Source of Values

A few years ago, my wife and I received the most terrifying Christmas gifts we had ever received—gift certificates to go sky diving.  One lesson I learned from that experience is that it taught me much about how we make decisions in life.  The week before we went sky diving was very stressful because of the conflicting emotions and thoughts I had about sky diving.  Previous experiences were of no help in resolving these conflicts since I had not jumped from an airplane before.  Logically, sky diving is safer than scuba diving or hot air ballooning so why was I so nervous?  But also logically, it did not seem to make sense to jump out of a perfectly functioning airplane.  Emotionally, I have had a desire to sky dive for some time and the thrill of experiencing something new such as falling through the air was appealing but also there is the potential of something going wrong and the results are very disastrous.  I could imagine all sorts of terrible events that could occur.  My logic and emotions were totally useless in helping me make a decision to sky dive or not.  My logic and emotions could be used to support either a decision to go sky diving or not to go.  So how did I make the decision to go?  Values.  I value exploring, new experiences, and new ideas more than the status quo, more than security.

But what is the source of this value system that everyone has?  Grim states that facts and values are separate entities.  We cannot derive values from facts [1] so our rational faculties are of little use.  Pirsig struggles to define what creates our values and he finally locates what he seeks in Socrates’ description of the soul. [2]  Webster’s defines the soul as:

An entity which is regarded as being the immortal or spiritual part of the person and though having no physical or material reality, is credited with the functions of thinking and willing, and hence determining all behavior; it is the moral and emotional nature of man; the vital or essential part, quality, principle.

Our soul is the sum total of our life experiences; it is our beliefs, our experiences, our abilities; it is who we are.  Our values are what our soul is like.

We have questioned what part of humans it is that makes the value decisions that creates the world in which we live.  Whatever this part is, it would be “the vital or essential part” of humans.  Whether we believe this vital or essential part is immortal is a separate issue.


[1]   Patrick Grim, Questions of Value (Chantilly, VA:  The Teaching Company, 2005), pp. 30-31.

[2]   Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (New York:  Bantam Books, 1974), p. 349.

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