Axiology: The Problem of Human Values

The Range of Values

ALL people are acquainted with several kinds of values, particularly with those of immediate personal attractiveness. This is certainly true of whatever we call pleasant, satisfying, interesting, useful, profitable. These simple values are easy to know, insofar as subjective experience is their chief criterion: you just feel them or you do not, and all people feel them from time to time. What makes the entire problem so perplexing is that people disagree on both specific and general meaning of values, simply because what is pleasant to one is unpleasant to another, or what is interesting to one is boring to another.

The explanation of this fact is clear enough: values are established in the process of living. We learn to appreciate things, often without any effort at all, and each individual does it differently. We become conditioned to specific values just as we become conditioned to specific customs, manners, or language. In other words, each man, woman and child comes to assume a personal attitude toward values and selects and combines them in a unique fashion.

All valuations are subjective, to be sure, but they certainly are not arbitrary. Invariably they have objective causes -- in the human body, in social relations, in history, in external nature. Taste for food, for instance, is formed differently in every individual, though it is also largely influenced by family habits, by national culture, and even by seasons.

When we consider values of lesser personal appeal, yet probably of greater social importance, however, as described by such words as wise, true, beautiful, good, famous, healthful, the subjective element of valuation naturally yields some ground to the objective elements. The meaning of truth, for example, is not exactly one of mere preference. It presupposes power of abstraction, depth of understanding, pursuit of purpose, centuries of

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