Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Values as choices

This is from Get Out Of Your Mind and Into Your Life and is reproduced here to help anyone struggling with identifying or clarifying their own values.

Choices and judgments are not the same thing. When you make a judgments you apply your mind to evaluate alternatives. Depending on what you want, you pick one. So if I want a sandwich, I will weigh up what's important to me - taste, price, calories, availability and decide.

90% of the time judgments work well. But one areas they cannot work is in values, because judgments involve applying metrics to alternatives.

For example, healthy eating might involve the health of your heart as a measure. But what of the yardstick itself, how was that picked? Was picking ‘health’ another judgment? If so, how was it picked? What yardstick was used to evaluate it?

This process of evaluation could go on forever. For example if I persist I might think I value health because it allows me to live a great life. But that itself is a judgment. How do I evaluate it? Perhaps by thinking that a great life allows me to be free to create something wonderful. But how do I evaluate something wonderful?

In the end judgments cannot tell you which yardstick to pick, because judgments require applying an evaluative metric. That works fine, but only after you’ve picked one.

Valuing gives us a place to stop. Values are not judgments, values are choices. Choices are selections between alternatives that may be made in the presence of reasons (if your mind gives you any, which it usually does) but the selection is not for those reasons.

A choice is therefore not linked to an evaluative yardstick. It's for this reason that 'evaluation' comes from 'value'. That’s because evaluations are a matter of applying our values and then making judgments based on those values. If values were judgments, it would mean we’d have to evaluate our values, but against which values would we evaluate?

This is tough to understand because minds don’t like choices. They evolved to apply evaluative yardsticks. In fact, that is the very essence of the relational abilities brought about by language. But minds cannot pick the ultimate directions that make all of this decision making meaningful.

With nonverbal organisms all selections between alternative are choices, because they cannot make literal judgments. The animal is not guided by reasons, they choose.

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