To understand the four foundational values--frame, metric, path, and transaction--it would help us to examine how they arose in human society in the first place. We do not know as a fact how they arose, however, so we will simply make suggestions. Our main suggestion is that the fundamental values arose in primitive social interaction generally in the way in which biological values evolved with humans and higher animals. To set up this suggestion, let me return to the discussion the existentialist definition of values.
According to the existentialists, each of us humans lives in a world of values (emotions, feelings, significances, meanings) that gives different importance to each of our experiences. How might this microcosmos, as it was called by Lotze, have originated? Imagine some primitive ancestor of humans millions of years ago. She is a hunter-gatherer of food. She does not have values in the existentialist sense. All of her sensory information about the world comes to her with exactly the same lack of affect. She sees the world in gray scale. She hears all sounds as undifferentiated background noise. Nothing she sees impresses our primitive ancestor as different in its significance from anything else. Similarly, no sound is different in significance from any other. For her, a lion in the grass a hundred yards away, a bird singing in a tree next to her, and a ripe fruit in a bush before her are of equal unimportance. They all strike her indifferently. The lion rushes through the grass, chasing something; but, because the lion is gray and the grass is a gray only slightly darker, and the lion's prey is gray like the lion, our ancestor cannot clearly discern the lion's movement or the movement of its prey. Indeed, the lion may spy our ancestor and, seeing a more attractive meal, turn toward her. Because our ancestor does see the lion clearly, and because the ancestor does not experience the lion's charge at her as of special significance, our ancestor does not react to the lion. Of course, our ancestor would soon be killed and eaten. She would leave no progeny. She (and her similar kind) would have been selected, in Darwinian natural selection, for extinction.
This example (a cartoon I admit) illustrates the suggestion that primitive values must have evolved, because they had a survival value. If our ancestor could perceive color, she would have seen the lion as gold and the grass as green and the gazelle buck as black. Color distinguishes objects from one another, making them more easily perceived. Because color perception gives our ancestor a selective advantage, color is a biological value. If our ancestor could associate fear with the image of the golden lion racing toward her, she would run away and survive. In this circumstance, associated with the racing lion, the emotion of fear is a biological value.
Biological, survival, values therefore arise concomitantly with our evolution as a species. Without such values, we could not have survived.* We can easily imagine that existential values, involving meanings and significances, evolved out of biological, survival values.
Similarly, fundamental social values probably arose out of biological, survival values in the early stages of human social evolution. Frame values would arise in the course of interaction of human population groups to establish cosmic, geographical, and social boundaries, fields, and locations. Frame values would be a prerequisite of society, because belonging and not-belonging are crucial features defining groups. Metric values would characterize any group movement, whether geographical, social, or historical. Metric values, for instance, overlay on the landscape a scale of danger and desire, crucial to motivating human movement. Path values are social analogs of perception of continuity paths. When our primitive ancestor watches a lion race across the plain, she tracks the lion against the background to provide the continuity of (the lion's) motion needed to predict where the lion will go and when the lion will arrive there. In social life, each person perceives their own continuity-path across the landscape, through society, and through life. They perceive similar paths of other persons. Transaction values color social exchange, whether greetings, or gift-giving, or reproduction, to mention only a few of the innumerable exchanges humans devise.
My hypothesis suggests that the fundamental social values of frame, metric, path, and transaction arise with society, and society arises with them. They are the elements out of which, so to speak, composite values are created as society becomes increasingly complicated. Language and ritual become associated with them. The key point is that these fundamental values are known through perception of the world around us, just as we perceive fields, trees, lions, dogs, couches, radios, and other human beings. Derived values, created as composites of fundamental values, might be cognitive, in that they are created as intentional acts and learned by instruction (i.e., per phenomenologists); nonethless, our knowledge of them is built upon pre-cognitive perception. Frame, metric, path, and transaction values, as fundamental values, are an objective world to us.
- Ontological Status
- Values as Expressions of Contradiction
- New Categorization of Values
- Perception of Values
- How Fundamental Values Arise
* See Daniel Dennett's discussion of color perception in Consciousness Explained (paperback edition, Boston, Little Brown and Company, 1991), 375-383.