I. Introduction to Axiology
A. The Fundamental Project of Axiology
The fundamental project of axiology is the attempt to discover, properly formulate, and defend principles determining the intrinsic values of various things including lives, outcomes, and possible worlds.
1. Why Engage in this Project
Since the time of Plato and Aristotle, philosophers and others have been interested in the question about "the good life". What makes one person's life better than another person's life? How are we to assess "value of a life"? Under what conditions can we say that someone has a life "not worth living"? I do not mean to be alluding to some question about a life worth living because of its impact on others. I mean a life worth living for the one who lives it. This question naturally arises at the time of a person's death. We might want to reflect on the person's life, and ask whether it was a good life for the deceased. It also arises at the moment of birth, or at moments when it's in our power to let someone die. We might then ask "is this person going to live a life worth living?" The question also arises at the time when a young person is about to graduate from college. She has several options: to take up this career or that; to move this city or that; to get married and have kids, or to go on to graduate school, or into politics, or to a theological seminary. You might want to know which will lead to the best life for the person. To answer all such questions, we have to know what makes a life worth living; we must have a principle determining the value of a life.
Suppose we are utilitarians, or consequentialists of some other sort. We think that morally right acts are acts that lead to best consequences. Then we must have a way of determining which consequence is best. That is, we must have a principle that tells us, for each consequence of available behavior, how good that consequence is. [In our earlier discussion of utilitarianism, we made use of a hedonistic way of calculating values of outcomes, though we did not say much about it at the time.]
Even if we are not consequentialists, there
are plenty of occasions on which it is important to have some
way of evaluating consequences. Suppose we are discussing possible
legislation. We have sworn an oath to enact legislation that will
be "in the public interest". Now we have to know whether
this particular bit of legislation would be in the public interest.
It's natural to think that it is in the public interest iff passing
it would lead to a good consequence for the public. For these
reasons, as well as others, we need a principle determining the
value of a consequence.
Suppose we are interested in God. We wonder
whether God exists. We know that if God exists, then God must
have created the best of all possible worlds. Since this is the
world that exists, we reason as follows: if this is the best of
all possible worlds, then God might exist. But if this is not
the best of all possible worlds, then God cannot exist. For if
He did exist, he would not have permitted a less-then-best world
to come into existence. So, in order to determine whether God
exist, we need some way to determine whether this is the best of all possible worlds. In other words, we need a principle determining the value of a possible world.
And of course God needs axiology to help Him figure out which world he should create.
For all these reasons (and perhaps for more)
the fundamental project of axiology is interesting and important.
2. Intrinsic Goodness
x is intrinsically good =df. x is good in itself; x has a kind of goodness that x would continue to have even if x did not lead to any further goods.
x is extrinsically good =df. x is good because it leads to other goods; x has a kind of goodness that it would not continue to have if it did not lead to further goods.
x is intrinsically bad =df. x is bad in itself; x has a kind of badness that x would continue to have even if x did not lead to any further bad things.
x is extrinsically bad =df. x is bad because
it leads to other bad things; x has a kind of badness that it
would not continue to have if it did not lead to further
3. Intrinsic Value
the intrinsic value of a thing = the result of subtracting the total amount of intrinsic badness it contains from the total amount of intrinsic goodness it contains.
4. The Structure of Theories in Axiology
Clause I will say what things are intrinsically good, and what things are intrinsically bad.
I. _________ is intrinsically good. _________ is intrinsically bad.
Clause II will tell us how good and how bad those good and bad things are. That is, it will tell us how to compute the intrinsic value -- which is a number -- of the things that are intrinsically good and intrinsically bad.
II. The intrinsic value of an _________ is equal to _____________. The intrinsic value of a _________ is equal to _______________.
As we will do it, the intrinsic values of the good things will be a positive number and the intrinsic values of the bad things will be a negative number.
Finally, Clause III will tell us how to compute the intrinsic values of larger complex sorts of things that we are interested in, such as lives, outcomes, and possible worlds.
III. The intrinsic value of a life, consequence, or possible world is equal to ______________________________.
B. A Silly Sample Theory in Axiology: Consumerism
I. The possession of consumer goods is intrinsically good.
II. The intrinsic value of each possession of consumer good is equal to the dollar value of the consumer good.
III. The intrinsic value of a life is equal to the total dollar value of consumer goods owned throughout that life. Likewise for outcomes and worlds.
C. An Argument Against Consumerism