Are there "general universal norms" that explain divergence in particular cases such as property/taxation is theft, ones that are held by all people? Is that the same as asking whether in every moral disagreement there is at least one shared value

anti-relativists counter-argue that the observed diversity and lack of convergence in local norms can in fact be explained by some very general universal norms, which combine with the different circumstances (or false empirical beliefs) of the different groups to entail different particular norms. The objectivist thereby can accommodate diversity and lack of agreement at this higher level of generalization (see Philippa Foot (1982) for this type of argument).


I understand what someone means when they say taxation is theft, and that they mean it, but unless we see ethics as wish fulfillment, I cannot easily explain the divergence, reduce it to shared values.

Perhaps the joys of extreme wealth and the value of self interest are all that matter in some beliefs, and that suffices to explain differences. So does anti-relativism amount to the claim that there is always in every divergence at least one shared value, even if it is just comes down to the limit case of getting what you want?

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    It seems improbable that anyone will ever be able to poll all humans about anything. Knowledge of very general norms is probably attainable; knowledge of universal norms is probably out of reach of any doable experiment.
    – g s
    Commented Jan 24 at 5:17
  • that is intuitive, thanks @gs the question was motivated by some supposition that some people do indeed seem depraved, rather than just disagreeable
    – user71190
    Commented Jan 24 at 5:19
  • As to "taxation is theft", slogans aren't moral arguments or even explicit statements of opinion, they're more like statements of affiliation to a principle, cause, or movement. Language and introspection being what they are, the people who say the slogans might not even be able to verbalize what they mean by them.
    – g s
    Commented Jan 24 at 5:41
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    "All people" is a tall order, sociopaths and moral nihilists do exist. Most people, probably, something like do not kill and do not steal with stipulations for exigent circumstances. "Taxation is theft" aligns with extreme libertarianism, and does not reduce to wish fulfillment, one can probably get people to see, in some abstract way, uncompensated taking for the benefit of others as "theft". But one should probably add to Foot's different circumstances and different empirical beliefs also different pragmatic judgments as to cost/benefit tradeoffs.
    – Conifold
    Commented Jan 24 at 12:25
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    I have heard many times of such “universal norms” and “universally shared values” from moral realists, and yet never heard of a single example. Notice one example is sufficient to answer your question, and yet I guarantee one will not be provided. Commented Feb 23 at 8:07

2 Answers 2


“Are there "general universal norms"?”

“Is that the same as asking whether in every moral disagreement there is at least one shared value?”

The answer to the second question is no. Consider persons A, B, and C. It is possible for A and B to share one value, B and C to share another, and A and C to share a third. Yet, this does not imply a single value is shared by all three.

  • If A,B share value v1 and B,C share v2 and A,B,C together share neither of v1,v2 does not imply that there may not exist a v3 shared by all 3. As I pointed out to you above almost all humans value life, if not on the hi sounding philosophical pacifist sense of loving others, at least in wanting to save their own behinds
    – Rushi
    Commented Feb 23 at 9:22
  • I did not claim it implied there may not be a v3 shared by all. I simply gave an instance where it is possible that A, B, and C do not all share a single value, though each pair share a value. Secondly, “almost all” is not all. The bar for moral realists and objectivity is strictly all. Commented Feb 23 at 20:09
  • all vs almost all : You are demanding a requirement onto ethics/morals that is stricter than physicists put on physics! See this recent question and surrounding answers, comments.
    – Rushi
    Commented Feb 24 at 3:34

Yes! For all fights there must be something shared.

  • If you're having an argument with your neighbor you'll likely be shouting at each other in English. The shared "value" is grammatical English. Not that it needs to be perfect Queens (now Kings) English but there is a medium of communication.
  • If you are in a process of estrangement with your spouse there's likely to be more shared, eg. a house, a child.
  • If Israel and Palestine are at war its over a piece of land. What's shared is the Abrahamic cultural religious historical background.
  • If Ukraine and Russia are at war it's related to both being European but east of the rest of Europe.
  • And if left and right, specifically US Republicans and Democrats fight, they share the same "skin", eg borders, family. The differences are in how far the "skin" is permeable.

In all these cases one would find that the shared is more than the different. This would include the values that were commonly held and agreed on in peaceful times.

By contrast we earthlings have no fight with Martians because nothing is shared. Once we start going there things may change. Clearly the slavers and Columbus did not think of Africans and native Americans as humans. So the question of exploitation did not arise (at that point).

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    It is not “something shared” that is being asked for. That is trivial. What is being asked for is a value or moral norm shared by everyone. This is astronomically more difficult to argue. Commented Feb 23 at 8:11
  • @JustSomeOldMan In all the above cases there is a shared value — as listed. If Israelis Palestinians did not both value the land, if the separating couple did not both value the property/child, ie one party just easily says No contest the fight ends there and then. Admittedly for some things — eg ones own life — it's harder to imagine dropping the value, unless you invoke a figure like Socrates/Jesus Christ
    – Rushi
    Commented Feb 23 at 8:19

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