Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Maori Values Can Reinvigorate a New Zealand Philosophy

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posted on 2021-11-12, 14:23 authored by Whaanga, Piripi

This thesis explores Maori values that can be seen in traditional Maori philosophy and attempts to define those values and how they are recognizable in Aotearoa/New Zealand. The thesis argues that through techniques such as discourse ethics where people agree to talk through differences, Maori values could be seen and incorporated in common New Zealand concepts, such as giving each other a ‘fair go’, for the betterment of the people and the land. This thesis argues for a new philosophy, a New Zealand philosophy.  What we value, we protect and teach so that it encourages, what we might call, an attitude of ethical behaviour in all people regardless of class, ethnicity or gender. This ethical attitude is itself part of the Maori value. However in Aotearoa, as around the world, there are differing normative behaviours because of the plurality of value systems. Sometimes dispute settlement techniques are needed to find ways to live together in harmony. My approach incorporates two international methods in a New Zealand perspective. These are: Jurgen Habermas’s ‘Discourse Ethics’ based on his participatory conception of life where more ‘having your say’ not less, can solve the problems of contemporary living; and the ancient social science of Dharmasastra of Indian Philosophy which is the concept of dharma as support for the world. Where ‘Discourse Ethics’ invites communicative action, the concept of dharma goes further than Western normative codes by connecting human ethical ideals with a philosophical attitude towards the nature of the world, a type of moral code. I apply both these philosophic strategies to the quest for a moral conversation and moral justification between the world views of Maori and non Maori (Pakeha) to achieve cultural harmony both within and across cultures in this country. This moral conversation is the bed-rock of a New Zealand philosophy.  Chapter one outlines the traditional sources of Maori values and how they were linked to tikanga, a Maori concept expressed as the nature and function of a thing. This tikanga concept can be compared to the ‘good’ of a thing in Greek Philosophy. I then expand on this tikanga concept to show how the values encapsulated a Maori world view as a traditional philosophy of cosmological order. I discuss the place of tradition as a source of Maori knowledge and the importance of karakia (rituals) as mediation to connect tikanga (function) with the world view that is expressed through the practise of values.  In Chapter Two I introduce a discussion on the values that the Europeans (Pakeha or non-Maori) brought with them as colonists and the effect these had on Maori philosophy. To illuminate these Pakeha and Maori values, I use Patterson and Perrett’s comparison of Maori philosophy with that of the Western tradition of Plato and Aristotle, as well as Patterson’s ‘Maori Values’ and his later development of a ‘Pacific Philosophy.’ I critique Patterson and Perrett’s findings with contemporary tohunga (Maori ritual experts) regarding the use of karakia (rituals) to mediate values. It is in the realm of the metaphysical that karakia (as ritual mediation) meets with a major influence on Western values, Christianity.  I support the argument that it has been a predominantly one-sided process of adaptation, with Maori having done most of the adapting of Christian values into a Maori worldview. But I argue that for Pakeha, an openness to Maori values as ethical guides could be a fertile ground to nurture a moral conversation about common values and the attitudes that spring from them.  My thesis takes those differing values of Maori and Pakeha and engages in discourse ethics to bridge the gap. As Habermas’ communicative action is based on not excluding any assertion but seeking to find common standards, I have looked at examples of contemporary New Zealand life, such as claims to the Waitangi Tribunal regarding New Zealand resources, to see if the seeds of communicative action are there. Habermas’ common standards are: that rational agreement requires participants to back up special claims by reason not coercion; no person or assertion is excluded from the debate; all must be prepared to meet the argument halfway with a universalistic morality; values must be open to question in the light of rationally justified norms; participants need to value sincerity, understanding and reason as principles to live by.  I see the values of individuals being revealed through the policies and practices of the institutions of the nation they constitute and this is my practical method of making values and attitudes both explicit and able to be humanly found. For example the New Zealand justice system is examined through the values it practises in an attempt to explain the large number of Maori in prison. Maori law lecturer, Moana Jackson sees an antagonism between the individualistic punitive system New Zealand has inherited from Britain and the more communalistic values of Maori tradition. This theme is developed in Chapter Three which examines the contestation between Maori and Pakeha values and the hybrid norms that have evolved. Chapter Four attempts to find common philosophical ground between Maori and Pakeha and provides a unique model for resolving value disputes based on a New Zealand philosophy.  In this thesis I employ Dharmasastra (Indian moral code) as a comparative social science with Maori and Western philosophies to defuse a potential claim of bias by Maori or Pakeha against the use of each other’s norms to determine common New Zealand values. I show how this Indian philosophy can fit well with the nuances of both Maori and Pakeha views through comparison and critique. Dharmasastra, as a social science that supports righteous actions, is close to the Maori dictionary meaning of a value as, ‘something that is desired by the heart (ngakautia).’ Even Western-based environmental philosophy acknowledges that intrinsic value rates along with instrumental value. When Maori and Pakeha values are aligned with Dharmasastra’s fundamental goal of the betterment of society, the values can be seen to be common and thus have more chance of being harmonized in practical everyday actions. From a Pakeha perspective, giving one-another a ‘fair go’ is an important value, such as saying that ‘Jack is as good as his master.’ It means the ideal to strive for, is that everyone is given a fair chance in the New Zealand society. From a Maori perspective, an acceptable Pakeha value is one that is ‘tika’ or appropriate for this country and thus can be harmonised as a conceptual tool in a New Zealand philosophy.  An example of where these Maori and Pakeha perspectives meet in a ‘moral conversation’ is agreement on the continuing redress of historic injustice via treaty claims. Here pragmatism is the chief value but it also requires reasonableness, sincerity and patience.


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Master of Arts

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of History, Philosophy, Political Science and International Relations


Shaw, Jaysankar