Where Does Value Come From?

Moral philosophers differentiate intrinsic and instrumental value.

Intrinsic value involves things that are good in and of themselves, such as beauty, truth, and harmony.

Instrumental value comes from things that facilitate action and achievement, including awareness, belonging, and understanding. 

Economic value is rooted in worth and exchange. It is created when finished products and services have more value – as determined by consumers – than the sum of the value of their components.

Today, the world revolves, not around original knowledge and awareness, but around distributing the knowledge of others for economic value.  The world of communication, both physically and metaphorically, has metamorphosed from the era in which Nietzsche, Habermas and even Kuhn spread the meaning of value, opinion and knowledge. 

 The manner in which one can access millions of sources, can search through almost unlimited information and determine its significance and can communicate with a global audience is changing the definition of how intrinsic and instrumental value are measured in today’s society.

The notions of exclusivity of information and sources that provide new and original knowledge are being stripped away by contemporary communicative developments and the idea that absolutely everyone can analyse, critique and demonize everything. 

True understanding is less important; conversely availability and constant awareness of morsels of news are imperative in today’s interconnected, interdependent and demanding world.

Beauty and harmony are being suppressed by the flux and fluidity of daily life.  Beauty is agonomical, irrelevant.  There is no time to create and imagine; only produce. 

As an example, today ordinary adults can observe and report news, gather expert knowledge, determine significance, add audio, photography, and video components and publish their content far and wide (or at least to their social network) with ease.  There are few long-lasting or tangible achievements in the thickening cloud of often trivial and inconsequential writing that surrounds us. 

A paradox – an interchangeability between individuals.  The value of elements so intrinsic to intellectual self-expression and technological progression have been reduced to a homologous structure, all for economic purposes. 

This may sound positive; but where is the hunger and thirst for original thought and for the acquisition of specialised skills; the desire to mature, develop, evolve?  There is a cheapening of beauty and understanding, an extraordinary sameness and simplicity on an ever-increasing scale.

If value is to be created, everyone must contribute their own thought, emotion and feeling to add both intrinsic and instrumental value to our lives.  There should be no need, nor expectation, to follow the banality of contemporary life and the lonely, impersonal and dispassionate manner in which we believe we must operate.

There is nothing more necessary than truth, and in comparison with it everything else has only secondary value.  With truth comes value – and value must be nurtured in our lives. 

It was Einstein, a ‘scientific philosopher’ of his time, who stressed that knowledge must continually be renewed by ceaseless effort, if it is not to be lost.

We must embrace new technologies and new social structures and with them the economic opportunities that arise.  However simultaneously we must strive to nourish the elements which have allowed us to progress to this point in our evolution, our engagement with and thirst for knowledge and value – for the unrelenting beauty of real truth is that there is nothing more necessary and free.


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