Monday, August 9, 2010

3.4 The measurement of value

3.4 The measurement of value
Standards of value
The use of a means to serve an end is not solely a case of “does it or doesn’t it.” Instead, value is a quantitative concept of some kind. They are the result of measurement of their magnitude.

Measurement of magnitudes requires a standard of value. In the realm of organisms the particular goal to be achieved by use of potential means is the standard used to evaluate those means. The magnitude of value of an existent is the quantitative relationship that exists between the existent and the intended end. For instance, how strong the sunlight is, how much warmth could be gained from it, and judgement of nearby aggressors, will be used by a lizard to figure out how valuable a particular opportunity to get some sun is.

Ultimate and operative standards
Means are evaluated by reference to the ends they serve – and we can now note that this applies throughout the whole of means-ends structures. Since lower-level ends are themselves means to ends of a higher level, subsidiary ends are themselves values in their capacity as means to higher-level ends, all the way up to the ultimate end. It is the determination of these values of subsidiary ends that sets the actual means-end structure. The ultimate end is of course life as that organism, and so similarly the ultimate standard of value for any organism is life as that organism. Every single concrete, and every single higher-level subsidiary end, is judged by how well it may advance the life of the organism in question. The caveat for man is that ‘is judged’ must be replaced by ‘should be judged,’ along with consideration for why this is so and what happens when “should” is violated.

The ultimate standard of value is the life of the organism. Evaluation is a regular feature of life because action is a regular necessity for life – but there neither takes place nor need there take place an express invoking of ‘life as the ultimate standard every’ single time a living creature has occasion to evaluate a concrete. More critically, creatures other than man can’t do that. Instead, for other creatures there are just the needs of the moment determined by the ends of the moment. Even for man, in most cases the higher ends may be considerations thought of at the time but will still be kept in the background on most occasions.

As entities have primacy in existence[19], the life-history of any organism is composed of a series of concrete actions regarding concrete entities, all at the perceptual level of individual objects and events.[20] It is the concretes of the moment that have the physical reality. Values do not serve the ultimate end directly but do so through serving a particular end that is important as determined by the concrete circumstances of the moment. The particular ends actually pursued at the time are called the operative ends.[21] In turn, as ends serve as standards of value for the means employed to achieve those ends, an operative standard is the particular end actually being contemplated and hence invoked for evaluation as appropriate for the scope of action being contemplated at the time. In any instance of evaluation it is only the particular end of the moment that is, that need be, and mostly only that can be, the operative standard of value.

Only at other times does an operative get checked against its superior ends. Moreover, this overt act of judgement can only be carried out by men. Animals besides men cannot cogitate abstractly, many animals barely do any cogitation, and plants (and also a variety of other creatures) cannot cogitate at all. The hierarchies of creatures other than man are set by genetics and upbringing, and once set for a given creature cannot be altered by that creature. A plant turning its leaves to the sun cannot concern itself with anything other than the biochemical process of the moment, and a lizard can be concerned only with occasional triggers for the need to warm up, neither of whom pay any mind to the values of their processes as such; and so on. How these structures develop and change is intimately bound up with the topic of evolution, which we will leave to the biologists.

The quantification of values
The act of measurement implies the identification of a quantitative relationship between what is measured and the standard against which it is measured. This in turn implies a unit of measurement, a unit that is taken to be ‘one of’ something. The measurement would then generate a scale of cardinal numbers: a cardinal scale of value is one where amounts of value are the quantification of degree of ability to serve an instance of an end, irrespective of the relative merits of that instance compared to other instances of that end or of other ends.

At this point in time, however, we have not identified a unit. Values generated by measurement using life as the standard of value are not yet expressible in terms of cardinal numbers. We can generate examples with invented numbers to illustrate some point, but the actual numbers used have no connection to reality. The best that can be achieved at present for values in reality is literary expressions of degree that captures amounts of life-satisfaction. Something may be said to be of negligible value, of some value, or moderate value, and so on up. This is good enough for most of our needs, as the issue for personal use is only one of precision. What matters is that these literary individual scales, when converted into individuals’ actions, permits the creation of scales of rank: that is, systems of ordinal numbers: an ordinal scale of value is one where instances of ends are listed from most valuable on down purely by identifying which instance of an end is preferred over another without the scale itself referring to any given instance’s cardinal value.

Equally importantly, the fact of measurement of value also allows us to insert new members into that scale and hence reassign ordinal ranks. All of this can be done both without difficulty and in a manner that can be identified by another. Lastly, while we must accept that we do not have a unit of measurement, there is no justification for saying not ever[22] and instead there is no reason why we can’t be optimistic and say not yet.

19 See above, section 2.2
20 “life is an unceasing sequence of single actions. But the single action is by no means isolated.” von Mises, L, (1966/1996) op.cit, p45
21 c.f. Peikoff, L, (1983) Understanding Objectivism, Lecture 5
22 C.f. von Mises, L,  (1966/1996) op.cit, p97

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