May 15, 2010

Hedonism, pessimism, utilitarianism, eudaemonism - all these systems that measure the value of things taking into account the pleasure or pain that go along with them, that is to say, according to any non-core condition or facts, are seen as if they do not go in depth and being naive. Any man with his constructive faculty in place and a conscience of an artist can only regard this with irony and pity from a distance.

Objectivity in value determination

Value theory, by the sound of it, should be a consistent system of evaluation based on a belief system. That belief system should define value as a concept; no matter if one thinks of it to be a natural property to objects or the subjective measurement of goodness. As Nietzsche has pointed out various systems in axiology do make such equations that operate on pleasure-pain principle; pleasure and pain, being derived and subjective but still universal despite not being properties of objects, are the central problem in such value-systems. Analysis of human psychology in determining value and explaining what value means and a consistent operational method also goes astray because of such value systems. I would like to point out the differences between subjective and objective value theories, why objective theories pertain to reality and what is the right understanding of objective value determination.

Subjective measurement of value

It sounds inappropriate to talk about measurement of value before defining it, but I would first like to trace the propositions about value according to different schools of thought. Is value intrinsic or instrumental or subjective or objective? All these belief-systems have overlapping sense of value. Intrinsic value theory argues that value is contained within objects; while other theories consider it to be extrinsic of the object. The subjective value theory assigns value according to the utility of an object to an individual; instrumental value is the value of an object as means. This brings us to the major differences within these systems- they equate value to be means or to be the end [though none consider it to be means or ends itself].

Hedonism considers that objects have intrinsic value and only intrinsic value can be pleasure, therefore hedonists operate on the principle of minimize pain-maximize pleasure. Eudaemonists aim at happiness in life by reaching pleasure which is characterized by the absence of pain. Pessimism searches for the negative value present in every object intrinsically. Utilitarianism determines value by the utility an object has in giving pleasure. All of them consider value to be equivalent to pleasure. Pleasure is mental state of experiencing happiness. Therefore does one value a particular good because it gives pleasure or does it give pleasure because it gives value? All the subjective theories of value accept the first condition. Consider this- water has value. The subjectivists would say one ascribes value to the water because it gives pleasure; but we know water to have dietary value and the pleasure it gives is because of that. Let us take another example- a is blind and holds less value for a television, while b who can see does. Rather than saying b values the television because he can see unlike a, I would say he can see [therefore get pleasure, more than a] because television is audio-visual media. The value of the television wouldn’t change even if everyone who has access were blind.

If one takes into account such subjectivity, the process of determining exact value of commodities and non-material entities goes wrong. If giving pleasure is further based on subjective thinking and how can one quantify pleasure to equate it with value? E.g. while calculating market value of a product one considers the rewards to all factors of production and comes a certain value x. If this product is a burger, then a person who despises burgers will think of it to be 0.1x, a famished person would consider it to be 5x. If all consumers of that burger hold its value around 0.2 to 0.5 x then it obviously means that it gives less pleasure to them; but the content of the burger isn’t affected by it.

What is value?

Subjectivity in value gives contradictions about facts about an object, which makes it unacceptable. But then what is value? We speak things like, a is valuable to me, b is more valuable to me than c. we don’t think of value without the ‘I’. What does this imply? Gaining value is an end and value is the property of any object to be able to reach that end. What holds value lies outside us. Even if I value my own thoughts I actually value its contents to be true beliefs irrespective of it being in mind. Nietzsche points out such core facts to be missing in subjective value-theories. They are facts about ‘what’ does one value. And their importance lies in the fact that such facts are unchangeable properties of objects. My belief about x having value doesn’t cause the value creation; this belief of mine is grounded on my other thoughts about x that are in some degree self-evidentially true.

Value is the ultimate end of an action. If we equate content of the action to properties of an object, that would give us understanding why we value things. This understanding is important as a non-subjective equation of value would simply separate the existence of objects from ours- it wouldn’t explain value completely if I say if there were no minds to make sense of values that objects hold they would still have value. Value has no material existence, it doesn’t belong to the objective reality; but the point is- it is derived from objective reality. E.g. a painting depicting beautiful girl gives value that is unique to it as an object to someone who sees it. The painting as an object is equivalent and not equal to its value; even its abstract conception of a beautiful girl had no content value. A painter was required to ascribe value to the abstraction on account of what this content is and the individual who saw it valued it for exactly the same reason- its content [it didn’t matter that the abstract conception had taken a concrete form, what gave the properties still existed- this is important for one can talk about value creation in absence of objects and derive from it that object is equal to the value].

Objective reality and value

As in the above example of the painting, the concept of value is seen to be real yet intangible. The subjective axiological systems have therefore bypassed definition of value in independent terms and expressed it in different terms. Once we establish the error in that the solution is to connect value with objective reality. Nietzsche points that someone with constructive faculty or artist’s conscience sees the subjectivity to be ironical and pitiful. So despite this seemingly simple solution, why does one need constructive faculty to have a complete understanding of value? Value is defined to be property of objects to reach a particular end. The objective reality is not a parameter of ascribing value by its definition. But a person needs to understand that objective reality and the properties of the object cannot be contradictory. Let us bring in the water-diamond paradox. Utilitarianistically water should have more value than diamonds. In fact diamonds shouldn’t hold any value to someone dying of thirst. If such a person is asked do you accept the value of diamond to be 100x and that of water to be x, when he is about to die, he cannot deny that. This paradox is a problem in value-determination that rises out of incomplete definition of value. One would evaluate if he wants to quantify a good in terms of its value and thus he considers it to be an end. This condition is true to the meaning of value and in case of this paradox would resolve it along with other arguments about utility of diamonds and their scarcity, etc. thus the constructive faculty to understand value determination. And the artist’s conscience for thinking that objects have content.

Finally to put everything together, what has to be revised is the question that why does a rational thinker consider objectivity to be the right value system. Many times we operate upon value as measured by its utility. So I would put the question this way -what explains the objective value theory to be operationally accurate and therefore intelligible. As from the quote, it considers the core facts that qualify for value. These facts are real and unaffected by subjective thinking. Thus applying this method of determining value would leave no scope for contradictory values of same objects. This method makes cardinal measurement possible and provides grounds for ascribing worth of goods in quantifiable terms. E.g. an objective value theory is useful in price determination and stability in the market price of a good [a subjective determined price allows drastic rise and fall in price according to consumer demands]. Also painstakingly touching piece of music will have a particular aesthetic value if determined objective irrespective of the fact that the listener wouldn’t choose to listen to it. Thus the connection of the objective reality, from which the core facts and conditions are derived, to the value, is true.


The subjective value theories replace the concept of value with pleasure-pain principles and do not define value irrespective of that.

Value is the end of every action and value lies in the property of objects and those properties do not change.

The objective reality is where one derives value from and that being composed of known facts make objectivity a method of giving true value of things.

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