Monday, August 9, 2010

3.5 Values as contextual

3.5 Values as contextual
A properly-understood value is a real and logically identifiable relationship between a living being in the context of certain conditions and that being’s desire to meet certain life-affirming ends in the face of that context. As we can see, all values are contextual, where the context of a given concrete’s magnitude of value is the exact nature of all four of the prerequisites of value as applied to that concrete. As the details of any one of those four change so does the value that results from their relationship.

The fact that all values are contextual means we can refute two common mistakes regarding the nature of value. The first mistake is intrinsicism, and the second is subjectivism.[23] In both cases the practices are correlated to practices of the same names as in concept-formation, which is also a measurement process.24 As with concepts, however, the issue is related to the needs of man, and so this rejection of intrinsic and subjective values is in principle and is only directly applicable as-is to our view of other creatures’ values. Its application to man’s value in particular is in the next chapter.

Rejection of intrinsic values
The first mistake is to assert that values are inherent in things by themselves, that they possess values intrinsically. Values are said by this theory to exist without regard to the particular context of an organism to which they may be of value and without having to be formed by an organism.

The assertion is wrong because of non-reference to organisms’ needs. Values depend on and are calculated with reference to the real conditions of and real ends pursued by living organisms. Values exist as means to an end: they will change depending on whose end is at issue, what that end is, what action is required and hence what other matters need to be considered, and do not even come into being as values until and unless an organism makes those values. The same sunlight that is just right for a shade-loving plant may be too little for a lizard and a beachgoer, while what is best for the lizard may be too much for a fair-skinned beachgoer. Similarly, the value of the same one thing will be different for the same valuer when that valuer’s context changes. The plant, lizard and beachgoer must each weigh up the particular instance of sunlight they are considering acting towards against other issues relating to that action. The same amount of sunlight on different days may have different values because those other issues are different from day to day. And finally, the sunlight will only be of value to a man to the extent he has need ever to consider it at all.

Those who assert that values are intrinsic do not recognise that life is the standard of value, and do not recognise that a value does not exist until an organism creates it by performing a process of evaluation for each and every instance of value. For non-men at least, there is no such thing as intrinsic values. The intrinsicist theory of values is mistaken in the say way that those who say something is “four point eight wide” are forgetting that the unit in question is related to the context of a measurer and only has importance in relation to the purposes intended and standards employed by that measurer.

Rejection of subjective values
The second mistake is to assert that values relate exclusively to the nature of the valuer, that values are subjective. Values are said by this theory to exist without reference to anything at all and that there’s no reason whatever for the assignment of value other than the assertion that they are just what that valuer does.

This assertion is also wrong, because of non-reference to organisms’ needs. Values depend on and are calculated with reference to the real conditions of and real ends pursued by living organisms. Values exist as a definite relationship between means and ends, both of which are constituents of reality, and hence so is their relationship. Organisms’ values are certainly related to the natures of those organisms, but these natures are only the standards used to judge external existents with regard to their fitness for definite ends. The ultimate end is life, where the form of life for each organism is a definite mode of being, and exists independently of consciousness. A plant, for instance, is set to adjust its leaves in just the right way to get the sunlight it needs to power its internal processes, and in turn it is the use of sunlight like this that makes a plant a plant. The valuation of sunlight is not a purposeless act that plants just happen to do. The value of the sunlight to the plant in a given set of circumstances is thus objectively identifiable as fact, and is not in any way an arbitrary creation of the consciousness of the plant (it doesn’t even have consciousness) or by a conceptual being looking at that plant.

Those who assert that values are subjective do not recognise that life is the standard of value, and similarly do not recognise that “values” created without reference to the real needs of life are pointless, not actually valuable at all, and in point of fact their creation is not even attempted by non-man organisms because the attempt to form such pointless values would prove highly detrimental to the organisms[25]. For non-men at least, there is no such thing as subjective values. The subjectivist theory of values is mistaken in the same way as those who say “large is relative” while forgetting that the relationship between what is deemed large and the standard used to make that deeming is real.

Values, other than for man, as unqualified
If values are neither intrinsic nor subjective, the obvious question then is what can we say they are? Are they objective, or non-objective, or something else?

The answer comes from considering the issue of epistemology[26], which is the topic from which the concepts of intrinsicism and subjectivism originate. The question at hand is presuming that epistemological issues apply to all values, whereas in fact it does not. The proper response to the question is thus to note that the idea of epistemological qualification of values does not apply to the values formed by organisms that do not have the faculty of reason, and that values when formed by organisms other than men are simply unqualified values. The values that non-men form are facts of reality, independent of any epistemological thoughts that men may have about those organisms and their values. The issue of epistemological status of values and reference to objectivity or non-objectivity in their formation applies only to men’s own values.[27]

Values as relational
A less brazen version of subjectivism asserts that values are relative. This assertion is a mistake, because in philosophical terms ‘relative’ means the values supposedly change depending on who is looking at the situation rather than what the situation itself happens to be. The fault with relativist thinking is in the failure of the thinker to disassociate his or her own life from the appropriate standard of value when looking at other organisms’ values, and thereby forgetting about (if they ever identified it at all) the importance of the fourth prerequisite.

The importance of the fourth prerequisite is that only the organism to whom something may be of value can formulate the actual value for itself; all that another can do at best is determine what is potentially a value to that organism. Thus we can begin correcting the relativist by noting that values relate to the organism to which they may be of value, and do not change with change in the identity of the one making a judgement of potential value to that organism. In terms of the philosophical use of the words, values are not relative but relational[28]. If we were to use the scientific meaning of relative, that of A being related to B, there would be no problem, but that is not what is meant philosophically and not what is meant by the ordinary man.

The fact that values are relational means that the value that something might have to a given organism is frequently observable by others besides just that one organism that actually forms the value for itself. When all four of the prerequisites of value are properly identified in any given case it turns out that anyone who identifies them can identify that relationship between them and come up with the same judgement of potential value as anyone else doing likewise. Relativists fail to note that the judge measuring the potential value need not be the one whose life serves as the standard of value for that measurement. Any man who knows the same facts about what is being valued, uses the same organism’s life as the standard of value, and uses the same method of judgement, will arrive at the same conclusion as anyone else in same position. The difficulty lies only in coming to know the details that go into the relationship and of learning how to make judgements properly: different men might reach different conclusions because they have different qualities of knowledge about the situation at hand or because they made errors in their judgement processes. The issue of ‘relativity’ thus vanishes altogether.[29] The principle of identification is valid and the ability to make a legitimate prediction of the value of something to another is real, made possible because values are not relative.

Note, for instance, that this observability of potential values is crucial to all agriculture and animal handling, and also for the conduct of business. We can learn what will be of value to a plant or animal or customer, and supply those needs to them so that we in turn may acquire our needs from them. A farmer can pick and choose what sort of fertiliser will best suit a given crop under given conditions, which he determines by using their lives as the operative standard of value for judging fertilisers. Similarly, a businessman can look at his current or potential future customer-base and figure out what sort of things they might want, and so make these things available before any of his customers begin asking for them.[30] And finally, for economic method, this principle means we can determine generally how people under various circumstances will value things and so identify commonalities they will face, thereby allowing us to identify economic laws.[31] In sum, then, the observability of potential values allows for the existence of various sciences regarding values of different kinds and in different contexts.[32]

23 The word “subjective” is often used equivocally. We will use it strictly according to the proper philosophical meaning of the word, that of something being a pure creation of the subject made by no actual process and with no regard whatever to external influence.
24 Rand, A, (1990) op.cit., pp52-54
25 Those versed in biology may raise the issue of courting rituals that are very bizarre and the apparent craziness of highly elaborate plumages that obviously come at a high resource price yet both of which are demanded by members of the opposite sex. A work on economics is not the place to discuss why, but even these real life phenomena are not examples of subjective valuation by non-men organisms.
26 See above, section 2.5
27 See below, section 4.3
28 I obtained the identification of superior terminology from Smith, T, (2000), Viable values, Rowman and Littlefield, p97
29 Not just in valuation alone, either, but in all epistemological issues. Epistemological relativism in any context is nonsense. Facts are facts, and either a man correctly identifies them or he does not.
30 The ability to do this well is critical to his success. See below, section 12.4
31 See below, section 6.5
32 For example, this principle extended to the whole of the needs of the farmer is what sets the framework for agricultural science. This study is a science because of the relationality rather than relativity of values. Any agricultural ‘scientist’ who would assert that his findings are true for him but not true for another agricultural scientist would be curtly dismissed, and rightly so. Similarly, the principle extended to the identification of what may be valuable to customers sets the framework for marketing science. Similarly again, abstracting principles of action from all these instances and more is what makes possible our own economic science. All this is possible, and identifiable as scientific, because values are NOT relative.

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