Chapter 4

Kinds of values

I mentioned earlier that there was such a thing as a "potential value" and that this would allow us to classify values. It is now time to discuss this a bit further.

A potential value is some aspect of an object that in fact leads to some human activity.

That is, a potential value has as its (natural) purpose, in the sense defined in Chapter 4 of Section 3 of the second part 2.3.4, some activity that could be made a goal for a human being, since it is a human act; and therefore, if the act is made a goal, the aspect is an actual value for the person who has that goal.

Obviously, values--actual or potential--are defined as such by the goals they lead to; and so this allows us to define the different kinds of values there are by listing the various types of human acts that can be made goals for life.

Let me say first of all that any human act can be made a goal for human life, as long as its exercise does not contradict any other aspect of one's reality. For instance, there is nothing wrong with eating simply for the sake of eating (to make the act itself the goal), and not have as its purpose nourishment, as long as one does not make oneself sick or malnourished (including being unhealthily fat) by what or how much one eats. It is all right, as we will see in discussing ethics, to eat something that has no food-value at all; though it contradicts the function of nutrition if you eat and then throw up so that you can't digest it.

By the same token, any human act can be a value toward some other human act (in the person himself or in some other person) as its goal. Even the highest human acts of thinking, for instance, can be values toward, say, teaching someone, or even toward figuring out a way to perform some physical act like weight lifting more efficiently. Whether the act is a goal or a value depends on whether there is an answer to the question, "Why am I doing this?" beyond the simple "Because I want to."

You can, obviously, find out what the goals in your life are by asking the question, "Why am I doing this?" until you can't give an answer any more. And, as I said earlier, you can rank these goals by pairing them off against each other and saying "If I can do only one of these, which one would I do?" For instance, suppose you ask yourself why you watch television, and your answer is "Because I like to." Then it's one of your goals in life. Suppose you also ask yourself why you play racquetball, and your answer is that you want to keep yourself healthy; then it's a value for being healthy; but then when you ask yourself why you want to be healthy, you say, "Because I want to be," then health is another goal of your life. Thus, you find that watching television, being healthy, knowing philosophy, eating éclairs, painting pictures, are all goals for your life.

Now to find out importance, you ask yourself, "If I can't both watch TV and eat an éclair, which would I do?" If the answer is "eat the éclair," then you would ask, "If I can't both eat it and read philosophy, which would I do?"--and I would hope the answer is "read philosophy." And so on. If you wanted to, you could find all of the fourteen thousand three hundred fifty-two acts (or whatever) that you do for their own sake and not any further purpose, and you could rank them all against each other, so that you could list them in order of importance from one to fourteen thousand three hundred fifty-two.

With that said, what kind of (potential) values are there?

First, there are physical values: those things which enable a person to perform physical acts well, or to have a certain appearance of body. The actual acts as goals would be classified under exercise if they have no further purpose--for instance, if you run, not to be healthy or to have a good looking body, but just because you like to run. If you want to "be in shape" as your purpose in running or from exercise then what you want is a certain kind of body; and the exercise then is a value for this goal, not a goal in itself. Physical play is performing physical acts for their own sake, with no real purpose except the act itself; when the acts have a further purpose, you are no longer playing. Obviously, equipment that is used in exercise or play is a value for it, and so it would be a physical value.

Exercise can also be a value for looking good, and this would still be a physical value. Obviously, clothes and cosmetics are physical values in this sense also. Possessions, as a kind of extension of one's physical reality into the inanimate realm, are physical values, because they enable various physical acts that we can't perform without them.

There is nothing wrong with having as a goal in life looking good, and of making it even a very important goal. We tend to think of it as "vanity," but after all, it is your body, and if its disgraceful to live in a house that is a mess, and desirable to have a house or a desk that is neat and pleasing to people's eyes, then by the same token to turn yourself into a body that is an eyesore is hardly charitable, and why shouldn't you want to look as pleasant as you can?

Another goal for physical values would be health of the body. This isn't exactly a biological value, because it involves the physical condition of the body, not the acts of life; your body is physically such that it can perform with ease any of the acts you ask of it, and is not hampered in your exercise of your genetic potential by anything from within it.

Actually, health as the ability to do with ease any act within your genetic potential is a value, whose goal is the acts in question; but it is still true that it involves a certain state of the body; and this state as a state can be a goal, and need not be solely for the sake of the acts. In that sense, as a goal, it is the perfection of the body as a human body.

Health is generally regarded as a kind of necessary act: the minimum below which you are unhealthy (can't act up to your genetic potential). But there are obviously levels of health, and what I would mean by health as a goal would be "being fit." Again, it is perfectly legitimate to make this one of the goals of your life, and to take as values eating the right foods and doing the right amount of exercise and so on that lead to this goal.

Health is not exactly the same thing as "being in shape," in the sense that weight lifters speak of it; because very often what they are talking about is either looking good or being very strong. Again, these are legitimate goals, as long as the quest for musculature and strength does not contradict being healthy, as it does if one takes steroids. Steroids are a value for being strong, but a disvalue for being healthy, because in the long run they damage the body; and hence they must be avoided.

All of these goals are regarded as pretty "lowly" and not worth having; but this is prejudice, I think. True, they are the least spiritual of our human acts; but that does not mean that they are worse than our other acts, and are to be avoided. Those who "mortify the flesh" and neglect their bodies in the name of the "spiritual life" are doing what is morally wrong, because we are not angels, we are embodied spirits, and the spirit is also as one and the same act the unifying energy of the body, which builds the body. The counter-immorality, of course, comes from being so interested in appearance, health, or strength that one refuses even a minimal sort of development of one's mind.

My own personal view with respect to all of this is that my Master gave me this body, and I want to give it back in as good condition as I can. And if "mortification of the flesh" is a value for Christians (as it is, since it is a demonstration of caring for the beloved more than one's own comfort), it is plenty "mortifying" to toil at those Nautilus torture-machines that can get your body into such superb shape.

The second class of values is that of biological values. These obviously enable or make easy the vegetative acts of nutrition and reproduction. Eating and sex can be goals in themselves, because, as I said with eating, they can be done for their own sake and for no further purpose, as long as the function of the faculty is not contradicted in the process.

The biological acts of growth or repair of injury can't be goals, because first of all growth is a process, and is automatic, and so is not subject to our choice; and secondly, repair of injuries obviously is getting back from a damaged condition and so is not a goal to be striven for. But eating and sex are acts in their own right, and so can be chosen as such as well as for the effects they have because of their biological function.

It was held by St. Augustine that it was immoral to have sex except as a value for reproduction, because to exercise the act as an end in itself, he thought, contradicted it as reproductive. He was wrong; if he weren't, it would be immoral to have sex after menopause, which is scarcely an opinion that has been widespread among ethicians. It is also not immoral to have sex because it feels nice, making the biological act a value for the sensitive goal of the feeling--again, as long as none of the other aspects of sex or the persons involved are contradicted.

Without going into the morality of sex here (we will see it later), the reason it is not immoral to use sex just for the act is that even in itself not every act of sex does produce offspring; not even every act during the fertile period of the woman, as women who are trying to have children can testify to their sorrow. Hence, it is not contrary to the nature of the act if it is performed and does not result in a child. It would contradict the act if, in its exercise, you did something to make it impossible for it to result in a child when it could result in a child--as, for instance, using a condom, which obviously makes a reproductive act a non-reproductive sort of act; or even to use a pill to prevent fertility when fertile so that an act which could result in a child can't when it can. But as long as something is not done to change the type of act you are performing, then you can do it for its own sake and not necessarily for its effects (of course, you would have to accept the effect--the child--if he occurs; the point is that you don't have to have him as your goal).

The values connected with these goals would be the different types of foods and so on in eating, and books on sexual techniques and what are called "sexual aids" in the case of sex.

The third class of goals and values obviously would be connected with sensations, where a sensation of some sort is the goal and what produces the sensation is the value. Aristotle mentions that even animals sometimes just look at things apparently for the sake of seeing, and certainly humans look at sights just to see them, making the sensation itself the goal of the act. Clearly, as he also says (in fact, it is in the introduction to the Metaphysics, where he is giving the evidence that we have a natural desire to "know"), we can use sensations as values for understanding or for action; but we can also choose them just for their own sake.

Emotions or "feelings" are a little bit peculiar among sensations, since they are connected with instinct as the built-in program linking information to behavioral response; and as the consciousness of this program, the pleasant emotions are, as it were, incentives for the act in question, as the unpleasant ones are incentives to avoid it. It would seem a little odd, therefore, to perform the act for the sake of the emotion that was supposed to induce it; it sounds like putting the cart before the horse; and philosophers like St. Augustine thought that this was contradicting the natural order of things, and was immoral.

But just as you can use understanding (a spiritual act) as a value for performing physical acts or for biological purposes like finding out your biological equilibrium and figuring out what to eat to stay there, so you can use any human act as an end and any other one as a value for that end, as I said at the beginning of this chapter. Hence, it is legitimate to make the sensation of pleasure from eating the goal of the act of eating and not use the pleasure only as a means to get you to nourish yourself properly.

It is a mistake, as I said in discussing instinct in Chapter 4 of Section 2 of the third part 3.2.4, to say that in animals, the feeling is the incentive to perform the act in question, as if animals ate because the food tasted good and avoided eating something because it tasted bad. To do this, they would have to be able to know relationships as such and set goals for themselves, which would mean that they would be understanding, not living on the level of instinct. In animals, the sensation occurs in conjunction with the operation of the particular drive in question, and is not an incentive to do it at all, but merely an epiphenomenon of it. The animal feels the emotion, but the feeling does not induce it to perform the act; the feeling is just there, as a gratuitous addition to the act. It is only humans who can use emotions as incentives or not.

And actually, when a human being uses an emotion (or rather, the anticipation of an emotion) as the incentive for choosing an act, he really has the emotion as the end, and the act as a means toward it; because as a motive (and this is what you mean by an "incentive" in the context of a choice), it is the chosen effect. Hence, if the intention of "nature" is that emotions are incentives to acts, and are to motivate us to perform the act, this implies that for us it is natural to have the emotion as the end and the act as the means; so far from being unnatural, it is exactly what "nature" intended--though what it "wants" by this is the guarantee that the act will be performed.

So it is by no means a reversion to the natural order of things to merely permit, as it were, the pleasure connected with an act and to try to make the act itself the goal of the pleasure; it is perfectly legitimate to have the pleasure as the goal and to make the act a value for the sensation. Thus, for example, you can eat because of the taste, and you can have sex because of the pleasure, prescinding from the biological function of each. Of course, you can also make the act or its biological effect your goal and take the pleasure as a help in performing it; what I am saying is that the former is as legitimate as the latter. In fact, it is legitimate to have both the act and its effects and the sensation your goal, so that none of them are subordinated to each other as means to end, but all are coordinate goals.

It is sometimes considered Christian to eschew the "pleasures of the flesh" for the sake of the "true pleasures of the contemplation of God"; but this is actually a rather Manichean and unchristian way of looking at things, and is more Stoic than Christian. Christianity, especially with its emphasis on the Resurrection of the body, is not one of those "spiritualist" religions that holds the body in contempt, however much certain Christians historically may have done so. Ironically, St. Augustine is (with some justification) looked on as one of the foremost of the "contemners of the flesh" because of what he said about sex; and yet he was the one who fought the dualistic view of humanity that Manicheanism held, and who therefore realized that the body and what belongs to it is good, not evil.

Even unpleasant emotions can be made goals, when the idea is to experience them just for the sake of the sensation. I have mentioned this several times, for instance in the section on the problem of evil in Chapter 12 of Section 5 of the first part 1.5.12, where I said that we take roller coaster rides to experience in a safe context the fear of falling from great heights; and we watch horror films to experience various other frights; and I suppose we watch violent films to experience the disgust of seeing someone's entrails being splattered over the pavement in a context where we know no harm is actually being done (though personally, I don't have this emotion as a goal for my life, at least at the moment, and so can sympathize only in the abstract with those who do so. It would be immoral, by the way, to enjoy such sights in the sense of wanting to do them if you could get away with it; that is in effect choosing the evil itself.).

With respect to using emotions or sensations as goals, this is not the same, as I was at pains to point out two sections ago, as the esthetic experience, because in the esthetic experience, the emotions are part of an intellectual experience. What I am talking about here is just feeling the emotions--or any sensations--for their own sake, without including them in or using them for anything beyond themselves. This is perfectly legitimate, and consistent with being human. Thus, when horrible things are seen in a tragedy, the unpleasant emotions enable one to understand a truth about life that could not be understood any other way. When used in this way, of course, the emotions are values, and the understanding is the goal.

Obviously, pictures, sounds, tastes, things that can be felt like velvet and silk, perfumes, and so on, as well as the machines and films and acts that produce the emotions I was talking about are the values that are sensitive values.

The fourth category of goals and values are the intellectual ones; and here, either perceptive or esthetic understanding is the goal. I am inclined to think with Aristotle that choosing is not itself a goal, since it concerns itself with an act to be performed. St. Thomas, who held that love was an act of the will, and who also held, as a Christian of the time, that love was the "objective greatest good" for a human being, thought that "possession of the beloved object" was an act of the will, and therefore the act of the will could be an end.

Since for me there are not separate faculties of "intellect" and "will," but rather the act of the spirit's determining itself (understanding, which involves, as I said in Chapter 2 of Section 3 of the third part 3.3.2, a kind of choosing), and the spirit's determining the whole person (which also involves understanding), there isn't really this dilemma. If you are choosing, in my way of looking at things, you are using your spirit's act precisely as a value for some goal in your person as a whole; if you are simply using the spirit's act as an end in itself, you are understanding. In that sense, choosing is subordinate to understanding; but this does not mean that the "will" is subordinate to the "intellect," since both are one.

And in enjoying the happiness of one's beloved, what you are doing is understanding the fulfillment of your goal in her happiness, because as a matter of fact this was the goal of your loving choices connected with her. Hence, happiness is an intellectual act, more of the nature of understanding than choosing.

In one sense, any act chosen as a goal is always going to involve understanding in its fulfillment; because the success of performing the act, if it is unknown, does not satisfy the spirit which chose it. Hence, happiness is always an act of understanding: the understanding that success (the performing of the act which is the goal) is achieved; but the act which is being performed is not necessarily understanding.

Here is the distinction the Scholastics make between the finis qui (the "act which" is the end in question) and the finis quo (the "act by which" the end is grasped--known--as the end). The former is any one of the goals we have talked about, and if you are talking about "personal fulfillment," is the whole set of them; This is success. The latter is the understanding that the goals have been achieved; and this is happiness.

Obviously, since it is always possible to lose a goal in this life, then, as I said in Chapter 4 of Section 4 of the third part 3.4.4, there is always a further goal of hanging onto the success you have achieved; and so complete happiness can only come after death, where success cannot be lost and we know this.

With that said, it is also the case that certain specific acts of understanding, either perceptive understanding or esthetic understanding or both, can be goals in themselves, and sought just for their own sake and not for "what you can do with them." In this case, the means that allow you to have these acts--courses of study, paintings, symphonies, and so on--are the values and the acts you perform with their help are the goals. Cicero has an eloquent speech (aren't all of his speeches eloquent?) on how esthetic understanding (though he didn't call it that) can be an end in itself in his defense of the poet Archias.

One need not justify knowledge or any other human act in terms of "what you can do with it." After all, the ultimate goal of any human act (if it has one) must always be some other human act; and so asking for justification for some human act is merely to say that you have a different value system. This, I think, needs constant stressing, because each of us can see no point in performing acts for their own sake if we don't happen to have those acts as goals in our lives. Each of us also has the idea that our hierarchy of goals is what is "really important" in life; and we can usually give reasons why this is so--as Aristotle and the early Christians did in saying that intellectual contemplation of God (or in Aristotle's case the gods) is the highest act we can perform and therefore is "the ultimate objective good" or the "real goal" for mankind as such. This confuses, as I have said so often, lack of limitation with goodness.

But there are some things that are not goals and need to be justified in terms of "what you can do with them." These are pure values, which have no meaning or reality in themselves, and exist only in relation to what they are for.

I mentioned health as opposed to the perfection of the body. Since health by definition means having nothing internal to prevent you from doing the acts implied in your genetic potential, then obviously in this sense it is a pure value: an abstraction whose meaning is ability to do whatever it relates to, and not some definite act in its own right.

Time is another pure value, because, as we saw in Chapter 6 of Section 3 of the second part 2.3.6, it doesn't exist as such, and is simply a relation among the quantities of a process or the quantities of compared processes. Time is a value in the sense of "the time to do something," which means once again the ability to do it because other commitments don't prevent it.

Doing nothing in the sense of resting is a pure value; because as inactivity it is precisely non-reality and as such it is impossible; hence, it has meaning only in relation to some specific thing you are not doing. It is therefore either the avoidance of something bad, and has meaning in this sense as a necessity, without any positive significance; or it is resting in order to marshal one's forces for the sake of the better use of values or enjoyment of goals. It is a perversion of rest to regard it as a goal, because then what one is seeking is non-existence as an end.

The same sort of thing can be said of freedom. All freedom is is the ability to do a number of different acts, but insofar as you are free, you are not doing the acts that are open to you. If you have a box of chocolates and a piece of cake, you are free to eat either of them; if you eat the cake, you are no longer free to eat it--and as long as you remain free, you are eating neither one.

Hence, freedom has no meaning in itself, and therefore is not a goal; and those who seek to be free or to keep their freedom are like the person who chooses "doing nothing" as a goal; what they both want is non-existence. In the case of the person who wants to "stay free," however, he wants non-existence with the further contradiction of its being non-existence open to various acts, which (insofar as he wants to stay free) he does not want to perform.

Finally, money is another pure value. Since, for its possessor, as we will see in the next section, it is a certain quantity of the freedom to use others' services in pursuing one's own goals, then insofar as one hoards it without spending it, one hoards bare possibility of acting without the action.

Now of course, money can also be used to ward off harm, and so a certain reserve can function as security, which, in our insecure world, can be a kind of goal. This, in fact, is what misers are after when they hoard money. But it is not perfect security, and the obsession with security (i.e. equilibrium in this life) doesn't recognize how this life is structured; we can't be ultimately secure, because our body wears out and we die. Hence, money is a value for security; but only a certain amount of money will bring a reasonable security, and to look on a hoard of wealth as security itself is an illusion.

Beyond that, money exists to be spent, and has no existence in itself. Most of the money we have, in fact, is nothing but a number in somebody's account book, and has not even any physical existence at all.

But we will see this more at length in the next section and the next part. For now, let me simply note that all these "pure" values are are various ways in which we are able to do something; they are potencies or powers, and powers as such have no meaning except in relation to the acts they are abilities to do; and the ability to do something is really what a value is.