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Offline coberst

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What value do you navigate by?
« on: 06/05/2009 18:29:12 »
What value do you navigate by?

It appears to me that we sapiens need a “North Star” upon which to fix our voyage.  We need a reference point upon which we can focus our attention when trying to determine what of value we can and should do in life. 

Religion, or God, serves as the compass for some people; for others it is nationalism; for others the guiding value is to own as much good stuff as possible; to others it is power; for some it is family; and I guess there are many other such ultimate values.

I have tried to examine my inner voices to determine just what my primary value is and does it need to be changed.  I have determined that, by some turn of events, perhaps completely willy-nilly, my value North Star is life on this planet.  My guidance for fixing value is ultimately dependent upon its aiding or hindering life on this planet.

I often speculate that human life is a hindrance to maximizing the ‘good life’, of all life, on this planet.  I often speculate that if all life on this planet were given a vote in this matter that they would throw sapiens overboard.

What do you think?

coberstakaDutchuncle


 

Offline graham.d

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What value do you navigate by?
« Reply #1 on: 07/05/2009 10:55:33 »
I think we shouldn't give them a vote :-)

More seriously, whilst we may think we have a sufficiently free will to set our own values, we are all driven to a large extent by our cultural, and more importently, genetic heritage. We value our family and anyone (at least most) with children know the feeling that would drive them to sacrifice their own lives for their survival and well being. Beyond this the unconcious genetic urge to preserve the genes leads to tribalism, patriotism, racialism (and more -isms) some of which maybe desirable and some that are not. The natural drives can diverge from what is best for all and then it becomes best to overrule them in favour of a more reasoned approach.

I think religions codify some of these drives as do our civil laws and justice systems. We accept these because they correlate with our natural instincts. At the edges of these sets of rules are the more debatable issues where we will start to disagree and where decisions can start to fall along tribal lines and reason fails.

In theory I would put human life first and would desire that we try to minimise suffering in the world and to improve the human condition. In practice, the way to achieve this is not clear and is almost certainly not a straight line. Many will agree with the end-game but few would play the game the same way. The guiding star only works in clear waters and so it only solves a part of the problem. But, even with such a noble aim, like many I have also the basic, more selfish drives that are much more prosaic and usually more dominant, like health, wealth and happiness for me and my family.
 

Offline coberst

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What value do you navigate by?
« Reply #2 on: 07/05/2009 12:16:35 »

Beauty and morality are species of values. 

George Santayana says that “all values must be ultimately intrinsic”.  He adds that the good, i.e. that which is desired, is good because of its consequences. 

Aesthetics is about the perception of values.  Aesthetic judgments “are mainly positive, that is, perceptions of good, moral judgments are mainly and fundamentally negative, or perceptions of evil…in the perception of beauty, our judgment is necessarily intrinsic and based on the character of the immediate experience, and never consciously on the idea of an eventual utility in the object, judgments about moral worth, on the contrary, are always based, when they are positive, upon the consciousness of benefits probably involved.”

“Morality is a means and not an end; that it is the price of human non-adaptation, and the consequence of the original sin of unfitness.  It is the compression of human conduct within the narrow limits of the safe and possible.  Remove danger, remove pain, remove the occasion of pity, and the need of morality is gone.  To say “thou shalt not” would then be impertinence.”

If we think about it we can see herein why our moral consciousness recedes as our luxuries increase, and we can see why caring for another is more the characteristic of those who have little and is of lesser value to those who have much.

Quotes from The Sense of Beauty: Being The Outlines of Aesthetic Theory by George Santayana
 

Offline graham.d

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What value do you navigate by?
« Reply #3 on: 07/05/2009 13:19:54 »
I don't really follow your thread here and I suspect that taking the quotes out of context makes it hard to interpret the comments as you intend...

"Aesthetic judgements are mainly positive [...]": I don't agree. I have to say that I think a lot of modern conceptual art is rubbish (IMO) and neither do I think too much of the "music" of John Cage. Maybe the definition of aesthetics is narrower than my interpretation.
"moral judgments are mainly and fundamentally negative, or perceptions of evil": I see what is meant here, I think. This is the idea, expanded upon later, that morals seek to contain and limit that which hurts or harms, otherwise anything goes.
"perception of beauty, our judgment is necessarily intrinsic and based on the character of the immediate experience, and never consciously on the idea of an eventual utility in the object". In some cases perhaps, though I think that people can learn to appreciate beauty as a result of a greater understanding of a depth that maybe not immediately apparent. The sentence continues (and may agree with this) but the English is very poor.

I don't really see any reason why increasing comfort should diminish moral conciousness. In reality you don't see many thieves behaving like Robin Hood and it could be argued that Bill Gates has quite a well developed moral sense compared with many.
 

Offline coberst

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What value do you navigate by?
« Reply #4 on: 08/05/2009 12:09:26 »
I was listening to NPR and the speaker said something to the effect ‘let the market decide the value of our higher education system…and the market appears to think that our higher education system is doing a fine job’.  Who or what determines values in our society?

“There is a tendency to use the term ‘virtue’ in an abstract “moralistic” sense—a way that makes it almost Pharisaic in character.”--John Dewey  My first thought after reading this and ‘looking up’ the word ‘Pharisaic’ (self-righteous) turns to William Bennett, gambler, ideologue, czar, and author of “The Book of Virtues”.

John Dewey wrote the above quote about virtue in his book “Ethics”.  He further identifies the concept ‘virtue’ to mean a talent turned toward enhancing social values.  Dewey says “every natural capacity, every talent or ability, whether of inquiring mind, of gentle affection, or of executive skill, becomes a virtue when it is turned to account in supporting or extending the fabric of social values.”

When I read recently that Warren Buffet had given thirty billion dollars to the Gates charitable foundation I thought immediately of Dewey’s conception of the word ‘virtue’.  I remembered having discussed Dewey’s concept of virtue in a Great Books Discussion Group decades ago.

Warren Buffet and Bill Gates have manifested for us the Dewey concept of virtue.  Two individuals who have used their respective talents to make scads of money have then turned that money into a virtue by placing that wealth toward “extending the fabric of social values”.

I will include George Soros with Buffet and Gates.  Soros, philosopher/tycoon in my judgment, started many decades ago The Open Society Foundation.  This foundation began in 1979 when Soros’ foundation provided scholarships to African students for their enrolment to the University of Cape Town in South Africa.

Money is not the metric of value here but is a medium for converting the unique and wonderful talents of these three men into a virtue.  I never before thought of these men as being exemplars of virtue but I certainly do now.

Is it wise to allow the market to set the standard of value for our colleges and universities?

It seems to me that the only value the market knows is ‘cash value’.

Does there exist in our society any other means for determining the value of anything?  Is the market our ‘default’ position for determining value for most everything?



 

Offline graham.d

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« Reply #5 on: 08/05/2009 14:49:30 »
Yes, it is an interesting issue of how to quantify the value of abstract concepts. The market view is that it is similar to comparing the value of apples, oranges and bananas. They all have differing nutritional qualities, none are sufficient on their own and different people have different preferences; and many will have a different preference depending on how they feel at the time. I think "the market" does, to some extent, provide some measure of value in the case of fruit, by setting a price as a measure of what people will pay. This also raises the point whether people are good judges of what is good for them - this applies to many things and not just fruit. And this comes to the nub of a major political left-right argument about whether the state or the market knows best.

In the case of commodities, the market does a fair job but even here there are other factors that need to be considered. A free market is not always stable (as we have seen) and also needs controls, even if the degree of which is arguable. All but the most avid libertarians would agree that monopolies are not good for society for example.

The NHS is one example where moral values and monetary value overlap. There is no limit on how much you could spend to prolong human life but we all know there is a limit to the funds available. Another example is setting of speed limits; reducing the speed limits reduces death rates but you can't reasonably take them to a level where this would be zero. It means we are putting a monetary value of some kind on human life, though few politicians will get into a discussion about this.

For less tangible issues I would think that the value of something to an individual is how well it makes him/her feel. I guess Bill Gates feels good about giving a donation to a charity of his choice. This is worth it to him. In this sense there is a monetary value associated with the act of giving. The same is the case for people who give their time or even to just make an effort to show compassion. I have heard it said that this argument can be adjudged a free market, economic one too, because everyone is behaving selfishly in maximising their wealth, as measured in how well they feel about themselves. But I am uncomfortable with this because it results in saying, for example, that Mother Teresa only acted out of selfishness because it made her feel better, had more chance of getting to heaven etc. This argument really falls down because the commodity is not tradeable; you couldn't pay Mother Teresa and thereby gain the pleasure that she had from her selfless life.

Individuals will behave differently and put different values on different issues, be they commodities or more abstract pursuits. There are good economic reasons to provide everyone with a good education as it provides more value to a society in a competitive world. Society must decide through its political system how to fund this. It must, through the ballot box, also decide whether is succeeding in doing this well or whether it needs to change. Ideally society would not just view this in the one dimension of financial success but also on the the results from works of art, writing, television, music and general well being.

The market is also about buying and selling in an abstract sense too. Politics is involved in promoting concepts that need to be paid for just like any salesman. The buyers, the general public, have to make up their minds about which product to buy. When we say the market is happy with the standard of education, this is probably referring to feedback from a few companies. It is not them who will decide fortunately, although it is possible that this argument will get a lot of weight in the act of selling the idea to the public. It is definitely not just industry that should set standards for univerities but they certainly should have a say.
 

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What value do you navigate by?
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