Christian 'Values'

Previous Chapter: Critiques of Technology



Axiology is the branch of philosophy concerned with all critical (as opposed to merely descriptive) assertions. My reasons for presenting an axiological framework for a critique of technology are as follows. First, all judgments are based on standards of value and value is the subject of axiology. Second, the term value is often used in many confused and confusing senses, and I want to state my argument as precisely as possible. The following paragraphs draw heavily on Mead (1946) and Frankena (1967) and I refer the interested reader to those sources for more detail.


  value, to value

As an abstract noun, value means goodness, desirability, or worth. To put it another way, value is that property of a thing (either intrinsic to it or ascribed to it by someone) that makes it worthy of realizing or, by extension to the negative, worthy of avoiding or eliminating. The term is also used as a concrete noun (wrongly, I believe) to refer to a thing that is valued or to something that has positive value. Used as a verb, to value is to ascribe positive value to a thing.

values, value beliefs

It is common these days to use the noun in its plural form to refer to what someone or some group thinks is good or bad. That is, values are the beliefs of an individual or group about the value of things. Since use of the term in this manner can lead to the confusion of valued things with different types of value (see below), I prefer to refer to such beliefs about the value of things as value beliefs.

the good, the bad

In referring to the value of things, the good encompasses those things with positive value, or at least those things believed to have positive value. The bad refers to those things with negative value or at least those things believed to have negative value.

The Nature of Value

 objective or subjective?

There are two great issues in axiology concerning the nature of value. The first centers on the question: Is value objective or subjective? The subjectivist states that value is subjective, that it exists only in the mind of the subject who evaluates the object. The objectivist asserts that value is objective, that it is inherent in the object and exists quite independently of the subject who evaluates the object.

absolute or relative?

The second great issue of axiology concerns the question: Is value absolute or relative? The absolutist asserts that there is only one standard of value and that it is eternally and universally valid. The relativist, of course, denies all this and states that value is relative to a group or individual at a particular time, in a particular place, and in a particular culture. Speaking from the perspective of human reason, neither of these issues has been settled by axiologists. There are compelling arguments for and against both sides of both issues, but space here does not permit me to go into them. Mead presents a fine, even-handed summary.

Classifications of Value

  Axiologists have come up with a number of ways of classifying value. I will mention the ones relevant to my thesis.

intrinsic or instrumental

Value may be intrinsic or instrumental. An object has intrinsic value if it has value in itself and serves no end other than itself. An object has instrumental (or extrinsic) value if it is but a means for obtaining something that has intrinsic value.

permanent or transient

Value may be permanent or transient. Permanent goods persist over time, while transient goods do not, or they lose their value with time.

moral or non-moral

There is also moral and non-moral value. Positive moral value is right, negative moral value wrong. Moral value carries with it a degree of obligation to act in a certain way. For example, a "good man" does what is right. Moral value is based on non-moral value. For example, to the hedonist, the belief that personal happiness is the highest good carries with it the moral obligation to act in such a way as to realize happiness, both one’s own and, possibly, that of others.

higher or lower

Finally, value may be higher or lower. Given two things, one with a higher (i.e., a greater positive) value than one with a lower (i.e., lesser positive or a more negative) value, the one with the higher value is more worthy of realization than the other.

the summum bonum

The existence of higher and lower value implies a hierarchy of value leading to the summum bonum (the highest good). Though there is not a general consensus about just what that summum bonum is, there are some axiological requirements for it. First, it must have intrinsic value. Second, it must have an all-inclusive scope; that is, it must be such that all activities can lead to it. Finally, there must be the possibility for at least its partial realization, or the realization of some aspect of it.

Technology and Value

  Now the significance of my definition of technology should be clearer. I defined technology as the rational process of creating means to order and transform matter, energy, and information to realize certain valued ends (the technological process) and as the means themselves (technological objects). Now that we understand better what value is, we are almost ready to make some judgements concerning technology. But first, we must select a set of value standards as the basis for those judgements. I choose Jesus’ standards.

Next Chapter: Jesus’ Teachings on Value

Return to Technology and Christian 'Values'