Ordinarily, people think their values are based on their knowledge of the world. They assume values are cognitive, in the sense that their values arise in mental representation of their world and are influenced by knowledge of the world. I do not wish to suggest that at some point our learning about and experience with values does not involve cognitive process. I do think, however, that our first contact with values is through precognitive, pre-aware, perceptual processes. My suggestion is not yet a hypothesis; it is not that well worked out.
We should understand the importance of the depicting values as perceptions, rather than simply as cognitive products. If values would be simply products of our knowledge of the world, they would be subjective and mentalistic. (I am using the antiquated dualistic conceptualization of objective/subjective simply for easy exposition.) As perceptions, on the other hand, values would be analogous to sensory information about real entities in the world. To have a philosophy of values which sees values as objective and real, really existing in the world independently of individual persons, and as population system entities with properties, our contact with values must be precognitive and perceptive.
I suggest that a theory of how we acquire values through perception can usefully be modeled on what scientists know today about brain processing of perception of vision. This is a reasonable strategy to tackle learning about values through perception, on several grounds. First, vision is the dominant human sensory apparatus. Visual processing is the largest single function of the human brain, requiring more brain property than any other function. Surely, we observe values with our eyes by watching how people behave (as well as by listening to them talk with language). Second, seeing values in action must be processed as perception in exactly the same way we perceive anything else, objects and fields, for instance, as vision.
According to present-day understanding of vision,* sensations from the eyes are sent to the brain in two separate neurological paths to separate processing centers. In effect, the human brain has two distinct processors for vision. While the two processors work in inter-related ways, they can work separately, so that if one is destroyed, the other continues to work. For several decades, these two processors were identified as object perception and spatial field perception. It is spatial field perception that creates a representation of the world such that we can orient ourselves in it. Today, recent research has refined our understanding of the visual processing of objects. Rather than perception of objects, the visual processing is of motor interaction with objects, such as reaching out with the hand to grasp a ball.
Our representation of the world is cognitive, in the sense that what we already know about the world from experience modifies the information being added to our representation of the world. This process is not necessarily and not always conscious. Our visual representation of the world only rises to awareness in certain situations. In this way, what is cognitive is not necessarily conscious.
The components of our perception of objects and our interaction with them and the components of our representation of the world are synthesized constructions. Colors, shapes, dimensions, and lines, for instance, are separately processed in different parts of the brain and (somehow) brought together--synthesized--as a single unified perception of an object or a spatial field, or an object being handled in a spatial field. For instance, our eyes do not see geometric angles. Our perception of angles, such as the angles formed by a window frame, are constructed by our brain by putting separate sensations of lines together. The processing involved in such constructions and synthesis are preconscious and partially precognitive.
This understanding of our visual perception of the world provides a useful model of perception of values. In my last article, I hypothesized that there are four categories of values--frame, metric, path, and transaction. In perceiving, these values would be constructively synthesized into unified values that we experience. Frame and metric values as perceived would be processed analogously to seeing sensations that are constructed into a representation of the world. Path and transaction values as perceived would be processed analogously to seeing sensations that are constructed into objects in motor interactions.
Religious values illustrate the perception of values through perception of the frame, metric, path, and transaction values of the physical world as a cosmic order. Consider the daily evening prayer that opens rite one of the Anglican and Episcopal Book of Common Prayer:
"Thine is the day, O God, thine also the night; thou has established the moon and the sun. Thou has fixed all the boundaries of the earth; thou hast made summer and winter."
The pray implicitly claims that we perceive God, a value of conduct (worship), by perceiving the order of the cosmos.
We can easily pick out the component values in this prayer. The frame values are explicitly addressed as the boundaries of the cosmos. The metric values are the diurnal day and night and the seasonal summer and winter. The days and seasons are the meter of the year. Worship is the transaction value. The prayer concludes with a path value: "Jesus said, 'I am the light of the world; he that followeth me shall not was in darkness, but shall have the light of life.'"
One consequence of the analogy I present, above, is that much of the time we are unaware of our values, just as we are unaware of our representation of the world or of objects in it with which we interact. Presumably, we would act on values as a mode of behavior in the world unconsciously. Continuing the analogy with vision, we could learn and modify our learning of values without being aware of our knowledge of them. When then would we become aware or conscious of values? The answer must be, logically, when our values are contradicted (as I argued in a previous article). When we fail to catch a ball thrown to us, we become aware of our failed interaction. When acting on a value fails to obtain its objective, as when "turning the other cheek" fails to dissipate the anger of the person in front of us, we become aware of the value on which we based our behavior.
- Ontological Status
- Values as Expressions of Contradiction
- New Categorization of Values
- Perception of Values
- How Fundamental Values Arise
* Notes. "Sensory System-Visual System," Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eye. A. David Milner and Melvyn A. Goodale, "The Visual Brain in Action," http://mentor.lscf.ucsb.edu/course/summer/psyc107/Milner&Goodale.pdf.
(Revised. December 26, 2005.)