The Origins of Value

Where does the value of a thing originate from? In particular, perhaps the question I mean to ask is: what is the value of truth? What is the value of anything, and why is it valuable? These are questions that point to an as yet unquestioned aspect of my mind that points itself in a particular direction and moves itself thereto without first apprehending clearly what it is that makes whatever I approach desirable. To get to the core of this one may ask: what is the value of happiness, and why is it desirable over suffering?

To begin to consider this issue I must first refer it to an agent’s underlying aims or goals in life. Perhaps a thing derives its value from a consideration of how much closer or further away it brings an agent towards his/her goals. However, this method is flawed as the value in the goals is presupposed by their being goals in the first place. Just being aimed at means these goals are desirable and referring the analysis of their value to this risks entering into cyclical argument. So, in order to avoid this, let us simplify the argument by assuming that everyone’s fundamental goal is the same, namely happiness, and then to question where that in particular derives its value from.

We would be hard-pressed to find anyone among us who would be honest in asserting that happiness is not desirable. It is an elementary polarity inherent to humans that we try to approach happiness and avoid suffering as though the value therein were axiomatic. Is it possible that the desirability of happiness is, in fact, axiomatic and irreducible to some ulterior psychological forces? Actually the trouble here is not whether or not happiness is inherently good but how to define it rigorously. This is a problem because there seem to be so many conflicting ways to formulate it and none which enjoys consensus. Some ascribe it to external situations matching pre-determined desires while other attribute it to the quieting down of all willing and still others say that it is naught but the absence of suffering. My mind in its current configuration leans towards the latter two ways of defining happiness and sees them as identical, in fact, since suffering is essential to all willing, the quieting of which brings no further suffering and hence, happiness. This is a negative concept of happiness and others may prefer the alternative notion, namely the positive affective quality of happiness whose negation is suffering. This is objectionable for me since in my observation of life, and in particular my own, I have noticed that the predominant affective state is that of tension or stress, reducible conceptually to suffering, and that relief from this stress brings with it what I call happiness. If there exists a happiness whose nature is not negative put positive, I have yet to encounter it as all instances of happiness I have felt have been due to the release of some tension or another.

Making use of this negative conception of happiness, we can then ask the appropriate question – why is suffering undesirable? – since it is suffering that is the positively existing phenomenon and not happiness. The crucial question to ask here is: why do we instinctively run away from suffering? Well, the answer to this has now become very clear indeed, after the concepts have been identified and characterised. The answer is that we run away from suffering because we affirm life through our affirmation of our wills. Suffering is really only always the instance of situations which oppose the affirmation of life: death, pain, separation from loved ones, denial of procreation, etc. However, it is not just limited to life, which is just one facet of the phenomena of the will. And in fact, will-affirmation is not limited to life-affirmation but includes self-affirmation as well, and is based upon the fundamental delusion that there is a self whatsoever.

So, if running away from suffering is the result of a delusion, is the right thing then to neither run away from nor towards anything? If so, what is the value in that? And this is where the pursuit of happiness becomes transmogrified into the pursuit of truth, and the question of the value of truth brought back to the surface. But, that is a question for another day, as my mind is done for this day and this clarification is enough for the time being. Further fermentation is required before further elaboration can proceed.

May all minds ferment and produce something of value.

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