Objective Value and Objective Concepts

Ayn Rand on an "Objective Theory of Value:"

The intrinsic theory holds that the good resides in some sort of reality, independent of man's concsiousness; the subjective theory holds that the good resides in man's consciousness independent of reality.
The objective theory holds that the good is neither an attribute of "things in themselves" nor of man's emotional states, but an evaluation of the facts of reality by man's consciousness according to a rational standard of value. (Rational, in this context, means: derived from the facts of reality in relation to man and validated by a process of reason.)
The objective theory holds that the good is an aspect of reality in relation to man -and that it must be discovered, not invented, by man. Fundamental to an objective theory of values is the question: "Of value to whom and for what? An objective theory does not permit context-dropping or "concept stealing"; it does not permit the separation of "value" from "purpose," of the good from the beneficiaries, and of man's actions from reason.

While I do not agree with all of Rand's views this is one that is particularly central to my own worldview. What I like about her objective theory of values is that it identifies both the importance of context and of the importance of an individual's mind in recognizing and identifying their own values.

Too many people confound the term "subjective" by mistaking "context dependent" for "subject dependent". But as you may recognize from the quote above an objective theory of values is necessarily context dependent while a subjective theory is by definition "subject dependent."

Likewise if the application of a given principle varies based on the context of the situation of which it is being applied this does not mean it is subjective. What it means is that the facts of reality must be taken into consideration by some human, the principle considered in relation to the facts of reality (the context), and then applied in the manner appropriate to that situation.

On the other hand dropping the wider context of a value or concept whether the context is the immediate situation or simply the wider abstraction within which a concept exists, necessarily creates a subjective value or concept.

Non-human animal rights for example is a subjective concept because it drops the context from which individual rights are derived -human coexistence. As a result the meaning and application of "non-human animal rights" varies according to the person using the term (the subject).

Buddhists consider all life sacred and so extend the term to include insects and even plants. Most animal-rights activists preclude insects and invertebrates, but will include fish, reptiles, amphibians, and birds under their definition of rights. A few of them are more selective leaving out fish, reptiles, and aphibians. Some people think only mammals have rights, and there are many people that think only furry and/or cuddly looking animals have rights.

Meanwhile they have lost an inherent part of individual rights - the fact that they are a negative right that entails the obligation of each individual to not-violate the rights of all others individuals (have you ever heard an animal rights activist argue that a lion has an obligation to "not-kill" a zebra). This is the part that was inherent to the original context of individual rights -the purpose of attaining peaceful human coexistence. Thus they do not extend a negative right to non-human animals but simply attempt to create a species obligation. Animal rights advocates believe humans as a species are obligated to not harm a given set of non-human animals -that set varies according to the person using the term.

Thus because "non-human animal rights" drops the context from which rights are derived it is a subjective term that necessarily varies by the person using it, and is necessarily nothing like an individual right in application.

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i don't understand this.

i don't understand this. could you give an example of an item and what its objective value is?

Most animal rights activists

Most animal rights activists I come across, especially those like Peter Singer, are better described as animal utilitarian activists than animal rights activists, because their moral concern for animals comes from their capacity to suffer. Hence, Jeremy Bentham, the father of utilitarianism, said about animals: "The question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? But rather, Can they suffer?" So, according to this line of argument, animals have rights -- that is, we have moral obligations to respect the rights of animals -- solely because animals can experience pain and increasing the amount of suffering in the world is a moral wrong.

The question I always raise at this point, which you hinted to, and which is an especially important criticism of Singer since he doesn't make a sharp distinction between passive and active moral obligations, is why we don't also have a moral obligation to decrease the amount of suffering in the world even when we are not the cause. So, just as we are morally obligated to refrain from killing cows, shouldn't we also be morally obligated to save zebras from being killed by lions?

Most attacks on labor or

Most attacks on labor or cost theories of value that I've seen rely on a strawman caricature. If you look at the way Ricardo or Marx treated market competition, it's clear that they saw subjective human valuations as the mechanism by which the law of value operated.

As the Austrians pointed out, IF you operate in an immediate time-frame, and assume existing stocks at the point of exchange, THEN exchange-value is determined by marginal utility to the buyer. But once you treat production as a dynamic factor that changes over time in response to demand, you wind up with the observable phenomenon that production will rise or fall until the price determined by marginal utility equals cost of production.

In other words, value is determined by marginal utility, as the Austrians said--given the basic assumptions of their paradigm. But the price of goods in elastic supply ALSO tends toward production cost--exactly as Ricardo said.

The claims that Bohm-Bawerk "demolished" the classical labor theory of value are based on a dumbed-down version of both Ricardo and B-B.

Your analysis would be

Your analysis would be correct if one assumes that moral theory has a contractarian base. Your analysis would not be convincing to utilitarians (many people do have rights philosophy that is based on utilitarianism), as Micah points out. Furthermore, it is not necessarily convincing to people of a more Aristotelian bent, although they may agree with you against Animal Rights for different reasons. I would suggest that rights are bound up with the idea of justice which is probably far more than contractarian peace keeping and bound to thick theories about what is morally acceptable for people to do.

Perhaps a better way of saying this is that you assume that rights theory is about peace keeping. It may be. However, I would aslo add that your theorizing about peace based rights system precludes animals having legal rights does not mean that they have no moral right to their life or that it would be ethical to harm them.

"In other words, value is

"In other words, value is determined by marginal utility, as the Austrians said–given the basic assumptions of their paradigm. But the price of goods in elastic supply ALSO tends toward production cost–exactly as Ricardo said.

The claims that Bohm-Bawerk “demolished” the classical labor theory of value are based on a dumbed-down version of both Ricardo and B-B."

I don't understand this. Bohm-Bawerk did much of his work on both of the propositions in the 1st paragraph and in no way would conclude that his own analyses lent support or comfort to the labor theory. In fact, niether does strict belief in the 2nd proposition even if your name isn't Eugen. He did indeed hold both of these facts in his head at one time and also held that the costs themselves were also determined by the operation of supply and demand, and thus, marginal utility.

Also, this last sentence puzzles me. Claims that Bohm-Bawerk demolished the classical labor theory of value are based on a dumbed-down version of Bohm-Bawerk? Huh? I would think the smartened-up versions of Bohm-Bawerk would suffice plenty thank you very much. And since his critique wasn't based on a dumbed-down version of himself, it would probably be better to focus on his, rather than on the allegedly weak ones based on his allegedly strong ones.

"As the Austrians pointed out, IF you operate in an immediate time-frame, and assume existing stocks at the point of exchange, THEN exchange-value is determined by marginal utility to the buyer. But once you treat production as a dynamic factor that changes over time in response to demand, you wind up with the observable phenomenon that production will rise or fall until the price determined by marginal utility equals cost of production."

It's the second sentence that confuses me. But oh well. Either way, as I understand it, there would still be the matter of the costs themselves being determined by supply & demand. There is, you know, that.

Try here: http://www.mises.org/journals/qjae/pdf/qjae5_3_5.pdf

Sorry if I misunderstood.

scott, As a simple concrete

scott,

As a simple concrete example, a glass of water has objective value due to its understood relationship to human life: Humans require drinking water to survive. The characterization of water as a value is derived from this relationship between it and human life.

Adam, But as Benjamin Tucker

Adam,

But as Benjamin Tucker argued, labor is ultimately the only "real cost." Of course, he didn't take scarcity rents seriously enough--but they don't enter into equilibrium price for goods in elastic supply. But so long as market entry is free and production can be expanded in response to demand, the cost of non-labor factors will depend on mostly artificial scarcity rents imposed by state privilege. Labor is the only factor, as the Austrians themselves concede, whose expenditure carries an inherent disutility. And non-labor factors don't have to be persuaded to "contribute" themselves to the production process, or to drag themselves out of bed every morning to go to their shithole of a job. Most of the cost of land and capital reflects the fact that the supply is artificially scarce as a result of state-enforced money monopoly and absentee landlord claims. The "sacrifice" or "opportunity cost" of non-labor factors is entirely relative to the power to control access to them, which depends on the legal regime.

the supply is artificially

the supply is artificially scarce as a result of state-enforced money monopoly and absentee landlord claims

And there's where you turn into a regretful mass murderer. Your intentions will be so good, and so noble, and you just won't be able to understand why people won't turn their property over to you. You will express frustration and regret at having to kill so many of them, but you will kill them.

- Josh

....As a simple concrete

....As a simple concrete example, a glass of water has objective value due to its understood relationship to human life: Humans require drinking water to survive. The characterization of water as a value is derived from this relationship between it and human life.....

but that glass of water will only be valuable to some people depending on their situation. i don't see how this is different than the austrian theory of subjective value; water is needed for life, but not everyone has the same value for the glass of water depending on the situation.

Scott, As I mentioned in my

Scott,

As I mentioned in my post context-dependent (the value being dependent on the situation involved) does not mean "subjective." To be objective a value must be dependent on both the situation involved and the person in the situation.

"Subjective" would be dependent only on the person. In other words if the person is in the middle of a dessert about to die of thirst than the glass of water represents a distinct objective value to him, however, he may decide that he does not value it because he prefers beverages with ice in them. In that case his valuation is subjective because he is not taking into consideration his own situation in his evaluation of the water.

Honestly I'm not sure how austrian econ uses the term "subjective," but I do know that objectivism and austrian economics are not necessarily incompatible. In fact quite a bit of work had been done to try and unite the two.

Rainbough, Honestly I’m

Rainbough,

Honestly I’m not sure how austrian econ uses the term “subjective,” but I do know that objectivism and austrian economics are not necessarily incompatible.

The intrinsic theory holds that the good resides in some sort of reality, independent of man’s concsiousness; the subjective theory holds that the good resides in man’s consciousness independent of reality. -Rand

The Austrian use of 'Subjective Theory of Value', includes all mental processes, both rational and irrational (however defined) that lead to purposeful action, but not reflexes, and also includes whatever consideration of time and place or any other contextual reality that the individual chooses to include.

This use of 'subjective' is definitely different than Rand's, but the overall theories of values are apparently much closer. The only clear difference might be that Rand may not allow for irrational and emotional goals to impact value, judging from your quote above.

Regards, Don

Scott, but that glass of

Scott,

but that glass of water will only be valuable to some people depending on their situation. i don’t see how this is different than the austrian theory of subjective value; water is needed for life, but not everyone has the same value for the glass of water depending on the situation.

Don's right that "subjective" is being used in two different senses here. The way I like to think about it is that Austrian economics is value-neutral. It takes values as a given and doesn't care what sort of ethical system produced them. It treats values as if they were subjective in Rand's sense -- but without any negative connotations. Economics doesn't care what your values are, that's philosophy's job to worry about.

Philosophically, on an Objectivist theory of value, we can recognize the value of drinking water in an abstract sense. Each individual valuing water, however, will do it within a context that supplies the details of how thirsty they are, etc., and it's these contextual details that give rise to the ordinal ranking of values (utilities) seen in Austrian economic theory.

Had this been posted one day

Had this been posted one day earlier, it would have been the night of january 16th.