People as the Subject of Valuation

In the previous post we explored the concept of valuation and nestled it neatly into an action of the individual.  We justified a language that speaks of expending, garnering, and prioritizing value as if it were a single, homogenous substance.  We also implied that it is possible earn a return on value which contributes to a conceptual result.  That is, that we may expend a certain level of it and earn a separate amount of it as a result of our action.  In this post we will explore how it is that value, within a social context, manifests in action and we will offer some examples to illustrate.

We can consider our man on the deserted island.  He valued objects for specific results, he invested value through his own action in order to earn a greater amount of value, he valued objects about which he had knowledge, and he even valued objects whose attributes or existence may have been inaccurately conceptualized.  All of the characteristics which describe the man’s valuation are also present among the multitude of individuals regardless of their geographic proximity to one another.

Each person has their own conception of their environment and will necessarily have different valuations of all things.  This is not only due to a difference of interpretation concerning ‘how the world works’ and disagreement of the best way to garner the value necessary for the prioritized result.  Even the intended results are as divers as is the size of the population.  It is important to note that the popularity of a valuation in no way supports the conclusion of whether that particular desired result or conception of an object is any more or less correct than another.  There is no more an objective set of values in a social context than the context of no people at all.  The popularity of a valuation has no bearing on its accuracy or legitimacy and is merely the coincidence of many individuals’ preferences.

It may be the case that all of the people think that throwing fruit down a hole makes the harvest deity happy.  The belief, which may or not be influenced by evidence, could very well be wrong despite its popularity.  Similarly, a majority of the population may enjoy butterscotch candies more than mint candies.  Since values are all evaluated subjectively by each individual, we can not say that butterscotch candies are inherently more valuable than mint.  We can only say that the individuals, which make up the population, share the value of throwing fruit down a hole and that more of the individuals prefer butterscotch over mint than not.  The fact that there is a coincidence of values in no way infers their correctness.

Since all objects within a being’s conception have some level of value, it is no great leap to extend these objects to include other people.  Although we may have certain emotional and instinctive appraisals of the variety of persons, it is still the case that individuals evaluate others in regard the others’ capacity to fulfill some underlying prioritized result.  I emphasize that this does not imply that people wander around and view their fellow wanderers as merely tools for the potential use of a selfish end.  The desired end need not be conscious. Even the instinctive social bonds that develop among family members, although filled with intense passion, are the result of the pursuance of preferred ends (Although, the results and the intended results may be cognitively distinct).  An individual may claim that he values another person merely because that person exists – but this is a shortcut of logic.

A mother may value a child.  Why?  Because the child is innately valuable? Not at all. Hopefully the relentless discussion earlier in this post and in the preceding post should suffice to find such a claim inadequate.  Why does the mother value her own offspring and not the child of another to the same extent?  The possible explanations are enumerable.  But they all share the language of cause and effect.  The mother prefers her own child to another, maybe, because it is merely a matter of biological instinct.  This may or may not be true.  But for what end does the mother value her progeny?  If the instinct is the appropriate answer, then the end desired by the mother can not be the continuation of genetic material.  That certainly is an effect of the value.  But the answer can be as simple as the pursuance of a state which would prevent the mental anguish that is so often concordant with the neglect of one’s own child.  Similarly, expectations exist within society that may offer further emotional detriment to those who neglect their children.  I so do not suggest that mothers value their children only because of such social influence.

The mother’s mental anguish and general bereavement which would surely result, both from knowing that she neglected her child and knowing the effect of the neglect the child, is so unpleasant to most people that they place a very high value on avoiding such a state.  If such an avoidance was not valuable to the mother, she would have not qualms at all about the neglect of her child.  This need not diminish the psycho-social significance of the mother-child relationship.  It is the highly praiseworthy to be so emotionally affected by the mere knowledge of another’s condition.  Indeed, among civilization, it is one of the paramount standards of morality.  All evaluation of morality aside, the end which motivates a value need not be cognitive or logically complex.  It can easily be as simple as the avoidance of a severe discomfort – whether resulting directly, socially, or orthogonally in relation to other distinct ends.  That value necessarily originates within the conception of the agent and is not contradictory to participation within large and complex social structures.

An ordinal construction of value does not exclude the possibility of an infinitely valuable object.  It is entirely consistent that the progress toward a single, over-arching end is the only metric by which all other actions and objects are evaluated.  For example, a paterfamilias my sleep, eat, work, invest effort and physical hardship all in the pursuit and service of some desired status of his family.  He wants to ensure a certain level of comfort or maybe he labors endlessly in consideration of their safety from of external threats.  It is necessary that the man be willing to die for his family if it really is that pursuit which commands all other values.  Although subtle, this is distinctly different from necessitating his self neglect in lieu of his pursuit.   He may judge that his persistent survival, and the maintenance thereof, is the subject of his efforts which provides the greatest return toward his goal.

Additionally, a tradeoff between his survival and the well being of his family may be non-existent.  If the man finds himself in a situation where his survival is inconsequential to the status of his family, then there is no reason to suspect that he should neglect himself.  It may be that a man separated from his family can perform no action which contributes to his goal of improving or sustaining its status.  Such a case would demand that the man put his efforts into the discovery of those activities which he believes will, in fact, affect the family’s well being.  There is a great deal of uncertainty here.  It may be that the man performs research and is deeply involved in the process of discovery with no knowledge of whether he shall encounter a method that would alter his current ineffectual disposition.  Therefore, even if the man’s actions are of no actual consequence to his goal, he will continue to pursue it in uncertain and possibly immaterial ways.

Above, the most relevant concept introduced is the seemingly disjointed relationship between the action of valuation and the other cursory actions which result from that valuation.  It is completely without effect, in and of itself, for one to value another person or object infinitely.  Although an explanation for that which motivates behavior, the act valuation does not ‘do’ anything by virtue of its existence.  Even the emotional satisfaction that a person would feel by knowing that another values them infinitely can only be gained by the action of that other person which would communicate as much.  In other words, “How do you know that he or she values you infinitely?”  The answer can not come through any medium beyond the evidence provided by a person’s actions.  Otherwise, a sort of faith could suffice to cause the belief – though, even among the religiously inclined, some evidence is thought to be present.  It is exactly the actions through which a person expresses his values that signal and offer meaning to them outside the otherwise inconsequential confines of the mind.

If we are to make any conclusions about what people value, then it can only be by observing the expression of those values through action.  Without the action there is nothing at all to observe. And if value had no resulting consequence, then there would be neither reason to consider the effects of action on persons nor impetus for persons to act.  In the next post we will introduce the value which is garnered both by intentional action and through the effects of unsought consequences.


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