The Definition of Value

(and Related Terms)

Wealth and Value

Wealth - "(1) all goods that have monetary or exchange value; (2) anything that has utility and is capable of being appropriated or exchanged; (3) the state of being rich, prosperity, affluence."

Welfare: - "The good fortune, health, happiness, prosperity, etc., of a person group or organisation."

Well-being: - "a good or satisfactory condition of existence; a state characterised by health, happiness, or prosperity."

Prosperity: - "The state or condition of flourishing, or being successful."

Prosperous: - "having or characterised by good fortune, success or wealth."

Value: - "(n) (1) attributed or relative worth, merit, or usefulness; (2) any object or quality desirable as a means or as an end in itself; (v) to consider with respect to worth, excellence, usefulness, or importance."

The key to understanding the application of Ethics of Evolutionary Pragmatism is an understanding of the Evolutionary Pragmatist concepts of "Value" and "Wealth". The Evolutionary Pragmatist concept of the word "Wealth" is only slightly different from the standard dictionary definition provided above. Evolutionary Pragmatism employs the word in a more global Economic and Socio-Biologic (or "Extended-Phenotypic") sense, to mean "anything and everything that might be of use to the individual in improving the probability of continued survival and proliferation of the gene-pool over the longest of terms". As you have probably figured out, I am adapting the dictionary's economic concept of "wealth" to more closely match the concept of "utility" from the perspective of the fundamental ethical axiom of Evolutionary Pragmatism. So, for the purposes of Evolutionary Pragmatism, the concepts of "Value" and "Wealth" are defined as:-

Wealth - (1) The sum of things, real or abstract, that have value; (2) the sum of present and future health and prosperity as it applies to your probability of long-term continued survival and proliferation of your gene-pool.

Welfare - a relative measure of wealth.

Value - (n) 1. anything real or abstract that is perceived might be useful for the purpose of maximising the probability of the long-term continued survival and proliferation of your gene-pool; 2. That which one acts to gain or keep. (v) to rate on some scale of usefulness for the purpose of maximising the probability of the long-term continued survival and proliferation of your gene-pool.

The concept of "welfare" is defined as the state of your present and future health and prosperity as it applies to your best estimate of the probability of the long-term continued survival and proliferation of your gene-pool. The term "wealth" can be thus considered a measure of your "welfare". If your "wealth" increases, then your "welfare" improves, which means that your best estimate of the probability of the long term continued survival and proliferation of your gene-pool increases. The concept of "a (particular) wealth" or "a (particular) value" is used to refer to something, real or abstract, that contributes to (or subtracts from, in the case of a negative wealth) your welfare. The concept of "a value (noun)" means essentially the same thing as "a (particular) wealth". I will be using these two terms interchangeably in what follows. The concept of "value" is defined as the measure of what any one individual perceives that a particular wealth will contribute to his/her own individual welfare. A positive wealth or value , adds to your total measure of wealth, and increases your probability of long term continued survival and proliferation of your gene-pool. A negative wealth or value , reduces your total measure of wealth, and thus decreases your probability of long term continued survival and proliferation of your gene-pool.

The Evolutionary Pragmatist concept of "wealth" is purely personal in nature. What may be a positive wealth or value for me, may be a negative wealth or value for you. Any particular thing, real or abstract, is unlikely to contribute the same amount of "wealth" to two different individuals. A piece of bread, for example, will likely contribute more to your welfare if you haven't eaten today, than it would to my welfare since I just had dinner. Depending on our different circumstances, we will each regard any particular real or abstract thing, as contributing different amounts of wealth to our own individual welfare. This is also true for any one individual over time. I will regard that piece of bread as contributing more to my welfare tomorrow morning at breakfast, than I would right now just after dinner. So different circumstances between individual, and across time, will result in the same opportunity yielding different contributions to a person's total welfare.

"Value" has no meaning other than in relation to a subject and a purpose. The value of a thing, opportunity or situation is always relative to a particular subject, is completely personal and different in quantity for each individual, and from time to time. This very personal relationship, "value" has two aspects for every individual: first, what the individual must do to acquire it, its cost; and second, what the individual can do with it, its use. Thus, I "value" that piece of bread, because I perceive that it will contribute to my own individual welfare. And the "amount of value" I place on that piece of bread is the measure of how much I perceive that it will contribute to my own individual welfare, and how much of my welfare I had to part with in order to obtain it. In other words, I can say that "The value of" that piece of bread is a measure of the net wealth that it contributes to my welfare.

As you can see, the concepts of "wealth" and "value" are almost identical. Their primary difference is in the way that the concepts are employed to communicate the same ideas. The maximisation of my welfare is my primary goal. To achieve that goal, I will acquire wealths that I value to some extent. The concept of "Market Value" is, to some extent, a convenient fiction. It is merely a rough guess at the average of personal values, all of which must be quantitatively different or trade would be impossible.

One of the most common, and I suppose natural, mistakes made by of critics of Evolutionary Pragmatism, is that they see the words "personal wealth", and incorrectly assume that the word is used in its more limited and materialistic dictionary meaning, implying a concept of personal and individual selfishness and materialism to the exclusion of all other considerations. But this is not in fact the Evolutionary Pragmatist meaning of the term. The concept of "personal wealth" in the philosophy of Evolutionary Pragmatism is the more all encompassing Socio-Biologic one, and has to do with an abstract measure of the individual's capability to proliferate their gene-pool. It is unfortunate that I could find no other word with which to communicate this very central concept. In order to deflect the critics, I should probably have chosen a random sequence of letters ("xyzzy"?) with which to communicate this global concept of wealth as I have defined it here. But I felt that inserting an unfamiliar word (or non-word) would have been the more confusing choice. After all, the Evolutionary Pragmatist concept of wealth as here defined is not so far from the standard dictionary definition. It is just a wider definition, and at the same time more specific. So I will hope that you will put up with this "Special use" situation.

As I have described in providing the rationale for the Third Axiom, in the long run the continued survival and proliferation of your gene-pool is all that really matters. If that is your objective, then everything that contributes, or may possibly contribute, to the achievement of that objective is of "value" and is part of your "wealth". You must include in the total measure such obvious things as food and water, shelter and personal safety. But an elementary application of intellect will extend the list with the health and safety of relatives and friends. Relatives are important because they share a portion of the same Gene-Pool that you carry. You can proliferate your gene-pool through the reproductive success of your relatives as well as yourself. And friends are important because they are generally the ones with whom we exchange "reciprocal altruism". (Reciprocal Altruism is the Socio-Biologist's fancy name for the principle of "I'll scratch your back, if you'll scratch mine". Investing time and effort in promoting the welfare of friends is generally a good idea, because friends, by their nature, have a habit of returning the favour.) And experience teaches us that co-operative effort is often more productive than solo effort. So it is valuable to have friends with which one we can co-operate.

In the modern age, we are extending the concepts of what we consider "personal wealth" to include some rather distant values. It is difficult to see how the continued well-being of the Amazon jungle can contribute directly to your own personal wealth. But if you consider the longer range consequences of both reproductive success, and the health of the Amazon jungle, then it becomes more comprehensible. The continued well-being of the Amazon jungle may likely have a significant impact on the probable reproductive success of your descendants. And the more we understand about the ecological role played by the Amazon jungle, the more likely and significant that future impact appears to be. So an intelligent analysis of the situation, and the probable consequences for the future success of our gene-pool, is what is behind our growing modern concern over the global environment.

When you consider the increasing amount of scientific information available on the inter-connectedness of the bio-sphere with a focus not on yourself, but on the future of your gene-pool, you can easily extend the list of things that need to be considered part of your wealth, into areas quite distantly removed from any sense of personal "Selfishness". An intelligent person, applying the principles of Evolutionary Pragmatism, will extend the horizons of things that are considered both geographically, and temporally. As our knowledge of how Reality works is extended, so is our understanding of how things are inter-related across space and time. If we are to maximise the welfare of our gene-pool, we must consider the broadest of horizons in both space and time.

Intellect

This leads to the second most frequent error of critics, to ignore the emphasis in Evolutionary Pragmatism, on the intelligent evaluation of long-term consequences. Many critics see the words, and assume that Evolutionary Pragmatism implies a sense of miserly, materialistic, hedonism. But this is not true either. For Evolutionary Pragmatism, it is only the long-term time-scale that really matters. It is the long-run time scale over which the successful proliferation of your gene-pool is measured. Hedonism in the present is only acceptable, if it is rationally judged to be in the longer term best interests of your gene-pool (which of course it rarely is). As a result of the First and Third Axioms, the philosophy of Evolutionary Pragmatism places special emphasis on the importance of using the fullest extent of the individual's intellectual capabilities to perform the best evaluation possible of what actions will turn out to be the most likely to maximise the proliferation of the individual's gene-pool.

Don't be tricked, as some critics are, into thinking that the emphasis in Evolutionary Pragmatism on the successful proliferation of your gene-pool, implies that every Man should run around planting as many babies in as many girls as possible. Or that every Woman should have as many children as possible by as many of the "fittest" (whatever "fit" would mean in this context) men as possible. On the surface, using only short-sighted analysis, this might appear to be the "best" strategy. And it would certainly be possible to envisage scenarios where this would, in fact, be the best long term strategy. After all, the males or the females of many species do follow just such a strategy. As has the human species at many times, and in many physical and social environments, some of them current. But in many species, and for the human species in most modern physical and social environments, factors mitigate against such a superficially simple strategy. For modern mankind, both men and women, given the complexities of Human societies and modern life-styles, this is almost never the best longer term strategy to maximise the proliferation of one's gene-pool. Although, in the quite recent past (only a hundred years or so), because of the different socio-economic circumstances, for a man or a woman to have as many children as possible, frequently was the best strategy. And this was demonstrated by the prevalence of large families, and the high birth rate.

The Moral approach is not usually the superficial or simple answer. Instead, it is to the longer-term benefit of that individual's gene-pool for each individual to gather all the information that can be had, and do an in-depth analysis to determine, to the best of each individual's ability, what actions can be taken to increase the long-term probability of successful proliferation of their gene-pool. Now, of course, most people, most of the time, will not take the time or invest the effort in this detailed analysis. Instead they make use of "Habits" and "Rules of Thumb". I discussed this at length in the chapter on Human Behaviour, humans make numerous decisions, and adopt many decision patterns (habits) in order to simplify future decision making. Life-style is one type of this kind of decision. As is a particular philosophy. The analyses and principles of Evolutionary Pragmatism, are defined for the purposes of assisting the individual by making global life-style like decisions and collecting useful ethical rules of thumb, that simplify future decision making. By making detailed analyses of some generic situations, and establishing basic "rules of thumb" for certain types of situations, Evolutionary Pragmatism attempts to provide a set of Moral and Ethical guidelines that will assist people in making "correct" (meaning in the longer term best interests of their gene-pool) behavioural decisions on a day to day basis.

Fair Trade

Within the structure of Evolutionary Pragmatism, the concept of "Fair Trade" is defined as that situation that exists wherein any one individual exchanges a wealth that is valued less, in return for a wealth that is valued more. From a "fair trade", all parties to the exchange come away from the exchange with something that they value more than whatever was contributed. The result of any "fair trade" is a net total increase in the wealth that exists across all participants in the trade.

Remember, the concept of "wealth" as it applies to the philosophy of Evolutionary Pragmatism is a purely personal concept. Given the naturally uneven distribution of skills, knowledge, experience, and resources, it is only to be expected that any one particular exchangeable wealth would be viewed with different degrees of desirability, or value, by different people, depending upon their own personal situation. It is a basic principle of economics, that increasing amounts of the same commodity have decreasing returns of desirability, and contribute relatively less to the net increase in wealth. Even money follows this principle of "marginal diminishing returns". If you have no money at all, then the first $100 is extremely valuable. Acquiring the first $100 will contribute a great deal towards your wealth. You would be willing to exchange a great deal of other forms of wealth in order to obtain the first $100. But if you already have $10,000,000 then an additional $100 will not contribute as much to your wealth. You would be willing to exchange much less of other forms of wealth to obtain this last $100.

The result of this economic principle, is that any two or more individuals can generally find some combination of exchangeable wealths such that each party to the exchange would be parting with something they value less, in order to gain something they value more. The outcome is a net gain in value or wealth. This is not to say that each participant in the exchange will gain the same relative amount of "profit" on the exchange. Equal amounts of gain is not a condition of "fair trade". Only the condition of "mutual gain" is necessary.

By extension of the concept of "fair trade", the philosophy of Evolutionary Pragmatism defines a "Fair Economic System" as an economic and social environment within which individuals may pursue the maximisation of their own personal wealth, by engaging in "fair trade" with other individuals. Within any social unit, community or nation-state, a "fair economic system" exists if any two people can exchange wealths that they value less in return for wealths that they value more. In contrast, a "Robinhood" economic system is so configured as to confiscate wealths belonging to those better off, for redistribution to those less well off. And a "Robber Baron" economic system is one so configured to concentrate wealths in the hands of a few, to the detriment of the many.

Theft

Also by extension of the concept of "Fair Trade", the philosophy of Evolutionary Pragmatism defines as "Theft" any exchange of wealths where one party to the exchange does not perceive any gain from the exchange. Classically, theft is generally used for those situations where one individual (the thief) takes a wealth belonging to someone else, without returning anything in exchange at all. But this can be extended with the kinds of theft that are usually referred to as extortion (the theft of wealth by the use or threat of force), blackmail (the theft of wealth by the threat of something undesirable), and fraud (the theft of wealth by purposeful misrepresentation of the wealth offered in exchange).

Wealth Production

The last of the concepts I want to introduce in this chapter is the concept of "Wealth Production". Above, I have been talking about two individuals exchanging already existing wealths, and thus creating a total net increase in wealth. The concept of "wealth production" involves the combination of lesser wealths, in order to make something of greater value than the sum of the contributing wealths. For example, consider a sack of apples, a bag of flour, and a table full of other miscellaneous ingredients. Taken individually, each ingredient will have some value to you. Taken all together, they will have some aggregate value to you, which may be greater than the simple sum of the individual values. But if you should apply the skills of a baker, you can transform those ingredients into a number of tasty apple pies. Now I don't know about you, but for me, a number of tasty apple pies has much more value than the table full of ingredients from which they came. In this case, the baker has "produced wealth". There is more wealth there after the production activity, than there was before. If you don't like my example of the apple pies, I am sure that you can come up with better ones. My apple pie scenario doesn't apply to my wife, for example. She enjoys the baking process, so she would much rather have the stack of ingredients, than the number of pies that is the result. Since she is always watching her weight, the completed apple pies are a delicious temptation in which she only rarely indulges. Me - I can't bake and don't watch my weight as carefully, so the pies are very much more valuable than the ingredients.

The key defining concept here, is that the end result of the production process is a wealth that has greater total value to the producer, than the sum of the wealths that went into the process. Although my wife personally values the ingredients more than the pies that result, because she prefers the baking process over the consumption process, the resulting pies can be regarded as more valuable to her when they can be used in trade. Perhaps not so much in the family situation I have been describing, but if she were to trade the pies for more ingredients, I think she would find that she ends up with more ingredients than she started with. Certainly I value the resulting pies sufficiently to willing provide much more in the way of ingredients. And from the comments of other who have experienced her baking, I do not think I am alone in that opinion. And don't forget that the pleasure my wife gets from the baking process is a wealth in itself and must be added to the equation.

And when balancing the ins and outs, you have to remember that the labour (time and effort) of the person doing the producing, also has value in itself, and must be included in the sum total of the wealths of the ingredients to the process. The labour element is not the critical factor, however. In this respect the Marxian concept of value is completely wrong. By myself, I could take a greater amount of labour (time and effort) and transform that pile of ingredients into a slightly soggy burnt offering, that would have value to no one. But guided by my wife I have taken that stack of ingredients, added significantly less time and effort, and produced some valuable apple pies (even if not exactly up to her high standards). The key difference in the two efforts, is the knowledge, skill, and ability that my wife brings to the process, that I cannot. It is this key difference, the contribution of intellect and skill, that earns the producer the profits, instead of the labourer. The two efforts of labour, one significant but unskilled, and the other less but skilled, produce wealths of vastly different values. Not because of the difference in the labour content of the result, but because of the different use to which the results can be put. The "market value" of the tasty apple pies is much greater than is that of the soggy burnt offering.

[Home] [Next]