Overweening Generalist

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Some Fugitive Riffs on Axiology

Axiology: the study of values. The definition can be unpacked in many ways: aesthetic values, ethics, even the beauty in mathematical rigor. But from a personal standpoint: what are our own hierarchies of values?

It seems to me this resides near the heart of an adult in a putatively "free"and Open (democratic?) Society: one must constantly evaluate what matters most to one, and act accordingly, always seeking new information, listening to one's own intuition, ransacking ourselves in search of more integrity (however we define that), and having the courage to think for ourselves. (How much lip service is paid to "thinking for oneself," and how much of that is actually done?) And it seems probable that all of this is based on some sort of neurologically-based system of values, largely inherited from the family and culture at large.

We inherit our values while developing into adulthood. Neural circuits are developed, and assumptions about "reality"are largely based on that platform. But these are amenable - neuroplasticity seems to strongly suggest so - if we seek to truly realize our creativity and uniqueness. It takes work.

An adult will seek to realize him or herself by rooting out what was inherited osmotically and begin the long, exhilarating process of weighing what truly is valuable to oneself, to what degree, what matters more than some other values, what can be discarded entirely, what needs to be given a test-run, what might be hidden from one, etc.

When Euclid concocted his Elements he posited some axioms that were, to him, self-evident and inarguable. He built the edifice of his geometry upon these axioms. Analogically we have done the same for our values, whatever they are. And they are wildly variable!

(Interestingly - fascinating to me - in the 19th and 20th century mathematicians tweaked Euclidean self-evident axioms and derived entirely new geometries - often called "non-Euclidean geometries" - and these have proven to be of practical use!)

How best to explore our values and do this heady work?

How to negotiate those ancient values of Individual vs. Collective "goods"? Happiness and pleasure vs. Duty and responsibility to others? The active life vs. the contemplative? Etc, etc, etc.

The present Blogger currently sees a fairly bald self-interest lurking in almost all of the corporate-owned and sponsored mainstream media; this renders values offered as "goods" there as inherently highly suspect. Where to seek guidance? I have no easy answers...

It's a lot of work, but I insist that it's exhilarating, and absolutely essential for a responsible adult in a free and open society.

If the Reader asks, "Well why doesn't this Generalist guy just tell us what his values are?" I say: this is a blog post. My answer would be too long. That is not the point. I want you to think about your own dynamic hierarchy of values, as I am. I am trying to prod you. And look at the pictures of Thinkers I chose to include, below. That should give you a hint as to where I stand.

So: your own hierarchy of values, based in your wildly individually complex biography. Your axiology. Can you articulate your unique hierarchy, if only to yourself?

Have FUN with this!

1 comment:

Eric Wagner said...

Well, I looked at the pictures of the thinkers on your page, which made me feel pretty ignorant. I first heard the term "hierarchy of values" in Bob Wilson's article "Brain Books" when he talked about the value of the Cantos. Interestingly, the few books I have read by the authors pictured on your page I read because of Dr. Wilson.

A few years ago it struck me that during the age of Sam Johnson, most of his intellectual friends had read many of the same books. Over the past 250 years many more books have gotten written in English, and many more books have gotten translated into English. Plus, people in today's world come from a wide variety of educational backgrounds. This lead to us having less common ground than the other Dr. Johnson's circle.