy at Harvard University, recipient of Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences