Experiences Are What Is of Value

Previously I asked, “what is of value?”

I suggest that this question can be approached from the perspective of a research program. Everybody seems to value different things, and so a good starting point is to figure out for oneself what one values. This can be done through a process of progressive abstraction. For instance:

1. I value learning things.
2. I value eating Taco Bell.
3. I value meditating.
4. I value sex.
5. I value convincing people of my point of view.
6. I value making friends.

Given enough such data points, one can then ask, what is common to all of these things that I value? Do they fall into categories? Do those categories themselves bear meaningful relations to each other, such that a further level of abstraction is possible?

To avoid deceiving ourselves, I suggest that the initial data points are to be gathered by an examination of our actions. Whether or not I consciously value something, if I act in a way that gets me that thing when I could have chosen to act in a different way, this suggests that I do in fact value it.

I wish to present a hypothesis which, if true, will narrow the domain of inquiry:

(H.1) Everything that we value is an experience or something we value for its ability to lead to experiences.

Under this hypothesis, for instance, sex could be valued for its ability to produce pleasure; power could be valued for the feeling of being powerful; human relationships could be valued for the feeling of love.

We can give a similar account of the negative value ascribed to things. Under this hypothesis, being unattractive could be negatively valued for its ability to produce the feeling of self-disgust, and being injured could be negatively valued for its ability to produce pain.

Under (H.1) we can draw a directed graph containing everything that a person values. This graph will have terminal nodes (not pointing towards any further nodes) which are experiences that are valued intrinsically. The other nodes in the graph will be other things that are valued extrinsically.

The nodes of the value graph will be points in value schemas that can be assigned to solutions to situations in the previous post.

Now I wish to present a stronger hypothesis which, if true, will further narrow the domain of inquiry:

(H.2) Everything that we value, we value for its ability to bring us closer to God/enlightenment.

Under (H.2), God/enlightenment is not necessarily an experience, but the things that bring us closer to it are. This is a concept that is recognized by many religions.

In Catholicism, it is held that obeying the Catholic Church is the path to becoming closer to God.

In Protestantism, religious experience is held to be central to becoming closer to God.

In Islam, it is held that obeying the tenets of Islam is the path to becoming closer to God.

In Hinduism and Buddhism, one gets closer to enlightenment (Nirvana or moksha) by meditating and obtaining “samadhi” (union with God) or “jhana” (meditative absorption).

There are thus two main hypotheses about the path to becoming God/enlightenment:

(H.3) One becomes closer to God/enlightenment by obtaining spiritual experiences.

(H.4) One becomes closer to God/enlightenment by obeying a particular authority.

I suggest that there is sufficient reason to reject (H.4). The first reason is that all claims of the form of (H.4) are mutually contradictory and therefore cancel each other out. The second reason has to do with speculations about the motivations for holding/espousing (H.4).

A belief can be held/espoused intrinsically or extrinsically. A belief that is held/espoused intrinsically is held/espoused because it is true. A belief that is held/espoused extrinsically is held/espoused for some reason other than the reason that it is true. It is clear that a person who holds/espouses a belief cannot tell for sure whether they are doing so intrinsically or extrinsically.

I suggest that there is reason to believe that (H.4) is held/espoused extrinsically. It is easy to imagine extrinsic motivations for holding/espousing (H.4). It may be that (H.4) was first espoused by authorities who wished to have power over others.

Because claims of the form of (H.4) are mutually contradictory, there is reason to believe that (H.4) is not true and therefore that it is not held intrinsically. Because it is easy to imagine extrinsic motivations for originating (H.4), there is reason to believe that it is held extrinsically. Therefore I suggest that it is rational to reject (H.4).

Since all of the world’s major religions espouse either (H.3) or (H.4), or often a mixture of the two, and there is reason to believe that (H.4) is false and held/espoused extrinsically, I suggest that it is rational to accept (H.3) as the correct answer to the question, “how do I obtain God/enlightenment?” if this question has any answer at all.

(H.1) states that experiences are what we value. (H.2) states that we value things because of their ability to bring us closer to God/enlightenment. (H.3) states that experiences are what bring us closer to God/enlightenment.

We might then imagine a scale of valuable experiences, from the most insignificant experiences (such as brushing one’s teeth in the morning) to the most significant experiences (such as great joy or great sorrow). Then we can suppose that the label “spiritual experiences” applies to those experiences which are on the high end of the scale.

Here we gain a picture of the purpose of life that emerges if we accept (H.1), (H.2), and (H.3). This is that the purpose of life is to obtain experiences of the greatest possible significance in order to become closer to God/enlightenment. Experiences are what is of value, and spiritual experiences are the most valuable experiences.

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