VIII. Historical Changes in the View of Value

In this section, let us consider the changes that have taken place in Western views of value from a historical perspective. Through this we can grasp the historical process through which the views of value of Greek philosophy and Christianity, both of which sought absolute values, became overwhelmed by relative views, and eventually became powerless. That will again bring us to the point where it is evident that the confusion in today’s world can not be solved without a new view of value (that is, an absolute view of value).

1. Views of Value in the Greek Period

Materialistic View of Value

A materialistic natural philosophy arose in Ionia, an ancient Greek colony, in the sixth century BC. Before that time, Greece had been a tribal society, guided by an age of mythology, but Ionian philosophers were not satisfied with mere mythological explanations and tried to explain the world and human life from a viewpoint based on nature. In the Ionian city of Miletus, foreign trade thrived and merchants were engaged in trade activities throughout the Mediterranean Sea area. They were realistic and active, and in that environment, people gradually discarded their mythological ways of thinking.

In the trading city of Miletus, materialistic philosophers appeared from the sixth century BC. They were known as the Miletus school, whose representatives are Thales, Anaximander, Anaximenes, and others. They discussed ideas mainly with regard to the root cause (arche) of all things. Thales (ca. 624-546 BC) advocated that the arche was water; Anaximander (ca. 610-547 BC), that it was the boundless (apeiron); Anaximenes (ca. 585-528 BC), that it was air; and Heraclitus (ca. 535-475 BC), that it was fire. Influenced by these naturalistic philosophies, objective and rational ways of thinking were fostered.

Arbitrary (Sophistic) View of Value

During the fifth century BC, democracy developed in Greece centering on Athens. Young people sought to acquire knowledge for the purpose of success in life. To be successful, the art of persuasive speech (rhetoric) was especially important. Scholars were paid to instruct young people in the art of persuasion; those scholars came to be called sophists.

Until then, Greek philosophy had dealt primarily with nature. Philosophers became aware, however, that human problems could not be solved through natural philosophy alone. They gradually turned their attention to the problems of human society and soon realized that, whereas natural laws were fixed and objective, the laws and morality of human society differed from country to country and from age to age, with no apparent objectivity or universality. For that reason, the sophists came to take a relativistic, skeptical position on values in order to find solutions to social problems. Protagoras (ca. 481-411 BC) said, “Man is the measure of all things,” meaning that the standard of truth differs depending on the person―which clearly indicated relativism.

The sophists, at first, had an enlightening effect on the public. Gradually, however, they came to take a more and more skeptical position, asserting that truth does not exist at all. They attached importance only to the art of persuasion, and attempted to win arguments at any cost, even by resorting to false reasoning, or sophistry. Soon they began to use fallacies in their arguments. That is why the word “sophist” has come to mean a person who uses clever but misleading reasoning.

Absolute View of Value

Socrates (470-399 BC) appeared when sophism was rampant in Greece. He deplored the situation. For him, the sophists pretended to know, but in reality they knew nothing. Of himself, he said, “One thing only I know for sure, and that is that I know nothing.” Such was the starting point of reaching true knowledge. He sought the basis of morality in the god (daimon) inherent within the human being, and asserted that morality is absolute and universal. Virtue, as taught by him, was a loving attitude of seeking knowledge for the purpose of living truthfully. “Virtue is knowledge” was his fundamental thought. He also advocated the unity of knowledge and action, saying that once one knows virtue, one should, without fail, put it into practice.

How can one obtain true knowledge? True knowledge is not to be poured into a person by others, nor can it be known by an individual alone. Socrates held that it is only through dialogue (questions and answers) with others that one can acquire true knowledge (the universal truth) which satisfies all people. He then sought to save Athens from its social disorder by establishing absolute, universal virtues.

Plato (427-347 BC) thought that there is an unchangeable world of essence behind the changing world of phenomena, and called it the world of Ideas. Yet, since the souls of human beings are trapped in their bodies, they usually think that the phenomenal world is the true reality. The human soul previously existed in the world of Ideas, but when it came to dwell in the body, the soul was separated from the world of Ideas. Accordingly, the soul constantly longs for the world of Ideas, which is the true reality. For Plato, the awareness of the Ideas was but a recollection of what the soul knew before coming into the body. Ethical Ideas include the Idea of Justice, the Idea of Goodness, and the Idea of Beauty. Among these, the Idea of Goodness is supreme, according to Plato.

Plato enumerated four virtues: wisdom, courage, temperance, and justice, as the virtues which everyone must possess. He asserted that particularly those who rule the state must be philosophers possessing the virtue of wisdom. They alone had an understanding of the Idea of Goodness. For Plato, the Idea of Goodness was the source of all values. Inheriting Socrates’ spirit, Plato sought absolute value.

2. Views of Value in the Hellenistic-Roman Period

The Hellenistic-Roman period refers to the approximately three centuries, from the time Alexander the Great defeated Persia until the time Roman forces conquered Egypt and unified the Mediterranean world. During this era a trend of individualism, seeking one’s own safety and peace of mind, was predominant. The fall of the city-state (polis) rendered useless the values centered on the state. The Greeks began to emphasize more individualistic ways of living under increasingly unstable social conditions. At the same time, cosmopolitanism, transcending the bounds of nationality, was enhanced. The representative schools of thought of this era were the Stoic, the Epicurean, and the Skeptic.

With this individualistic tendency, people came to feel a sense of powerlessness. As a result, in the Roman period people sought a way to be elevated above such a vulnerable human situation, and gradually developed religious aspirations. Neoplatonism was one of the fruits of this trend.

Stoic School

The founder of the Stoic school was Zeno of Citium (ca. 336-265 BC). The Stoics held that Logos (law, reason) dwells in all things in the universe, and that the universe moves in an orderly fashion according to law. Moreover, Logos dwells in human beings as well. Therefore, we can know the law of the universe through our reason, and should “live according to nature.” That was the basic position of the Stoic school.

The Stoics held that people feel pain because of their passions. To solve this, people should rid themselves of passions and reach the state of apathy (the absence of passion) or the perfectly peaceful state of the mind that will not be tempted in any way. Thus, the Stoic school advocated asceticism in which the supreme virtue was apathy.

All people, whether they were Greek or Oriental, ought to obey the law of the universe. For the Stoics, the Logos was God, and all people were brothers and sisters as God’s children. Thus they established a cosmopolitanism.

Epicurean School

In contradistinction to the Stoic school, which advocated asceticism, the picurean school, which originated with Epicurus (341-270 BC), advocated pleasure as the supreme good. Epicurus thought that the pleasure of individual persons in this world was directly in accordance with virtue. By pleasure he did not mean physical pleasure, but rather “having no pain in one’s body and giving calm and repose to one’s soul.” Epicurus called this peaceful state of mind ataraxia, or the state of separation from pain, and regarded it as the supreme state of being.

Skeptic School

Pyrrho (ca. 356-275 BC) taught that human beings experience pain because they pass judgment on things one way or another. He urged people to seek calmness of mind by suspending all judgment. This was called epoche, or “suspension of judgment.” The Skeptic school asserted that since knowledge of the truth can not be attained by human beings, it is best for them to abstain from any form of judgment whatsoever.

The absence of passion (apathy) of the Stoic school, the pleasurable peace of mind (ataraxia) of the Epicurean school, and the non-judgment (epoche) of the Skeptic school were all attempts to find a calmness of mind in the individual. Thus, they regarded as questionable the absoluteness of value pursued by Socrates and Plato.

Neo-Platonism

Greek philosophy continued into the Roman period, which succeeded the Hellenistic period. The philosophical culmination of the Hellenistic-Roman period was Neo-Platonism, a philosophical viewpoint whose most eminent proponent was Plotinus (205-270).

Plotinus advocated an “emanation theory,” according to which everything flows out of God. Specifically, he asserted that nous (reason), which is the reality closest to the perfection of God, and then next the soul, and finally matter, the most imperfect level of creation, all emanated from God, stage by stage. Formerly, Greek philosophy had propounded a dualism that regarded God and matter as opposing each other. In contrast, Plotinus advocated monism, claiming that God is everything.

The human soul flows out into the sensual material world, and at the same time seeks to return to nous and to God. Therefore, people should avoid being caught up in physical things, and their souls should ascend to the level of perceiving God, thereby becoming united with Him. Such an achievement was regarded as the supreme virtue. Plotinus said that the human being becomes completely united with God in “ecstasy,” which he regarded as the highest state of mind. Hellenistic philosophy culminated with Plotinus, and Neo-Platonism had a profound impact on Christian philosophy, which was soon to emerge.

3. Views of Value in the Medieval Period

Augustine

Augustine (354-430) provided a philosophical basis for faith in Christianity. According to Augustine, God is eternal, unchangeable, omniscient, omnipotent, the being of supreme goodness, supreme love, and supreme beauty, and the Creator of the universe. In contrast to Plato, who regarded the world of Ideas as independent in itself, Augustine held that such Ideas exist within the mind of God, and asserted that everything was created with the Ideas as prototypes. In contrast to Neo-Platonism, which held that the world necessarily emanated from God, Augustine advocated creation theory, saying that God freely created the world from nothing, not utilizing any material. Then, why is the human being sinful? For Augustine, the reason is that Adam, the first human ancestor, misused freedom and fell, thus betraying God. Fallen people can be saved only through God’s grace. Augustine said that faith in God, hope for salvation, and love for God and one’s neighbors are the way to true happiness, and recommended the three virtues of faith, hope, and love.

Thomas Aquinas

Thomas Aquinas (1225-74), who firmly consolidated Christian theology, divided virtues into the religious and the natural. Religious virtues refer to the three primary virtues of Christianity, namely, faith, hope, and love, while natural virtues refer to the four primary virtues of Greek philosophy, that is, wisdom, courage, temperance, and justice. Religious virtues, among which love is supreme, can lead to bliss, and people can experience bliss through loving God and their neighbors. On the other hand, natural virtues are in accordance with one’s obedience to the directives of reason. Natural virtues were regarded as a means of reaching religious virtues.

4. Modern Views of Value

In the modern period, little of significance has emerged with regard to views of value. Modern views of value can basically be understood as extensions or transformations of the Greek philosophical and Christian views of value.

René Descartes (1596-1650) began by doubting all established traditional values. He was not a skeptic, however. Rather, he attempted to find something steadfast through his doubt. As a result, he reached the fundamental principle of “I think, therefore, I am.” He held human reason to be the basis for one’s judgments. That gave rise to Descartes’ moral teaching that human beings should act with a resolute will while controlling their passions through reason.

Blaise Pascal (1623-62) regarded the human being as a contradictory being, possessing greatness as well as silliness. He expressed this by saying that “Man is a thinking reed.” Human beings are the weakest of all beings in nature, but they are the greatest by virtue of their ability to think. Still, he held, their true happiness consists not in using reason but rather in reaching God through faith, namely, through heart.

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) discussed, in his Critique of Pure Reason, Critique of Practical Reason, and Critique of Judgment, how truth, goodness, and beauty might be established, and asserted that we should seek after these values. Especially with regard to goodness, or morality, he asserted that we should act according to the unconditional moral imperative, for example, “be honest”―that is, the categorical imperative, which comes from practical reason.

Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) thought that happiness is the state of the absence of pain. Thus, on the basis of the principle of “the greatest happiness for the greatest number” he advocated utilitarianism. He reasoned that the value of human behavior can be determined by calculating pleasure and pain quantitatively. Bentham’s utilitarianism was a theory of value that came into being in the context of the Industrial Revolution. It can be regarded as a Hyungsang view of value.

Søren Kierkegaard (1813-55) advocated three stages of existence, saying that people should pass through the “aesthetic stage” and the “ethical stage” in order to reach the “religious stage” of existence. He asserted that people should not live merely for pleasure; in his view, it is not sufficient merely to live conscientiously by observing ethics; rather, people should live in faith, standing before God. Kierkegaard tried to revive the true Christian view of value.

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) regarded Europe at the end of the nineteenth century as being in an era of nihilism, in which all values were collapsing. He described Christianity as a “slave morality,” that is, as a morality that rejects the strong and equalizes human beings. He regarded Christianity as the greatest cause of the rise of nihilism. So, he presented a new theory of value with the “will to power” as its standard. “Live strongly in this godless world,” was Nietzsche’s assertion.

Wilhelm Windelband (1848-1915), of the Neo-Kantian school, dealt with values as the central issue of philosophy, taking up the values of truth, goodness, and beauty in a united way. Following Kant, who had distinguished matters of fact from matters of right, Windelband distinguished judgments of fact from judgments of value, and said that the task of philosophy was to deal with judgments of value. A judgment of fact is an objective proposition about a fact, whereas a judgment of value is a proposition in which a subjective appraisal of a fact is made. For example, such propositions as “this flower is red” and “the man built the house” are factual judgments; whereas such propositions as “this flower is beautiful” and “that man’s conduct is good” are value judgments. Ever since, fact and value have been dealt with as quite separate issues, in the sense that factual judgments are dealt with in the natural sciences, whereas value judgments are dealt with in philosophy.

The twentieth century saw the rise of analytical philosophy, which employs the “logical analysis of language” as the most appropriate method of philosophy. With regard to axiology, analytical philosophy took the following position: (1) One can not know values except through intuition; (2) Judgment of value is but an expression of the speaker’s feelings about moral approval or disapproval; (3) Axiology is significant only for the analysis of value language. Thus, analytical philosophy generally sought to exclude axiology from philosophy.

Pragmatism, represented by John Dewey (1859-1952), based value judgments on usefulness for life. Such value concepts as truth, goodness, and beauty were regarded as means, or tools, for processing things effectively. From this standpoint, what is perceived as valuable differs from person to person. Even the same person may differ in the way he or she perceives value from time to time. Dewey’s standpoint was a relative pluralism as far as value was concerned.

Lastly, I will mention the Communist view of value. This view of value was defined by B. P. Tugarinov as follows: “Value is a phenomenon of nature or society that is useful and necessary for those people who belong to a particular society or class in history, as something actual, as a purpose, or as an ideal.” In Communism, usefulness for the proletariat class is the standard of value. A postulate of the Communist view of value was that all the established religious values, which were regarded as bourgeois views of value, had to be denied and destroyed. For Communism, a moral act is an act that is useful in promoting collective life for constructing a communist society. It includes such virtues as dedication, obedience, sincerity, love for comrades, and mutual help.

5. Necessity for a New View of Value

As seen above, many different views of value have appeared throughout history; in fact, history can be seen as a continuous succession of failed attempts to establish absolute values.

In ancient Greece, Socrates and Plato attempted to establish absolute values by pursuing true knowledge. With the collapse of the Greek city-state society, however, the views of value of Greek philosophy also collapsed. Next, Christianity attempted to establish absolute values, centering on God’s love (agape). The Christian view of value ruled medieval society, but with the collapse of medieval society, it gradually lost its power.

In the modern period, Descartes and Kant established views of value centered on reason, as in Greek philosophy; yet, their understanding of God, which was the basis for their views of value, was ambiguous. As a result, their views of value fell short of becoming absolute. Pascal and Kierkegaard attempted to revive true Christian values, but they fell short of establishing a firm system of value.

The Neo-Kantian school dealt with value as one of the main issues in philosophy, but they completely separated philosophy, which deals with values, from natural science, which deals with facts. As a result, today many problems have come into being. As scientists have continued to analyze facts in complete disregard of values, they have brought about weapons of mass destruction, destruction of the natural environment, pollution, and so forth.

Utilitarianism and pragmatism are materialistic views of value, which make values completely relative. Analytical philosophy is a philosophy without value. Nietzsche’s philosophy and Communism can be described as anti-value philosophies, opposing traditional views of value.

Traditional views of value based on Greek philosophy and Christianity are no longer regarded as effective today. Traditional views of value have become weak and separated from the natural sciences. Currently, they have been almost completely eliminated even from the field of philosophy. As a result, society today is in extreme confusion. The appearance of a new view of value that can establish absolute values while revitalizing traditional values is seriously needed. This new view of value should be able to overcome materialism and to guide science with its correct view of value.

This is the case because value and fact are in a relationship of Sungsang and Hyungsang, and just as Sungsang and Hyungsang are united in existing beings, value and fact are originally united. Unification Axiology has appeared on the scene to meet this demand of our times.