What values should we use to judge our value?

The last blog I wrote leads naturally to this question:

“How are we to judge values?”

Which is a funny question because it is asking “What values are we to value a value by?” and whenever you say the same thing three times it sounds funny!

Anyway the first and obvious criteria would be “Does it cause suffering?”

If that were the only value by which we judged values then loads of things that have to be done but are unpleasant to do wouldn’t get done.

So the second criteria would be: “Is it necessary?”

Now the definition of “necessary” would necessarily be subjective.

For me mess and disorganization in my immediate environment cause me no suffering so it isn’t necessary that I always clean my room.

In the case of someone who suffers in the presence of mess it would be necessary for them to maintain a clean environment.

That’s funny!

The second criterion comes from and is modified by the first criterion!

I think I’ll change the name of the first criterion to “axiom” and the name of the second criterion to “theorem” because I am defining a necessary act as an act that causes the cessation of suffering.

That is that the 1st theorem arises from the axiom.

Anyway so here are two criteria:

      1. Does it cause suffering

      2. Is it necessary

Of course there is a hidden assumption here about values.

That assumption is that values are fictions, man-made constructs and as such are subject to review and change.

Even if that’s not the case and values are some objective thing so what?

What would they be but a set of statements; and if there’s one thing I know about a set of statements it’s that they don’t give a damn about anything.

They’re not going to complain if they are unfulfilled; they’re just fucking words and us silly billies make ourselves miserable by trying to maintain values that have long ago gone past their sell-by date by saying that they are objective and need to be followed because…. well because (and we all know what that means don’t we).

The second assumption is the values we have are really preferential statements in disguise and that because of this values should change with time.

What grounds do I have for the second assumption? Nothing other than might I’m afraid.

Imagine “Murder is right” were a value.

It would fail to pass our test but so what?

I’m not that strong and could easily be murdered.

But the thing is – and this is a big but – there are loads of people who don’t want to be murdered! So we form a club and one of the rules of that club is “Don’t murder people” and what backs that rule is the might of the majority.

Now to base a value system on the preferences of the majority can lead to some not very nice consequences.

One day the majority could decide that it liked eating babies alive and create the value “Eating babies alive is right”.

Now then you may not like this value but what grounds would you stand on to change it if you were in the minority?

God? Well God allows everything and if he doesn’t like the values man has made he hasn’t done much about it has he?

Really what I’m trying to get at is reality here. What are values really based on – I say preferences – and how we can use this knowledge to realize that we have licence (which is a nice way of saying power) to change the values that already exist.

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2 thoughts on “What values should we use to judge our value?

  1. “When we speak of values we do so under the inspiration and from the perspective of life: life itself evaluates through us when we establish values….” -Nietzsche

    I only bring Nietzsche into this because I am reading him right now– I don’t know much about value myself! But I think if we embrace his framework the question “is it necessary,” becomes– “Is it necessary for life?” And that that becomes our standard.

    And as you suggested in your post– sometimes suffering may indeed be necessary for life.

    How does this help us change the values that already exist? I don’t know but Nietzsche wants us to start by realizing and then helping others to realize that those extant values are anti-life.

    Though I don’t think there is any “license.” Perhaps life itself is the only license.

    • I personally don’t think Nietzhe went far enough. He first of all shows us the relativity and groundlessness of values and then he goes on to tell us what he thinks values should be based on.

      He thinks that values should be based on Man with a capital M. But personally I think values should be based around the individual because Man is an abstract concept and feels nothing and as to the continuation of the species yet again I think that we are allowing an unfeeling abstract concept determine our behaviour and happiness.

      But then again that’s just me expressing what i would prefer to be the ground for a value system and Nietzsche doing the same though i belief Nietzhe was still under the sway of of the long tradition of trying to find an absolute ground for morality which I am not.

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