Why Do We Need Value?


By: John Blasingame, Contributor

“The judge cannot be one of the parties judged.”
(C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man)

            What is the basis of value? In his book The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis answers this question, sifting through several layers of arguments before striking solid ground. He describes such a basis as “the Tao,” otherwise known as “Natural law or Traditional Morality or the First Principles of Practical Reason or the First Platitudes” (The Abolition of Man 43). “Unless you accept [the Tao] without question as being to the world of action what axioms are to the world of theory,” he states, “you can have no practical principles whatever. You cannot reach them as conclusions: they are premises” (The Abolition of Man 40).

Personally, I find Lewis’s argument quite logical. But what am I supposed to say to the cynic, the one who asks why we need value in the first place? How do we answer the question that attempts to uproot the entire argument?

Well, for starters, we can just ignore the question. See, implicit in the counterargument is the assumption that either a) the cynic ought to receive a response or b) the question ought to be answered. Nevertheless, in both cases it is the notion of value that calls forth the imperative (as we see in the word “ought,” a trigger word for the imperative). Either a) the cynic ought to receive a response because he is an individual worthy (or “of sufficient value”) to receive a response, or b) the question ought to be answered because the question itself deserves (or “has enough value to merit”) an answer.

Say we do ignore him, and he just shrugs his shoulders and walks away. What do we do then? In other words, what if he is prepared to live in such a manner that is worthy of the question he has asked? What if he truly doesn’t believe that value exists?

Such an individual would truly have to be on the brink of death for us to take him seriously. Primarily, he would have likely already gone several days without water. That is, he would’ve realized that hydration is hardly a practice in which he needs to engage, as his very existence has absolutely no meaning. For this man, life is truly no longer worth living. And yet, strangely enough, death is at the same time not worth dying. Furthermore, he will refuse to drink water out of a desire to procure pleasure or avoid pain, because both pain and pleasure – remember – have lost all significance. Moreover, this man no longer gains anything through pleasure, nor does he lose anything through pain. Both are completely devoid of value, weight, and significance, and there no longer exists anything to be gained or lost.

In sum, such a belief cannot be held in the light of Reality, for Reality herself directs our attention to the imperative. By the way we live each day, we pay tribute to the obvious “oughtness” that transcends the ordinary.


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