Wednesday, May 11, 2022

The Doctrine of Objective Value

This “meaning crisis” conversation will eventually come to a natural law ethic, or it will never resolve.

There is no natural law ethic without objective value.

Chapter Four….

‘Can you be righteous unless you be just in rendering to things their due esteem?  All things were made to be yours and you were made to prize them according to their value.’

From Centuries of Meditations, by Thomas Traherne, and as cited in The Abolition of Man, by C.S. Lewis

To render something its due esteem, to prize something according to its value…in order to do so, such things must have a value that is objective.  Otherwise, what amount of esteem is due?  After all, otherwise any amount of esteem will do.  What value is the thing’s accorded value?  Can any amount be just as good as any other?  Not if it has an “accorded value.”

We have seen that it cannot be so with words.  For life to have meaning, words must have meaning.  Objective meaning.  “Sublime” and “pretty” are not the same.  When describing the waterfall, one of these words is more objectively true than the other.  Rendering due esteem to the waterfall, esteem according to its value, requires the use of one of these words over the other.

St. Augustine defines virtue as ordo amoris, the ordinate condition of the affections in which every object is accorded that kind of degree of love which is appropriate to it.

Virtue requires some standard; else any behavior can be deemed virtuous.  Can you envision otherwise?

Aristotle says that the aim of education is to make the pupil like and dislike what he ought.

“Ought” requires some standard; else any affection can be afforded any degree of love.  Well, unless we are free to live without “oughts.”  For humans, some would describe this as liberty, but the same people would not be so callous in this attitude if describing a lion living without lion “oughts.”

[The young student] must be trained to feel pleasure, liking, disgust, and hatred at those things which really are pleasant, likable, disgusting, and hateful.

Students who have thus been taught in ‘ordinate affections’ or ‘just sentiments’ are able to find the first principles of Ethics when the age of reflective thought is reached.  Otherwise, reason is left free to justify every whim, every instinct.  Citing Plato:

‘All this before he is of an age to reason; so that when Reason at length comes to him, then, bred as he has been, he will hold out his hands in welcome and recognize her because of the affinity he bears to her.’

Absent the inculcation of these first principles of Ethics, Reason can justify any cause, any course of action.

In early Hinduism that conduct in men which can be called good consists in conformity to, or almost participation in, the Rta…. Righteousness, correctness, order, the Rta, is constantly identified with satya or truth, correspondence with reality.

Is it possible to have a life of meaning if one does not live in correspondence with reality?  Or, to frame it in accord with the premise behind this series of posts: if one does not live in correspondence with reality (say, for example, “birthing persons”), one will live a meaningless life – hence, a meaning crisis.

Lewis then speaks of the Tao – reality beyond all predicates.  It is Nature, it is the Way, the Road.  He has earlier referred to it in its Western form: Natural Law.

It is the doctrine of objective value, the belief that certain attitudes are really true, and others really false, to the kind of things the universe is and the kind of things we are.

If this is so, then to live in a manner other than this – other than the kind of thing we really are – must inherently lead to a crisis of meaning.  Is a lion leading a meaningful life if it lives as a house cat – is it living a life of lion-ness?  Better, if it lives in a zoo, with all material comforts met but none of the things that make the life of a lion lion-like?  Can this be described as a meaningful lion-life?  To ask such questions is to answer these.

But it is precisely this toward which we “educate” children today, the “new” education in contrast to the old form:

Where the old initiated, the new merely ‘conditions’.  The old dealt with its pupils as grown birds deal with young birds when they teach them to fly; the new deals with them more as the poultry-keeper deals with young birds – making them thus or thus for purposes of which the birds know nothing.  In a word, the old was a kind of propagation – men transmitting manhood to men; the new is merely propaganda.

The student is made for something other than being what he was made to be.  Without objective value (a man can be trapped in a woman’s body), meaning is lost.  These are to become Men without Chests – the Chest, in Lewis’s view, is the liaison officer between the cerebral man and the visceral man.  It brings together the intellect, mere spirit, with the appetite, the mere animal.  The chest makes man man.

But it is precisely this chest that is taken from man.  the idea that words have meaning – objective meaning; the idea that things are to be rendered due esteem in accord with a value that is objectively understood.  It takes proper training for this – proper training to be what man was designed to be – just as it takes proper training for a baby bird to grow to and adult bird, or for a lion cub to become a proper lion.


And all the time – such is the tragi-comedy of our situation – we continue to clamour for those very qualities we are rendering impossible.

This may have been true when Lewis first spoke those words; it clearly no longer is true today.  Today society celebrates that which is most opposite of what man was designed to become.

We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise.

We no longer expect even this.  We now tell these men, men leading meaningless lives, that their lives are so meaningless that we don’t expect anything from them.  Is it possible that this would cause such men to believe their lives were meaningless?

We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.  We castrate and bid the geldings to be fruitful.


  1. I just said a short prayer of thanks to The Almighty for the blessing of you sharing and that my feet found way to your words.
    - Southern prodigal son

  2. Objective value. It is very important to believe there is a real human nature. It is very important to define that nature objectively with value, morals, purpose. This is what natural law is all about.

    Where I think the big confusion of our day is the inability to properly understand what spheres of life are subjective and which are objective. Maybe in the ancient to pre-modern world everything was objective. Then with liberal modernism and post-modernism everything is subjective.

    But Menger and Mises were correct. Economics is a subject governed by subjective value. Subjectivity gets to the reality of individual personalities. Subjective value is real.

    The important question in my mind is which spheres of life are supposed to be objective and which subjective? Maybe objective value sets the bounds of nature and subjective value defines the individual. Meaning it is morally neutral to prefer punk rock to classical music. But it is immoral to prefer homosexual sex acts to homosexual sex acts, even if that is what your individual will desires, even if it is unchangeable. I think 1 Corinthians 6 says it is changeable for at least some.

    I also like the idea of the chest linking the mind and visceral. I went to a church where the same concept was explained as man being tied to the middle of the mast of the ship. Man isn't in the crow's nest or on the deck. We are caught in the middle between gods and animals. It is an uncomfortable position but one we must learn to live in.

    Chapter 3, The Ethics Of Liberty also deals with the concept of natural law:

    1. Maybe too simplistic, but I tend to think that the gap between objective ethics and subjective value can be explained quite satisfactorily by our limited ability to perceive the full picture of ethics, and our also limited ability to *follow* what we do know about it.

    2. . Protestants had to protest and even depart from the Roman Catholic Church because the Roman Catholic belief system is ultimately the Bible PLUS. The Bible + tradition = Roman Catholic belief and practice. And when human traditions get wedged in side-by-side with the Bible the inevitable result is that God's truth gets crowded out. Protestantism is, Sola Scriptura is, because Christianity was corrupted by the mystery of iniquity. But equally dangerous, or even more dangerous, Bible MINUS plan. That is liberal Protestantism. Liberal Protestantism developed out of Protestantism. The use of higher criticism, historical criticism, and all its pieces arose out of liberal Protestantism. This approach to the Bible means the Bible MINUS. Using human reason the Bible is vivisected and cut into bits and pieces and applying presuppositions and reasoning and conjecture and a host of assumptions, different bits are stripped out as having never been part of the Bible. I'm not talking about what is unfortunately called "lower criticism," which only means determining the best we can what is the reading of the original text. That is a necessary task. But I'm talking about taking that text and then dissecting it. So when you get to a miracle like Jesus walking on the water, that is ruled out . I don't see it in the world today, I can't reproduce it, its not scientific, it must not have happened. So, now I search for the principle beneath the myth that Jesus walked on water. So I come up with some innocuous lesson of my own after I have stripped the text of supernaturalism. The only problem is, What if Jesus truly did walk on water? Then I have eisogeted the text, inserted my idea into the text, overwritten the text of God with the text of man. But there are many ways to do eisogesis, many ways to overwrite the text with our own meanings. No one is going to come to you and admit that they think the text is culturally conditioned. Instead, they will come with an approach to interpretation which is clothed in some reasonable sounding name. They'll tell you it is Adventist. And they will proceed to interpret so as to lead you to think of the text as meaning something different than it means. Why? they themselves are trapped in an an ideology, an opinion that they must propogate. They have told themselves a lie and accepted it and now they are going to tell you a lie and they are determined that you will accept it. We are on guard against the Bible PLUS, but we are not on guard against our own scholars using the Bible MINUS. In this hour we need to be on guard. When the simple is shrouded in the confusing, you should be hearing alarm bells. James and Paul agree with each other. There are not contradictions. And Ellen White was prescient when she admonished us: "brethren, cling to your Bible, as it reads, and stop your criticisms in regard to its validity, and obey the Word, and not one of you will be lost. The ingenuity of men has been exercised for ages to measure the word of God by their finite minds and limited comprehension. If the Lord, the Author of the living oracles, would throw back the curtain and reveal His wisdom and His glory before them, they would shrink into nothingness and exclaim as did Isaiah, 'I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of people of unclean lips'"

    3. "But it is immoral to prefer homosexual sex acts to homosexual sex acts . . . "

      I assume you meant to write "But it is immoral to prefer homosexual acts to heterosexual acts"?

    4. Yes. Thanks for the catch Tony.

    5. cosmic dwarf, I don't think it is easy at all because preference of economic goods overlaps with preference of lifestyle. Lifestyle contains issues like hair style, clothes, where to live, what food to eat, what education to pursue. Those are all outside the realm of objective in my mind. But then there is the question of which person to pursue as a spouse. Blond, brunette, black, white. Still purely subjective. But then you could consider an immoral person, a thief, same sex, etc. You just crossed the line into objective value. Where is the line exactly? I don't know.

    6. This comment has been removed by the author.

    7. Kevin, I do think the Bible has to provide the boundaries of reason and natural law. Defining natural law without the Bible even using reason will lead to every evil under the sun.

      Natural law without the Bible is probably better than positive law but it isn't the best path forward.

    8. RMB, I would argue that it's still possible to have a "correct" choice in clothing, food, spouse, what have you; but we can't always tell what that is, and even when we can, we might not be able to follow through, for reasons of our limited, failure-prone, material nature.

      For example, what's the "correct" pick between a red and a blue shirt? What if you're attending a Communist rally? What if you're visiting a pasture with roaming bulls? Which is better, a long-sleeved woolen shirt or a short-sleeved cotton one? What if it's terribly hot outside? What's the right pick for a wife, if you lean towards blondes, but there's a brunette that's more nurturing, chaste, industrious, frugal, etc. than any available blonde you know of? What if you make up your mind to make the wise choice rather than the superficial one - only to find out the brunette is not interested?

      I'm sympathetic towards the idea that there's always a correct choice to be made in any given circumstance. Oftentimes we can tell what that is. Other times, things aren't so clear. Sometimes we lack information, or fail to properly process available information. Sometimes we do things we know we shouldn't. Sometimes the difference between "correct enough" and "more correct" is so trivial that it's not even worth worrying about. Sometimes we end up doing a less-than-correct thing because the strictly correct option would be more trouble than it's worth - and the cost of an action is part of judging whether it's a good one.

      As far as I'm concerned, there's no need to deny the pervasiveness of objective ethics to favor subjective valuation in socioeconomic analysis. The following facts are more than enough reason to do so:
      1- no central authority can possibly tell what's right in every circumstance. Even a fully automated central planning system would need "drones" with some measure of autonomy (and therefore the potential for conflicting opinions) to make decisions on the ground***;
      2- even if some sort of supernatural central planning system *could* always know what the right thing is, the costs of imposing it on unwilling subjects would be horrendous;
      3- in actuality, the central authority itself would be made up of fallible people, and most likely not the finest specimens (this one has been empirically demonstrated);
      4- last but not least, it is an ethical imperative to allow people their own space and their own right to choose. Besides, if men never made mistakes, our existence would be horribly dull.

      *** this, as I understand it, is Mises's economic calculation argument: there are a whole heap of judgment calls that need to be made on a regular basis, and in many cases the "right" choice isn't obvious, even to those acquainted with the circumstances. Whichever path gets chosen, it sets in motion a whole *new* heap of judgment calls that need to be made as a result. A free market that respects the right of each individual to make his own judgment calls (subjective value), and face their consequences, is the only system that solves the problem of cascading complexity efficiently AND peacefully.

      This came out way longer than it should have! If you made it to the end, I thank you for the patience!

    9. RMB,
      What do you consider an immoral person? Would a woman who wore mini-skirts and liked to go out every Friday night drinking and dancing with her husband be considered immoral? What if she also wore see-through tops? Would that cross the line? Would a Muslim woman who wore a burqa at the behest of her husband be considered moral? What is immorality anyway?

    10. cosmic,

      "For example, what's the "correct" pick between a red and a blue shirt? What if you're attending a Communist rally? What if you're visiting a pasture with roaming bulls? Which is better, a long-sleeved woolen shirt or a short-sleeved cotton one? What if it's terribly hot outside? What's the right pick for a wife, if you lean towards blondes, but there's a brunette that's more nurturing, chaste, industrious, frugal, etc. than any available blonde you know of? What if you make up your mind to make the wise choice rather than the superficial one - only to find out the brunette is not interested?"

      There is still subjectivity in each of those examples, which demonstrates the difficulty of drawing the line between where objective ends and subjective starts.

      Even your discussion of correct choices being more or less correct. I don't agree. There are many choices in life have no moral implication. There are also choices that are good for one person but not for another. There again subjectivity raises its head.

      About your list. I agree with your comments. However, I would point out that what you have argued for is natural law and therefore objective importance of liberty in order for individuals to carry out their lives.

    11. Roger, I don't know. I was using the word "immoral" and the others as categories to explain a concept.

      I think your comments also show how there is some subjectivity at the fringes of objective moral values. If a woman wears miniskirts to go on a date with her husband that is a bit of gray area to me. Depends on the context which means there is some subjectivity but also the objective good of modesty comes into play too. How short? Where are they going? How much are they drinking? What kind of dancing?

      I do think a see through top crosses the line objectively. There may be some cultures where that isn't considered immodest (and therefore immoral) but I guarantee it is one not influenced by Christianity.

      About Muslims, I don't think it is immoral for a woman to cover herself ever. But I do think it is immoral for a man to force a woman to cover her face that is dehumanizing.

      Questions like these are why I think natural law has to be bounded by the Scriptures. Without them we will define morality incorrectly, fallibly. We need an external guide.

    12. This entire conversation points to the gray, the spaces in-between, the continuum. It points to the reasons why local custom and tradition are respected within the idea of natural law, but need not be identical across all customs and traditions.

      Things like murder and theft can be (not perfectly, but close enough) defined and understood, and approach universal understanding. But not every human interaction is so black and white.

      At what age (or with what mental capacity) is one considered responsible for his actions? How much force is acceptable in defending one's natural rights? What punishment is acceptable for a given violation? How short a skirt is too short a skirt?

      Such questions must be determined locally, based on the customs and traditions that have been developed and accepted over many generations.

      As to the objective / subjective issue brought on by Austrian economics, I always think of the following verse (and other similar verses), from Proverbs:

      "Who can find a virtuous woman? For her price is far above rubies."

      A "virtuous woman" is an objective value. How much more her price is than the prices of rubies? That is subjective - we are not told how much more, nor can a number be assigned to the delta with which all will agree.

    13. No point in trying to draw lines. "All are sinners." The rest is subjective preferences. The question becomes whether one is an adopted child of God.

  3. Even if I were to reject objective value, I would have to entertain the possibility objective value exists, lest I make an objective value of my rejection of objective value. Take that, nihilist! Hoisted by your own petard!

    1. If I knew how to post a thumbs up, I would post a thumbs up!

  4. I've been thinking for awhile about how we often talk of things like gold as having "intrinsic" value (which I take to mean that it is objectively valuable in and of itself), which seems at odds with the Austrian concept of subjective economic values. Initially, I thought that was the main differentiator between gold and crypto. Then I shifted to thinking that neither gold nor crypto were intrinsically valuable, based upon that view of subjective economic value.

    Now, this discussion adds a further wrinkle. It seems true that the value of both gold and bitcoin is subjective, and yet they still feel...different. Maybe gold is like the waterfall in CS Lewis' example. Is it the monetary equivalent of "sublime?"


    1. I don't believe Austrian refer to gold or anything else as having "intrinsic" value.

      I cannot speak to bitcoin, knowing little of the phenomena, but as to gold, it clearly satisfies all requirements of sound money.

      To your connection to the word "sublime," curious and creative. I have often thought of gold being to fiat currency what natural law is to legislation: the real thing overtaken by the false god.