1. The Good has Multiple Dimensions
The moral sphere theory of the previous section on Ethics is only a part of a theory of value or the good. It concerns how we should treat others in the process of living our own lives and seeking our own good. But it does not tell us beyond this what sorts of lives we should live and what other values we should strive for. It is therefore not a complete account of the good or of “how we should live.”
In seeking that more complete account, we may take a cue from the ancient Greek philosophers who meant by the study of ethics something broader than merely how we should treat others. The study of ethics meant for them a wider inquiry into the nature of the good and the good life in general. The questions for these ancients were not only “What obligations or duties do we have to each other?” but also “How should we live?” “What should we strive for?” “What is the best form of life?” “What ends or goals are ultimately worth pursuing?”
Continue reading 1: Dimensions of Value and the First Dimension
1. The Second Dimension of Value
In what we may call a second dimension of value, value expands outward from mere subjective experience into the realm of action and practical engagements with the world, including activities in the pursuit of purposes or interests and attachments to things and persons we care about. Some basic value experiences may be momentary, while others, such as enjoying a horseback ride, will be stretched out over time. Experience stretched out in this way is sentient life; and when this life involves purposive activity with practical goals and attachments to things cared about that go beyond mere enjoyment or pleasure, we arrive at a second dimension of value.
Continue reading 2: The Second Dimension: Value Experiments
1. Practices, Traditions, and Ways of Life
When we turn to a third dimension of value, we find that it includes the other two dimensions, but transcends and can override both. In this third dimension, activities and experiences are not merely viewed practically in terms of what we get from them. They are also, more importantly, viewed in terms of how they define what we are.
In this dimension, the hunter in a primitive society does not merely hunt for food (a second-dimensional concern). He also takes pride in his skill with the bow because of what it says about his standing as a human being. The activity signifies that he is an excellent archer, a good provider for his family and a loyal member of his tribe. It defines what he is and his status in the world and in the community of which he is a part.
Continue reading 3: The Third Dimension
1. Inclusion and Transcendence
To many moderns, the first three dimensions of value exhaust the dimensions of human value—as the three familiar dimensions of ordinary experience exhaust the dimensions of space. What might be meant by a fourth dimension of value is not so easily described; and many thinkers would deny it exists at all. But, while the existence of a fourth dimension of value may be controversial, it seems to be presupposed by much of what humans have had to say about the good and the right.
Without such a dimension, for instance, what we call ethical or moral value would not be what most people take it to be. To say this is not to say that all value people call ethical lies in the fourth dimension. The virtues and excellences that comprise third-dimensional value (loyalty, honesty, courage, and the like) are an important part of many ancient and modern views of ethics.
Continue reading 4: The Fourth Dimension