Value without Feeling


From the main text, July 2006:

Second, how does one judge value? Value is that which affects the universe in a positive/good/desirable way, but how does one evaluate such a thing? Certainly there must be a foundation for value that is better than choosing what is preferable on a whim! There certainly is. The ability for an entity to judge value lies in the foundation of its thought. In humans, this is the brain. Essentially, we come to know what is preferable through pleasant and unpleasant sensations. Sensory input creates the framework for what is considered good and bad. A computer, which is not capable of feeling any sensations, is incapable of judging value at all. There can be no ďlogicalĒ reason to want one thing over another if you cannot observe a difference between them. The interaction of biology and the external world that determines the way in which a person comes to know something as positive or negative is a complex system that creates a personís ability to judge what is good to him.


I feel that this paragraph is one of my proudest achievements. It was among the last sections I wrote in the main text, but in a sense it is the cornerstone of the entire philosophy. I can say that value is what causes good things to happen, but that is useless if I canít describe what it means for something to be good. I can say that goodness is whatever is desirable, but that is useless if I canít describe how something is found to be desirable. I can say that value is relative to individuals, but that is useless if I canít describe how individuals are able to judge value. The answer was that a personís view of what is good and bad is formed by association with wanted and unwanted sensations. This should not be very surprising, as examples are easy to find: people believe that water is good because it relieves the discomfort of thirst. A child that is spanked for doing an action may associate the two and believe the action is bad. Someone that smells a rose will like the plant; someone that gets pricked by a rose will not. People like sugar when it has a pleasant taste; they donít like sugar when it rots their teeth.


Over time, a person is able to judge what is good and bad beyond immediate causes and sensations derived from effects. They are able to know that (in general) helping friends is good and breaking promises is bad, without largely considering what is pleasurable. They are able to judge value in ways that donít rely on feelings. They can prefer such things as truth and wisdom over feeling good. However, sensory input is essential in the development of values. Goodness is what is preferable, and how can one identify what is preferable without feeling anything? They canít, unless they accept goodness automatically. Only in the framework created by sensory input can one judge value.


To illustrate this, imagine an unfeeling robot that is to judge the better of two situations, such as whether itself should be maintained or destroyed. Certainly, the robot could make an automatic judgment. It could be programmed with Isaac Asimovís laws and be required to protect its own existence. However, a decision made due to programming does not reflect a value choice. The difference between an automatic judgment and a value judgment is vast. An automatic judgment is the result of simply following programming, orders, or expectations. A value judgment is a product of such things as sentience, conscience, and free will. Humans are able to make value judgments (ďI want to live because living is goodĒ), but can a robot? How could it evaluate the merits of each situation and make a conscious choice that existence is better than nonexistence? It could not, because it is not able to perceive a difference. It would be like asking a blind man to choose between red and green. If he cannot tell any distinction between them, he has no basis to prefer either one. An entity that cannot know positive or negative sensations cannot know good or bad.


Regardless, many people attempt to discover value through reason alone. They develop theories of egoism or utilitarianism or whatever, but they never succeed in describing morality without making assumptions about what is good. Itís impossible to do so; there can be no preference for any state of the universe without a point of view that feels sensations. Still, try to imagine someone that does judge value by logic alone, perhaps a character such as Mr. Spock from Star Trek. His race tries to suppress their emotions and let logic dictate their actions. Yet, logic alone does not (and cannot) dictate their values. What they like and dislike is still formed by all the senses of a human. They see, hear, smell, taste, and touch. They feel pleasure and pain. What they judge to be good is not determined by logic, but is formed by their senses. Logic can be used to assist in obtaining goals, but it cannot determine goals by itself. That is, it makes sense to say ďIf I want to live, then logically I need to eat,Ē but not ďLogically, I want to live.Ē