Thursday, March 31, 2011

Values and perspectivism

There was once a famous person (forget who) long ago that remarked that if music could some how be recorded and available to everyone, life would be all glory and rose petals for everyone. It would be utopia. But we know that ain't so. The universal availability of music has not made life heaven on earth. As soon as something desired is widely available, its value in our eyes seem to diminish according to some pattern or other of diminishing return. I think behavioral economists have names for this but I don't know what the literature on it is.

Now consider if we are to solve all of the world's most pressing issues of global injustice, energy problems, racism, sexism, etc. Maybe other problems which we may not see as that pressing now would take their place in our valuation systems. We might develop irrational fears of death even from old age or disease, etc. We may even develop whole new neuroses we can imagine fretting over now. Our value structures would change and problems once that pressing might not be seen as such and problems not so pressing relatively speaking. Alternatively people in the future may see our present concerns as neurotically intense or even irrational compared to theirs.

My question is that does this perspectivism threaten the claim that values are objective and non arbitrary? If so How far does it go in that direction? Will we see all our current worries as just neuroses? Maybe all of our values are arbitrary and largely determined by perspective. That would harm claims that go to the heart of the good life it seems by making all conceptions seem trivial.

Life's worth

It seems to go against many of our egalitarian and liberal sensibilities for someone to say that a person's life is inherently more valuable than another's. However, some of our intuitions seem to suggest that we do hold this. Mine for example, in a hypothetical where Confucius's life is compared to the typical Nazi's. I will choose Confucius's life and moreover, I believe that my decision is justified. That is, that Confucius's life is worth more. There may be many situations, plausible ones, that may obtain in real life where lives are in the balance in such a way that we may have to choose (consider who gets a rare vaccine for some disease) which is more worthy of being saved even apart from practical or consequentialist considerations. Now many of us are hesitant to value lives but this may be because of limitations on epistemological considerations and for the fact that most people are relevantly equal on many aspects up for consideration in valuating lives. I suspect that moral worth is paramount in such weighting. If souls were more transparent, our intuitions may not be so egalitarian.