Flavor and Value

Do you like mint chocolate chip ice cream? Why? In this lies both the problem and the solution to many of life's concerns.


How do we know what is real? Reality is a perception. I know this computer is real because I'm touching it. If this computer were to suddenly disappear, then reappear, I might question if it's really real, or just an illusion.

This consistency in my subjectivity is one important piece. The other piece is the subjectivity of others. The fusion of our perspectives, this intersubjectivity, this shared reality. Sometimes even an imaginary perspective is used, a third person perspective, an omniscient perspective. These two things form our objective reality.

How do we know what's true? Truth can be a perception. Is the computer truly there? This is the type of truth that science studies. If perception is consistent across time and perspective we call it truth.

Truth also exists in valuation. Does Jeff truly like mint chocolate chip ice cream? Science tries to study this, and it always will. Science falls short, and it always will.

What is, and what you should do, are two different questions? One has value assumptions as a necessity. The other does too, but in a less significant way. The is/ought problem is a classic in philosophy.

Some people have claimed to have solved it. Ayn Rand and Sam Harris are two good examples. Ayn Rand puts in the individual's life as the primary end value to solve the problem. But, this is necessary or her system doesn't work. Also, she then elevates the values of the person above their life at certain points which seems to bring up a contradiction that isn't addressed. Sam Harris says that there can be a general consensus about what should be valued. What happens if people disagree with the majority? Issues.

I don't think Sam Harris's proposal is very good, so we can basically ignore it. But Rand's points us to something important. Science and logic can help us in determining objective means, if we start with a subjective end.

If I want to build a house then science and logic can help me to determine how I should do it. If I want to build a strong house and I use poor quality screws then that is a wrong decision, I ought not to have done that, I ought to have used better screws. But determining the end was necessary first. The ultimate end will always be subjective. And many other things can be ends in themselves.

This is why no less a mind than the great physicist Richard Feynman said that the issue cannot be resolved. There is a place for science and religion because they operate in different spheres of life. "The Meaning of It All" is a great book.

We tend to have reasons for certain things and not for other things.

I teach English online to kids in China. I often go through a series of basic questions. Some of the preferences have reasons behind them, others do not. Kids often have a reason that their favorite animal is their favorite animal. But, they have no reason for why their favorite color is their favorite color, or why their favorite food is their favorite food. All kids have a reason why their favorite number is their favorite number though. That has surprised me a bit. Some valuations are a tautology, we like them because we like them.

Some decisions are simply a question of flavor. They are values in and of themselves. They are ends not means. Sometimes this is forgotten and people set out to prove that people liking or not liking mint chocolate chip ice cream is wrong. It's not usually with ice cream, but it's common in things like literature. The world would be a more peaceful place if more people had this insight about flavor and value.

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You can find more of what I'm doing at http://www.JeffreyAlexanderMartin.com

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