Suggesting that common, cross-cultural values sustain us risks accusations of cultural imperialism – that is, my values are universal and yours, if they differ, are simply wrong. The late ethics professor Louis Pojman, however, believed that universal values do unite and sustain us. What distinguishes different cultures, he maintained, is how we act on those shared values.
For example, Pojman told the story, also cited in academic journals, of a Sudanese tribe that throws deformed newborns into the river, a practice that seems like inhuman infanticide to many other cultures. Further investigation, however, shows a culture of caring: Members of the tribe believe that such infants belong to river-dwelling hippopotami, who can better care for them. Pojman asserted that the tribe was acting on a value – providing the best care for vulnerable infants – that other cultures recognize and honor.
Pojman offered this list of 10 universal moral principles: (1) Do not kill innocent people. (2) Do not cause unnecessary pain or suffering (this includes torture). (3) Do not steal or cheat. (4) Keep your promises and honor your contracts. (5) Do not deprive another person of his or her freedom. (6) Do justice, treating equals equally and unequals unequally (i.e. beneficial special consideration). (7) Reciprocate: Show gratitude for services rendered. (8) Tell the truth, or, at least, do not lie. (9) Help other people, at least when the cost to oneself is minimal. (10) Obey just laws.