Global Change Seminar
"It's Your Move!"
Segment #4: Human Values
Part II: Value Logic
[Much of the material in this article is adapted from: Forrest, Frank. Ethical Decision Making for the 21st Century - A Workbook. Privately Published, 2001]
Human values involve the organization of beliefs about value along a continuum of relative importance: some values are more important than others. Value Logic is a scientific method developed by the German logician and philosopher Robert Hartman. It offers a way to help us decide which of two values is more worthy. Understanding Value Logic helps people to think more ethically on purpose.
This article explains Value Logic and the theory behind it. To amplify what is presented here, 5 Addenda to this article provide some additional explanation. Value Logic is a mathematical approach based on set theory. The complicated mathematical operations of Value Logic are not covered here: rather the intent is to explain the underlying concepts in sufficient detail so that those who grasp the concepts can begin to apply them to their own experience. Those interested in a more detailed explanation of the underlying mathematics are referred to the original texts (see the Bibliography.)
On both large and small scales we are regularly confronted with making decisions that have an ethical or moral component. Where do we stand on a wide variety of controversial social issues such as abortion, euthanasia, military intervention, evolution, intelligent design, the Homeland Security Act and many others? Do we tell our children to never lie and then fudge a bit on our income tax return? Where do we come down on premarital sex, infidelity, divorce, corporal punishment, capital punishment, use of drugs, use of alcohol , smoking, gay marriage, homelessness, speeding? The list is virtually endless.
A fundamental problem facing the world today is the enormous disparity between our knowledge of facts, on the one hand, and our knowledge of value on the other. The magnitude of this problem has prompted comments from some of our more distinguished thinkers, theorists and scholars.
- In an Armistice Day speech in Boston on November 11, 1948, the famous World War II American general, Omar Bradley, said: "Our knowledge of science has clearly outstripped our capacity to control it. . . Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants."
- In 1959 noted psychologist Abraham Maslow said: " The ultimate disease of our time is valuelessness . . . this state is more crucially dangerous than ever before in history . . . something can be done about it by man's own rational efforts."
Value Logic is a scientific methodology for making ethical decisions. It was developed by Dr. Frank G. Forrest specifically to address this ‘ethical infancy’ problem. Value Logic is based on Dr. Robert S. Hartman’s (1910 - 1973) groundbreaking work in Axiology, the field of philosophy that applies a formal mathematical frame of reference to the valuation process. Just as mathematics is a logic of number or quantity, axiology is a logic of value or quality. Just as the natural sciences like physics or chemistry use mathematics in the realm of facts, so Value Logic is an application of formal axiology using mathematics in the realm of ethics. As such it provides an objective reasoning process which, once learned, can be used as a tool for sorting logically sound, emotion-free value judgments from a confused and tangled web of complex variables in real life situations. An understanding of Value Logic enables an individual to make sound ethical decisions with intentionality.
Value Logic does not prescribe which values or decisions are - or are not - ethical. Instead, it provides a rational method for prioritize conflicting values. It thereby forms a frame of reference which can be applied to any value situation. Axiology orders and structures value concepts in the same way that mathematics is used in the natural sciences to order and structure scientific concepts. To that end Value Logic addresses the valuation process, the how of valuing, rather than the what.
A person’s aptitude for valuation might be called his/her value vision and can be compared to a talent for music or sports. We are all born with some natural ability for music or sports and can, to varying degrees, develop and improve our ability through training and practice if we so choose. In the same way, learning Value Logic trains and fine tunes a person's valuation process (his/her value vision) to systematically make sound ethical decisions. (See Addendum III for more on value vision.)
The capacity to value incorporates three basic aptitudes:
- The ability to perceive or see (comprehend) oneself and the world;
- The ability to build a concept or idea which represents what one sees;
- The ability to apply the concept or idea to what one sees, by making a value judgment, by deciding and acting.
Value Logic posits three dimensions (gradations) of value which are based on and identified by three categories, or types, of concepts. (See Addendum I for a brief overview of the mathematical rationale underlying concept types and Addendum II for definitions of each concept type.)
- Systemic concepts (labeled"S"), are the realm of ideas. These are all the things that are constructs of the human mind.
- Extrinsic concepts (labeled"E"), are the realm of concrete things and observable behaviors. These are all the things we discern through our sensory receptors.
- Intrinsic concepts (labeled"I"), are individual human beings. Each one in all his/her uniqueness.
The names of everything in the universe can be subsumed under these three categories of concepts; ideas, things, and people. Value Logic purports that while Systemic concepts (ideas) are valuable, Extrinsic concepts (things) are more valuable, and Intrinsic concepts (human beings) are even more valuable. In our individual valuation processes we can (and often do) value any concept as if it were at any of these three levels (i.e. we can value anything Systemically, Extrinsically, or Intrinsically.)
A few examples will clarify this.
Religion, being in the realm of ideas, is a Systemic concept. Nonetheless, millions of people value their religion as if it were Intrinsic.
The Mona Lisa, which is Extrinsic, tends to be valued Intrinsically. If it were destroyed, we wouldn’t say “No problem, we’ll just paint us up another one." We would say something closer to “What a dreadful irreplaceable loss of a unique artistic treasure.”
The policeman who pulls you over for speeding is a unique individual and thus an "I" concept (Intrinsic). However, we are likely to respond not to his uniqueness, but to his cultural role of policeman which is an "E" (Extrinsic) concept.
You might value your spouse Systemically for the break you get on your income tax if you’re married, or Extrinsically for the things he/she does for you such as cook, earn income, etc. or Intrinsically for the unique and wonderful individual she/he is. Hopefully you value your spouse at all three value dimensions simultaneously.
Ethical dilemmas arise when we combine concepts. When we do this, one concept modifies another and will increase the level of value, decrease it, or remain neutral and leave it unchanged. Note that it is always the highest level concept value dimension that is modified. (See Addendum III for more explicit clarification of levels of goodness and badness.)
- Concept combinations which enhance or deepen the meaning of (and therefore reinforce or enhance the value of) the concept being modified are, in Value Logic, called "compositions." Compositions are instances of goodness and carry the subscript ‘c’. Repairing (an "E" concept) the roof on a house (an"E" concept) would be an example of an "E" concept enhancing (adding value to) another "E" concept. This would be mathematically noted as "Ec" to indicate a composition at the extrinsic dimension of value.
- Combinations which break or violate (and therefore deplete or devalue) the concept being modified are, in Value Logic, called "transpositions." Transpositions are instances of badness, and carry the subscript ‘t’. A falsehood (an "S" concept) violates (devalues) the truth (another "S" concept). This would be mathematically noted as "St" to indicate a transposition at the systemic dimension of value .
This process of analyzing concept combinations for their value dimension and for their compositional - transpositional interaction is the essential procedure through which Value Logic objectively determines whether the resultant of the combination is ethical or unethical, good or bad.
Many single word concepts are in fact synonyms for concept combinations. A lie (falsehood) is one such case, as described above to illustrate a transposition. Another example is the word "steal" which is a synonym for "taking property without having the right to it." In this case "taking" (an "E" concept) violates the concept of "right" (an "S" concept). Thus, steal is also transpositional as would be such words as rob, burglarize, embezzle, hijack, loot, cheat, murder, defraud, deceive, etc. Devaluation is inherent in these complex words; they are thus transpositional.
The solution to problems using Value Logic is arrived at by noting how the concept combinations affect the generation of value. Each concept combination will result in value creation, value depreciation, or will be value neutral. Value Logic advocates that ethical behavior results when a person selects courses of action, ideas, or forms of behavior that:
- increase or enhance value; or (secondarily)
- are value neutral; and
- avoids those that depreciate value.
When two or more courses of action, ideas, or forms of behavior having different value dimensions are being considered, the one having the higher value dimension is selected. What this says is:
- If the result of a concept combination is a composition assume it is ethically right;
- If the result of a concept combination is a transposition, assume it is ethically wrong unless
- There is a relevant consideration that produces a composition to negate (reverse) the transposition so that the act becomes ethically right.
This last step may involve some thought. Here are some examples:
- Is it ok to lie to save a life? Probably yes (the lie, an "St" transposition, is overcome by the value of an "I" concept, the life of an individual.)
- Is it ok to lie for financial gain? No (the lie, an "St" transposition, violates or devalues another "S", the right to profit.)
Wrongs and badness abound in nature and in human affairs. Lightning cause destruction as do hurricanes, floods and tsunamis. People break rules, damage property, and hurt and kill each other. Are wrongs and badness ever justified? This question has ethical relevance only when the wrongs or badness are the result of human action. Attempts to justify wrongs and badness is a common occurrence in everyday life and in the affairs of state. Our criminal justice system is based on this phenomenon. Wrongs or badness can be justified when they are deemed to produce some kind of good. We intuitively make these value judgments all the time--but sometimes our intuition produces unethical outcomes. By applying Value Logic to make ethical determinations in complex situations we can learn to analyze and evaluate our intuitive responses. (See Addendum IV for more explicit clarification in assessing composition and transpositions.)
Redressing wrongs and badness is the right thing to do when:
- An action was known to be wrong, bad, or unjust at the time of execution;
- The wrong, bad, or unjust action was done inadvertently;
- Wrongs and badness are discovered in a situation for which one has responsibility.
In Value Logic redressing wrongs is called transposing transpositions. This reverses (negates) the transposition and is done either (a) by disvaluing the original transposition; or (b) by overcoming it. This is analogous to the way that, in arithmetic, a positive value is produced from a negative value either (a) by subtracting another negative value (-1 subtracted from -1 equals zero) or; (b) by adding a positive value (-1 plus +2 equals +1). Some examples of transposing a transposition are given below. (See Addendum IV for more on this.)
- Lying in order to prevent something worse happening;
- Returning stolen property;
- Admitting and making amends for breaking a promise;
- Breaking a rule to avoid a calamity;
- Reporting a fire to the Fire Department.
The essential steps in applying Value Logic to problems of behavior are:
- Create a Narrative: the narrative is the story or situation leading up to a decision involving an ethical issue.
- Create a Situation Statement: Condense the narrative to a newspaper headline. Put concepts together to form concept combinations that describe the act to be analyzed. For example: "Jim advocates democracy" or "Henry stole money from the bank" or "John hit Susan" etc.
- Determine if the Act is Right or Wrong: If the result of the concept combination is a composition assume that the act is ethically right. If it is a transposition, assume it is ethically wrong.
- If the act is ethically right, do it.
- If the act is not right don’t do it unless you can determine that there is a relevant consideration which would justify it.
- If an unjustified wrong act has been occurred, take action to correct it. Transpose (reverse) the transposition.
Some additional detail is provided in the Addenda to this article, listed below. Readers who wish to gain a full understanding of the methodology are referred to the Seminar Bibliography for source texts offering in depth coverage of Axiology and Value Logic. Note that these source documents involve set theory and some detailed mathematics.
Addendum I: Mathematical Basis for Value Logic
Addendum II: Value Logic Concept Type Definitions
Addendum III: Value Vision
Addendum IV: When Are Wrongs and Badness Justified?
Addendum V: Value Logic: Case Studies