The Death of Socrates

The Death of Socrates

Monday, 17 January 2011

What is the basis of value?

Dialogue with Primon

[Primon] I do not think that lack of permanence means futility (in common usage of the word futility). Just because something is not permanent does not mean it lacks meaning. 

[SCL] I think that impermanent physical things gain their meaning from participating in permanent spiritual realities. I think that you are making the common mistake of arguing:
(a) It is a fact that impermanent things have value.
[This is true, I believe]
(b) Therefore permanence is not required for value to exist.
[This is a non-sequetor]

[Primon] OK, but  I see older family members aging with more or less grace, gradually losing their abilities, which is sad, but does not make their positive achievements, accomplishments, nurture in the past of any less value. 

[SCL] Indeed it doesn't - if they ever had any value. The question is rather: "Can anything have value if it has absolutely no lasting outcome?" Moreover: "What is value, what has value: why and how?" and "How/from where does value originate?"

[Primon] Though perhaps you would argue the value comes in a legacy, which requires at least something to continue, making me for the first time realize why the sudden deaths of many due to war or natural disaster are more "bad" than the sum of the individual deaths over time, as not only a life is lost, but their legacy disappears in the lives of those around them.

[Primon] People, events, accomplishments are localized in space. Is this a problem?

[SCL] No - this is a good point. and one I am well aware of.

[Primon] So why is it a problem being localized in time?

[SCL] If there is an eternal dimension to existence, nothing at all; but it is not true that space and time are exactly the same kind of thing. The equations of Relativity intermix them, but time must either be taken to be imaginary or else the metric tensor must have a "-1" on its spur. Getting to grips with what that means, and how (and if) it relates to our subjective experience of time as being sequential and directed rather than sharing in the isotropy of space is a deep matter.

[SCL] One has a distinct feeling that events move onwards to a fulfilment; that work is undertaken for a result; that suffering can be tolerated for the sake of its end and for a good outcome. No such feeling arises conversely. The fact that was happy in the past doe snot justify present suffering. Hope only functions one-way. Clearly, present suffering is easier to bare if one has good memories of the past; but without hope for the future it is pointless to suffer grievously and it would be better not to exist at all.

[SCL] You seem to be tacitly assuming that you know what "value" is and then trying to make sense of it, rather than first asking what value might or must be. I think that this question is much easier to answer than it seems.

[Primon] It seems that value requires a subject. Something is of value to someone. A snake venom antidote has huge value to someone just bitten by the venomous snake, but otherwise may be of little or no value to someone like you or me. Anything created or inanimate can attain value by being good for a person.

[Primon] What is of value to a person is what helps them become a better, more perfect/fulfilled person. Similarly how a relationship gives us value is how it helps us to become better (either physically mentally or spiritually).

[Primon] However, I find it hard to say why every person is of value without invoking a God who values them. Someone who exists but I never hear of nor see, am many degrees of separation away from them, so they have no impact on my life -- it is hard to say they can be of any value to me.

[Primon] I guess then, my invoking God does not help, as my definition of value above would mean nothing can be of value to God (how can anything help Him or perfect Him!). From God's stance then, anything that simply "is" and is "as it should be" is part of God and obtains value from God's being. But I think when you ask me to define value (and to use such as any argument for eternity and God) requires the definition of value to avoid God and the eternal.

[Primon] So I am left with a notion that spiritual/conscious beings generate value within themselves -- value can be produced by something of non-value, i.e. inanimate matter -- and once we value our own being, we recognize that equivalent conscious beings have their own innate value. Still, hard then to argue that a psychopath is of any less value than a saint --- except a psychopath does not generally help others become the best they can be, whereas a saint presumably does, so a saint has greater value, not just in being more perfect in themselves, but is of value to others.

‎[SCL] Thank you for that excellent analysis of the question. It was a delight to read. Few people would get that far in one go. I agree with everything that you say. The only defect in your analysis (in my view) is that you didn't take it quite far enough.

[SCL] I suggest that you postpone the pursuit of a "spiritual" origin of value for a while. I think that value has a much more imminent and significance and meaning - which then has transcendent implications. I believe that until one has grasped the simple and direct significance of value one cannot possibly understand its transcendent root. "God" is the answer to all important questions, but unless one understands the question one gains nothing from knowing this answer. This is the HHGTTG "42" lesson.

[SCL] Is personhood and/or consciousness and/or subjectivity required for the basic concept of value to arise? I agree that value requires a valuer: an agent for whom the object is perceived to be valuable; but does that agent have to be a conscious personal subject? I agree that, in our experience, wherever there is PSEC there is value; but is the converse actually true, or are you just presuming that it is so?

[SCL] What is the irreducible/constitutional/necessary characteristic or descriptor of a thing for that thing to be an agent? It may help you to list examples of things which are agents and list examples of things which are not agents.

[SCL] Is it the case that all agents must value at least one object and that no non-agent can value any object - because valuation arises from agency?

[Primon] I worry that this is getting to be a lot of time about defining a word, which in principle can be defined in a multitude of ways. The question is what is the most useful definition for progress.

[SCL] Oh dear - we must definitely a...void getting into "defining words" that deadly. Also "useful" here is a bad word, I think. Trying to understand an idea is a very different exercise from defining the meaning of a word.

[Primon] Would I say "a flower values water" as a necessity of its life as "I value water" as a necessity of my life? I think in common parlance one can say water is of value to a flower's well-being, and since the analogy is almost exact, one could say it makes little point defining a term "value" that includes water being of value to me, but excludes water being of value to a flower.

[SCL] I strongly concur.

[Primon] Of course, flowers may be subjectively experientially conscious -- we have no way of knowing as we have not the means to communicate with them -- and if they were conscious, the availability of water would be a major characteristic of their experience.

[SCL] Indeed - but even forgetting PSEC , everything you say is true, in my view. One does not need PSEC to have a use of need for the idea of "value" when talking of flowers and water: "Water is valuable to plants." is a perfectly sensible thing to say and it is quite clear what it means.

[Primon] Does it make sense to say "clouds value water vapour". To me, once one shifts to inanimate objects it is bizarre to state they value something, even though without water vapour the cloud would cease to exist, just as I would without water.

[SCL] Exactly. So you have answered my question in one go, which doesn't surprise me. Value arises from life. For there to be value there has to be life and without life there is no value and wherever there is life there is value.

[Primon] Therefore, with no rational basis, the common parlance use of the word "value" becomes "that which is conducive to life" -- at least in my thinking.

[SCL] Exactly. You are repeating my train of thought precisely. This is most valuable to me as it indicates that my way of thinking is not altogether strange, but actually pretty much trivial; even though no-one else I know seems to agree with me!

[Primon] Whether it should logically be extended to be "that which is conducive to existence" to include inanimate objects is a matter of taste I think, and the point one wants to make. Given the two notions are different, it would make sense to have one term for "that which is conducive to life" and another term (perhaps more neutral than value, which has strongly positive connotations) for "that which is conducive to existence".

[SCL] Indeed. I think in fact that there is little call for a second term, as the law of conservation of mass-energy tells us that "existence as such" is guaranteed and that nothing is unconducive to it. Similarly, the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics tells us that "everything runs down" and so nothing is conducive to the reduction of entropy.

[SCL] On the other hand, it is "good for a neutron to be bound to a proton" for else the neutron will change into a proton, electron and neutrino and so cease to exist in the form that it previously had.

[SCL] However, how is it possible to say that it is "better" for the mass-energy which is the neutron to have the form of "neutron" rather than that of "proton + electron + neutrino"? Perhaps this doesn't matter, though. For the neutron, "it is not good to be alone" (-: echoes of Genesis :-) and so the proton is the "proper good" of the neutron, but not vice-versa.

[SCL] However, the neutron does not in any sense strive after or seek out the proton. There is nothing in the constitution of the proton which "values" the proton, it has no "knowledge" of the possibility of teaming up with a proton in order to survive. Only when it encounters the proton (which encounter it does nothing to facilitate or promote) does it "perceive that it is its proper good" and so "love" it and be "attracted to" it and pair-bonds to it.

[SCL] So I think that "good" is a term that can be used with relationship to inanimate matter (on the lines which you indicated) and also "love" (in the most abstract and un-emotional and impersonal sense possible) but that value arises from life.

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