In our last blog, we noted that philosophers assert our heart (our intuition, our emotions) leads the way in human experience.  Others have a different idea; they believe that our values determine our future.  Joe Jackson notes that a “society epitomizes in its institutions what it values; they become signposts of where the culture is heading”. [1]  Patrick Grim notes that our values determines which facts we seek, which facts we deem important, and what use we make of those facts. [2]  Values are the fundamental questions in our lives.  Values address what is worth striving for and what makes life worth living. [3]  Roy Weatherford states the only way material things can harm us spiritually or emotionally is the value we place on them. [4]  Grim observed the importance of values in our lives is evidenced by the fact that there is no psychological disorder associated with a person’s inability to hold values. [5]  Values are not localized in any part of the brain but are contained throughout. [6]  C. S. Lewis is of the opinion that values are built into the fabric of our universe. [7]

Robert Prisig goes so far as to proclaim:  “the world is composed of nothing but moral value”. [8]  While the importance of value in our lives is undeniable, how does morality enter into the picture?  Webster’s defines value as:  “worth, importance or merit”.  Morality is defined as:  “in accordance with some set standard, truth, fact”.  Pirsig’s comment makes sense to me if we eliminate the word “moral”.  Morality is the voice of some entity—God, the church, the state, our friends, our family, our conscience—telling us what we should value.  It is a set of values that someone has determined should be followed.  Pirsig choice of the word “moral” makes sense if we define it as right and wrong.  The values we decide that are right or wrong for us do determine the direction of our lives.  But if we use the dictionary definition of moral, then it would be more appropriate to state that the world is composed of nothing but value.

On the face of it, the world being composed of nothing but value is a very audacious statement.  How can our entire world, our civilization, our nations, our cities, our technological advances, our lives consist of nothing but value?  The simple answer is that we make our decisions, we make our choices, we create our world on the basis of what we value and of the things that are important to us.  If we do not value something, we do not waste our time on it.  If we do not value rapid transportation, we will not invent airplanes.  If we do not value communicating with those who are far away from us, we will not invent the telephone, the internet, and the postal service.  The things that we value we spend the time and energy necessary to turn them into reality.

Pirsig invokes the philosophy of realism to prove that values exist.  Realism states that “A thing exists if a world without it can’t function normally”. [9]  If values did not exist, our life would exist but not be worth living because the fine arts, poetry, comedy, sports, and much of our economy would disappear.  In each one of these aspects of human life, we make judgments about what is liked or disliked, what we want or do not want.  If we did not make these value judgments, there would be no point in spending our time on these activities.  It makes no sense to hang the Mona Lisa on the wall of a museum if a scrawled drawing by a first grader is just as good.  Static on the radio would be as good as Beethoven’s Ninth symphony.  Poetry would be no different from a scientific research article.  Reading a dictionary would as humorous as a comedy routine.  Keeping score in sports would be pointless since all play would be the same.  And what would be the big deal about a gourmet meal or the endless variety offered in grocery stores as opposed to basic grains? [10]  In each of these instances, people make value decisions.  In each one of these activities, humans place a higher value on certain objects or actions than others.

What we value applies to all aspects of human life, not just our physical existence.  What we value in our relationships with other people determines how we act toward them and determines what kind of relationship we will have with them.  Business people defraud a business associate or their employees because they value success and money more than they value honesty or friendship.  St. Patrick traveled back to Ireland where he was once held a slave and risked his life because he valued sharing the good news of Christ with the Irish more importantly than his life or freedom.  Husbands or wives cheat on their spouses because they value their own pleasure and ego satisfaction more than they value their family life.  Mother Teresa gave up a life of relative ease to minister to the poor of India because she valued helping the helpless more than her own comfort.  Politicians accept bribes because they value money, position, or power more than they value the well-being of the people they serve.  The founders of the United States risked their lives and fortunes because they valued freedom more.  In each one of these instances, the values we hold lead us to select certain actions over others and this selection changes the world in which we live.


[1]   Joe Jackson, A World on Fire (New York:  Viking Penguin, 2005), p. 39.

[2]   Patrick Grim, Questions of Value (Chantilly, VA:  The Teaching Company, 2005), pp. 24-29.

[3]   Grim, p. 9.

[4]   Roy Weatherford, The Implications of Determinism (New York:  Routledge, 1991), p. 29.

[5]   Grim, p. 26.

[6]   Grim, p. 27.

[7]   C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (New York:  HarperSanFrancisco, 1974), p. 43.

[8]   Robert M. Pirsig, Lila (New York:  Bantam Books, 1991), p. 112.

[9]   Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (New York:  Bantam Books, 1974), p. 193.

[10 ]   Ibid., pp. 193-194.

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